Featured

Vortex (2022) – A Bleak, Soul Destroying Portrayal Of Death & Decay

Gaspar Noe is no stranger to provocation and shock, it is a thing that comes naturally with any of his cinema. Whilst it is part and parcel of the themes explored within each of his films, often overbearing in its gratuitousness, he has his own special “auteur” mark on the work he directs. Each of his films, regardless of their exploration of their respective themes, often purposely push the boundaries of being deeply offputting.


This is most certainly true of his most typically “Noe-esque” feature films, I Stand Alone and Irreversible, both abundant with extreme sexual violence and deviance. The former has a Taxi Driver-esque plot involving a misanthropic horse meat butcher who was imprisoned for raping his daughter. The latter, like a ninth-circle of Hell take on Memento is notorious for a 10 minute long rape scene involving Monica Belucci, and a sequence involving a brutal slaying with a fire hydrant. Noe has a knack for portraying these acts in a way that uses artistic license to nauseate the viewer. It is the sort of content to inspire mass walkouts of film audiences.


Recent efforts, such as the drug, sex and violence addled “horror musical” Climax essentially streamlined all previous work by him into a more accessible piece of cinema, which was nonetheless equally disturbing and gratuitous. Having cemented a track record, and firmly solidified his own unique style and approach to filmmaking, this all begs the question, where can one go next?


We should consider his latest movie no exception. It is perhaps his most harrowing work, and his most pleasantly surprising. A more minimal, sober, and “humble” work, it is nonetheless a deeply upsetting and hard to watch film, but his most emotionally engaging. It is a largely bloodless, sexless affair, free of violence. But the theme of death and decay is dominant throughout. It assesses this with a scarring dignity, the inevitability of one’s demise and decrepitude.


His characters, namely an elderly couple who are facing the onset of dementia, are not perfect people, but they are morally more likeable on average than many of the protagonists in Noe’s bleak cinematic universe. It is indeed strangely fitting that Dario Argento, Italian master director of giallo and occult horror should be cast in the lead role as Lui, acting rather than casting. His performance here is natural and by his own admission, improvised, which he credits to being a child of the Italian neorealism movement.


Considering that this film is about old age, I have seen comparisons to the film Amour by Michael Haneke. Having not seen this (yet) I will make no comparisons. However, Noe clearly has parallels with the Austrian director in that he is capable of building a world of psychological turmoil, suspense and trauma with characters and the depiction of their on-screen scenarios, as depicted in the likes of The Piano Teacher, The Seventh Continent and Funny Games.

In terms of technique, Vortex makes heavy use of the split screen format, which allows the film to capture various emotional, physical and social cues of the two main characters and play them off one another. The point of view (POV) technique, used heavily in films such as Enter The Void, is also emphasized, as it helps us to get inside the internal monologues of each character and the narratives surrounding their daily struggles.

Better known for his career behind a camera than on camera, Argento offers us poignant and tragic frailty, as does Francoise Lebrun, playing his wife Elle. This is made more powerful and dramatic not by the delivery of script, lines or dialogue, but how they portray the struggle and confusion in delivering it, be it through muteness, stuttering, pausing or breaks of silence in their verbal delivery. Alex Lutz’s character, Stephane, is their caring but troubled son, whose issues with drug abuse, depression and debt is the depressed, atomized and hedonistic type of character we would expect from previous works by Noe.


In a sense, the inclusion of this younger character gives further emotional depth to Vortex, as he is a vital link to the outside world for the increasingly isolated, lonely elder protagonists, trying in his own flawed way to fulfill the contract between generations, whilst also bringing his young son Kiki through infancy. It also allows the viewer to form a conceptual link to the directors previous work, and introduce it cohesively into his latest film. Whilst Stephane is engaged in the indulgences and decadence that defines many “young-middle age” Westerners, it is a side to the central struggle of the two lead characters. What defines Vortex is their desperate struggle to prolong and withhold their fates, and preserve what dignity they have as the beckoning of death draws increasingly near.

Consistent with all previous work, Vortex lacks a happy ending, and seemingly lacks all hope. Yet there is not a single drop of blood, no graphic violence, no sexual violence. As grotesque as things like this are, the unfortunate scenarios in previous works by Noe can be taken with a (not so comfortable) pinch of salt, in that many of the traumas and premature deaths that befall his characters will likely affect us. But Vortex uses its subtlety to ensure us that death is a very real thing that none of us can escape.

For anyone who was raised conventionally, brought into the world with nurture, with love, empathy, affection and bonding to family, to see people decline through dementia, or the loss of ones cognition late in life is all too real. The unrelenting portrayal of this in Vortex will most certainly rub some viewers up the wrong way, as it offers us a very genuine image of what it means to struggle, die, and become increasingly alone in an increasingly atomized, deracinated, heavily medicated and drugged society. One in which we have cast away all notions of what lies beyond life for the sake of living longer, albeit with greater pain and agony.

In concluding, I would recommend anyone who is curious to watch Vortex to tread carefully. This is not a disclaimer I would usually post in a review. But I know that many of those reading, regardless of who you are and where you come from, have had to experience first-hand the death of a loved one in such circumstances, and bear the painful suspension of that person’s mental and physical health, and I would perfectly understand why people would not want to endure having to reserve two and half hours of their viewing time to witness this.

With Vortex, Gaspar Noe gives a completely new meaning to “holds no punches”. This is an unreservedly harsh and emotionally distressing film that portrays death and decay in a way that is completely devoid of the novelties of onscreen violent death, torture, jump scares and sensationalist techniques. Perhaps his least “Noe-esque” in terms of its aesthetic, it is otherwise very likely to stand as his most artistically fulfilled film to date. If you have a heart, and you are truly human, then Vortex will shock you.

Featured

Denis Villeneuve’s Dune (2021): Technics Over Essence

The announcement of a new adaptation of Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel Dune has been the subject of much anticipation for at least a couple of years. After it’s premier was delayed by roughly a year owing to COVID-19 related measures, it has been subject to near unanimous praise by critics in much of the mainstream press. This appears so far to have shaped the measure of public opinion, and subsequently box office returns.

It is a work that has in the past been deemed largely unfilmable and extremely hard to adapt, best exemplified by the portrayal of crazed Chilean Alejandro Jodorowsky’s abortive attempt to adapt the film to the big screen in Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013). Certain aesthetic and conceptual leftovers, reflected largely in set design and casting choices would ultimately lend themselves to the 1984 film version, directed by David Lynch and produced by the De Laurentiis film company.

I’ll make this clear, and this is no detriment; Villeneuve has most certainly succeeded in being able to adapt and implement elements from the novel into the film that failed to make it into Lynch’s version. As it is a scheduled “Part One”, covering the first half of the first novel of Herbert’s series, there is more narrative breathing space. Overall, Villeneuve’s adaptation is far less compacted, and two and half hours makes this a more “digestible” affair, at least as far as this may concern a normal, average filmgoer who sees little beyond titillation and entertainment.

Additionally, the concepts and set designs are impressive, as are the more “technological” special effects that involve scenes of battle, or the ornithopters. One can see on viewing Dune that this was quite an expensive affair, and there was a meticulous attention to detail. Set pieces convey a strong, foreboding atmosphere, and possess a techno-futurist bleakness and coldness that Villenueve conveyed on his previous science fiction films, Blade Runner 2049 and Arrival.

The score is provided by Hans Zimmer, who provides a soundtrack that is neoclassical but engaging modes and scales familiar to Middle Eastern music, which is clearly designed to fit a world abundant with Persian and Arabic linguistics, vocabulary and etymologies, not unlike a techno-dystopian Lawrence Of Arabia. A particular female vocal throughout evokes, even mimics the glossolalia wailing of Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard, the type made clear on pieces such as “The Host Of Seraphim”. Use of the Armenian wind instrument, the duduk is a pleasant touch.

This contrasts the 1984 soundtrack, in large part provided by AOR band Toto, along with the “Prophecy” theme which Brian Eno provided. Zimmer’s score is less memorable, less pronounced, more designed to fit the film like a glove than act as something where its motifs have the potential to stand out on its own merits, as have the scores of Vangelis for Blade Runner, or Basil Poledouris for Conan The Barbarian. It is not perfect, but works consistently throughout as a very strong “mood suite”. The clear work of an accomplished arranger, its movements, ebbs and flows are consistent with changes in tone and mood that accompany the moving images.

The real problems begin ultimately with the human presence of Villeneuve’s Dune, and this ultimately is the fatal, dismembering flaw that rips the guts and heart out of a project that has been structurally done with little margin for error. This is reflecting in the ideas that are clearly piercing through the narrative skeleton of this adaptation, manifested in the casting choices and the acting of many of the cast members.

The cultural tidal wave of wokeness looms heavier that one imagined it to over this new adaptation. The casting here is ethnically diverse. This alone will solicit those who praise this new instalment to like it on those factors alone, perhaps even to scoff at the “whiteness” of Lynch’s 1984 version. This sort of gradualism is comparable to how a feminist narrative is embedded into the narrative of Mad Max: Fury Road (2015), but rendered implicit by a near constant surge of adrenaline porn.

The “social justice” message of woke capitalism is embedded similarly in this new take on Dune, albeit obscured by its atmosphere and genre. Though Frank Herbert’s narrative of the original novel was inspired by the geopolitics of the Middle East (i.e. the spice melange as a metaphor for oil), many of the concepts surrounding the Fremen and their “salvation” were inspired largely by the Islamic peoples of the Caucasus, their tribes and their revolts against the Russian Empire in the 1800’s, led by figures such as Imam Shamil, whose descendants today are still authentically fierce fighting men.

Whilst this is not to debate the “historical accuracy” of the interpretation of a fictional work, one should ask some questions about how “diversity” is portrayed in this film. Indeed, colonialism, subjugation and oppression of sorts do occur within the Dune universe. But if we are to interpret the historical peripheries of where Herbert drew much of his inspiration from, then this would surely fixate on the empires of the Russians, the Persians and the Ottomans, the latter two of whom would bring the less Western and more “orientalist” touches to the narrative.

They would then form part of the dreaded power structure in the mindset of the “postcolonial” theorist mindset, to whom only European civilization is ever worth critiquing. It would serve to derail their interpretation of the story. The notion of British Empire being the Atreides expedition, and the “white saviour” types such as T.E. Lawrence being analogous to Paul Atreides would be just as much of a sideline to the lore that inspired the source material for the original novel.

If we are to go by Herbert’s apparent inspiration then the Fremen, noted for their blue eyes and whom were of fair appearance in Lynch’s version, would surely represent the captive peoples of the Caucasus and the Balkans; Circassians, Hellenes, Laz, Georgians, Dagestanis, Armenians, Slavs and many other ethnic groups who would have fallen under the peripheries of the Russian, Persian and Ottoman empires. The quotas in the new adaptation of Dune resemble far more what a contemporary “racial justice” advocacy group/think tank/lobby group adjacent to Hollywood and big business would want the film to look like.

What we have for Fremen in the movie is a ragtag assemblage of “oppressed people” who instead represent a globo-centric view of what “diverse” should mean, rather than the source material which inspired the author of the original work. But for liberal viewers and analysts who will appraise this, this is not the sort of diversity they have been spoonfed and conditioned to praise, and therefore unworthy of being given attention, again bearing no comparison to the “now”. All the more, rather than being a product of high fantasy and science fiction, none of the cast at any time appear evidently willing nor capable of throwing off a cultural sense of Pax Americana, regardless of their backgrounds and the “orientalist” aesthetics of the film.

As this is evidently connected to Hollywood and where big money currently lies, it is clear that a film like this could not be possibly made without compromising to demands that a “diverse” quota is engaged, or that clear tokenism goes beyond the implicit. Indeed, the character of Fremen planetologist Kynes, originally played by Swedish actor Max Von Sydow is replaced by a black female, played by Sharon Duncan-Brewster. The daughter of Kynes, Chani, soon to be concubine of Paul, is played by Zendaya, who is herself half African-American, half European American. Whilst the script does not differ from the book, it quite obvious that a mix of creative and corporate license is used to push a certain level of biopolitics that is generically the fare of much contemporary Hollywood cinema.

Again, whilst there is clearly room for ambiguities, this is an incremental move which will make hyper-progressive types foam at the mouth and further use it as a means to vindicate why they ultimately believe this film is better, and will justify uniformly unquestioning praise that has been unloaded onto the movie by the mainstream press, cultural outlets, mass media and its “tastemakers” leading up to its premier. You were all simply told that this was a good film before you even decided that this was good.

As much as the narrative of this interpretation of Dune is supposed to critique an imperium, this is all the product of the imperium that is Hollywood, a system that tells you that you live in an impartial society, and that you are completely free, and you are not being nudged and hoodwinked to accept the ideas that proliferate and disseminate from it. All the while it “empowers” those who see themselves as a collectively “disenfranchised” mass whose resentment is used as a battering ram by large corporate bodies and conglomerates against healthy cultural and social instincts.

The adaptation of a work of fiction of course gives excuses for abstractions and concessions to be made to the same contemporary zeitgeist that has given us an all female Ghostbusters, and a bisexual Superman, as well as an ever increasingly fragile, more emasculated James Bond. The “heroic” narratives of such epics are being driven by people who seem to have little enthusiasm or interest in heroic outcomes, as is the case with much of the bread and circuses that comes from contemporary “superhero” cinema. Indeed, many actors in this movie were clearly chosen on the basis of their appearances in such genre films.

This also most certainly reflects the utter miscasting of the otherwise worthy Josh Brolin as Gurney Halleck, and the bro-dude meathead in chief Jason Momoa as Duncan Idaho, who delivers a completely tokenistic “ass kicking” fight sequence that was likely written in as a means to ensure that a highly expensive film project would be more likely to go beyond breaking even in the box office.

Yet this also sits alongside a strong sense of ennui and existential dread that permeates the film, and very misfitting performances which come across as so blatantly sterile that they give no power or soul to the film that it could otherwise deserve to have. The browbeaten and downbeat characteristics of some of the characters would have been more suitable for the contexts of Villeneuve’s previous films, as is showcased in slow burning, dark dramas such as Prisoners (2013) and Sicario (2015).

Indeed, the chief character, Paul Atreides is meant to be a boy who amidst uncertainty, overcomes doubt and questioning of his purpose, becoming a man and a ruler, a role that Kyle McLachlan played with aplomb. Timothee Chalamet by contrast sounds and looks like a socially anxious zoomer in desperate need of his next fix of Xanax and SSRI’s. His mother Jessica, played by Rebecca Ferguson lacks the feminine grace of Francesca Annis in Lynch’s version, and the psychic power she has over all forms of brute strength (being a Bene Gesserit) is rendered unconvincing.

Her “strong independent woman” role goes to the extent that she comes across as overbearing and browbeating towards that of her son Paul. Coupled with his whiny, nasally tone of voice, you have an overly mollycoddled lead whose performance makes one ask the question, “should I really be rooting for this person?” It may be observed that a “traditional” portrayal of these roles, as was seen in Lynch’s version are simply not a product of this time and therefore don’t belong to a contemporary adaptation. Various scenes that mimic Lynch’s version, such as the gom jabbar sequence and the use of the audial-neural “voice” conditioning to kill Paul and Jessica’s Sardaukar captors lack the same sense of conviction as the original did, subsequently.

Which brings on the topic of the Harkonnens. Whilst this first instalment omits the appearance of Feyd-Rautha, it portrays the evil of Vladimir and Rabban with cold, clinical sterility, and not in a good way. Stellan Skarsgard, no doubt a competent actor has none of the campy, wicked psychopathy that characterizes Kenneth MacMillan’s portrayal of the Baron, and performance wise comes across as a rehashing of Marlon Brando’s Kurtz in Apocalypse Now. Whilst he is still brutal and violent, none of his perversion and pederastic predilections are on display. Indeed, the screen portrayal of Lynch’s Vladimir Harkonnen, as well as Herbert’s literary portrayal has been savaged in some quarters as blatant homophobia.

History gave us famous perverts such as Nero and Caligula, and even cultural, literary and philosophical movers and shapers such as De Sade, Freud and Foucault, yet to portray a fictional character in a negative light because their inclinations are an outcome of their innate wickedness is to offend a sacred cow within the contemporary cultural power structure. Even though Lynch’s 1984 version was marred by his lack of final cut and the conventionalism desired by the De Laurentiis company, this sign of society having since “moved on” renders it far too risqué to render the character as it once was now. You are not allowed to upset the alphabet people lobby, to do so makes you a bad person. Maybe the second instalment of the series will feature a gay or bisexual Paul, who is to know!!!

More generally, and not unlike many of Christopher Nolan’s later films, Villeneuve’s Dune just comes across as too clinically “perfect”, but in the way that a technically accomplished band such as Dream Theatre can play their instruments and play riffs and solos, yet ultimately give you a completely empty expression. Much praise has been given to how “overwhelmingly powerful” and “otherworldly” this is as a cinematic experience. It is comparable to a Tool fan telling you that the title track from “Lateralus” is the greatest thing ever made because “they used the Fibonacci sequence” when writing it.

For any good and hard work that has been put into this, it is clearly a case of technics over essence, and you will find much more genuinely clever “mindfuck” cinema coming from admittedly degenerate postmodernist film directors such as Gaspar Noe. Which is a shame, as this did have the potential to be a very strong piece of cinema. This analysis will likely be negatively received in many quarters, and would surely illicit bugman-centric responses akin to “can you not just enjoy the fucking film?”, but as a work of cinematic imagination the flawed romanticism of David Lynch’s version is vastly superior to Villeneuve’s take, which also suffers greatly from its sterile acting and ideological sleights of hand.

Featured

Why Judas Priest’s “Painkiller” Is Essential

I recall in my mid teens I shunned this album, having been lent it by a friend of family. It came along with a collection of older, more traditional releases that all veered within the canon of hard rock/proto-metal to the NWOBHM. Cleaner vocals didn’t float my boat, and my naively youthful knee-jerking towards the perceived “cheesiness” of this milieu was crudely overlooked.

More acclimatized to the dark romanticism of black metal and the intense, rhythmic momentum of death metal, it took a couple of more years to really appreciate its excellence. Whilst I was already for some time into speed and thrash metal, this served as an excellent means to join the dots of metal’s lineage.

“Painkiller” is the twelfth studio album by the band, and it marks one of the greatest rejuvenations of a bands form. It comes on the back of albums such as “Turbo” and “Ram It Down”, both undoubtedly entertaining, sunkissed records, but marking a period of artistic drought that saw them trying to engage the glam-metal market.

Recorded in early 1990, this comes at a stage when speed metal’s glory years were past, and death metal was gathering full creative steam. An essential swansong year, it produced some gems that should be regarded as classics, including (but not limited to) the likes of “Rust In Peace” (Megadeth), “By Inheritance” (Artillery), “Seasons In The Abyss” (Slayer) and “Coma Of Souls” (Kreator).

To listen to “Painkiller” on the back of anything they released post-“Defenders Of the Faith” is to hear a vital reignition of a machine that was on the verge of choking on the steam that was charging it. In terms of arrangement and all-round craft it brings together all of what made “Stained Class” and “Screaming For Vengeance” essential.

To view the album cover is to visualize a landscape within the music itself; a soundtrack to apocalyptic urban warfare in which chaos and violence reign. Where law and order have disintegrated and cityscapes lie in ruin, heroic archetypes of iron, thunder and steel emerge in dark hours of dread.

As stereotypically “metal” as this seems, this sets the scene for everything that metal music should be; profound narrative embedded within sound that takes the listener on an epic and mythic journey. As much as some artists and aficionados within this milieu may be at pains to articulate it at times, this all embodies why such music is made, and why metalheads listen to it and take something from it.

Aesthetically, this is not totally withdrawn from the thudding, digital sounding production of “Ram It Down”. Within that crystalline façade is the maturation and stylistic development of the metal genre that has occurred since the early 1980’s, channelling epic speed metal a la Agent Steel and the high concept stadium anthemics of Queensryche.

It is the addition of American drummer Scott Travis that helps fire this new spark within the five piece’s creativity, blessing the record with characteristics that give the British outfit a specifically transatlantic quality. However, rather than channelling the markets that gave the world Motley Crue and Poison as they had on their last two albums, the band channelled metal’s then “alternative mainstream” and underground.

There are traits and motifs borrowed from their new drummer’s previous band Racer X, notably his relentless use of double bass kick drum. The dual guitars of Glenn Tipton and KK Downing take on a similarly neoclassical flair, but thankfully channel this into an overall profound songwriting and listening experience.

The operatic range of Rob Halford now also channels a similar level of alarm and emergency that the clean wails of Tom Araya (Slayer) have. Whilst this is undoubtedly a deeply melodic affair, the aesthetic and technical violence that become inherent and foundational to metal is preeminent here, and the band usher it forth at a time when their creativity appeared to be in a gradual decline.

Rather than being a mere outlet for technique (i.e. “shredding”) and virtuosity, I personally find that Judas Priest have much in common with the loosely defined canon of “US Power Metal” on this album. If one were to remove the “brand name” Judas Priest, then “Painkiller” is a record which easily sits alongside albums such as “Ample Destruction”, “Thundersteel”, “Hall Of The Mountain King”, “Skeptics Apocalpyse” and “Master Control”. This change of aesthetic is similar to what their fellow countrymen Cloven Hoof took on their albums “Dominator” and “A Sultan’s Ransom”.

The components to make a record as strong as this was quite evidently already within the band, waiting to emanate. It simply took new components to achieve that manifestation. They grasped a similar power of narrative and myth that bands who were in turn influenced by them implemented on the back of their legacy. Yet after a few years straddling a creative wilderness, they remerged to perfect what came after them.

Featured

Social Media Outages- Or The Need To Facebook Less

What caused the Facebook outage?

“Modern technology has become a total phenomenon for civilization, the defining force of a new social order in which efficiency is no longer an option but a necessity imposed on all human actvity.” Jacques Ellul

It’s no harm that Facebook temporarily went offline. Too much use of it is a drain of all the good energy within the soul. Despite some valuable connections having been made, since I deactivated my personal account in around April of 2021 I literally can’t be arsed to go back on it. A friend who had also deactivated told me prior of how a “metaphysical weight” had been lifted since he did the deed of deactivating. I have to say that I agree with him. I have since done the same with Instagram, a subsidiary of Facebook.

It’s not as if not being on Facebook, or radically lessening ones passive or proactive use of social media will make one exponentially more happy or ecstatic on an immediate level. One is of course shunning one of various somatic outlets of “digital dopamine”. But a certain level of abstinence makes oneself ask the question “do I really need this?”. To a large extent, the answer is no. Real life and authentic existence must be lived and by all means granted more space in an era of mass technological slavery.

I’m now on the cusp of my mid-thirties. This roughly means that half my life has been my adult life. It was roughly at the age of about twenty that I first began to use social media, MySpace to be exact. In its late noughties heyday, graced by the avatar of its founder Tom, this network still carried an aura of the “virtual wild west” that was a staple of earlier phases of internet use. Expressing ones “individuality”, “virtual self” and interests online had a greater sense of authenticity.

I would opine that part of this uniqueness owes itself to the fact that technological convergence was not as all encompassing at this stage. Apps weren’t simply used at the push of a button. Where addiction to the internet was once seen as the domain of the tech-nerd or the basement dweller, it was not yet the proverbial time vampire that now cannibalizes a large portion of contemporary real-world social interactions.

The whole ecosystem on which many “feeds”, “selfies” and “stories” thrive were briefly rendered obsolete, along with at least one medium where a large portion of online usage tends to consist of the user passively scrolling through the posts of other users, as well as subscribed and advertised pages. One such platform, Twitter, which can at times become known as a cesspool of “doomscrolling” but immediate information access, stayed up.

As part of the hyperreality in which we live, the amplitude of what we project and say online in these “public forums” is maximized beyond breaking point. To say something offensive online is to be considered more greatly profane than to utter it in a pub or a physical public space off camera. To spend time at a beautiful lake or natural landmark is to potentially spend one hour trying to get the perfect Instagram pic at it, as opposed to immersing oneself in the ambience that makes it eternal and profound.

And yet at the same time, if you post your wedding pictures, or post pictures of yourself to the cloud in the midst of an epic hike or an Apollonian weightlifting session, you do so whilst uploading your information to the “global brain” that is at the behest of the shabbily dressed Revenge Of The Nerds oligarch that is Mark Zuckerberg.

You do so whilst appeasing a faceless army of digital marketers and spiteful mutants who happen to be empowered within a deeply maladaptive world. To thrive amongst them one can only tyrannically punish them or pretend to be a victim like them. To make it clear amongst them that one won’t be a victim is to risk rendering oneself a pariah.

Facebook is undoubtedly a cultural behemoth, its temporary wiping off the map an avalanche, a sword in the scales of a digital Leviathan. As a network it has not only been absolute in shaping its users into targeted products as part of a wider ‘cloud’, it has been absolute in its courting of various lobby groups who have enabled it to shape widespread censorship. Its moderators and programmers are for the most part a vindicative global-progressive Stasi, with little satisfaction and much vindication in their hearts.

In an ever increasing technosphere where automation plays an increasingly influential role, perhaps scarily enough the algorithms of such networks have the potential to develop a stronger internal monologue than many of the NPC “workers” that endlessly depth grovel within their office spaces, searching for nuggets of neoplasm, awaiting their doom as their ever-hapless (and useless) middle managers also await said fate, either to be thrown on their own regional/national variation of the dole or “redeployed” into an equally baffling, useless and meaninglessly bureaucratized “project”.

The aloof, hapless, insectoid automaton that is Facebook’s CEO may have exhibited external signs of being phased when it was revealed that up to $6 billion dollars was wiped from his personal wealth in the space of less than an average Western work day. However, the prospect of mass lay offs would surely have the potential to raise a Cheshire cat grin from a face otherwise devoid of empathy. Sacking people en masse would quite easily remedy lost assets.

The only barrier to enacting such a thing would that it would make employment within big tech appear far more dehumanizing than it really ought to look, in part, because there would be far less people to employ. It is also important because it would make it blatantly clear that limitless growth goes hand in hand with a global zeitgeist that stresses that individual and arbitrary liberties, lifestyles, identities and their indulgences should also be without limits, thereby, easily rendered mallable to the technocratic control grid.

I am not telling anyone that they must all cease to use Facebook. But hopefully use it less and less. It can act as a convenient medium to keep in touch or keep up with ones peers or contemporaries, provided it has a positive outlet, but it is a beast that should be fed less and less. There is much talk that the outage may act as a precursor or catalyst to a more sinister form of technocracy, but it should at least hopefully wake some people up and make them realize that what most technocrats want is not a “human” world.

It is one that is becoming increasingly trans-human, post-human, and ultimately anti-human. Those who control the grid, the system, whatever you want to call it, don’t really want or need you. They want to ultimately integrate so far into the technosphere that you ultimately cease to be you, and that you are a total subject that cannot divorce oneself from their control, as opposed to having your own level of control over the instruments that they resentfully wish to enslave you with.

To paraphrase Martin Heidegger, your death is inevitable, you will not avoid fate. But to challenge that fate is one of the greatest and most noble things you can do, amidst a maelstrom of coercive measures. This is not an appeal to become a total Luddite, but to love life and to make it breathe as thoroughly as possible.

Facebook may appear unstoppable, but the breaking of one tiny thread can clearly show how desperate it needs to get in order to breathe and feed itself with oxygen that many people every single day feed their life-force into. This is an appeal to conserve some of that energy so that the beast that many feed may begin to writhe and starve, and that you may thrive at its expense of its parasitism.

Here is a quick list of recommended reading to accompany this rant;

Dmitry Orlov- Shrinking The Technosphere

Theodore Kaczynski- Industrial Society And Its Future

Mark Dice- The Liberal Media Industrial Complex

Neil Postman- Amusing Ourselves To Death & Technopoly: The Surrender Of Culture To Technology

Jacques Ellul- The Technological Society

10 Years Of Vigilance- An Interview

Featured

Slovenian quartet Vigilance have been plying their darkened trade of heavy metal for a full decade now. Excuse The Blood was honored to speak with drummer Tine Kaluža.

2020 marks your tenth year together as a band. Care to explain to us what brought you to come together as a group, and how you matured and developed over the decade? What is the history of the lineup of Vigilance?

The story takes us back to the years before 2010, when Gilian was thrashing with his speed metal band Rager. I’m a fan of the Rager material to this day and seeing those dudes playing back then really made me want a band! Rager soon disbanded and Gilian came forward with the idea of a more NWOBHM-oriented band. Vigilance was born and the music developed quite naturally, according to the influences we’ve had over the years, be them black metal, heavy or prog. The line-up has changed numerous times and lots of good friends helped us by filling in for shows and such. Some half way through the decade, we begun to cooperate with Andrej, who is now a constitutional part of the band.

The aesthetic and overall sound has certainly changed. Material on Steeds Of Time and Queen Of The Midnight Fire reminds me heavily of Killers-era Iron Maiden and Enforcer. Since Hounds Of Megiddo, a more pronounced black metal aesthetic taints your style of traditional metal, largely present within the vocals. What were the factors that brought about the stylistic changes?

With the Steeds EP and the Queen album, our influences were primarily old heavy/speed metal bands, mostly gems like Mercyful Fate and Tank and Jakob, who was at the time our singer (now killing it with his band Challenger!), really had the vocals that would do well with old heavy metal. When we parted our ways with Jakob and a serious long-term singer was nowhere to be found, Gilian has conjured those nasty old early-era-Running Wild vocals we both know he had in him since our first demo with him on the mic and guitar. As we are sworn worshipers of the old black metal scene, fitting some such elements into our music seemed only natural and went really well with the vocals. We really liked how the Hounds album turned out to be and have stuck with Gilian’s vocals ever since, yet they to evolve through time and are represented differently on each of the releases.

More recent songs such as “Blood And Black Lace” and “The Gunslinger” appear to suggest the influence of Italian horror and spaghetti Western cinema. What are the various sources of lyrical inspiration for Vigilance and how do they manifest into written material?

You are most right! Lots of our songs were influenced by various cult classics we tend to watch on rainy weekends. Even on older albums, you’ll have no trouble finding some Monty Python references we couldn’t do without. Apart from cinematography, the influences have really been very diverse, but have always maintained a certain seriousness with which these subjects are approached from our side – history, (local) mythology, sci-fi and fiction, the
occult, … the stuff we love!

Much of the lyrics for your material has been written in English, but on more recent works your native Slovene is being gradually more introduced, in songs like “Nekropola Tiranov”, “Dvoglava kača” and “Črni Kolovrat”. Can a greater balance of songs be expected in your native tongue on future releases? What is the usual composition process with Vigilance songs, in terms of whether songs, lyrics et al come first? Are music and lyrics a collective effort?

A wise friend of mine said that the message of the lyrics is never as thoroughly expressed as in the mother tongue and perhaps he is right! We have only recently started producing some songs in our language and we’re very pleased with the result. There will certainly be more songs with Slovene lyrics to come!

When creating new music, the main thing is ‘the riff’ which is usually presented out of the blue by Gilian. From there on, we usually jam the life out of the riff, experiment with fitting it in a firm song structure, trying out countless ideas, … it is only when the structure of the song is completed, the lyrics start to take form. Each member has his own input and that’s how a group can work!

Having lived in Slovenia myself it’s hard not to notice a large audience for metal, though more often than not this means a sea of Sabaton shirts. You have to dig a little more to find specialized tastes among people. Would you say that there is a Slovene “sound”, or a particular niche within the metal scene there that has a certain character or ethos? If otherwise, do you find kindred spirits in terms of bands from neighboring ex-Yugoslav
countries, or amongst other artists you have toured with?

The metal audience in Slovenia is certainly big and growing! Yet as you have noticed, the majority of the crowd is going for the more popular names in the scene, leaving the underground circles small, but nevertheless strong and persistent. The scene here is very strong when it comes to thrash/death metal and punk bands and we too visit these shows all the time! Considering the fact that blackened-heavy metal was never exactly ‘the hot stuff’ on
the scene, we honestly can’t complain about the support we’ve been receiving by the crowd here, even if they’re primarily more into punk or death metal. There isn’t really a uniform ex-Yu scene per sé, but we are on very good terms with a bunch of Yugo bands, Bezdan and Cidium being two of the bands we’ve definitely played around a lot. We’re also great fans of the old Yugo heavy metal with bands like Dr. Steel, Heller, Pergament,…

There’s plenty of extensive interplay between bass and lead guitar that evokes Steve Harris’ work with Iron Maiden as well as the playfulness of Wishbone Ash’s Argus, as well as the playing of Ritchie Blackmore, Michael Schenker and Gary Moore. Drum fills are often quite energetic, full of martial, syncopated fills. At the risk of sounding similar to questions I might have already asked, what are the individual influences on each member of Vigilance, and how do they bring their musical ideas forward?

Your ears serve you well! Iron Maiden, Wishbone Ash and Deep Purple are some of our greatest influences. Your question is good, since there’s a difference between the bands whose influence has shaped the overall sound of Vigilance and the bands, specifically band members, whose playing has influenced on the playing of each Vigilance member individually. When it comes to such influences, some will be surprised, mostly comes from
prog-rock and old ‘proto-heavy metal’ classics. Let’s put it this way: if metal, heavy or black, influences the direction of the whole band, our musicianship is being steered by the old masters of rock music that is, as we all know, an era that made metal possible.

I felt that Hammer Of Satan’s Vengeance had a pleasantly organic “live in the studio” feel to it; this approach has continued and refined on Enter The Endless Abyss, where subtle gothic and psychedelic influences a la In Solitude seemed to have worked their way into your music. What were the amounts of studio time used to record each of your releases? Can we expect any of these influences to be further explored in the near future?

These are the very details we hope to deliver in greater quantities in the future, since they really let our imagination work when recording them!

The recording process has differed from album to album, but there’s a big difference between the ‘Abyss’ album and everything else we’ve recorded. All of the previous albums were being recorded for an extended period of time, being worked on after jobs and on the weekends, so the recordings often took a few months. While a loose schedule certainly has its benefits, we’ve come to the conclusion that the ‘cons’ beat the ‘pros’. Therefore, the ‘Abyss’ album was recorded in a week practically without us leaving the studio. It was a long and hard week, but also one of the greatest. Recording the album ‘in one piece’ and not over tens of short recording sessions also allows us to capture a certain vibe we’re in at the time, that can
be felt in the music, I believe.

COVID-19 has pretty much ensured that gigs and tours are postponed for the foreseeable future. Did this give any significant delays to you rehearsing or playing any new material? Has the gradual opening up of Slovenia enabled you to start rehearsing again? Would you intend at any time soon to play in Ireland or the UK?

Indeed, the current situation is far from ideal for every person in the music scene and not many gigs will take part in the months to come, if any… The good thing about it is, we have all the time we need to create new music and really take our time to think it through time and again. We’ve been rehearsing intensively and will continue to do so until studio time comes or, when those gig flyers start popping up as they did in not so distant times!

Playing the Isles would be a dream come true and we really hope this all goes away soon and we can start packing the van soon!

Finally, when can we expect new material by Vigilance to be recorded and released? The last words are yours….

The writing of the material is, as said, in full course and with some luck, 2021 will allow us to release some stuff we’ve been working on these months! Thank you for the questions and thanks to the readers! Stay safe during the Corona crisis and we’ll see you on the road in no-time!

Support Vigilance at;

https://vigilanceofficial.bandcamp.com/

Featured

The White Plague; Frank Herbert’s Novel About A Pandemic In Ireland

Frank Herbert will be primarily known as the author of the Dune series, to the extent that its popularity outweighs and obscures his work outside of the franchise. A lesser known work, 1982’s The White Plague takes his science fiction into a more real and bizarrely disturbing setting. I should add that this analysis will contain information that is tantamount to spoilers. So if you’re one whose sense of expectation and titillation are rendered obsolete by notions of “what happens at the end”, then do not read further.

The setting of The White Plague is primarily Ireland, still at that time in the depths of the ethno-sectarian violence that defined The Troubles from the end of the 1960’s until the end of the 1990’s. The protagonist, Irish-American scientist John Roe O’Neill is in Dublin, when his wife and children are killed by an IRA car bomb that parallels the real life Dublin-Monaghan bombing, albeit that the real event was perpetrated by the UVF.

O’Neill is left jaundiced and deranged from the trauma, seeking to bring revenge. He develops a myriad of split personalities, and seeks his vendetta by concocting a disease that only kills women and which has only male vectors, unleashing it on the Irish population. Not only does he unleash it on Ireland for the IRA’s actions, but unleashes it on England for creating the historical conditions which fertilized the IRA, but also Libya for training and supplying them.

In a series of letters and correspondences, O’Neill makes clear his terms and conditions. He demands that each country he has targeted quarantine, so that according to him they might learn to lose what he has lost. In the meantime under a different identity he has returned to Ireland, claiming to offer his services as a molecular biologist but in reality attempting to sabotage any attempts to find a cure.

As speculation about the “Madman” scientist grows, O’Neill journeys to a lab in Killaloe. He is accompanied by an old priest, Father Michael Flannery, as well as a boy who has undertook a vow of silence due to the death of his mother and Joseph Herity, a Provisional IRA man who set off the car bomb that killed his family. Their offer of safe company is really a means to find out whether he truly is the creator of the virus.

O’Neill’s plague inevitably leads to a slippery slope that results in regional lockdowns, quickly graduating to national and global lockdowns, inevitably accompanied by mass hysteria and moral panic. These lead to outbreaks of violence, with scientists and technocrats targeted, as well as members of nationalities suspected of carrying the virus.

The IRA effectively take control of much of Ireland, where a militia called the Finn Sadal take control of key access points and effectively implement their own form of medical martial law. A resurgent form of ultranationalist militarism is added to what was already present in the Troubles, and throughout The White Plague a revival of the traditional Druidic religious practices of Ireland is given reference to. Ancient myths and kings of Gaelic Ireland are alluded to by the Finn Sadal and their leader, Kevin O’Donnell, whilst a character named McRae takes multiple young girls as brides, impregnating them. As women became rarer polyandry increases on a level of primordial superstition.

This brings me to point out something in Herbert’s writing that is conceptually coherent across his work; the alteration of societal values, structure and belief according to scarcities. In Dune, it is the technological purge (the Butlerian Jihad), the universal rarity of the spice melange and the scarcity of water on Arrakis that catalyzes hierarchy and spirituality. In The White Plague then it is the depletion of womankind, her status as a natural counterpart to man, her birth-bearing and familial capacity and the near destruction of these institutions that drive fundamentalism, warfare, genocide and irreversible upheavals, from protagonists of a technocratic/scientific and a spiritual/theocratic worldview.

Another characteristic of Herbert’s writing is his use of epigraphs and selected quotations at the beginning of each chapter, setting the backstory and narrative to the environment of the novel. The work is also undoubtedly well researched, and Herbert certainly took a keen insight into the history of Ireland to animate his fiction, both archaic and contemporary. In setting them within disastrous speculative fiction, he is able to work from real events of political turbulence and bring them into strife ridden dystopias of scientific excess. In The White Plague, he unleashes a neo-Druidic Jekyll and Hyde character in the form of John Roe O’Neill.

Amidst O’Neill’s journey to Killaloe we witness a psychological war between Father Flannery and Joseph Herity. The priests moralistic journey and crisis of faith amidst an eviscerating plague is perhaps his Dark Night Of The Soul. Herity’s borderline psychotic temperament, idealogical purity spiralling and utmost contempt for religious superstition illustrates the follies of militants who see nothing beyond a purely political and territorial solution, negating all structures of spiritual and cultural concern, merely appropriating their facades. Amidst this the psychological layers unfold, becoming more increasingly evident that amidst O’Neill’s schizoid malice lies a heart that once loved normally, and to add more of a dilemma, the hope of Fr Flannery that his presence may drive him to confession. If we consider religiosity to be a key factor of comparison in The White Plague, then Flannery is the closest thing to traditional or perrenial morality akin perhaps to a more aged Muad’dib whilst the earthly, elemental forces summoned by the Finn Sadal are not unlike that of the Bene Gesserit, their militaristic temparment not unlike the Sardaukar. Unlike Dune, where religious forces are the essence of the ultimate power centre, The White Plague is truly dystopian in that the onus of solving the fundamental problems of the narrative are invested in forces that are solely technocratic, scientific and materialistic in their intention and outlook.

The ending of the novel is the most disturbing part, perhaps. The cliffhanger comes with a resolution that restores an uneasy equilibrium, prescient of what would occur in the early stages of an ultra permissive world suited to what is depicted in Huxley’s Brave New World or Logan’s Run. The vengeful malice of one scientist acts as a means by which a technocratic elite can enforce polyandry and a new sexual social contract can emerge, uniquely inorganic and laboratorial. Themes of social engineering are abundant throughout science fiction, and those explored within The White Plague are comparable with other literary works such as Anthony Burgess’ novel The Wanting Seed and Joe Haldemann’s The Forever War. The Malthusian “gynaecocracy” of the Immortals in John Boorman’s 1974 film Zardoz also runs parallel to this, where aggressively masculine minded women rule a world of effete, sexless men who have ceased to acknowledge the inevitable cycle of life and death.

It is inevitable that some commentators will draw comparisons to the COVID-19 situation, though the plague in Frank Herbert’s work annihilates and decimates without mercy. Whilst the real world “pandemic” is far more about social, behavioural, algorithmic and psychological conditioning than it is about the “containment” of a virus, it is testament to how a cynical misuse of technology and the inability of humanity to hold it to account can lead to irreversibly disastrous consequences and “resets”. This can certainly be regarded as having wavelengths with the eagerness of many talking heads in the “scientific community” to instill what Aldous Huxley described as the “pharmalogical method of making people love their servitude”. Given the presence of Ireland today as a proverbial Airstrip One for tax avoidant pharmaceutical companies worldwide, and the cultural deification we see given to “vaccine tsars” such as Anthony Fauci, Luke O’Neill and Bill Gates such a parallel is hardly surprising.

The only criticism that can be levelled at this novel perhaps is Frank Herbert not being native enough to comprehend, discern and interpret dialects in Ireland. The resulting dialogues of some characters are a typically “twee” caricature of Irishisms, which can be easily expected of any foreign person who has spent a limited amount of time in a certain place. However, one can clearly tell he has done his research, as his insights on history and location are well placed within the story. These small inaccuracies are ones likely to evoke a cultural kneejerk from “East Yank” Irish audiences who are in every shape and form the products of a globalistic, Anglo-American liberal worldview. Whether that worldview was shaped by The Commitments or Normal People, they take a profound distaste for those who enquire and give insight to their culture and lineage far more sincerely and earnestly than they do. Whilst they may use that against the author it is proof of their descent into coping with having wilfully dismembered their own culture.

Featured

Vinculum: Tales Of Turanic Techno-Dystopia

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 54917374._SY475_.jpg

Oliver Perrin will be known to some for his YouTube account Semiogogue. With a background in branding, marketing and advertising, Perrin is often keen to elaborate his interest in semiotics, anthropology, ethnography and symbolism in relation to these fields. Along with his past recollections of having lived for some time in Turkey, these interests are incorporated into the storyline of his novel, entitled “Vinculum: A Dystopian Romance In Three Parts”. In this brief analysis I will try not to grasp on specifics of the plot, but try more to animate the author’s built environment with some points of reference.

The novel can be described as cyberpunk with an orientalist twist. Set within Istanbul in the year 2076, the plot follows its protagonist, Alaric McBroom, a book thief who is mercilessly pursued by corporate hitmen and militant Shia Islamist assassins. The future portrayed within Vinculum is one where the written book is not just antique, but a coveted rarity. The technocratic digital space and its corporate monipolies appear to have rendered paper obsolete, the want for control and efficiency bearing an outward disguise of “environmental friendliness”, obscured by the dubious spectacle of light entertainment.

America is portrayed distantly as a society that has literally gone to hell, with some forty per cent of its population incarcerated. The Greater Istanbul region appears to be home to many dissident Westerners no longer at home or welcome in their countries of origin. Flexing its muscles is what appears to be a confident pan-Turkic sphere of influence, where Ataturk’s republic spearheads a wider bloc of neighbouring Caspian and Central Asian states, united largely by ethnic, cultural and religious interests.

Whereas Turkey, and indeed the city of Istanbul is a territory juxtaposed between West/East, European/Asiatic, secular/theocratic, occident/orient, the presence of a rootless, atomized postmodernity appears to abruptly dwell side by side with the myriad of traditions that have formed the cultural genealogy of what is now contemporary Turkish life. The overall narrative reminds me of William Gibson’s technologically convergent and deterministic narratives a la Neuromancer, with much more of the plain facade of “woke capitalism” being more omnipresent, standing face to face with the more organic cultural lineages that Anatolia has offered the world thus far, be they Hellenic, Slavic, Turkic, Circassian, Laz, Armenian, Kurdish, Arabic, Muslim, Christian, pagan or otherwise. A comparison to Orhan Pamuk may be generic, though the Istanbul and Turkey that Perrin explores is more futurist than what is depicted in My Name Is Red.

Whereas Gibson was influenced by the drug-addled absurdism of William Burroughs imagined technological convergence in a pre-internet world, Perrin integrates this into a realm that is all the more relevant and relatable to today’s world. Perrin also maps out Istanbul, its landmarks and locations not unlike how James Joyce did with Dublin in Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake. Thankfully, Perrin exchanges stream of consciousness rambling and linguistic neologisms for their own sake with a sense of cultural familiarity and ethnographic insight.

When one reads Vinculum it is not hard to create a mental image of the world and characters that Perrin has built into his fiction. The authors knowledge and appreciation for the antique and archaic is also aided by the authors knowledge of the contemporary corporate world, branding and public relations, which is presented as having a sterile and clinical soullessness beneath a seemingly benevolent facade. Rather than being presented from the perspective of a booze or opiate addict, the narrative presentation seems to compliment prior first hand insight by the author; it would come across how you may imagine a narrator whom despite sobriety was rendered sleepless by endless time spent in coffeehouses and under constant pursuit.

Featured

The Dream God: A Triumph Of Neoplatonic Science Fiction

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 71kuj3EHvPS-663x1024.jpg
In search of the Godstream

Brendan Heard’s debut novel The Dream God is a deeply intriguing and conceptually fascinating debut foray into the realm of philosophical science fiction. Having enthusiastically read his polemic against the contemporary art world, The Decline And Fall Of Western Art, one can certainly say that parallels can be drawn within his new opus.

Unashamedly this work is indebted to the literary genius of Frank Herbert, whose Dune novels heavily influence the context and plot. However, Heard’s deep grasp of ancient Greco-Roman thought and his ability to build a world around it breathes originality into The Dream God.

Where Dune was a study of power and prescience in a distant future that underwent a vast technological purge, the world of The Dream God is set in a Roman Empire that sustained itself, retaining its pagan, Neoplatonist worldview, and successfully colonizing space.

Where the religious atmosphere of Dune appears to be influenced heavily by technological and material scarcity, The Dream God is a world where the thoughts and writings of Plotinus and his contemporaries influence and discipline the morals and decision making of the protagonists, particularly the lead character of Auric.

Auric’s role can be considered a parallel to that of Paul Atraides; young, agile, disciplined and prescient. The spice melange finds a narrative parallel in the Godstream. This stream, rather than being a coveted and scarce resource, is a portal to the otherwordly, an immaterial conduit to the spiritual capacity to which the Solar Empire can access.

Where the coveted spice melange is known to embolden, corrupt and destroy, like an interplanetary form of Huxley’s soma, the Godstream is a more cththonic, Lovecraftian ecology into which those absorbed by it do not return.

Whereas battles and assasinations play an immediate and violent role in the novel, absorption into the Godstream is not portrayed generically. It is regarded in a manner where the subject ceases to gradually be of existence within the trappings of flesh, to be gradually absorbed further into a chain of being of which humanity is but a conduit. All of this ultimately leads to The One.

Throughout the novel an opposing worldview to the prevailing Neoplatonism is what seems to be a hybrid of atheistic scientism mixed with a sort of fundamentalist Christian heresy. In this alternate history, they are represented as forces that if successful, would bring about materialism, industrialisation, utilitarianism and mercantilism.

Though such thoughts appear implicit, in The Dream God these forces are represented as deeply spiteful, Machiavellian and bent on a willingness to destroy rather than to create, to subvert and undermine rather than to aspire. Unlike Ernst Junger’s sovereign individual, or anarch, they can be viewed as anarchic forces which serve little or no higher purpose beyond pathological malice.

It is this very worldview that prevails in our present reality, one which the author is deeply critical of, where production and consumption are the be all and end all of the vast majority of all commercial, economic, cultural and social engineering. This, in turn with cultural policies of endlessly subjective egalitarianism, make for a dominant zeitgeist where production and “growth” is solely regarded in terms of profits and cold numerics, and where the quality of said output is taken to the lowest common denominator.

It shapes a world of aesthetics where slippery, disingenuous “tastemakers” and clueless, perpetually stoned (and likely blind) hipster sycophants have deemed the squiggles of Jackson Pollock, the sperm stained mattresses of Tracey Emin and the marker pen signed urinals of Marcel Duchamp as having the same level of intrigue and and beauty as the paintings of Velazquez, Riviere, Rembrandt and Rubens.

The Dream God is set in a world where these forces are amply kept at bay by ever watchful protagonists. They use the spiritual discipline of ancient philosophers and theologians as a means to maintain a hierarchy of order, ascendence and sustainability amidst the acceleration of technological change, which is tamed appropriately. It is a work that asks us strict questions about where we humans could be as a species if we weren’t endlessly reigned by the charlatanism that is so often passed off as uniqueness and innovation.

Such a narrative and vision as Heard’s is truly welcome in science fiction. The genre is not short of great work, though it is often rendered existential and dystopian, an attempt to provide an answer or an allegory to a broken world rendered beyond repair. In the solar empire of The Dream God, a scientifically minded theocracy of Roman, Hellenic, Celtic, Germanic and Egyptian cults strive and aspire eternally, towards that which is eternal and endless, rather than a cynical “simulation” of sentient matter. It is man in search of the indivisible essence from which he emanates and should strive to be as close to being in his mortal coil.

Copies of the book can be ordered here. Brendan’s other writings can be found here on his website, The Aureus Press.

Featured

Concerning Richard Stanley & The Moral Psychopathy Of The Film Industry

It was only very recently that I managed to watch Richard Stanley’s debut feature film Hardware (1990). It was not until having conducted a search and an examination of his Wikipedia biography that I became aware of the recent allegations against his name. I do not intend to use this article as either a defense or condemnation of Richard Stanley amidst a process where truths and falsehoods are as of yet unproven. I do however wish to use this article to examine the moral contradictions of a film industry which has granted impunity to abuses of a far more extensive scale, whilst recalibrating its public image to minimize the risk of reputational damage amongst target audiences.

Director Richard Stanley has been cancelled after allegations of domestic abuse

Richard Stanley’s name and reputation seemed to be on the rise of late. It was confirmed last year by the South African director that following the success of The Color Out Of Space, that he would be planning to adapt a trilogy of H.P. Lovecraft inspired films, one of which would include an adaptation of The Dunwich Horror. However, after allegations of domestic abuse from a former partner surfaced in March of this year, it would appear that any favor he was courting is now lost, with production company SpectreVision (co owned by Elijah Wood) having severed ties with Stanley as a result.

Indeed, Elijah Wood himself has stated that Hollywood is awash with cases of child sexual abuse that have largely gone unquestioned and veiled from public scrutiny, due to the affiliation and safeguarding that perpetrators may or may not have with that power structure. Director/producer Bryan Singer and actor Kevin Spacey now face an abundance of claims of inappropriate, exploitative and predatory sexual behavior, many of which are retrospective and inside an industry where their once high reputations had long been shielded from such scrutiny.

The sensitivities surrounding such matters are inevitable in a “post-Weinstein” film industry, where the preservation of one’s “good name” is often at stake. The risk of being tarred with the brush of abuse allegations is often reacted to with swift crisis communications based decisions, with the “believe her” notion running on the momentum of the #MeToo movement coercing the idea of guilt before a verdict can be reached. It is also met with a knee-jerk reaction within the cultural establishment, with the immediate assumption of the accused’s guilt being a form of status signaling.

It is therefore an interesting study in how power works. Richard Stanley now finds himself in a position where he now risks being unable to work again. Whilst all such allegations are deeply disturbing and deserve condemnation if proven true, they illustrate examples of how reputations are tarnished more easily when power structures of big money and lobbying aren’t explicitly backing these individuals. Hollywood has had no problem continously working with Victor Salva, best known for the Jeepers Creepers franchise, even though his convictions for child sexual abuse in the late 1980’s were known to all parties involved in his directorial work.

Disgraced producer Harvey Weinstein produced cinematic efforts by Richard Stanley

This is especially true when an industry undergoes a heavy public relations and spin oriented “clean-up”. Moves such as these are designated to redeem the public image of an industry that has been exposed for malpractice, and create a feel-good impression and narrative amongst its target audience that it indeed is deeply ethically concerned about abuse. The very industry that now supports these measures lobbied in 2009 against the extradition of Polish director Roman Polanski, who was arrested in Switzerland, having absconded from his conviction in the US for statutory rape of a minor in 1977.

Deemed too much of an “asset” to the film industry, his acts were excused and rationalized, and he was rendered a victim of the judicial system that sought him to bring him to justice. His profile was defended and exonerated by leading intellectuals, politicians and public figures in his home country of France, and subject to a petition which was a literal who’s who of leading film industry figures. Cultural power and its lobbying forces were clearly on Polanski’s side.

This is an industry which had a clear and concise knowledge of what he had done in 2009, and whose name had only been expelled from the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences in 2018, just months after the Harvey Weinstein case surfaced publicly in late 2017. Ironically, Weinstein himself wrote an open letter which defended Polanski, his contributions to the film industry and wider accolades rendered as far outweighing his wrongdoings.

No doubt a “mover and shaker” in the time before his undoing, Weinstein notably tried to suggest that Polanski was being made a “scapegoat”, stating that Polanski being found guilty of his offenses made it unreasonable to retrospectively jail him, hence in his own words, “the reason we can all be on Polanski’s side”. The letter also asks its readers to “forget about the seventies era and whether this is excusable”.

A mugshot of Roman Polanski

This inevitably refers to a cultural malaise of moral relativism and permissiveness that was abundant in the 1970’s, portrayed in the character of the underage prostitute Iris in Taxi Driver (played by Jodie Foster), who rationalizes her own sexual exploitation by retorting to Travis (Robert De Niro) “didn’t you ever hear of women’s lib?”. It implies a much wider culture of permissiveness where powerful people could do such things without being caught or apprehended.

This same decade is now one haunted by the ominous spectacle of Jimmy Savile, the English DJ and presenter whose visibly eerie proclivities could sometimes be glimpsed and implied in plain sight, but were overridden by the immense power he held within the BBC in addition to being a well connected philanthropist and public figure. John Lydon, punk rock icon of Sex Pistols and Public Image Limited fame, spoke of Savile’s “seediness” in a 1978 BBC radio interview that was not broadcast at the time.

This brings us back to Richard Stanley, and his relationship with Harvey Weinstein, particularly on his 1990 feature length-debut Hardware. In what he described as an “antagonistic” relationship, he notes that the character of a Lincoln Weinberg Jr. (William Hootkins) was interpreted as a joke on Weinstein himself. Whilst Stanley has claimed that the character was written prior to his involvement with Weinstein and Miramax, there is a disturbing similarity between the portrayed fiction and the revealed fact.

In Hardware, Weinberg’s character is the voyeuristic neighbor of Jill (Stacey Travis) who peeps on her having sex with her boyfriend Mo Baxter (Dylan McDermott). After making crude sexual advances towards her after making his way into her apartment, he is gruesomely killed by the M.A.R.K. 13. robot. Stanley stated that during this time that Stacey Travis was approached by Weinstein and tried to enter her hotel room, insisting that she would “never work again” unless she did as he said.

The character of Lincoln Weinberg Jr. (played by William Hootkins) in Richard Stanley’s Hardware bore an uncanny fictional resemblance to Weinstein

Having stated that she closed the door on Weinstein, Stanley suggested that this hampered the career of a then fledging actress. Such was Weinstein’s power and capacity for control at the time that his wrongdoing, and the fear of “going public” against such power that speculation could not make it into public discourse. Such is the abundance of obfuscating gossip and scandal that emerges from Hollywood Babylon; amidst many misleading falsehoods are disturbing, dark truths.

Compared to the seemingly uncanny, parallel screen portrayal of a character in Stanley’s film that heavily resembles the deeds and exploits of Weinstein, the producer was so eager to cover his tracks that he did not not just fall short of paying for the silence of his victims. Weinstein additionally hired an Israeli private investigative firm composed largely of former Mossad agents to track and profile his accusers and prevent the publication of allegations against him.

Now that Richard Stanley finds himself tarnished by an as yet unproven series of allegations, we again witness the power of a particular movement and how it can a small accusation can make and break individuals when they are rendered far more easy to isolate and break down, especially when they are less likely to have powerful aides. All of this comes at the behest of the corporate, Machiavellian monolith that is the global film industry, which has consistently done one thing and then said another when it is expedient to maintain its grip on power.

Featured

On Boomers & The Century Of The Self

“Boomer” is a word that is used to death, but it has extreme relevance. People younger than that age group get it wrong assuming that boomers are chronically “stuck in the past” or are some sort of dinosaur. Most, yet not all boomers are simply set in their ways and largely incapable of being convinced otherwise. They’re stuck in an eternal present, and they foolishly think that everything that was celebrated in their coming of age will work out well for their children.

People younger than them convince themselves that they’re “old fashioned” because they were the last generation to take getting married for granted. Their excess of disposable income and higher likelihood of being able to own a home and pay it off more quickly created a false impression that they made much greater sacrifices to get what they got and that the “snowflakes” that came after them did not.

They grew up and came of age at a time when the chances are that settling down was much easier and conditions to allow that in their time were much more fertile. A family could still raise multiple children on a single income, and a father with as humble a job as a postman or a binman could fend for them and pay the mortgage in a generation. Now two incomes will likely beget fewer children, sometimes none and a mortgage will last at least a third to a half of a person’s life.

To a large extent, you can’t get boomers away from television sets, as they were the first generation to grow up in front of them. They might sound like dinosaurs when they complain about the “younger generations” and their immersion in video gaming, PC’s, smartphones, tablets et cetera but these are likely the same people who like to “switch off” from reality by watching shitty soap operas, reality television programmes, and endlessly syringing themselves with fear porn about a virus that is not highly likely to kill them.

They endlessly invest trust and faith in “experts” who enjoy extensive coverage in the mass media and public relations system. Their “escape” from it all is the same reality they live every day, their mental prison. They are the most obedient slaves of a technological system. Even though we all use this system to communicate and disseminate, they are generally the most helpless in being able to efficiently navigate it with literacy.

They are the generation who ridiculed and mocked their disciplinarian, stoic elders who experienced the horrors of war and mocked their “stuck up” ways. Guided and coerced by the sexual revolution, the post-WWII counterculture, they embraced its most superficial idioms and trade-offs. They’ll harp on about a “strong work ethic” but when without “chores” or the need to tinker around and busybody for the sake of filling up the vacant time, they enter an existential juncture and become sentient meat puppets, or they undergo an embarrassing ‘second puberty’ (or a ‘midlife crisis’) and find some surrogate ‘hobby’ to placate the horror of the void.

They were conditioned to think that things such as normalizing abortion, divorce, extra-marital affairs, and the pursuit of fulfilling every liberty for the sake of it was the only way to live, and how everyone ought to live, and that it would be good for everyone to take it on board. They did not do this out of nothing, it was influenced by powers that they didn’t even know in person, who influenced them through cathode rays and radio airwaves, who were in turn influenced by large foundations and interest groups.

And even if they did not partake directly in these liberal changes, they cheered them on regardless, and will continue to cheer these things on in public as a matter of social and cultural expedience in order to be accepted by manufactured, astroturfed consensus. Many of them will complain of the way things have gone and become, even though the discontent, oligarchy and misery of today are the results of what they largely embraced. They did not expect that allowing a mass culture of permissiveness and indulgence with no care for it’s consequences would result in their society becoming a literal free for all that anybody would gain the right to inherit.

Yet still they are unflinching in their belief that what they were coerced into embracing was right; never do they think it might have been a ruse to render them more docile and spooked by oligarchs and the narratives they spin. For the most part, don’t listen to their advice unless they’ve been able to condition themselves otherwise from the milieu into which many of their peers were inculcated, and in which they wish to inculcate you. Only consider what might be practical and what won’t kill your spirit.

Featured

Does The Nostalgia Industry Threaten Metal’s Great Chain Of Being?

“Not only has there never before been a society so obsessed with the cultural artifacts of its immediate past, but there has never before been a society that is able to access the immediate past so easily and so copiously.”

Taken from Simon Reynolds “Retromania: Pop Culture’s Addiction To It’s Own Past”, this statement may seem blatantly obvious, but as technology becomes more far reaching, accessible, making connectedness far easier than it ever has been before, it’s validity can certainly be applied when people forward the notion that most new musical output is imitative, and that it is quite difficult to discern individual differences between artists. The quantum stylistic leaps that broke new ground in metal since Black Sabbath’s eponymous 1970 debut and hit a vital blossom phase throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s evidently started to run dry by the mid to late 1990’s, depending on what way you want to look at it. Writing about “the slow cancellation of the future” in contemporary culture, Mark Fisher stated that;

“one can play a jungle record from 1993 to someone in 1989 and it would have sounded like something so new that it would have challenged them to rethink what music was, or could be”

Whilst theoretically based music and cultural critics such as Reynolds and Fisher appeared to overlook heavy metal in favor of the types of music that were historically more favorably by the pop culture establishment, the above quote is just as applicable to metal music and all of its subsidiaries as it is to non-metal music, adjacent or not. Applicable examples of such leaps can be seen in the timelines separating Deathcrush (1987) and De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (1994) by Mayhem, Abominations Of Desolation (1986) and Altars Of Madness (1989) by Morbid Angel, Bathory’s self titled 1984 debut to 1988’s Blood, Fire, Death, or Wrath Of The Tyrant (1992) to In The Nightside Eclipse (1994) . In addition to my insight, the blog Hate Meditations has done an excellent analysis of Simon Reynolds book.

Analyzing every single minutiae, trend and subgenre that has emerged would be incredibly exhaustive, to the extent one could write books about it. So in the hope of not straying too far from the intended context, I wish to try and limit my examples in as specific and concise a manner as is possible. I am not aiming to dismiss bands and artists here because they have certain points of reference or that they make no secret of who influences them. What I am critiquing is that many new bands risk imitating the past without adding any new sense of identity to it, and that merely repacking nostalgia for the sake of doing so gives little new essence, vitality or distinction to what influenced it, and risks forsaking anything of substance. This is not to be confused with for instance, one band being strongly influenced by another band, or a band using another’s influence on their sleeve as a point of reference in crafting engaging music.

We can certainly agree that many significant figures of the NWOBHM took a strong degree of influence from Motorhead, Judas Priest and Rainbow, but that they evidently took what they were doing in its own direction, developing its own voice. We can definitely see that Bathory, Hellhammer, Slayer and Sodom took on discernable influences on their early work, but were making a conscious effort to try and break beyond them despite the embryonic and chaotic simplicity that defines their earlier work. What became “proto” black and death metal really started to develop as a language from here.

We can not doubt that those who rendered death and black metal into fully foundational genres took on obvious influences, but forged new paths as if part of an organic chain of being. But when fledging artists emerge inspired by these originators, to what extent do they carry that torch into new territory, if any? Can an overt fixation on the past, or a “retromania” be in many cases be a sign of overall artistic stagnation? Can this fixation be used as a window dressing to convince audiences of “authenticity” whilst remaining artistically redundant? Such phenomena has always been the subject of much debate, this is certainly no new topic, but deserves more specific insight within the metal genre.

Whilst I am not Venom’s biggest fan on a musical level, one can firmly acknowledge that the Newcastle three-piece managed to harness the nihilistic anger and aggressive technique of punk rock within the NWOBHM and open the gateway for new musical language to be matured by the speed, death and black metal movements that emerged in their wake throughout the rest of the 1980’s and the early 1990’s. Venom’s legacy as a prime originator of the umbrella terms such as “extreme metal” or indeed “black metal” (the title of their 1982 sophomore album) is something that can barely be disputed, and served as a model by which successive musical outfits could play more boldly, aggressively and intensively than their predecessors, eventually maturing and honing their craft from a state of becoming into something that truly is.

These developments are clearly not understood (and likely not willing to be understood) by countless numbers of “Venom worship” acts and other iconoclasts, who essentially seem fixated on mimicking their output as well as the works of various “pre-second wave” bands. Why this trend is so abundant cannot be put down to one single happening, though the stylistic shift of Darkthrone towards tiresome, derivative dad rock dressed in the veils of “black ‘n’ roll”, “blackened crust”, “black thrash” or “metalpunk” in the mid to late 2000’s is one of the likeliest catalysts. It is something that has evidently influenced both hipsters and “new old school” types in equal measures.

Whilst countless bands within these pools may not intend to do anything more than “worship” their idols in the form of their recordings, what will risk rendering many of them less unique and less essential to the musical lineage that they are a part of is that little of their output has an iota of the individuality that their forebears had. Many of the prototypes for what would later develop into “extreme metal” clearly sounded as if they were making a conscious effort to break themselves free of what they were already playing at the time and build new tropes, ideas and forms that would become uniquely embedded into the musical framework of a constantly evolving genre.

Venom emerged at a time when the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal was already in full swing, and had some of the gutsy swagger one would associate with bands such as Motorhead and Saxon. Their sense of outlandishness and theatricality was certainly a trait that the band had in common with fellow Geordie power trio Raven, though Venom were less technically polished and proficient. Unlike the virile, Apollonian, high energy “athletic rock” of Raven, Venom used punk’s speed and attitude, and applied the macabre, occult topics that were touched on by Black Sabbath in their early material.

Using the shock tactics one would have associated with the likes of Alice Cooper and KISS during this era, Venom brought forward songs and lyrics which appeared to openly espouse Satanism. Though this was far more a case of wanting to outdo their musical forebears rather than an explicit worldview, and more of a conscious effort to present the music as more “evil” sounding. Cronos, founding member is quoted as stating that Ozzy Osbourne would “sing about evil things and dark figures, then spoil it all by going ‘Oh God, help me!'”. With Venom, metal moved further towards covering occult themes from the first person perspective of the “evildoer”. From a thematic and narrative point of view, this expression becomes increasingly visceral and convincingly unironic in its performance, a testament to the dark, mythical energies that the genre could harness.

Following on from this, the technical proficiency and theatricality of Mercyful Fate in the early 1980’s would take the ghoulish and macabre extremes that Venom took on board, borrowing their speed and subversion and applying the technical and operatic intensity of Judas Priest and Diamond Head. Amidst the piercing falsetto and range of singer King Diamond, the twin guitar pyrotechnics of Michael Denner and Hank Shermann took clear inspiration from the twin guitars of Glenn Tipton and K.K. Downing of Judas Priest, as well as an abundance of structural influence from proto-metal of the 1970’s and progressive rock. Their knack for profound composition on Melissa (1983) and Don’t Break The Oath (1984) would be an essential root influence for much of the technical and progressive heavy and speed metal works to come forth in the 1980’s. Kerry King acknowledged that both he and Jeff Hanneman of Slayer were heavily influenced by the Danish band at the time of writing and recording 1985’s Hell Awaits, which reflects in the lengthier songs and more complex arrangements.

In the meantime, both Hellhammer (soon to become Celtic Frost) and Bathory took Venom’s approach to a more logical extreme. The punk influence now came more directly from hardcore and UK82 bands such as Discharge, The Exploited and Charged GBH. The foggy, cavernous, “necrotic” atmosphere that almost seemed accidental on Venom recordings now became fully fledged tropes. This would follow suit with many other bands, some of the most blatant examples being NME with 1986’s Unholy Death, Slaughter with 1987’s Strappado and Flames Of Hell with 1987’s Fire And Steel being examples of where the more “pure”, unadulterated influence of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost was taken, ultimately being brought to its conclusion with the eviscerating and unmistakable “buzzsaw” tone made famous by Swedish death metal bands such as Entombed and Dismember.

Celtic Frost’s later direction would broaden in terms of experiments, boasting the use of timpani, french horns, female vocals and orchestras, avant garde approaches which along with Mercyful Fate’s operatic approach would pave the way for early black metal to take on increasingly symphonic textures. Building on the momentum of several well received demos were Master’s Hammer, a Czech five-piece whose 1991 debut album Ritual would according to Fenriz of Darkthrone would be “the first Norwegian black metal album”, in spite of them being from a different country. Boasting a granular, dark and ethereal atmosphere, Ritual builds on the dark, atmospheric riff progressions that Bathory cultivated on The Return and Under The Sign Of The Black Mark, incorporating the epic embellishments of Blood, Fire, Death into a form of foundational black metal.

Fenriz was not wrong in this assertion, as the record has many similarities to great works by many of the bands Norwegian peers who were most certainly influenced by it. It is however on 1992’s The Jilemnice Occultist that this is taken to an unforeseen level of eclecticism, filtering the Faustian aspirations of Celtic Frost’s Into The Pandemonium and the high concept, melodic heavy metal leads of King Diamond into their musical oeuvre, which they made their own. It is without doubt that without Master’s Hammer, the genealogy of black metal would have lost a vital missing link, and what we would know it to be today would be bereft of the dark romanticism that become overt in the European scenes that emerged in the early 1990’s.

It from here that Darkthrone are an interesting outfit to consider in regards to their later career direction. Throwing off an intricate, clever yet melodic take on death metal with 1991’s Soulside Journey not dissimilar to early At The Gates, they became more purposely raw, hybridizing the structure and dynamics of death metal whilst using tropes that first formed with first wave black metal bands (Bathory, Hellhammer) to cultivate a lo-fi atmosphere that became increasingly arcane, cryptic and as bleakly monochromatic as the album art for A Blaze In The Northern Sky (1992), Under A Funeral Moon (1993) and Transilvanian Hunger (1994) would suggest.

This approach became chronologically more minimal, with melody and harmony becoming both more direct and trance-like, crystallizing black metal’s reputation as an authentic musical form and cementing many tropes and stereotypes along the way. 1995’s Panzerfaust, their last essential release, rekindles the rugged flame of A Blaze In The Northern Sky but with an anthemic, epic, barbarian vigor that paralleled a national and folkloric consciousness that had become preeminent within the Norwegian scene in that decade. Not only are these albums by Darkthrone essential, they defined what is now seen as the epitome of traditional black metal, with both a primitive yet progressive approach to making new rules in music.

As is the case with many of their contemporaries, some of that magic wore off. Whilst 1996’s Total Death was a fair exercise in vibrant melody that echoes the melancholy of the first two Gorgoroth albums with the overtly thrash influenced “Blasphemer” and the “Triumph Of Death” styled closer “The Serpent’s Harvest”, one can sense a band growing tired and bereft of their essential spark, and this defines a mid-period decline which largely consists of Fenriz and Nocturno Culto playing their “brand” of “black metal by numbers”. A need to rediscover “authenticity” manifests in the band blatantly paying tribute to their influences, as opposed to shaping them with any sense of individuality.

Later Darkthrone seems more to be about making a statement that the band “don’t give a fuck”, and want to try and project a blue collar misanthropy that attempts to peddle overtly referential ironic humour. To borrow from a review by Noktorn at Trial By Ordeal;

“riffs just go into other riffs regardless of how they might flow together because there’s no greater sense of interaction between parts. Darkthrone are simply firmly aware that with enough style, attitude, and brand recognition, they can coast through basically anything without criticism.”

When listening to Darkthrone records, from The Cult Is Alive (2006) onwards, one can certainly sense that riffs have been placed together more randomly and without an artist’s intent to create a musical journey as they did in earlier works. It is a case of a band failing to sustain unique attributes that made them interesting, supplanting them with a brattish will to “do what the fuck we want”. This is also definitely true for a legion of admirers of listeners to more recent Darkthrone listeners who insist on the higher merits of these albums, whether it is “traditional” metalheads who believe that they have redefined what makes their work “true” and see little more than riff to bang their head to or hipsters who find their newfound “spark” as saccharine as their favorite craft beer.

Needless to say, “punk infused” efforts such as Fuck Off And Die (2007) and Dark Thrones And Black Flags (2008) will happily placate any further justification to not listen to Oi! and hardcore influenced black metal efforts such as Ugra-Karma (1993) by Impaled Nazarene and Facta Loquuntur (1996) by Absurd that pre-date this, as such bands are well within the politically incorrect capacity to be judged unworthy of having broken any such ground in the first place. If you repackage and commodify nostalgia in a way that a conditioned consumer audience will see fit, then results in something that will be far less likely to be conditioned to scrutiny within various peripheries of the metal and punk communities.

This was surely not so easily afforded to the doom metal movement of the 1980’s, where the likes of Saint Vitus and Trouble, inspired by then veteran bands such as Black Sabbath and Pentagram, now found themselves out of date, dismissed by the mainstream metal community which had acquiesced to the demands of big label executives (glam, AOR), and speed and death metal scenes which were in a proverbial “arms race” to out-extreme one another. Nostalgia can come and go much more freely and far less organically than today, and many who engage this will find less difficulty of lacking of peers, be it in person or virtually.

After rejoining Peaceville Records, Darkthrone are essentially like a tool of a well oiled public relations strategy; their output has all the sheen, appearance and packaging of being real and authentic, but regardless of the odd good sequence and occasional echo of old glory that occurs in some songs, their output is far more a “product” and a “brand” designed to entertain and stimulate a dopamine rush than offer any real experience, all the while dressed up and presented as being “groundbreaking”. Fenriz is an undoubtedly highly talented musician, outside Darkthrone having used the Neptune Towers project to release Berlin School inspired electronica a la Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream. Besides a sole full-length, 1995’s Hostmorke, 1994’s Vinterskugge saw Fenriz bridge together recordings in the areas of primitive death metal, traditional doom metal and folk inspired heavy/black metal, and they serve as fascinating outlying examples of things that could have been, which never fully quite were.

If Darkthrone had really gone and taken a “risk” artistically and musically in later years, they might have revisited or picked up from the atmospheric, crystalline death metal of their debut album Soulside Journey (1991), or the eclectic, primitive “lost” Goatlord (1996) rehearsal tape, recorded before A Blaze In The Northern Sky but scrapped. Whilst you can clearly discern their influences, they were clearly using their abilities as musicians and songwriters as a means to make their music as much an invigorating experience as possible. This made for music that was authentically stimulating and innovative. Ideas and approaches such as these are lost on bands who exist solely to worship the bands they love and fail to grow organically beyond that, or whose purpose to “overhaul” a musical tradition is so outright that it falls short of being musically engaging, or ends up being something it isn’t but otherwise claims to be.

We must remember that Darkthrone’s abrupt departure from death metal to black metal in the early 1990’s was a true exercise in risk taking, which Fenriz states was met with dismay by Peaceville Records at the time. Darkthrone had according to Fenriz signed to the label as a (insert product here) “death metal band” and that their newfound necrotic, lo-fi black metal approach would present a reputational risk that would hurt the public image of their label. Releasing a string of classic albums, and perhaps aided by the infamous media spectacle of criminality and violence that is now central to the lore of Norwegian black metal, this can be now retrospectively viewed and recalibrated as a “success story”, a gamble that paid off.

As underground metal becomes increasingly managerial, PR and “brand” orientated, these tales of old can be recalibrated, engineered and “optimized” in a way that will exuberate the appearance of being wild, dangerous, challenging and unsafe. In layman’s terms, these are marketable, and the “underground mainstream” will engage that to the extent that they will only engage a “risk” if they are not hurt by it. A controversy, or a kick of the hornets nest is something that can be engaged under the condition that the label may stand to benefit in the long run. If the asset (band, musician) is failing to meet that condition, and their handler (label, management, agent) foresees a “net negative”, then this runs the potential to be a “deal-breaker”.

This would logically explain an overabundance of “waves” of traditional metal which have been prominent since the late 2000’s and throughout the 2010’s whose output tend far more to be about iconoclasm of old bands than creating their own unique voice out of their inspirations. With a few exceptions of quality bands and releases, this seems to be a general rule, and a great example of “retromania” that does very little for the good of the music itself. Such approaches are widely accepted within both traditional and progressive cliques, and should be regarded as a symptom of a “poser” mentality amongst bands and fans.

As cringe as the overuse of the word “poser” is, the use of this term should not just be a term of disdain for spiteful outsiders who wish to commodify or appropriate metal towards ideas of what it shouldn’t be; it should also used towards those whose output and social posturing merely function to gatekeep for the sake of gatekeeping, as well as validate inferior representations or copies of copies with no distinction or separability from the original material. Whether these are clones of Venom, Darkthrone, Blasphemy, Incantation, Deathspell Omega or Suffocation, we should heed to recognizing patterns and acknowledging where problems arise in order to try and separate wheat from the chaff.

Featured

Chuck Schuldiner: Was He Really Death Metal’s Messiah?

The question of Death is an interesting one. Any discussion of the band in a public forum with metal listeners is bound to incite an impassioned reaction. In many instances I have found that this manifested in a gushing appraisal. Some of these people had the profile of being individuals who had clearly first got into them through hearing Symbolic and The Sound Of Perseverance in school.

Like someone with a history of depression and self harm who always revisited their Alice In Chains CD’s as a means to trauma bond, it was always clear that people of this archetype would refuse to divorce themselves from the nostalgic connections and dopamine rushes they had with their first listens to these records. To question the quality of these albums in a negative way was to infringe negatively on the deeply personal sensitivities these individuals held about the musical outfit headed by Chuck Schuldiner.

There are of course, more traditionalist fans of Death’s output, and more mild ones. Some will state that only Scream Bloody Gore and Leprosy are sacrosanct, whilst others (like myself) believe that the only great output by the band runs up until 1991’s Human, the record which truly opened the “progressive” floodgates in their discography. One viewpoint seems to be unanimous however; Chuck Schuldiner is indisputably the master of death metal. He invented it, you owe him a debt, and to understate this is heresy.

There are also those who insist that on portraying Schuldiner in only negative terms. Notions held are not limited to the following;

  • that he was given far too much credit for being a foundational figure in death metal
  • that he is falsely attributed the status of being the “godfather” of death metal
  • that he was a sell-out, a hipster and a trend hopper
  • that the presence of the name Schuldiner negates other musicians contributions

Much like once great speed metal peers Metallica (whose musical and artistic decline I have written about here), Death had a name that was brand-worthy. Whilst any other choice of a moniker would risk an aesthetic disservice, it is quite clear that the band’s self image, one which was subject to constant change has a sense of not just loyalty, but expectation. This ultimately serves to impact for better or worse how a listening or fan base will interpret and judge works by the artist, whether they are listening for the first time or retrospectively.

Through their formative years, beginning as Mantas before changing name, what matured into the foundational death metal of Scream Bloody Gore was preoccupied with horror, gore and the undead. Take the mildly offensive lyrics from “Zombie Ritual” (vomit for a mind/maggots for a cock/with his axe/the corpse will chop) and you have a quite generic template that defines the lyrical direction of the album; something perfectly coherent for an aficionado of underground 1980’s metal and what would no doubt strike an outsider or the untrained as “grug brained”.

What began as lyrical inspiration from the cinema of Lucio Fulci (Zombie, City Of The Living Dead, The Beyond), Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator), Umberto Lenzi (Cannibal Ferox) and Sam Raimi (the Evil Dead series) would later evolve to become more based on personal perception and experience, then more philosophical. Through each album in the Death catalogue, these steps become quite apparent. Even the step away from from commissioning Ed Repka’s unmistakably macabre and apocalyptic illustration for the first three Death albums in favor of the more abstract, non-representational (and ultimately less memorable and inspiring) pieces by Rene Diville from Human through to Symbolic can be seen as a desire to withdraw from metal “cliches” and aspire towards something more individualistic and subjective.

This change becomes somewhat clearer on 1988’s Leprosy. Compositionally this may very well be their most consistent and strong release, and shows increased sophistication in songwriting. Songs are given more breathing space by the now iconic Morrisound production, and there is an abundance of great riffs, solos and interplay between Chuck Schuldiner and Rick Rozz, who returned to the Death lineup after forming Massacre. But an implicit socialization is coming into the lyrics, and whilst it is cleverly encoded in the macabre language of metal, you can chronologically determine how this might change over time. As exemplified in the title track, the issue of societal misfits and ostracism is brought up;

“Bodies deformed way beyond belief
Cast out from their concerned society
Flesh contorting day after day
Freak of the dark world is what the people say”

Many tend to over-emphasize and judge the quality of Death’s material on the basis of their “progress”, musically and lyrically, and it is on Spiritual Healing that the implicitly social aspects of Death’s lyrics become a full real world conduit. All semblances of gore and horror are eschewed in favour of lyrics concerning drug addiction (“Living Monstrosity”), schizophrenia (“Defensive Personalities”), mass murder (“Low Life”) as well as abortion and eugenics (“Altering The Future”, “Genetic Reconstruction”). These insinuate the abstract yet cynical lyrics that are expounded on in 1991’s Human, the first truly “progressive” album by Death, and certainly the best of their “later period”.

The riffs are now a blend between the primitivism of Death’s first two albums, yet ventures into the use of odd time signatures and more overtly melodic breaks and leads courtesy of James Murphy, who many will know for his stellar work on Obituary’s Cause Of Death. There is a notion amongst some listeners that Spiritual Healing is amongst the “worst” Death albums, which is undoubtedly influenced by the fact it is the most uncanny moment in their discography. Its reputation amongst “fans” would likely enjoy greater admiration with another name, brand, even vocalist attached to it.

Perhaps Spiritual Healing’s biggest flaw, and one of the most prominent critiques of Schuldiner’s songwriting is that riffs at times come across as randomly thrown together. Riffs that would fit perfectly on Leprosy are put right next to more directly melodic sections which meld together more cohesively with the technical, avant-garde sensibilities that are embraced on Human. It is a clear example of the “growing pains” some musicians display at a certain chapter in their discography, where a transition isn’t achieved as wholesomely as expected, but the primitive energies and influence that still reside in Death’s approach manage to overcome what is compositionally amiss.

On their fourth album the band become increasingly technical and complex, both musically and rhythmically. This is in doubt aided by the addition of Cynic’s Paul Masvidal and Sean Reinart on guitars and drums, as well as bass guitar virtuoso Steve DiGiorgio of Sadus fame. Intricate, sophisticated yet compact, Human is rich in texture, and absorbs its new musical direction at a time when Atheist had already broken new ground in death metal through their first two albums Piece Of Time and Unquestionable Presence, building on a tradition of technical speed metal pioneered by bands such as Watchtower, Coroner and Voivod.

It is here where I would like to introduce some skepticism to the onus given to Schuldiner as a “pioneer” in these new developments. Death metal was already an established musical form, and the early 90’s was a critical tipping point which saw many now legendary groups recording their best and most aspirational work. It would be crude to simply state that Human was an exception, though if you were to listen to solely a Death acolyte, you might be persuaded to think this was the case. Speaking retrospectively of the Tampa, Florida death metal scene, Atheist’s Kelly Shaefer recollects the following;

“When we played shows in Tampa with DEATHChuck would say things about us like that we were so noisy that we sounded like a train station. It was strange to hear that, because we were just a demo band at that point and we couldn’t understand why he was slagging us off. I think he just didn’t understand what we were doing. At the time, he didn’t think that jazz should have a place in metal. He even said that jazz shouldn’t have a place in metal on many occasions. He would say that we didn’t listen to metal at all and that we just listened to jazz.”

It is worth re-emphasizing that Atheist had recorded their first album Piece Of Time towards the end of 1988, around the same time Death had released Leprosy. Whilst Leprosy certainly helped calcify death metal’s “Morrisound” production aesthetic, Atheist were already committing to tape material that foresaw what both Death and Cynic would end up receiving just as much, if not more credit for. A delayed release, finally emerging in 1990, it’s impact may have been more substantial.

If Schaefer’s statement is to be considered true, then it is reasonable to believe that the persistent direction changes in Death’s discography are more a product of outside influence and a desire to fit in, and said “change of heart” is more an adaptation to changes in circumstance rather than possessing an onus and totality of innovation. Such an onus is also falsely ascribed to records such as Symbolic, which to some Death fans is not only their artistic pinnacle but one of metal’s all time greatest releases. Riffs could all easily fit an 80’s melodic/progressive/speed metal LP like a glove but the window dressing of “death metal vocals” deceive, titillate and drive the assumption that new ground has been broken. A similar assumption is drawn with their epitaph, The Sound Of Perseverance.

One need only listen to the sole album recorded by his project, Control Denied and discern the lack of stylistic difference on display. A trained ear can discern that riffs, composition and technique are very much similar to said later Death albums. It is only the presence of a traditionally inclined heavy metal vocalist in the register of Ronnie James Dio, King Diamond or Warrel Dane that renders their material as having any degree of difference. Due to “cringe” sensibilities that inhabit some metal communities or fanbases, Control Denied may be written off as “cheesy”, though there is little separating them from what Schuldiner had already been recording under the Death moniker from the mid to late 1990’s.

With these observations in mind, then these are not to fault Schuldiner himself, as he has apparently been on record as stating that French heavy metal outfit Sortilege were his all time favourite band. Other influences to him were Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, Queensryche and Watchtower. Indeed, the increased accessibility that is evident on 1993’s Individual Thought Patterns has the pace, aggression and technical precision of Human, but is becoming increasingly bereft of death metal influences in terms of form. One can argue that the influence of Watchtower’s 1985 debut Energetic Disassembly looms large over Death’s fifth album.

To go back to early material, it is also important to recognize that whilst 1987’s Scream Bloody Gore can undoubtedly considered an early work of foundational death metal, works such as Seven Churches (Possessed), Season Of The Dead (Necrophagia), Morbid Visions (Sepultura), Abominations Of Desolation (Morbid Angel) and Fuckin’ Death (Death Strike/Master) had either been recorded or released prior to this. To conclude, whilst Death are an important component of metal history, they should not be considered as the sole progenitor. As a whole, this piece does not attempt to bash Chuck Schuldiner or the body of work he left behind. Rather, it should serve as a critique of widely held conceptions and narratives amongst some of Death’s hardline fanbase that have proliferated over decades and are constantly masqueraded as absolute truths.

Featured

Mefitis- Offscourings (2021)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is mefitis-1024x963.jpg

Mefitis are a truly refreshing band. Signed to Hessian Firm, they are a bold example of substance over style. Their aesthetic framework borrows openly from melodic Scandinavian death/black metal. Apt comparisons would include Slaughtersun by Dawn, Far Away From The Sun by Sacramentum, The Nocturnal Silence by Necrophobic, A Velvet Creation by Eucharist and the anthemic punchiness of North From Here by Sentenced.

Mefitis are very much doing their own thing. I do not mean this in the sense that they are purposely “re-inventing the wheel”, but that they play in a style that is natural and organic to them and genuinely draws on its influences as opposed to being part of any sort of current “wave”. I refer here to a myriad of bands that fall into an “new school of old school” death metal bands that draw on older traditions, but who seem far more focused on how the music appears rather than the actual essence and impact of what they’re doing.

There is a constant vibrancy and cohesiveness to Offscourings that sets it apart from many contemporaries in underground metal. They’re quite comfortable with their influences, and within the confines of a well defined aesthetic they bring forward strong compositions. The album throughout has a constant sense of momentum and engagement that doesn’t simply go for the “riff” or “theme” or “technique”.

Mefitis have clearly grasped the idea of how to express artistic totality in composition, and have transcended the subjective candy-coating that is granted to many of their contemporaries. There’s no randomness to be found in listening to Offscourings, and everything feels and sounds as if it were thrown into the compositions with purpose and passion. It is what separates the wheat from the chaff, and the essential from the merely sensational.

Featured

Sarcofago- INRI (1987)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is sarcofago.jpg

Whilst certainly not the first release of its kind within its era and region, Sarcofago’s INRI can certainly be considered the most innovative and groundbreaking releases of the early Brazilian death//black/thrash scene. After appearing on the legendary 1986 Cogumelo Records compilation Warfare Noise, Sarcofago would emerge the following year to spew forth their debut full length. Stylistically and aesthetically, there any many tropes to INRI that would be later calcified in much black metal, death metal and grindcore technique to follow.

A particular component of INRI that defines it is the chaotic attitude that distinguishes them from other Brazilian contemporaries. Rhythm guitar technique juxtaposes with pace; slower sections consisting of foreboding string bends and hammer-ons a-la Hellhammer with fast, frenetic and melodic speed strumming in the style of the first Bathory LP. Overlaying this is a matrix of maniacal, mechanized, blasting percussion courtesy of DD Crazy (later of Sextrash) which is akin to a more direct, compact take on the performance heard on Sodom’s Obsessed By Cruelty.

Undoubtedly, there is a strong claim to state that INRI is one of the pivotal game changer’s in underground metal whereby the blastbeat becomes a permanent foundation of technique for bands to rely on. As the decade moved on and “proto” black/death metal became a more “complete” form, this truly solidified what many of their influences had been building beforehand. Lyrically, Sarcofago takes the visceral and nihilistic gutter anger of punk acts such as fellow Brazilians Ratos De Parao and Finns Terveet Kadet and encodes it in sacrilegious, blasphemous tirades that make an ideal conceptual fit.

Narrated by the bestial ,compressed shrieks and death grunts of Antichrist Wagner, this helps round out a savage debut album that remains their most important and influential. Followed by the more “mature” Rotting (1989) and the solid, polished transition to the death/speed metal of The Laws Of Scourge (1991), it also their most memorable and catchy material. It is undoubtedly the prototype of the “war metal” substyle that was pioneered Canadian cavemen Blasphemy, and can also be said for Finnish acts Beherit and Impaled Nazarene.

The way in which Sarcofago on INRI articulated their melody within an increasingly aggressive musical framework was also to prove essential to a then embryonic underground metal scene in Scandinavia. Artists such as Mayhem, Darkthrone and Burzum would filter these formulas into a sublime ambience that would help render European black metal into a complete form.



Featured

Exodus- Bonded By Blood (1985)

One of the worst things about the more mainstream listening base of metal subgenres is to compact and categorize favorite releases on a scale of commercial success; e.g. “The Big Four” of American speed metal or the “Big Three” of German thrash metal. It tends to risk negating the importance of releases that were important cornerstones in the stylistic development of their respective subgenres. When looked at on these terms, it ought to baffle that on this basis, many might consider the likes of Megadeth, Anthrax or Testament more essential on the basis of units sold, rather than qualitative output.

I am not here doubting that audiences and listeners “overlook” the importance of a record such as Exodus 1985 full length debut, Bonded By Blood. It is unequivocally seen as important to the genesis of thrash and speed metal, but I believe more insight ought to be given into what made it important in the most brief terms possible. Recorded in 1984, it would be misleading to state that Exodus were “late-comers” to the Bay Area thrash scene. The band started had begun in1979, and can easily be considered progenitors of said movement.

The band has been known for a constantly unstable and shifting line-up, and it would be easy to speculate that this may have led to numerous delays that resulted in a debut full length not materializing by 1983, the same year in which Metallica and Slayer respectively dropped Kill Em All’ and Show No Mercy. More important to the genealogy of the movement is that Kirk Hammett, who would replace Dave Mustaine in Metallica that same year was a founding member of Exodus, playing on their 1982 demo. Coincidentally, a breakdown riff recorded on a 1983 live track “Die By His Hand” would resurface on the mid-song breakdown to Metallica’s “Creeping Death”, on 1984’s Ride The Lightning, with a similar vocal pattern.

Whilst Show No Mercy clearly broke ground, it was heavily anthemic and NWOBHM influenced in melody, and introduced light speed tremolo picking via UK82 hardcore (Discharge, GBH) as a riff motif, thus establishing a thrash metal norm. Metallica’s Kill Em All’ had a very similar intent, but clearly referenced the influences of Diamond Head, Budgie and Rush, a foreknowledge of their more mature, cinematic, technical 1980’s output. Bonded By Blood is a perfect middling ground between the directions which speed and thrash metal would take through the 1980’s.

Lyrics indulge the macabre, gruesome and the occult with a slight tongue in cheek, though thankfully with a sense of youthful enthusiasm and non-irony that captures the spirit of the music in the best way possible. Riffs are percussive and anthemic, interspersed with blistering solos, gang vocals, and Paul Baloff’s half-screamed, half-shouted lead voice. This is arguably the most definitive and “typical” thrash album, in that the influence of NWOBHM and hardcore is present for the trained ear, but sufficiently tamed so that neither outweighs the other.

The formula that is evidenced on Bonded By Blood is a streamlined one that determines approaches taken throughout the rest of the 1980’s by other American contemporaries. Many of the motifs and ideas that make Bonded By Blood a masterpiece can be nuanced on other masterpieces from that decade, such as Seven Churches (1985) and Darkness Descends (1986) from fellow Californians Possessed and Dark Angel, a crucial link between the foundations they laid and the emergent death metal movement in the US. The more punk influenced “crossover” strand of thrash as evidenced on Nuclear Assault’s Game Over (1986) and D.R.I.’s Crossover (1987) can also be traced here.

In concluding, Exodus brought forward an debut which set a benchmark for how foundational thrash/speed metal ought to sound to most listeners in its more unfiltered form. It is intricate but does not intend to be experimental in the “progressive” sense, and it’s “headbanging” quality is the even sum of heavy metal’s sense of melody and hardcore punk’s percussive intensity. Subsequent albums such as Pleasures Of The Flesh (1987) and Fabulous Disaster (1989) were solid, workmanlike releases, but pale in comparison to the intensity of an unsurpassable debut. As do a legion of imitators, whose odes to pizzas and parties are but inferior copies of the original.

Featured

2020- A Year In Review

After a long hiatus, having written and published nothing for this blog since 2016, restarting and rebranding this blog came on a very positive whim, having started blogging under the name Stench Of Ishtar in 2012. Remerging as Excuse The Blood early in this year, whilst still writing and focusing primarily on music, film and art has also become an increasingly prominent part of my online writings.

Despite the gloom and outright crappiness that COVID-19 and its measures has wrought on the world, this year has at times been highly created, and has yielded some excellent opinion pieces and interviews that I am very proud of having put together. I would like to extend regards to Slovenian collective Laibach, Rob Miller (Tau Cross/Amebix), D. (Daorson), Mikko Aspa (Clandestine Blaze/Grunt/Stabat Mater) and Aaron Aedy (Paradise Lost) for having agreed to dialogues. Additional credit must be given to Aureus Press for allowing me to guest in a talk about the ideas and themes of heavy metal, which I will link here.

Output has slowed considerably since late in the year, but I still intend to keep on going. And I have more material and work lined up which I intend to publish on here in the future. I would like to thank any of those readers and onlookers who have helped make this year productive, it is your good words and suggestions that spur me to write more. Whilst this doesn’t pay bills, it is an intense labor of love, and to know that people appreciate that is always an inspiration.

I hope that all of you enjoyed any holidays you might have taken, whether you call it Yule or Christmas, and I wish you all a splendid New Year, and that you overcome all ills that might be thrown your way in what are inevitably going to be tough and testing times for many of you. To mark the beginning of the decade, I will leave you with a hastily written run-through list of my favorite albums from this year;

Best of 2020

Lamp Of Murmuur- Heir of Ecliptical Romanticism

After a series of promising demos and EP’s, Lamp Of Murmuur deliver a style of black metal that has the experimental touches of USBM acts such as Weakling, Xasthur and Leviathan yet all of the atmospheric touches one would expect from early works from Emperor and Ancient.

Malokarpatan- Krupinske Ohne

Arguably their most triumphant work to date, Slovakia’s Malokarpatan deliver what is undoubtedly their most accessible work. Mixing the textures and dynamics of vintage prog rock with a blackened take on heavy metal, Krupinske Ohne is what one would expect if you mixed the eclecticism of Master’s Hammer with the epics of Viking-era Bathory and the adventurous soundscapes of vintage Yes.

Ulcerate- Stare Into Death And Be Still

Bringing forth dark, immersive, brooding and technical soundscapes, Ulcerate merge the raw earthiness of Neurosis, the virtuosity and dissonance of Gorguts and the melodic “post” black metal of Deathspell Omega. Where many within these styles put expression before form, or try to show off for the sake of trying to be difference, the New Zealand outfit manage to ensure that quality of form and composition stands head over heels.

Paysage d’Hiver- Im Wald

Shaking a seven year itch, the Swiss outfit return with a monumental double album that follows in the lo-fi, ambient, ethereal style that is somewhat more polished in tone than on previous demos. A tough, engaging, but truly rewarding listen, “Im Wald” brings together the most epic aspirations of Transilvanian Hunger (Darkthrone) and Hvis Lyset Tar Oss (Burzum) and forms soaring, blurred compositions that evoke and portray the harsh majesty of alpine winter landscapes.

Black Magick SS- Rainbow Nights

The Australian psych-doom outfit deliver their most catchy yet simultaneously experimental work. Bringing to mind occult rock revivalists The Devil’s Blood engaging with the experimental electronics you would hear on the best work of Black Hole and Bobby Beausoleil, they ditch their more raw, garage like productions of before and come across as far more clear and crystalline in sound. Dangerously infectious, imaginative and engaging, try to imagine a record like Blue Oyster Cult’s Fire Of Unknown Origin seen through the nostalgic lens of synthwave practitioners.

Kommodus- S/T

After a series of impressive demos, Australian solo project Kommodus delivers a solid debut full-length. Traditionalist in approach, yet equally original, their style is melodic European style black metal, rich in mythological and historical referenced, as imagined by the type of stomping militancy one would expect from Conqueror or Revenge, interspersed with hardcore riffs in the style of Integrity and neofolk inspired interludes a la Death In June.

Tau Cross- Messengers Of Deception

Delayed by controversy and cancellation, the third Tau Cross album shows a re-recorded work which expresses more invigoration and resilience than on their first two records. Elements of gothic folk and electronics are blended with anthemic, riff driven songs which combine industrial crunch with primordial atavism.

Pharmacist- Medical Renditions of Grinding Decomposition

Generic but brilliant, this Japanese duo blatantly pays tribute to bands such as Pathologist, Dead Infection and Impetigo, and of course the founders of goregrind, Carcass. Rather than mere snippets and blasts in the tradition of Reek Of Putrefaction, Pharmacist’s debut full length has all of the epic, fuzzy, filth blended theatricality that made Symphonies Of Sickness great.

Old Tower- The Last Eidolon

Spread over three lengthy pieces, this impressive dungeon synth act from the Netherlands combines the neoclassical arrangements of early Mortiis with the brooding dark ambient textures of Lustmord and Endvra.

Lustre- The Ashes Of Light

A great example of “feels” black metal, this often resembles the ethereal textures and catchy melodies of Slowdive if played by neo-medievalist black metallers Summoning.

Arthuros- Kosmos

An excellent sophomore by the Greek dungeon synth outfit, Kosmos takes the tropes and aesthetics of the style a la Mortiis and Depressive Silence and embellish it with lush, trance-y strings and pads that rekindle the flame of Klaus Schulze and Vangelis. A highly worthy successor, and perhaps an improvement on their debut album Ithildin.

Cirith Ungol- Forever Black

Cirith Ungol give a slick, modern production approach to their traditional sound that embraces the raw, battle-hardened hybrid of proto-metal and NWOBHM sound that they are known for. It is in the opinion of this author, likely the best material they have delivered since the 1980’s.

Esoctrilihum- Eternity of Shaog

The new album by Esoctrilihum follows on previous material in a style that resembles the melodic side of Inquisition and the dissonance of Blut Aus Nord. Added to this is a new symphonic, neoclassical inspired layer that brings to mind the influence of Septic Flesh’s Mystic Places Of Dawn.

Circle Of Ouroborus- Viimeinen Juoksu

Amidst many a “shoegaze” inspired black metal act comes a prolific Finnish duo who despite the similarities, play a lo-fi niche that is completely a world of its own, and a beautiful one at that. A lost, psychedelic lovechild of Ildjarn and Joy Division.

Paradise Lost- Obsidian

With Obsidian, Paradise Lost breathe new life into their dark but accessible brand of heavy metal, subtly reintegrating the death/doom influences of early releases such as Gothic with the catchy riffs and leads that made Icon and Draconian Times great.

Witches Hammer- Damnation Is My Salvation

The missing link between Razor and Blasphemy; Canadian cult legends Witches Hammer re-emerge and finally deliver a long awaited full length. A excellent bridge between heavy/speed metal and black/death metal, Damnation Is My Salvation can gladly join Goreaphobia’s Mortal Repulsion and Profanatica’s Profanatitas De Domonatia in the shortlist of highly impactful, yet long overdue full length debuts.

Beherit- Bardo Exist

Released immediately and low-key, Bardo Exist is Beherit’s second time departing from black metal. Whilst some of the ambient qualities of Celebrate The Dead can be discerned, this reengages with the dark ambient soundscapes of 1995’s Electric Doom Synthesis, and combines it with aesthetics familiar to more contemporary names in dark ambient, such as Zoat-Aon and The Haxan Cloak.

Hate Forest- Hour of the Centaur

At short notice and very late in the year, Roman Saenko’s long dead black metal project emerges from the ashes. Consisting of rugged, bleak monochrome, melodic black metal with odes to the Ukraine’s ancient Scythian heritage, this merges the stark qualities of their previous album Sorrow with the more epic and monumental qualities of Purity.

Featured

Album: Tau Cross- Messengers Of Deception

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tau-cross-messengers-of-deception-1024x1024.jpg

Since Amebix emerged on the the UK’s then fledging anarcho-punk scene at the end of the 1970’s, the band quickly came into their own element. Musically and lyrically they were quite aloof from their peers. Whilst the anger that defined Discharge, G.B.H. and Crass was manifest in them, they were not prone to preaching and utopianism. None of the activist pretense was really there, save for punk’s attitude. The influence of proto-metal such as Motorhead was also at the forefront of their barrage, as were walls of guitar feedback and ethereal synths and electronics. This evidently brought to mind the otherworldly, psychedelic haze of Hawkwind ushered into the cold austere realm of post-punk/new wave, bringing to mind the influence of Killing Joke and Bauhaus.

This formula solidified itself on EP’s such as “Who’s The Enemy” and “No Sanctuary”. Amebix would further this by incorporating more metal influences on albums such as “Arise!” and “Monolith”, with a dark unpolished tonal quality not unlike Venom and manic speed and tremolo strumming typical of Celtic Frost. After splitting up in the late 1980’s, like the The Misfits they would enjoy a posthumous reputation which would inspire the awe of many practitioners of underground metal and hardcore, with bands such as Godflesh, Darkthrone, Bathory, Sepultura and Neurosis being a number of artists who took inspiration from them. After a long abscence, they would briefly reemerge in the early 2010’s, delivering a final album “Sonic Mass”. This record acts as a bridge to the more contemporary style that has been sought out by Tau Cross, who emerged from the ruins of Amebix, and whose new album “Messengers Of Deception” is to be discussed further in this article.

What makes the legacy of Amebix essential is as a band that operated within the periphery of the punk scene, they successfully fused together contrary elements which seemed to be in constant flux. Punks may have generally hated metal because it was too embedded in high fantasy, aesthetics, was too escapist, and to their view lacked in any sort of realism and was perhaps reactionary. Metalheads may have hated punk on the ground that it was too preachy, lacking in musical depth and purposely claiming to be anti-establishment for the sake of it. Much of the residue of the prog-rock movement had come to be associated with over-indulgence and pretentiousness, and this surely would come to inform many attitudes that many punks and metalheads alike would have harboured about what became of punk and new wave music. What Amebix did in a profoundly simple way was alchemize these contrary elements and harness them into something which has become important to the musical genealogy of both metal and punk respectively.

For many listeners, Tau Cross will always be seen as a continuation of that flame, and what mainman Rob Miller was cultivating with his former outfit, deserving to be heard by receptive ears. Stylistically and aesthetically, they leave off from where Amebix began on their swansong album “Sonic Mass”, whilst the heaviness, immersiveness and aggression that defined early masterpieces such as “Arise!” and “Monolith” resurface in a more contemporary, streamlined manner. Great emphasis is given lyrically towards topics relating to the occult, Gnosticism and what has been described as the “cosmological origins of evil and deception”. After a controversy in which the band was dropped in 2019 from Relapse Records, the release of “Messengers Of Deception” was shelved, the original line-up split, and Miller has since re-recorded all of the instruments, recruiting new members along the way.

A sense of conceptual maturity that was hinted at in the self titled debut is further elaborated on, in the form of UFO lore, traditional folk tales, alchemy and religious heresies of times past. The trademark sound by which Tau Cross is recognizable has parallels with more contemporary releases by Killing Joke. Both have the same degree of conviction, but lyrically Miller is less politicized than Jaz Coleman and far more in line with the esotericism and mystique one expects of a metal outfit. Musically they are more visceral and feral in the style of Motorhead, but songs are always accessible and catchy; a strong point of reference for the unfamiliar would be to Voivod circa-“Angel Rat” and “The Outer Limits”. Indeed, Michel “Away” Langevin is their former drummer, and whether this is a matter of direct influence or mere coincidence is to be left down to the listener. Like Voivod, Tau Cross have a rare knack of carving music that can be aired in a radio friendly capacity, but is free of compromises that exist to solely placate generic cookie cutter rock and metal audiences.

Sticking to this formula, Tau Cross further hone their sonic alchemy by further integrating and embellishing their work with more of the electronic and psychedelic tropes that mark their first two records. However, on “Messengers Of Deception” this is clearly used to further give more conceptual clarity to their work, giving the songs extra layering and depth, and molding the album into what is undoubtedly the most cohesive listening experience the band have yet put forward. There is also a greater diversity in tone and form, amidst the punchy, catchy and anthemic collection of songs, spearheaded by powerful opener “Yaldaboath” and “Burn With Me”.

Two highlights of the album, “Violence Of The Lord” and the epic “Three Tides” are great examples of this, and ultimately further explore the delicacies that were explored on “Knights Of The Black Sun” but interspersed with the crushing heaviness that is definitive of the Tau Cross approach. Throughout the album, gothic and folk influences are subtly woven into their metallic punk storm, and Miller’s vocal, which is a hybrid of the hoarseness of both Jaz Coleman and Lemmy occasionally gives way to sorrowful, earthy clean singing. The album’s epilogue, “Sorrow Draws The Plough” is a gentle refrain that evokes the mood of a neofolk piece but sung with a melancholy that evokes Nick Cave.

Where their debut showed great promise, and “Pillar Of Fire” showed growing pains, “Messengers Of Deception” is a band in resilient, fighting form, delivering an album that is both abundant in depth, quality and longevity. It is certainly their most committed and intense work to date, and is a high point of a band whose founder has made several distinguished marks on the shaping of its respective genres of influence. Most importantly, this gives hope in an environment where commercial or “accessible” metal has long since been degenerated into subjective, easily digestible scraps from the factory floor of the music business. Save for a few contemporaries amongst the “new wave of traditional heavy metal”. Tau Cross is a great example of what heavy metal could be if it fully embraced what made it great again; the mythical, magical and metaphorical. The otherworldly, the beyond, the sacred and the profane.



Featured

Draconian Timelines: An Interview With Paradise Lost

Since their inception in the late 1980’s, Paradise Lost have undergone many stylistic changes, and gained great success both critically and commercially. Pioneers of what many know as “gothic metal”, their musical output has straddled between death/doom metal, traditional heavy metal, gothic rock and synthpop. A band with a relentless work ethic, the quintet released their sixteenth studio album Obsidian back in May, and have just issued a 25th anniversary edition of their 1995 classic Draconian Times. Excuse The Blood discusses past, present and future with guitarist Aaron Aedy.

ETB: The name Paradise Lost matches the name of the seminal John Milton epic. Starting out as pioneers of what became known as “death/doom” throughout the late 80’s and early 90’s, the music was not unlike the poem; dark, infernal and adversarial. Was the naming of the band coincidental or was there something more to it than that, and were there or have there been any strong literary influences in the work of the band? How did a bunch of young lads from Yorkshire end up getting together and making such music, and what musical inspirations shaped the output of your demos and Lost Paradise? Prior to the coinage of the term “The Peaceville Three” consisting of yourselves, My Dying Bride, were there any other people around in those formative days playing music who you considered as kindred spirits?

Aaron: Well, when we were trying to think of a name at the start, Nick had the idea of Paradise Lost when he’d heard it at school and we agreed we’d keep it until we thought of something better! Haha. Around that time, we loved everything from Bathory, Kreator, Sodom, Celtic Frost right through to the mighty Leviathans, Candlemass and Trouble. We were nearly a fast band, but I’m pleased we went the way we did. Around that time we became solid friends with the people in Bolt Thrower, Carcass and Napalm Death, and still are, as we used to play together often in those early days but also had the same sense of humor, had a good laugh and a love of the same music.

With Gothic the raw, cavernous, creeping riffs became more melodic and direct. Whilst the music wasn’t as “palatable” to mainstream sensibilities as output that would soon follow, it compacted everything that Celtic Frost indulged on Into The Pandemonium into something more solid and coherent. The dark haze of 80’s goth rock leaks into the heaviness of the guitars. Many would agree this set a template for how bands such as Tiamat, Sentenced, Katatonia, Therion, Moonspell, Cradle Of Filth, The Gathering and Within Temptation to gradually distance themselves somewhat from their underground metal origins. At the same time, it seemed to run parallel with the Greek black
metal scene of the early 1990’s (Rotting Christ, Varathron, Necromantia, Thou Art Lord, Agatus), where the music was richly embellished and where melody was at the forefront. What was the mood like within the band on approaching the sophomore album at the time, and did you or any of the band members have any notion that this might influence others down the line?

In fairness, we just made the album that blended all the things we liked and, importantly, wasn’t quite like anything that was out at the time. That made it even more exciting to do. We were still pretty much of the tape trading mentality at that time, so we didn’t have any idea it would do what it did, but we knew had something we loved and could build on personally for ourselves going forward if we did so. It’s a massive compliment when anyone cites something you’ve worked on as a reason to make their own music, especially more so if they don’t sound anything like you, which is always better as inspiring creativity over copying is the most satisfying of all. I’m still very humbled by that as we were literally making the music for ourselves for our own enjoyment. Thankfully there are plenty of people like us that love dark and atmospheric music.

Icon and Draconian Times see an increased accessibility, with fully sung vocals, and a barrage of infectious and multi-layered guitar interplay. Whilst more commercial, both albums sound incredibly assured and the change in direction is organic, compared to some artists that have done a complete “career 180”. Whilst many listeners view this as a heavily defining phase of the bands output, did any of you at the time sense any sort of backlash from more “underground” listeners who followed PL’s earlier material, or were there any such events? Due to Nick’s “Hetfield-esque” tone on these records, did this mislead listeners and critics into solely attributing an influence from Metallica?

Largely, I think people who liked us “grew” with us musically to a certain degree. Obviously, there’s a lot of people that prefer the earlier stuff and that’s great too, as that means we’ve done something right. However, in the end, if you get locked into one style too much, especially when you’re younger and exploring more diverse music and finding new inspiration too, it’s healthy to evolve and move forward, sideways, wherever, to make the music you’re making fun for yourself as that’s the most important thing. It’s the primary reason you started to make music and that should never change. If you’ve got a style that you love and stick to it, that’s awesome too as long as you’re honest to yourself about what you want to do as that’s the only important thing. People can spot when your soul isn’t into what you’re making, and that can also slowly eat at you from the inside and you’ll eventually come to hate what you do which is never a good place to try to be creative from.

Many listeners and the band themselves have spoken of the influence that Sisters Of Mercy and the 80’s goth scene has carried, but to be more specific, some of the playful melodies bring to mind The Mission and the work of Wayne Hussey who was a pivotal member of both bands. Other acts, including Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, The Danse Society, The Cult and Skeletal Family are either all from or originated in neighboring towns and cities in Yorkshire. This is probably backtracking, but did PL feel as if they had a lot in common with these groups considering the dark approach to music and the location you all have in common? Ascribing a “Yorkshire sound” might sound a bit cheesy or far fetched, but do you see yourselves as being part of a “canon” or tradition of alternative music that emanates from the region?

I’ve always considered the Yorkshire weather to be the biggest contributing factor to its constant stream of dark music, haha. In seriousness though, yes, I think Yorkshire has a vibe that breeds this kind of music so well. Of course Wayne Hussey’s stuff has been a big influence. Skeletal Family and The Cult are also great bands locally. Also another I’d add to that list is New Model Army who we know pretty well, but I’ve always loved their music since the ’80s too.

Where albums such as One Second showed a transitioning out of a rock/metal sound, this departure became more brazen on albums like Host. Guitars took more of a back seat and electronics, sampled drums and synths flourished in a way not unlike they did on albums Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion by Depeche Mode. On Host in particular I think Ulver took a strong influence on their recent albums The Assassination Of Julius Caesar and Russian Doll. Having a discography where many of the songs are heavily indebted towards riffs, what influenced the band and how did the approach to writing material around this period differentiate, if anything?

I think the biggest thing that lead to the One Second and Host change was the fact that we’d basically spent the previous four years heavily touring and writing twin guitar style music and we needed something to freshen it up. As mentioned previously, you have to love what you do, and there are times for some artists where that means throwing yourself a curveball and trying something on a different tangent just to freshen thing up. When we play songs from those two albums in particular live 20 years later, they blend in so well with the set and add a different texture to make the live show more interesting and less one dimensional. Host, for me in particular, was the first time I’d played with a lot of effects and sound textures on guitar. Some of the parts on that album that sound like keyboards are actually me or Greg on guitar trying to emulate more electronic sounds which was a bit of a surprise for people at the time, including our record label, but in retrospect, especially with Gomez’s remixes, they had a good place in our history.

In the last decade or so your output has gradually re-embraced the heaviness of earlier material, and the band carries a very comfortable sense of momentum from album to album. Since Faith Divides Us – Death Unites Us on the band seem to backtrack and amalgamate earlier material from Gothic through to Draconian Times, breathing new life into it. Medusa is almost as much a doom/death album in the way Shades Of God was, whilst starting from The Plague Within I can even hear subtle black metal influences in the guitars. Nick’s dynamic range now embraces all the tones that were used on prior albums and it gives a newfound sense of theatricality and dynamic range. On Obsidian
there is a more clear ethereal quality that I’ve not heard since Gothic. Do any of the band members take influence from what other music they might be listening to, and how does the band go about the process of songwriting? Is there an elimination process where certain parts are weeded out in the phase of writing or rehearsing, and how does the band all end up reaching an agreement as to how new material will sound?

Yeah, at our core we love that dark, atmospheric, gothic metal we’re known for and I think over the years we’ve fallen back in love it. They’re all very much “PL sounding”. We’ve always loved black/death metal as well as gothic music and I think since Nick became comfortable doing both the death metal voice and his clearer regular singing voice together, it’s allowed us to add that extra dynamic to the music.

In a long career you’ve been through several labels, from Peaceville, Music For Nations, EMI, Century Media and you’ve released Medusa and Obsidian on Nuclear Blast. How would you rank your experiences and relationships with previous labels in terms of the bands ability to express yourselves freely as a band versus executive demands? Did this ever create issues at times for Paradise Lost?

The one thing the band has never had is band vs. executive issues. We’ve always carefully picked labels at the time to make sure we worked well together. All the labels had people we really enjoyed working with and in turn they left us to our own devices and didn’t interfere as we already “worked” so they understood they could leave us to it, but also some great people at labels offering help, advice guidance and encouragement when needed. As a whole, we’ve been very lucky to work with the people we have and there are a lot of lifelong friends I’ve met at these labels too which is testament to how great they were to work with.

For more than 30 years and with Obsidian as your sixteenth album, the only change in line up has been on the drums. A lot of bands tend to either go their separate ways, or conflicts of egos create turmoil within bands. For a band that has undergone numerous stylistic changes throughout their musical career, it is quite unique. Were there ever any conditions or circumstances throughout PL’s history where frictions occurred and tested the band, be it in the studio or on tour? If so, how would you all rectify such things, and what keeps you all driven, both individually and as a band?

We were friends before the band got together which I think was a big help. Most importantly, you have to laugh together, know when someone needs space and know when someone needs an arm around their shoulder. There are always bumps, but it’s respecting each other enough to come together to make things work. All relationships are based on compromise and I guess we’ve all just been lucky in that sense. A love of the same comedy, music and beer coupled with the drive to push forward as a group with that ‘you against the world’ kind of attitude helps it gel.

You’ve put out quite varied cover versions in the past, ranging from Atomic Rooster, Sisters Of Mercy, Dead Can Dance, Bronski Beat, The Smiths, Everything But The Girl and Spear Of Destiny, would I be right in suggesting that these imply the individual influences of band members? Do cover versions have to comply with the melancholy and gloomy repertoire of the band in order to be passable for recording? Are Oasis or Erasure covers to be considered off bounds?

We generally think that we have to be able to add something new or refreshing to it new or refreshing and made it viable, and obviously minor keys help too, haha. Sometimes they’re a last minute thing when the label wants extra tracks – that has been the case a few times. However, we never feel the need to do them for the sake of it. They’re fun to do and sometimes they’re nice to play live to vary the set a bit.

Since your outset in the late 80’s you’ve gigged and toured ceaselessly in between albums, it’s as if there’s barely been any respite or hiatus. COVID-19 seems to have really put a wedge in that. How does a band with such a strong work ethic deal with that? You recently played a live stream At The Mill on November 5th. Do you plan to play any more such events for the time being whilst touring and gigging is off? Beyond the plan to tour Obsidian next year, are there any other things in the pipeline or any announcements?

I think like the rest of the world, all plans have had the pause button hit. It’s essential, of course, but also very frustrating. I personally especially love playing live and have found it a very hard year. Many people are in the same boat and I can’t complain as I’ve thankfully not lost anyone to this virus yet. Most importantly, we’ve got our health and I think we should as a band be grateful for that. It’s only a year – we’ll all move on hopefully as better people from this and enjoy and appreciate even more the things we’ve missed this year. Going forward, live music (watching and playing) will be that much sweeter for me and I think that will be the case for many others too. As my mother said to me constantly growing up – “Patience is a virtue”. I look forward to seeing you and everybody else in the future!

Aaron, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you very much for your time, the last words are yours!!!

Thank you for the interview and an even bigger thank you to everyone who’s supported us as well as other artists and venues over the years. I’m really looking forward to sharing and loving music with you all again. Have a great winter, be safe and keep the faith!

http://www.paradiselost.co.uk/

https://paradiselostofficial.bandcamp.com/album/obsidian

Violent Pacification; The Dystopia of Rollerball

Featured

“Corporate society takes care of everything. And all it asks of anyone, all it’s ever asked of anyone ever, is not to interfere with management decisions.”

Norman Jewison’s 1975 film Rollerball depicts a sport played in an undated future; a hybrid of speed skating, speedway and the NHL. Teams score points by slotting a metal ball into a goal whilst circling an arena. Fatalities are common, and players exude a gladiatorial prowess. This technocratic ultra-violence has all the unhinged barbarism of Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and the Mad Max franchise.

Their bloodsport is the bread and circuses of a global civilization that knows no nationality, that has eschewed all forms of “tribal wars”. The “national wars” and the “corporation wars” are referred to as bygone memories. Humanity is largely pacified and commodified, and all global control is at the behest of a handful of conglomerates. At each game of Rollerball the teams no longer stand for a national, state or team song, they stand for the “corporate hymn”.

Jonathan E (played by James Caan) is a veteran of Rollerball and the captain of the Houston team. With the respect and admiration of his colleagues and fans, he commands a strong following. But when Bartholomew, CEO of the Energy Corporation tries to coerce him towards an early retirement, Johnathan feels there is something not right. He is being offered a slick retirement package, and a life of material fulfilment and luxury awaits once he hangs up his boots.

He lives in a corporate regime of Machiavellian control and compliance which doesn’t have any external appearances of totalitarianism; it is more a cross between Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Jacque Ellul’s The Technological Society. To retire from Rollerball would mean further incorporation into a managerial regime where all organic sense of adventure seems to have been lost. Not only has it ceased to be organic, but the vigour and empathy of human relationships have disintegrated into sterile transactions.

Johnathan E remembers that his wife left him for a wealthy CEO, and his very questioning of this rocks the boat. The fact that he can easily get another woman who act as surrogate wives on “assignment” is meant to placate this. But it also affirms that he is in search of meaning, something which has been rendered obsolete in this pacified future. This begins an odyssey of searching and questioning.

Any critical questions or objections shown by Johnathan E about retirement are met with condescending dismissal, with the constant need to respect “executive decisions” being stressed, with the reasons for retirement not being made exactly clear to him, or what the consequences for him will be if he continues to play. Whilst this will certainly decrease the risk of being brutally injured or killed in a game of Rollerball, it would appear that the bread and circuses spectacle is the only source of honour for him.

In an early part of the film, Johnathan E visits a library in search of books about the corporations and world history, only to be told that all books have been digitized and tailored for the corporations’ own ends, stored at protected locations. At a party celebrating a broadcast of his career exploits, mindless carousing, designer drug use and a sterile form of degenerate hedonism are abundant.

A bored Executive bourgeoise aim explosives at trees with their futuristic pistols, setting them on fire out of a lustful boredom. Still eager to know why he is been coerced into retirement, Jonathan is told by his friend, coach and original mentor Cletus who is now an executive in the Energy Corporation that the corporation’s Executive Committee is afraid of him.

Though this still baffles Jonathan, he is still keen to know more, and despite the pressure of hectoring veiled as “advice”, he vows to continue playing. Though he does not yet fully perceive why he is a threat to the system, his handlers certainly know that he is, as his persona, traits and deeds stand out glaringly amongst the crowd. The system and CEO’s like Bartholomew do not want his reputation to exceed theirs for fear of a decentralizing force that would shudder their regime of control and efficiency.

It is when Houston play their semi-final against Tokyo that the rules are changed to increase the pressure on Johnathan, even to kill him, by having no penalties and limiting substitutions. After several players are killed and Johnathan’s best friend Moonpie is left practically braindead, Houston defeat Tokyo and are to face New York in a world championship final. The executive class change the rules yet again, eliminating all substitutions, and having no time limit. This fixing of the rules is a clear ploy to kill Jonathan, whose longevity, vigour and character threaten the bread and circuses routine.

In a final search for information, Jonathan visits Geneva to access the world’s main supercomputer, in which all of the world’s knowledge, now monopolized and conditioned by corporate interests is stored. The librarian jokingly and cynically mentions that the computer, named “Zero” has somehow “lost” the entire 13th Century. Any efforts to yield knowledge of how corporate decisions are made yield nothing but talk which is akin to nonsensical PR friendly nomenclature.

Prior to Houston’s final against New York, Jonathan’s former wife Ella who “assigned” herself to a wealthier and more powerful fat cat visits him one final time as a last ditch effort to convince him to retire on the grounds that the game will be a literal death match. Realizing the corporate executives have sent her to him and are continuously trying to gaslight him by playing on one of the few things he even cherished, he deletes a long treasured video of the two, and decides that he will play in the final.

The final game is a bloody ordeal, in which Jonathan is left the last man standing. He refuses to kill his final opponent and with a bitter reluctance amidst Bartholomew’s gaze from the grandstand, scores the only winning goal in the game. This leads us to an ambiguous ending to the film where Jonathan repeatedly circles the stadium and the audience chants his name.

We cannot necessarily read whether this is mere enthusiasm for the sport or whether this will lead to a riot that transgresses beyond the bread and circuses. Bartholomew leaves the arena anticipating the chanting may lead to rioting. Jonathan E has defied and not died. Whether this will result in slave revolt a la Spartacus or a massacre like the one Justinian arranged at the Nika Riots against the Byzantine mob is unknown, and the viewer is left guessing.

Some might interpret Johnathan E’s role in Rollerball as being an affirmation of individualism in a world of totalitarian conformism. Whilst a traditional sense of individuality and uniqueness is dead and buried, the world of Rollerball can still be called individualist in the modern sense everybody appears free to consume and indulge as they please so long as they do not create a problem for the technocracy. It is a world where the liberty of individual and enterprise is permitted to an absolute rule provided no other narrative should question it.

Corporate hegemony has such a stranglehold on this soma-addled pleasure dystopia, that the protagonist yearns for a living, breathing authenticity that has ceased to exist. In a world where nations, ethnic identities and families have become obsolete, and decadence has become the norm, his strife is comparable to that of Roy Batty in Blade Runner or Zed in Zardoz. All three characters are far more masculine than their elite handlers, are on a quest to fathom the powers that control them, and ultimately challenge and threaten that order.

Unlike Batty and Zed, he does not slay the hated oligarch, and we could also cynically assume that the crowd that roars his name do not desire dissent, just more escapism and entertainment from the non-transcendent, unheroic way of living that epitomizes Nietzsche’s definition of the “last man”. But we can also see in Jonathan E a man who to paraphrase Heidegger, is willing to challenge the fate to which he appears doomed, however futile his efforts may be.

Far from being the greatest film of all time, Rollerball is still an entertaining, engaging, downbeat and prescient look into a world in which Marinetti’s preoccupation with speed and acceleration have been perverted into a spectacle to placate the blood frenzy of global hordes of depth-grovellers whose only other purpose in life is to be passive products of consumption.

Featured

Tau Cross- The Making Of “Messengers Of Deception”

Originally due for release in August last year, the release of Tau Cross’ third album was beset by controversy. Withdrawn by Relapse Records, “Messengers Of Deception” has been re-recorded by the band. Following an interview in May, and anticipation of a December release, Excuse The Blood spoke to Rob “The Baron” Miller about the making of the album.

Can you explain in what ways the newly recorded “Messengers Of Deception” differs from the version that was originally due to be released by Relapse? Aesthetically, sonically and artistically, how do you feel that this improves on what was originally recorded?

The Original recording was a studio album, the first instance that the old band had actually met up to record, having created two albums over the internet using Dropbox, drum studios in Canada and home studios in Minneapolis and Skye. The hope for me personally was to create something more sonically rich, along the lines of the last Amebix album, but we did not seem to have so much vision when it came time to record.

I was hoping that the other guys would have some ideas on production, sound effects etc, whereas it was mainly the studio engineer and I who were involved in that side of things. The Original album features songs written by Jon and Andy, I did not have permission to re record Andy’s song, but I asked Jon for his blessing on the title track. He wrote the music for that and i think it is a truly great song and worthy of centerpiece in the album.

I wrote a new song for this also, ‘Babylonian Death Cult’ which was a surprise really as it just appeared as I was working on the other material. Everything has been re written also, edited and changed in a number of ways. I saw this time as equally a curse and a blessing, it required a whole new approach and allowed me to view the first album as a very good demo in preparation for the ‘real’ one. The textures and landscapes flow into one another well, it is an album that must be listened to from start to finish to understand it i think.

The re-recorded Messengers Of Deception will be released by Easy Action Records. How does dealing with them compare to having worked with a larger, PR-centric, “mainstream alternative” label such as Relapse Records? Did arranging to re-record and release the album bring about any issues or difficulties between yourself and the parties involved?

I went ahead with the re recording before i had any idea of what i was going to do with it, but it occurred to me as the obvious thing to approach my old friend Carlton, who also now releases all the old Amebix material. He is a Devon boy too, we are a bit more stoic in our approach perhaps and less prone to getting our panties in a twist, he just said”if it’s good rock n roll it should be heard.”

I have learned to loathe some aspects of the ‘Industry’ now, particularly having viewed it from outside, so I am not interested in courting favor with anyone and don’t have any expectations. What is certain to me is that the job has been done, and i am immensely proud of what has been achieved in so short a time. This will be released on Heretical music via Easy action records, with Cargo and Red Eye being the main distribution, so more U.K based certainly.

How was it to re-record the album from scratch, and what other contributions were made to this version of Messengers Of Deception, if any? With recent line up changes having occurred, to what extent does this alter the approach that you make in terms of writing, composing, recording or rehearsing material?

I did spend some time looking for people who would want to be involved, this seems to be a constant bane for me, this time more difficulty than ever. I had two old school punk/metal guys going to play guitar but both of those went tits up due to various factors. The Kurgan, The guy who eventually got the job is from a more Metal background, hence some really nice solo work on a couple of the songs, which I was secretly always hoping for anyways. Talamh on the drums has really beefed up the whole album and given it a tight driving force, we will see what if anything the future invites, if it is going to be a Live band I will need to find another couple of people to fill the vacant chairs.

As mentioned earlier, I was originally aiming for a richer production and more in the way of ear candy, so a fair amount of my time was spent in making that happen, working with keyboard and effects people including one guy who has contributed to all the Tau Cross albums so far. The drums were recorded in Cornwall, Talamh was based there and had to sneak through the back lanes each day to get to the studio during the lockdown, I recorded the Bass and vocals here on Skye in my upstairs room, same as always. Guitars were recorded in Kiev.

The sonic and lyrical content of Messengers Of Deception deals with “the cosmological origins of evil and deception”. Since the days of Amebix, the lyrical content had an organic sense of mystique that was removed from much of the punk and crust milieu. This has since become more increasingly esoteric, starting with Amebix’s swansong Sonic Mass and further conceptually maturing with Tau Cross. What brought these new developments about? Can Messengers Of Deception be considered a “concept album”?

Yes, that is a fair assessment. I have been trying to connect a few ideas that have caught my attention over the years. I get obsessed with one detail for some time and that can eventually open another door and so on. This album sets out to create the Gnostic view of creation in the first song, obviously it is difficult to condense an epic idea into a four minute song (Yaldabaoth), but I wanted to set the scene, and then to look at the way in which this malevolent/trickster/deceptive energetic has engaged with the human dynamic through the Ages, usually through Religion and often through the Esoteric, Magick and more recent manifestations through UFO folklore and the Ultra Terrestrial Hypothesis. I see these as all being linked and all essentially channels for the Messengers of deception as Jacques Vallee calls them.

The fusion of metal and punk, as well as the gothic and folk overtones of your work seem to be more convergent, as well as more fully embraced on Messengers Of Deception. Would you care to mention any bands or artists that inspire or resonate with you, both personally and in relation to your own approach to crafting music?

Its difficult to pin down anything new that has struck me, I am still pretty much listening to stuff i grew up with, the occasional new sound filters through but I could grab a handful of completely different artists and identify what I see in each. You could have Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris, Killing Joke, Lana del Ray, The Waterboys, a thousand others but often it will come down to one ‘ moment’ that the artist conveys, something profound that comes from another direction altogether. I am searching for that place where something unique is created, that does not have a label really, the numinous.

The song “Burn With Me” has an accompanying video. In what way do the visuals and aesthetics relate to the wider context of the lyrics and narrative of the album? As a musician first and foremost, are you to any extent influenced or inspired by visual or cinematic art?

Jakub Moth did a fantastic job of the video for ‘Burn With Me’. This was the song that went live from the first album a couple of days before everything blew up, and the one that highlights the idea of heresy and the punishment for those who step outside the Orthodox narrative even in todays World. I thought it was fitting to return to this song at the beginning of the new journey and allow people to view it in light of what has gone on over the past year or so. I am very visual in how I present lyrics, Jakub has spent some time in presenting this song in a suitable landscape. There is something of Tarkovsky about it I think?

With Messengers Of Deception to be released soon, can we expect any new material to be in the works at any time soon? Are any other announcements forthcoming?

Usually it takes a while to get back into writing. I have to see one project through before i can let it go on its own and start the next journey. Jon Misery was quite the opposite, he was always creating new stuff and I would have to adjust my head to try and set lyrics to that, but we did work really well together.

Winter is the time for writing, there is one song in genesis at the moment and I have just upgraded my studio software too so quite looking forward to dark evenings with a guitar and a decent glass of Malt.

Thank you very much for your time, the last words are yours…

Thank you. I think a round of applause for those who have been in contact through this time and who’s encouragement and support has helped me to realise this latest work. there is only so much we can do on our own.

Tau Cross will release Messengers Of Deception on December the 4th.

https://taucross.wixsite.com/taucross

https://taucross.bandcamp.com/

Creeping Death: On The Decline Of Metallica and Mainstream Metal

Featured
On the decline of Metallica
Metallica touring Ireland in 1986.

A common agreement among underground metal aficionados is that Metallica is a band that is long past their best material. Yet still, they engage many fans with a catchy, yet watered down mish-mash of catchy, chunky, heavy guitar rock. It conjures an image of agreeableness among deadbeat dad, tank-top wearing, energy drink guzzling “hell yeah” shouting Americans. Metallica have for a long time been a PR brand as much as they are a musical outlet. It is with their large worldwide fanbase, they inspire brand loyalty. Much like KISS, one might find themselves asking where exactly do you find their substance, in the haze of so much marketing?

Starting from the raw, arrogant, primitive speed metal of 1983’s Kill Em All; the quartet solidified and matured their sound on Ride The Lightning and Master Of Puppets. Working with Danish producer Fleming Rasmussen, Metallica retained and enhanced their aggression but became more refined in their approach to songwriting. They became more conceptual, progressive and cinematic. The contrast of balladic pieces such as “Fade To Black” and “Welcome Home (Sanitarium)”, the Ennio Morricone-esque calm before the storm cum blitzkriegs that are “Fight Fire With Fire” and “Battery”, and the multi-layered, epic instrumentals “The Call Of Ktulu” and “Orion” show a band of intensity and great versatility at the height of their powers.

The period of 1984-1986 was undoubtedly their critical apex, with Metallica on their best sonic, musical and lyrical form. Their speed metal was an epic culmination of NWOBHM, hardcore punk aggression and prog rock’s sense of adventure. 1988’s And Justice For All was a more streamlined, thinned down production. It was highly ambitious in composition, perhaps too much. Whilst a solid record, the quartet seemed bent on chocking as many riffs and time changes into their songs as possible. When you retrospectively listen to And Justice For All, no one can doubt a sense of quality of skill and workmanship, but sense that this is a band that has creatively reached the end of the line, its winter.

The process that made Metallica worldwide “rock stars” was the result of 1991’s The Black Album gaining critical acclaim from a musical establishment which had long scathed the intensity and aggression of their first four albums. Much of the appraisal came from a pop music establishment who were happy to praise Metallica on having “matured”. It would be convenient to say this is a code word for “acquiescence” to the demands of the pop music market, which lauded their songwriting for becoming more digestible and palatable for the average listener.

Songs like “Enter Sandman”, “Sad But True”, “The Unforgiven” and “Nothing Else Matters” are literal memes and tropes of contemporary American pop culture. Whilst Metallica completely eschewed the epic, progressive, occult and mythical aspirations that flourished on their first four albums, they happened to issue the Black Album at a watershed moment where the speed metal movement had long since ran out of creative steam. Death and black metal would define the new “underground” of the early 1990’s. The emergence of “grunge” and “alt-rock” would come to usurp the mainstream ground held by traditional heavy and glam metal bands, who defined much of what was considered “mainstream” metal throughout the 1980’s.

Under the carefully tailored and coerced production of Bob Rock, The Black Album found itself uniquely sandwiched between a emergent new malaise. One which could captivate the mindset of the angry, pissed off bruh-vado that defined Pantera, Biohazard and Machine Head but also the angsty, existential hard rock and punk influenced timbres of Soundgarden and Nirvana. Elements of metal, punk and hardcore which once represented something essentialist, esoteric and belonging to a “cult” paradigm were watered down. They were amalgamated to become more of a deeply personal, preachy expression of the self that attempted to brand itself as being more sincere. What it ultimately became was something that could be tamed more easily by the cultural oligarchy.

This became even more apparent in the bands choice of image and aesthetics around the period of Load and Re-Load. The band cut their hair short, donned eyeliner, and were subject to promotional shots by famed photographer Anton Corbijn, who notably worked with Depeche Mode and U2. Led by the dark, southern-tinged rock of lead singles of “Until It Sleeps”, Metallica were trying hard to show the pop music zeitgeist of the time that they had feelings, and weren’t just some act that stood out in the press for playing “loud” and “macho” music.

This was ironically expressed in the form of mean, moody and groove driven dad-rock, which eschewed epic aspirations for emotional catharsis that was easily digestible within the pop market. Some of the material resembles a quite bad inversion of the Sisters Of Mercy meets Seattle-sound approach that Yorkshire miserabilists Paradise Lost crafted on albums such as Icon and Draconian Times , in which vocalist Nick Holmes ironically exchanged death grunts for the quintessentially Hetfieldian “hell yeah” lead vocal.

The booklet for the albums featured pictures of drummer Lars Ulrich and Kirk Hammett in homoerotically suggestive poses. The respective choices of cover art for each album were “Semen And Blood III” and “Piss And Blood XXVI” by Andres Serrano, an abstract “conceptual” artist known for exhibit pieces that prominently feature blood, urine and bodily fluids. Serrano also directed the video for “Crush My Soul” by dystopian industrial metal merchants Godflesh; a band to whom his work is more naturally suited, and whose leader Justin Broadrick apparently showed the video to Kirk Hammett. Whilst you would not know this unless you enquired what was on the cover, these were indeed strange choices that one could argue were designed to perplex and agitate the onlooker.

To further ironize, the art direction in the video for Until It Sleeps references the high art of Hieronymous Bosch, juxtaposed with images of Jason Newsted swearing himself in brown dirt. The cathartic need to personally “express” has many parellels to the music video for R.E.M’s “Losing My Religion”, which references the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky as much as it does the paintings of Carvaggio. The song, which dealt with Hetfield’s loss of his mother to cancer, undoubtedly comes from a sincere place in the heart. But Hetfield’s opinion of the cover and art direction was clearly antithetical to this;

“Lars and Kirk were very into abstract art, pretending they were gay. I think they knew it bugged me. It was a statement around all that. I love art, but not for the sake of shocking others. I think the cover of Load was just a piss-take around all that. I just went along with the make-up and all of this crazy, stupid shit that they felt they needed to do.”

Heavy metal is not adverse to controversies on a moral level, though this brought a new level of subjectivity where the band could make up for an increasing lack of invigorating music by “challenging” stereotypes and assertions of how a listener should think about or perceive a band. This period of post-Black Album Metallica is a literal embodiment of everything the 1990’s unleashed on the mainstream consciousness; postmodernity, endless layers of irony, and a nihilism defined by subjectivity; the notion that what is qualitative is in the eyes and ears of the beholder.

Taken during the era of the “Load” album. Ten years after Master Of Puppets.

This can seen as the 1990’s progressed. The rise of “nu metal” acts such as Korn, Deftones, Slipknot, Linkin Park and Limp Bizkit in the late part of the decade and the early 2000’s showed us a logical conclusion of a void that began with the emergence of grunge and and the “new” mainstream metal. What originated with the cutting edges of alternative mainstream bands such as Faith No More, Rage Against The Machine, Primus and Therapy? became a cookie cutter in which a myriad of funk, hardcore, hip-hop and metal technique was streamlined into materialistic, three minute snippets of bedroom angst.

Nu-metal suffered from a bizarre juxtaposition; being varied in technique but monumentally sterile, however catchy and infectious it came across as being. Songs could at any time consist of singing, rapping, screaming and growling, and contain a plethora of lyrics about angst, bullying, emotional problems, alienation and pure incel rage, but in spite of musical and lyrical “diversity” had a consistent one-dimensionality to it. What had originated from something more esoteric had been fully watered down; to something that became more “personally” expressive, to something that was no longer discernable from the boy/girl band format of its age, save for the “shouty” aesthetic.

Metallica, after a set of increasingly lackluster releases post-Black Album would capture this zeitgeist with the critically panned St Anger. Enshrined with infamy due to the “cooking pot” snare drum tone, rumbling, downtuned guitars and lyrics such as “my lifestyle/determines my death style”, the album was a commercial success, in spite of the bands willingness to try and convey themselves as a pissed off and authentically angry, battered, bruised beast. The music video, shot on location in San Quentin State Prison, has the band playing the song to a crowd of hardened inmates. This seems like a clear attempt to redeem the purposely subversive sense of appeal that Ulrich and Hammett were trying to dictate through the Load and Re-Load era.

Attempts at a return to a style that mimics their old sound come across as sterile and watered down, as indicated by newer albums such as Death Magnetic and Hardwired…To Self Destruct. On any first impression it appears that such records were purposely made to placate opinion amongst listeners that the older material was indeed better, and that a half hearted attempt to mimic the tropes of this era would somehow recapture all of the old essence. Fellow Calfornian speed metal pioneers Slayer tried something similar after the nu-metal tinged low points of Diabolus In Musica and God Hates Us All. But whilst the likes of Christ Illusion and World Painted Blood were heralded as being a “return to form”, they lacked the essential and vital energies that powered them between 1983 and 1990.

This is not written to purposely trash the band, for in many ways their pursuit of commercial success was likely what they wanted for themselves. But what a band sells in units should not dictate what ultimately makes any band good, nor should the most obscure release by a band be purposely lauded as best for the sake of obscurity. Yet it is unequivocal that the general consensus among trained ears is that the first four albums of Metallica are their definitive and essential works. Whilst 1991’s Black Album is what some would call a “seasoned, mature, dignified” entrance into the pop mainstream, it heralded a long decay in the magic of their early material that has still yet to cease.

Featured

Is Dungeon Synth A Black Metal Offshoot, Or Something More?

INTRODUCTION

Dungeon synth is plagued with generic descriptions such as “dungeons and dragons music” or “background listening” for sword and sorcery based video gaming. Though there is an abundance of intersecting possibilities in what the genre has explored, there is a general conception that all those involved in dungeon synth are either from the black metal subculture or affiliated with it, that is not always the case. Boosted no doubt by the pre-eminence of Youtube channels such as The Dungeon Synth Archives, accessing a wealth of materials could not be easier.

Whilst the recent rise in popularity in the subgenre online has shown there are many that tread into the realm of self-parody or just simply sound too plain, uninspired or formulaic to stand out and be special, this is often a universal and recurrent case within many forms of music. This article seeks to highlight that there are various actors within the genre who despite being associated with a certain “orthodoxy” are prone to experimentation and chemistry within other forms. This article also seeks to refute the notion that keeping to a consistent aesthetic and structural framework is a “regression”, and affirms the idea that subtle development and experimentation within the “tradition” of a style is what develops, enhances its essential characteristics.

NEOCLASSICAL AND POST INDUSTRIAL ORIGINS

The neoclassical canvas that dungeon synth uses; that of orchestral instruments played through an electronic medium can be traced  to Dead Can Dance around the time of In The Realm Of A Dying Sun and The Serpent’s Egg. Here the post-punk and new wave approach of their earlier material is more or less fully eschewed. Similarly, SPK’s Zamia Lehmanni: Songs Of Byzantine Flowers withdraws entirely from the harsh industrial noise of their earlier material in favour of a hybrid of neoclassical orchestration, tribal and martial rhythms and field recordings. The synth/orchestral stylings featured on Laibach’s Opus Dei and Let It Be can are possible reference points, though due to their more “pop” orientation might be seen as purely coincidental. English duo In The Nursery, whose output since the late 1980’s also eschewed new-wave origins may are a fine example, as exhibited from albums such as 1987’s Stormhorse onwards.

It is no coincidence that black metal artists, for want of exploring and stimulating the mystical potential of music, saw a kindred spirit in the expressions of various avenues of electronic music. It is still yet to be substantiated whether any of these artists who pioneered dungeon synth took or claimed a direct influence from Jim Kirkwood. A prolific English musician with an extensive body of fantasy themed, medievalist electronic music which he started releasing at the beginning of the 1990’s, his works are rich in analogue sound, and have coincidental similarities with the explorations various metal musicians made in that decade.

Dead Can Dance

DEFINITIONS AND CLOSE LINKS WITH BLACK METAL

Widely considered to be an “offshoot” of black metal, dungeon synth is a subgenre that to paraphrase Varg Vikernes, serves to “stimulate the fantasy of mortals”. Aesthetically and thematically it further explores the romantic, mythological and fantasy based themes that his project Burzum explored on instrumentals such as “Han Som Reiste”, “Rundgang um die transzendentale Säule der Singularität” and “Tomhet”. This becomes more pronounced on his prison era works such as Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf. It is here that ambient, folk and medievalist approaches are embraced more fully.

Though Mortiis did not “invent” dungeon synth, the early solo work of the former Emperor bassist cemented the style as a foundation to be aspired to by others. Consistent with the orchestral maneuvers of In The Nightside Eclipse, albums such as Født til å Herske, Ånden Som Gjorde Opprør and Keiser av en Dimensjon Ukjent are largely instrumental, cinematic ventures with a neoclassical approach to composition.

Mortiis- Anden Som Gjorde Oppror

Sigurd Wongraven of Satyricon, who released excellent early efforts such as Dark Medieval Times and The Shadowthrone, focused on a melodic, folk and synth inflected take on the Norwegian black metal sound. His solo album Fjelltronen released as Wongraven is an extension of the ideas that surface on Satyricon instrumentals “Min hylestt til vinterland” and “I en svart kiste”, extended onto a full canvas of dark folk and medieval ambient synths.

It is fitting to mention Sigurd’s close collaborations with Fenriz of Darkthrone. None of his collective material can be strictly within the “dungeon synth” category, save for the Darkthrone track “Snø og Granskog”, and Isengard tracks “In The Halls and Chambers of Stardust the Crystallic Heavens Open” and “Bergtrollets gravferd”. His space ambient/progressive electronic project Neptune Towers also has a lot in common with the synth influences on black metal.

This compliments the mention of Burzum’s instrumental pieces, which on their early albums have plenty in common with the work of Klaus Schulze, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre. Going back to Mayhem’s early days, on Deathcrush it is easy to forget that prominent Berlin School musician Conrad Schnitzler allowed them to use his instrumental piece “Silvester Anfang” as an introduction.

Wongraven- Fjelltronen

OLD SCHOOL DUNGEON SYNTH- THE 1990’s WAVE

If we then move attention to other countries which had their own fledgling black metal scene, Poland is another good example. A leading example is Lord Wind, the main project of Robert Fudali best known for his work with Graveland. Though not strictly “dungeon synth”, the ambient, electronic and folk base of their work weaves itself around a neoclassical medievalist approach, and a grandiose bombast that evokes the film scores of Basil Poledouris. This also seems to have influenced other acts in Poland, whose work can can have an equal footing in these subgenres, but whose work has clear tropes and similarities familiar within dungeon synth. This includes but is not limited to artists with neofolk elements such as Wojnar and Kraina Bez Wiatru.

Lord Wind-Heralds Of Fight

With further consideration towards 1990’s black metal the work of Die Verbannten Kinder Evas, a side project of Summoning is one of the most unique early acts to exhibit clear traits of a “dungeon synth” type sound, but overlapping more overtly than others with neoclassical darkwave and recalling the likes of Dead Can Dance. More openly experimenting with a medievalist “song form”, their s/t debut and Come Heavy Sleep are perhaps the most clear illustrations of a black metal band abandoning one element of their sound and filtering it into another avenue. Not unlike the Lord Wind debut Forgotten Songs, hearing Die Verbannten Kinder Evas evokes that uncanny familiarity; knowing that the composers have abandoned metal technique, but in theory and practice still embrace its romantic sense of valour and mysticism.

Die Verbannten Kinder Evas- Come Heavy Sleep

OTHER PROJECTS, ODDITIES & EXPERIMENTATION

These qualities can also be found in German projects such as Depressive Silence and Solanum. Amongst some of the most highly regarded works of “old school” dungeon synth, we see the former work in a more medievalist style, the latter in a way that is more ethereal, spacial, with small traces of influence from Berlin School electronica. Secret Stairways, the solo project of the late Matthew Davis works within a sound that has much in common with his 90’s contemporaries. On Enchantment Of The Ring and Turning Point,  tracks are brief, simple pop-like structures that engage and immerse, but don’t stay around for too long. Greece’s Lamentation and France’s Drunemeton worked from the same sound source, experimenting more with the use of the piano, branding their takes on the style into dark, lo-fi nocturnes.

Danish duo Essoupi’s 1999 release Aktiv dødshjælp captures a quite unique, juxtaposed approach. It has all of the melancholy synth of the style and a profundly distant, roomy production; yet re-channels black metal’s influence with drums and whispered vocals. Though it is musically and thematically perhaps not fully part of the “canon” of dungeon synth, it is testimony to the possibilities of how the style can be experimented with tonally and artistically.

Depressive Silence- Depressive Silence II

Much can be said about early dungeon synth; whether we call it an “old school” or a “first wave” is down to the listener. It can certainly be agreed that for the most part that it is a field of music that fuses neoclassical, electronic and ambient through a quite primitive, lo-fi means. Whilst at times it is cheesy and “nerdy” to the extreme, the music engages and draws in the same escapist sensibilities one would expect from listeners to black metal. A question that some might also ask is where does this “older” sound bridge itself towards more “contemporary” approaches to the style?

Whilst they do not embrace the aesthetic of “high-fantasy” that defines dungeon synth, works like these clearly exhibit many of the sound templates that would become commonplace in dungeon synth. If we are to consider the “progressive electronic” element that ebbs and flows within dungeon synth then we must consider the Berlin school, particularly Klaus Schulze’s 1977 masterpiece Mirage. An icy, dark, wintery suite of two lengthy pieces, it is electronic music that precedes and inspires the style that can be heard in the ambient tracks of Burzum and the proto-dungeon synth of Jim Kirkwood, filtered through to a more contemporary style that has been rendered foundational in more recent waves of the style’s popularity.

Secret Stairways- Enchantment Of The Ring

“NEW” DUNGEON SYNTH

In more recent years, music by Old Tower from the Netherlands mixes Mortiis-esque orchestration with the dark ambient textures of Lustmord and Endvra, whereas Finland’s Old Sorcery explores similarly vintage tropes of the style whilst at times more fully branching out into the oscillations and sequencing that one would expect from Jim Kirkwood and mid 1970’s Tangerine Dream. Other newer artists such as Thangorodrim seem intent on a homage to the sound as it was in the 1990’s, whilst Hedge Wizard are an excellent refinement of the medievalist MIDI sounds of Burzum circa Daudi Baldrs and Hlidskjalf. Jötgrimm, Aindulmedir and Arthuros have an approach that emphasise astral, spacial, ethereal synths and pads awash with echo and reverb, a theme that expands of the more lengthy synth pieces from Burzum’s earlier albums.

Acts such as Kobold use the “blocky” sounding lo-fi waveform and frequency aesthetics of vintage arcade games the horror synth approach of synthwave acts Perturbator, Carpenter Brut and Power Glove to create dark, gloomy medievalist soundscapes in a manner that evokes Fabio Frizzi discovering 90’s dungeon synth. To write an entire thesis length piece on the various strands of dungeon synth would be over-exhaustive, but this once again further outlines how different elements can be utilized. For a style of music that uses nostalgic dreams of a romantic past as its portal of expression the “lo-fi dungeon synth” variety is interesting as not only does it engage this; it also explicitly engages modern music’s addiction to its own past by using video games and soundtracks of the 1980’s as a source of direct reference and revisionist inspiration.

Old Tower

One of the first acts to break new ground and push new definitions of experimentation in dungeon synth, a good example is Finland’s Jaaportit. Earlier material is a traditional, naturalistic yet dreamy and original take on the style. Subsequent albums further depart from this, turning gradually into full-blown prog rock and post-rock stylings. “Post-dungeon synth” is a questionable term to use, especially for an artist who has fully departed from the ideas that hold the genre together.

But it is an indicator of artists pursuing subjective goals out of individual intent, and we should not forget the transition of Mortiis into full blown EBM on The Smell Of Rain in the early 2000’s. But when artists don’t fully eschew this tradition, it can be also used to cultivate stylistic changes that allow new “schools” to emerge. To the point of parody, “dino synth” and “comfy synth” have emerged, in a manner not unlike the endlessly self-replicating tropes of contemporary “vapourwave” music. These “subgenres within a subgenre” could be talked about further, but that would surely need a seperate article.

Thangorodrim- Taur nu Fuin

When given a wider context, and on analyzing some of the more adventurous components of 1990’s black metal, it becomes quite clear that a well rounded assessment of the dungeon synth canon debunks a widely held hipster consensus. A consensus which states that traditional European black metal is by default a formulaic cookie cutter, devoid of any need or desire to explore beyond the most stereotyped tropes. For those who crave the need to break out of these “trappings” and be different, the litmus test of “progress” is often viewed through the lens of what I shall call Norway’s “post-second wave” artists such as Ved Buens Ende, Fluerety, In The Woods, Ulver and Solefald.

This creates a void where musical experimentation for its own sake is justified to divorce the thematic content of the genre away from the traditionalist, folkloric, romanticist and fantastical literary themes which are a definitive of the genre. When looked at retrospectively, experimentation was already present in many artists, and dungeon synth was one of many outreaches of that. And whilst dungeon synth may seem quite rigid in its use of themes to an outsider or an untrained ear, it is still prone to experimentation in the way that black metal has been through the years. If we are to view black metal as an expression of these themes, then it would be necessary to state that dungeon synth is a kindred spirit which carries its original flame. To answer the question posed in the title of the article; whilst dungeon synth is undoubtedly a subgenre and an outgrowth of black metal, it has certainly grown and matured in a way that it has become a musical form and language of its own.

Arthuros

https://www.indymetalvault.com/2017/11/21/a-beginners-guide-to-dungeon-synth/

Featured

40 Years Of Laibach- An Interview

Since their inception in 1980 Laibach have consistently surprised, enthralled, confused, even offended audiences with their music and art. Their take on the audiovisual medium is unmistakably their own, with many imitators carrying their torch.

It’s been 40 years now since the formation of Laibach in Trbovlje. How was it that Laibach and each of its founders came to form in a Slovenian town known largely for coal mining?

Not all the “founding fathers” were from Trbovlje but the core-founding members were. This city, with its socio-political background, with its revolutionary and industrial environment, with numerous factories (not only coal mining), aesthetically, politically and culturally controversial and full of contradictions, was absolutely the initial inspiration for the establishment of the group. At the beginning all that we wanted was that we looked and sounded just like Trbovlje.

Laibach is the German language name of the Slovenian capital city of Ljubljana. Was the intent of using this moniker done solely as a provocation? What other purposes surrounded the appropriation of the name by which you are now known?

After the Second World War Laibach was not a popular name to mention – although it was one of the legitimate historic names for the city of Ljubljana, established in the Middle Ages. After World War Two this name was only understood as something related to German occupation of the country during the war.

We have chosen the name exactly for its problematic, explosive and conflicting content. In our 1982 manifest we wrote: “The name LAIBACH is a suggestion of the actual possibility of establishing a politicized ideological (system) of art because of the influence of politics and ideology.” In other words – the choice of name IS important because nomen EST omen.

File:04 laibach novi rock 1982.jpg
An early manifestation of Laibach, live in Ljubljana, 1982.

Many often see Laibach as a four piece band, whilst others will refer to you as a performance art collective in relation to your connections with Neue Slowenische Kunst and its other member groups. What exactly are the limits and constraints of who is a member of Laibach?

Laibach: We don’t refer to ourselves as an art collective in the first place, and Neue Slowenische Kunst (as an organised art movement) does not exist since 1992. In our 1982 manifest we stated: “LAIBACH adopts the organizational system of industrial production and the identification with ideology as its work method. In accordance with this, each member personally rejects his/her individuality, thereby expressing the relationship between the particular form of production system and ideology and
the individual.

The form of social production appears in the manner of production of LAIBACH music itself and the relations within the group.” And also: “The internal structure functions on the directive principle and symbolizes the relation of ideology towards the individual. The quadruple principle acts by the same key (Eber-Saliger-Keller-Dachauer), which – predestined – conceals in itself an arbitrary number of sub-objects (depending on the needs). The flexibility and anonymity of the members prevents possible individual deviations and allows a permanent revitalization of the internal structure. A subject who can identify him/herself with the extreme position of contemporary industrial production automatically becomes a Laibach member (and is simultaneously condemned for his objectivism).”

Today Laibach functions as an open platform with numerous collaborators on different fields, and some of them are closer to the initial model of Laibach membership, some are more distant. In theory Laibach members are always only four (Eber – Saliger -Dachauer – Keller), but each of them “conceals in itself an arbitrary number of sub-objects”. In practice everyone can be Laibach and Laibach can be everyone. After all we live in a time where majority of people are willingly rejecting their individuality in accordance with the dominant ideology, therefore individualism is not a great factor and obstacle anymore.

On the subject of mining and industry, then the character of your formative years and your use of “worker” aesthetics runs parallel with the British act Test Dept, who came across as more of an agitprop act. Like yourselves they had a history of working evenly with performance art and the live audiovisual medium, along with various musical changes throughout each of your careers. Musically and artistically, could you elaborate the individual and collective influences on Laibach in the early stages?

Influences were many; we learned from history and politics as such, from avant-garde movements and artists, from popular culture and music, and from many great films and architecture. We can’t and don’t want to elaborate on all these diverse influences in details, but we were greatly inspired by the art of Titian, Cezanne, Duchamp and Magritte, by Heartfield and Malevich, Beuys and Warhol – to name just a few.

We took ideas from the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein, Fritz Lang, Leni Riefensathl, Billy Wilder, Jacques Tati, Charlie Chaplin, Jean-Luc Godard, King Vidor, John Carpenter, Brian De Palma, George A. Romero… We don’t even want to talk about music influences – there are too many – but of course we have to mention at least Marinetti, Bach and Kraftwerk. We appreciate nonstandard acts like (our friends) Test Department and we saw many interesting groups and individuals, creating fantastic music, shows and ideas.

But Laibach is avoiding artistic and music definition as such. We don’t consider ourselves artists nor musicians, but anartists and engineers of human souls. We find art (and music) very limited and we aim to function primarily as a social (or socio-political) sculpture.

34 Years Ago: LAIBACH interviewed by TV Tednik (with English ...

There has often been a high emphasis on morally transgressive shock tactics and displays of moral/political ambiguities by Laibach. As a group that covers and emphasises the audio and visual fields equally, your work has at times made me think of a hybrid of Throbbing Gristle’s confrontational performances in the late 70’s and early 80’s, the Wagnerian “gesamkunstwerk” and what Walter Benjamin described as the “aestheticization of politics”, or Debord’s “spectacle”. With what many have regarded as a strong totalitarian aesthetic, what have Laibach intended to evoke or awaken in the listener and onlooker? To this day, do Laibach still strive to do the same thing?

The 8th statement of our 82’ manifesto says: “LAIBACH practices provocation on the revolted state of the alienated consciousness (which must necessarily find itself an enemy) and unites warriors and opponents into an expression of a static totalitarian scream.” And this is what we (still) do. Of course we believe that in art morality is nonsense, in practice it is immoral and in people it is a sickness and yes, we are masters of ambiguity, with a strategy behind it.

We practice transgression – and use other tactical weapons and means – as much as we feel we need to in order to smoke the listeners and onlookers out of their comfort zones and making evil losing its nerves. The truth is not static and definite, freedom even less so therefore the view, perception and understanding cannot be fixed to a final – one and only – definition as well.

The music and aesthetics of Laibach have certainly changed over time. From Opus Dei onwards, there is an increased accessibility, and innovative variations on the formats of contemporary pop songs. That has continued from your rendition of The Beatles Let It Be, as well as NATO and the national anthem-themed Volk. What brought on this more ear-friendly, yet ambitious turn in the musical approach?

Firstly – we have – and never had – no prejudices about pop music. We move freely from one genre to another genre, because every genre is a system of – sometimes hermetic – contents and rules that can help us to communicate certain idea. We find every genre relevant and using it can actually be an experimental process for us. We can quote here another item from our manifest, saying: “LAIBACH is the knowledge of the universality of the moment. It is the revelation of the absence of balance between sex and work, between servitude and activity. It uses all expressions of history to mark this imbalance. This work is without limit; God has one face, the devil infinitely many.”

Laibach’s shows in North Korea were the focus of much attention. In what ways did playing in front of live audiences in a more “illiberal” jurisdiction compare to your days performing in the former Yugoslavia? To what extent were your reputation, aesthetics and prior controversies known to the authorities of the DPRK, and how were you recieved in the country?

North Koreans knew nothing about us till a few weeks before we arrived when someone from Europe actually informed them about all the controversies that Laibach is able to and was producing. But it was already too late for them to cancel their invitation – we were practically already in the country. Maybe because of all that fuss they received us even with greater care and kindness, and even with some humour in fact.

Comparing North Korea and Yugoslavia is of course possible (it is possible to compare North Korea even with United States, why not), but communism in Yugoslavia was quite different from the North Korean one, although Tito and Kim Il-Sung were officially good friends and they even visited each other in 60’ and 70’. For instance humour is in general not forbidden in North Korea, but destructive humor (sarcasm and cynicism, etc.) is. On the other hand communism in Yugoslavia was very much destroyed because of an overdose of black humour that was practiced and understood too literary and to wildly all over the country.

North Korea is a very different place from the rest of the world. The reception of the concert crowd at our show – that was mainly chosen in the music cultural field, with some diplomats and foreign guests added – was very ‘cultural’. North Koreans apparently never heard such music (as Laibach) before, so they didn’t really know what to think about it, but they reacted politely, applauding after every song, and in the end of the show they gave us standing ovations (or maybe they were just happy that it is over; Syrian ambassador certainly was – he didn’t like the show much – commenting that “it was too loud – almost like a torture”). Choe Jong-Hwan, an elder Korean visitor, gave a statement after the concert, saying: “I didn’t know that such music existed in the World and now I know.”

Rodong Sinmun (Workers’ Newspaper) – official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, reported this: “The Slovenian band Laibach held a performance at the Pong Hwa Art Theatre. Workers in related fields, Pyongyang City employees, European friendship and cultural exchange delegations, representatives from various diplomatic and international organizations, foreign embassy staff members, and expats residing in Korea attended the performance.

The Korea Europe Cultural Exchange Promotion Agency, Norwegian Traavik Info, and Slovenian band Laibach all worked together to prepare the performance, which included “Whistleblowers,” “Sound of Music,” “Climb Every Mountain,” “Edelweiss,” “Across The Universe,” “Life is Life,” “Do, Re, Mi,” other world classics and anti-war themed songs. The performers possessed unique singing styles and powerful voices, and highlighted the beauty of each piece with their virtuosity, thereby showcasing the band’s artistic caliber. Laibach also performed an excellent rendition of the Korean song “Arirang,” to the great pleasure of audience members.” What better reception could we have wished for…

Laibach Photos (22 of 99) | Last.fm

In relation to your “confrontational” past with the Yugoslav authorities, then your reputation now that whilst provocative is a one of acceptance. Some critics would say that in performing a concert at the approval of a globally sanctioned state and government, that this is not only contrarian, but is exploitative to its subjects. How would you address such a critique, and do you think there is any validity in such an argument? Does Laibach see itself and its art as contarian?

Contrarian yes, but not on a daily political terms. We analyse the relation between ideology and culture and between art and politics, our language IS political, but we are not political activists and we do not deal with daily politics. Beside, our performance in Pyongyang was not at all directed towards the North Korean regime itself – that would be too easy and it would also be presumptuous to believe that we can make a significant difference in this country with one or two shows only; the whole action was rather turned against the (media) perception in the rest of the world.

The fact that the group as Laibach is performing in (openly totalitarian regime of) North Korea was a transgressive gesture by definition, to which the reaction all over the world was quite furious, somewhere almost hysterical if not inherently ‘totalitarian’. There are just too many fixed prejudices about Laibach and North Korea to ensure that such ‘collaboration’ between the two parties would go through easily. Of course we do not support the North Korean regime – but we don’t support any other regime as well. The most authoritative country in the world is the USA and we nevertheless did several tours there in the past, last one just before departing to North Korea.

We also performed in Israel twice and we were agressively urged from all around the world to cancel performances there as well. If we’d have to follow that über ethical rule – not to perform in a country with oppressive and authoritarian regime – what country would be good enough and what level of state authoritarianism would still be accepted and tolerated that we’d be allowed to perform there freely? Where is the line? Israel is heavily supported by the US and by many European countries; should we cancel our shows in all those countries as well? If Laibach is really the best possible support to North Korean regime, than we can only say: hail to North Korea, we are all yours!

But we actually learned a lot about North Korea while we were there; we now see their regime clearly as a result of the geostrategic politics of the winners of the Second World War. Up to this date the whole Korean Peninsula (and especially North Korea) is basically prisoner of the Truman Doctrine, which actually decided that a united Korea is a no-go, because it would not be in the interests neither of USA or USSR nor of China – that has also become a major player after the Second World War. Such division (and such a regime in North Korea) as it is, fits America better since it can be used as an excuse for a strong US military presence in the region (that is in fact controlling China).

China obviously also prefer to have a ‘tampon, a buffer zone’ between itself and US dominated South Korea and is certainly not too enthusiastic to have a new, re-united Korean economic and pro-American oriented political power on its borders. North Korea as such is therefore in an perpetual Status quo situation, where everybody acts according to the rules of a huge prison camp. And they are forced to enjoy it. Kim Jong-Un and part of the North Korean political elite are now for some time trying to reform the country, but the situation is extremely complicated and he himself is basically a prisoner in his own regime. Therefore we have nothing but great sympathies for North Korean people and we hope they will soon be able to decide about their future destiny by themselves.

Liberation Day Review: Laibach Rocks Pyongyang in this North Korea ...
Promotional shot of Laibach in North Korea.

Fukuyama proclaimed “the end of history” that came with the collapse of the USSR and the former Iron Curtain states. These newly “freed” entities felt eager to partake and prove themselves as players and stakeholders within a newly incorporated “unipolar” world. With decades now past, states such as China and Russia are reemergent as geopolitical, economic and military powers. Buzzwords such as “Occupy”, “Black Lives Matter”, “#MeToo”, “Antifa”, “Trump”, “Brexit”, and “Soros” hold an abundance of connotations and associations.

Depending on which way one looks at it, these can hint towards dissatisfaction or affirmation towards a “global order”. To what extent does the concept of “soft power”, or authority through persuasion and “consensus” influence Laibach? Do you or have you sought to address or express any of the above matters in any previous or future work?

Of course we are aware and are also influenced by the omnipresent mechanisms of ‘soft power’; we are powering it ourselves being part of the entertainment industry and culture; practicing seduction, persuasion, attraction and repulsion, all of the cunning characteristics of soft power. Soft power – or some might call it ‘sharp power’ – strategies particularly grew in the US and UK – and also elsewhere – after the Second World War, with the rise of mass information media and pop culture. But today, with the explosive growth of the internet, social media and the integration of authoritarian information outlets into the media spaces of democracies, the opportunities for exerting influence are far greater than at any time in the recent past.

We have now all become victims of our wishes and desires, our own enjoyment and freedom. There is no way back, but there seem to be no way forward as well. The current epidemic situation with Covid 19 “soft” threat is the perfect result, the perfect outcome of this trap. In this respect Fukuyama’s “end of history” proclamation actually became very real. But this would of course be too nice to be true; there is a crack in every wall and as long as ideologies are still alive and they conflict each other, more history will be produced, sooner or later. And more hard power will come to force again, because in reality soft power is and always will be just a masked extension of hard power.

The album Spectre seems to be a reference to Marx, yet also the shadowy, nebulous organization of James Bond fame. To you, what are the “specters” that haunt the modern world? In what way do they reflect themselves in the development and progress of Laibach’s work as an entity?

The spectre of Communism appears to have been finally exorcised. The spectre of global capitalism is now freely haunting the world. Like a disease it ensnares people through the utopian injection of desires and fantasies into the social and political bloodstream. Its hypodermic needle is the entertainment, information and communications industry. It is a shared needle, and in democracy there is no cure against its own disease. Of course it reflects itself also in the development of our work. We don’t know yet how deep we are infected by it, but in our lifetime we have developed enough antibodies to resist. That is – if we find it necessary.

Laibach - Let It Be (1989, Vinyl) | Discogs

Being from Slovenia, would you care to elaborate to what extent the folklore, culture, literature and art indigenous to your country has influenced your work? With Laibach Revisited just released, to what extent do these influences reemerge?

We were deeply influenced by the folklore of Communism, by doctrines of self-management and non-alignment, by industrial production of the Red districts, by socialist disco, by quadruple principle of Tito, Toto, Tati and Tutu, etc. As far as traditional folklore goes we may be influenced by Slovenian gothic
tales that are in fact part of indigenous art that you have in mind.

On the grounds of the reputation that you are now known by, do you think starting Laibach would be possible today? If yes or no, then why or why not? Do you think the world has changed for the better or the worse since your inception, and how so? In a time beyond our lives, how would you hope or wish for Laibach to be remembered?

The world has changed in both directions; the process is simply called the evolution, or more precise- dialectical evolution. And if Laibach will ever be remembered, we wish to be remembered as the dialectic evolutionists. And the engineers of human souls.

Thank you for the interview. The last words are yours…

We don’t have the last words yet; it’s a bit too early for that as far as Laibach is concerned…

Featured

Scarface: A Cinematic Tale of Moral Nihilism

SCARFACE Movie Poster, al pacino - Original French One Panel ...

A remake of a 1932 Howard Hawks film set within the height of prohibition, Depression-era Chicago, what was originally intended as a period piece remake is accelerated into the cocaine-fuelled, hedonistic post-disco malaise of early 1980’s Miami. Centered around the lust for fortune of hotheaded Cuban “political prisoner” cum drug lord Antonio Montana (Al Pacino), Brian De Palma’s Scarface can be interpreted as a commentary on the shortcomings of power for power’s sake. It can be regarded as a take on the self-gratifying illusion of the “American Dream” that its main protagonist remorselessly pursues.

What Scarface does have in common with with fellow gangster flicks such as The Godfather series, Goodfellas, Casino and Once Upon A Time In America is that they tell a story as seen through the lens of gangsters within an ethno-cultural group, and how their experiences, individual or shared shapes that story. What separates Scarface from the rest of them is that it is more in your face and immediate; its characters throwing themselves straight into the midst of a gory, nasty, dog-eat-dog modernity. The newcomer’s notion of becoming “American” is to be a self-made man, independent, self-reliant, yet in a newfound land of opportunity one can also cut corners and spill blood.

More typical films of the mafiosa type are characterized by Machiavellian, cloak and dagger tensions, where protagonists behave meticulously as if they could recite Sun Tzu’s The Art Of War off by heart, with the action moving like chess pieces. In Scarface Antonio Montana is by contrast ruthless and merciless a la Genghis Khan or Tamerlane, acting far more by brutal force and aggression than tactical measures. His outright honesty and visceral malice is crystallized when he states “I always tell the truth. Even when I lie.” His solipsistic hatred of compromise is manifested when he states that “all I have in this world is my balls and my word, and I don’t break them for no one”.

This Cinematic Life: Scarface (1983)

Yet like the most decadent of the Roman Emperors, he is a slave of bad habits and doomed to implosion. When advised by the drug lord he usurps Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia) not get high on his supply of cocaine, he doesn’t heed. The action and pace of the film is accentuated by an orgy of irrational machine gun blasts, and a notable scene involving Montana’s “little friend”, a grenade launcher.

To the Cuban protagonists of Scarface, to paraphrase Mark Fisher’s analysis of Heat, then 80’s Miami has no traces of the “old country” save for the presence of the character’s relatives who they have joined after the Mariel boatlift. But that presence is not well bonded and hierarchical like what we see in the “ethno-nostalgia” of the Corleone family. It is not yet the full-blown post-Fordian, hypercapitalist, atomized Los Angeles cosmopolis that is portrayed in 1995’s Heat, but its fledgling impulses can be sensed in Scarface. Montana’s familial relations goes as far as a mother who shuns him for his criminality, and his borderline incestuous obsession with his younger sister Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).

The only other real immediacy of his Cuban origins stem from a visceral hatred towards the Castro regime which he expresses to immigration officers. His love of Gina is blinded beyond mere sexual jealousy; going so far he kills his closest associate and best friend, the more level headed Manny (Steven Bauer) who marries her. His wife Elvira (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the coke addled embodiment of the spoilt Anglo-American trophy wife; after ascending to his own American dream her “polluted womb” fails to procure a child, spoiling any notions that the compulsive Cuban may have for a contingency plan or an heir. Beyond his fearsome reputation comes the start of the breakdown.

What If Tony Montana Was Actually The Biggest Hater Ever ...

Added to this complexity is Montana’s unquestionable amorality when it comes to mercilessly slaying dozens of men. Good and evil only seem to exist to him once a certain line is crossed, such as his refusal to detonate a car bomb as it would result in the death of women and children. It should also be highlighted that when he kills those who are close to him, it isn’t because he hates them; it’s because they in some way or form “betrayed” him.

It is no great surprise that Scarface enjoys a cult reputation; stylistically and aesthetically it is a quintessential embodiment of 1980’s kitsch. There are various similarities to Michael Mann’s 1981 directorial debut Thief. Whilst it is a heist film, and not a “rags to riches” type tale, crime is the focal point. Mann’s debut made significant use of an electronic score from Tangerine Dream, who were at the time developing a wider portfolio of film scores. Italian synthpop pioneer Giorgio Moroder produces a catchy score which captures the most commercial end of the new wave zeitgeist of the time. The immortal “Push It To The Limit” condenses the plots narrative; “no one left to stand in your way/you might get careless/but you’ll never be safe/while you’re still in it”.

Scarface can be viewed as a movie which consolidates and implements many of the standards by which we now look back and judge the 1980’s by. Michael Mann would take this lead with the cop series Miami Vice and the psychological neo-noir masterpiece Manhunter. An endless plethora of references to playing “GTA Vice City” coupled with an association with pop hits from that time period also solidify its reputation as a cultural meme.

Defined by a short fuse and an extremely singular “might makes right” worldview, it is also no surprise that the “get rich or die trying” attitude of Montana resonates heavily with the nihilistic tropes and narratives that are explored extensively within gangsta rap music. Gritty, atmospheric and blunt, defined by a brash, sadistic sense of humour and a brilliant lead from Al Pacino, Scarface is an excellent tale of ambition, opulence, indulgence and death.

Luca Guadagnino will direct the remake of 'Scarface | HIGHXTAR.

Featured

Album: Svederna- Härd

Härd | Svederna

For a non-Swedish speaker, you might be mislead by the umlaut in Härd without a first impression into thinking this might be some blackened take on Motörhead. Singing in their native Swedish, Svederna’s third full length translates to “hearth”, the place where a fire burns. In the band’s own words this acts as a metaphor “for a sacred place where everything melts and only the truth remains”. For the unfamiliar, a quick way to describe their sound is the 90’s black metal of their homeland, with a subtle hint speed metal technique and the crystalline, sharp production of Swedish hardcore such as Disfear and Driller Killer.

Whilst the latter influences appear only minor, they are fitting for a style of music where a founding figure, Euronymous of Mayhem, sought inspiration from hardcore towards foundational black metal as he saw it as emblematic of a will to be “true” towards a set of principles and stylistic templates. Anti-authoritarianism and resistance to commercial and technological control appears to be the center of their lyrical content. Whilst this would seem contrary to the tropes of what is typically associated with black metal, the lyrics embrace a poetic and metaphorical quality where worldviews and opinions can be uniquely encoded into the language of the genre.

This reflects the production values, which emphasizes little in terms of “atmosphere” but is meaty, direct and compact. There is an overall “flat” tone to Härd that can be easily compared to Arckanum’s Fran Marder album. Melodies are constantly vibrant and full of momentum, songs weaved together in a manner that evokes albums such as Dawn’s Nær sólen gar niþer for evogher, Throne Of Ahaz’s Nifelheim and Mörk Gryning’s Tusen år har gått.

Härd is the type of record that takes more than one listen to fully appreciate. It is of a lyrical and ideological milieu that may not please aficionados of the more typically occult and mythological themes associated with the genre. It certainly cannot be accused of being untrue to form, as this is a solid and engaging work of riff based, fluid songwriting. It is “orthodox” not in the themes explored, but in that it evokes some of the more overlooked works of Swedish black metal.

https://svederna.bandcamp.com/

 

Featured

EP: Lament Cityscape- The Pulsing Wet

The Pulsing Wet | Lament Cityscape

True to the word “wet”, Lament Cityscape use reverb and distortion to create a vast sonic pool out of simple influences and ideas. Building on various tropes associated with “atmospheric sludge”, the Oakland, CA duo create a pleasantly contrasting and intense dynamic throughout this three song EP. 

Heavy bass guitar lines are the cement that binds all the other components together, made clear with catchy opener “Lustre”, whilst “Bleedback Loop” is more tense, grinding, and foreboding. Whilst stylistically in the same vein, closer “The Great Reveal” comes across as the most soothing of the three songs.

The melodic foundation are cemented in slow, heavy bass runs which are characteristic of classic sludge from Flipper, and percussion which evokes both the atavism of Neurosis and the urban dystopianism of Godflesh. Not unlike The Angelic Process, textures and layers have the uncanny quality of being rich in distortion yet lush and ethereal.

More than simply just being an outfit that set out to create an “ambience” or a “mood”, Lament Cityscape know how to build them, with an abundance of suspense. Like the best work of Jesu, The Pulsing Wet achieves a juxtaposed distinction of sounding viscerally warm, yet cohesive and endearing.

https://lamentcityscape.bandcamp.com/album/the-pulsing-wet

 

Featured

Album: Circle Of Ouroborus- Viimeinen Juoksu

Circle of Ouroborus - Viimeinen Juoksu | His Wounds

Finnish duo Circle Of Ouroborus have left an immense body of work behind them since forming in 2004. Amidst an abundance of splits, demos and EP’s, Viimeinen Jouksu is their 18th full length. With eight tracks spanning just over half an hour, and over an exhaustive discography, their most palatable and accessible material.

Whilst their aesthetic approach is immediately identifiable with black metal, they have brought the direct influence of post-punk and post-rock into their blend, with plenty of tonal experimentation. Rather than use these approaches in a manner that aims to come across as purposely crowd-pleasing and acceptable a la Deafheaven or Alcest, there is a genuine “outsider” character to Circle Of Ouroborus that distinguishes them from all other peers.

Melodic, hypnotic, tense and with a lo-fi, hallucinogenic production, Viimeinen Jouksu is somewhat more refined than on previous work, with a much sharper, less distant and “washed out” sound than on previous material by the Finns. Vocals are a cross between the shrieked standard of black metal and a half-sung wail with a “drowned” echo effect on the voice.

Guitars have a rugged atmospheric tone; and some of the more trebly riffs are typical  of the more traditionally “black metal” themed aspect of the Circle Of Ouroborus approach. You could compare the sound to “Forgotten Legends” by Drudkh or the clean instrumental passages of Forest or Branikald re-imagined through a noise rock filter of harmonious distortion.

Catchy leads, harmonies and the occasional arpeggio are abundant, and each song has an essential component to it that makes it “click”, whilst a throbbing bass plays complimentary, fluid lines that create their own space beneath the hazy wave of guitar. The overall groove coupled with the production have plenty in common with the barren, oppressive and atavistic atmospheres that Killing Joke immortalized on What’s This For? through to Fire Dances.

The spatial qualities of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures are also a definite reference point, and one could easily imagine how a minimal, stripped down take on the Cure’s Disintegration might sound if it were approached with the same timbre that can be found on the Grymyrk and Trondertun demos of cult Norwegian act Thorns. Highlights are constant, especially on tracks such as “Irti”, “Varjonhauta”, which help make Viimeinen Juoksu an enthralling and engaging experience.

https://hiswounds.bandcamp.com/album/circle-of-ouroborus-viimeinen-juoksu

Featured

Thomas Ligotti And The Search For Nothingness

Image with no description

American cult author Thomas Ligotti is far from the merriest of men. Any reading of his literature will prove this to you. An author of a wide body of supernatural horror, he has a devoted fanbase, and is considered a master of portraying the haunting forces of the eerie, the weird and the uncanny. His fictional work is often compared to the greatest and most legendary of his fellow countrymen, Edgar Allen Poe and HP Lovecraft.

I can’t claim to be an “expert” on Ligotti, as the only work I’ve read by him thus far are his short story compilations Songs Of A Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe. But what is unique about these collections is that his stories are dominated by a constant presence beyond their narrative. Being a genre where a malevolent “aura” manifests itself in some way of form, the “horror” enters the narrative and juxtaposes itself against any orthodoxy or definition of “good” that will oppose its disruption by default.

In the work of Ligotti something is true to form. Part of it is that there is a lack of gore or bloodthirst, and for the most part, there is little of the “mangled” and bodily grotesque. His aesthetic, unlike his influences does not dwell within a generically “gothic” grandeur tinged with romanticism and plot-wise strays from the “redemptive” narratives and arc which positively resolve the “problem” that a protagonist faces in the storytelling. Ligotti’s fiction can be interpreted as being portrayed within a contemporary setting, or true to the “uncanny”, set within an environment where the place and location can’t quite be discerned.

What is unique about the horror of Ligotti is that compared to his contemporaries, the “aura” of his horror, that which haunts is more of a crippling, suffocating tension and unease. Rather than something manifested by Lovecraft’s cosmic deities or “Great Old Ones”, often portrayed as a dormant, slumbering evil awaiting to be awakened, Ligotti is focused on what he sees as the perpetual nothingness that lies beyond what he sees as the profound meaninglessness of human animation.

Though this perhaps is nuanced in his fiction, it is in his widely regarded philosophical work, Conspiracy Against The Human Race that Ligotti professes the profound reality of death above all, and refuses to see anything redemptive in individual and collective drives for optimism. Throughout this work, this theme is quite common. His largely reference material is the Norwegian writer Peter Wessel Zapffe, who has stated that bearing children is akin to “carrying wood to a burning house” and that human yearning is not merely marked by a ‘striving toward’, but equally by an ‘escape from.”

These deeply pessimistic and nihilistic views are outreaches of Zappfe’s axiom that the over-development of human conscientiousness goes against nature, and leads to what he sees as a “biological paradox” characterized by existential panic and succumbing to tragedy. For Zappfe, this can only be remedied by “artificially limiting the content of consciousness”. This pessimism largely emerges from the pessimistic worldview of Arthur Schopenhauer, and examples of what Zappfe and Ligotti would see as the flaw of consciousness is embodied in various archytpes of the “tragic hero”, with the Nietzschean ubermensch being an example.

This compliments what is central to some of Ligotti’s themes; an espousal of anti-natalism, and an outright negative view of optimism, which he illustrates in his rejection of “happy endings” in his analysis of various works from the gothic horror genre. Complimenting Zappfe’s axiom regarding consciousness, the author states the following;

“What we do, as a conscious species, is set markers for ourselves. Once we reach one marker, we advance to the next – as if we were playing a board game we think will never end, despite the fact that it will, like it or not. And if you are too conscious of not liking it, then you may conceive of yourself as a biological paradox that cannot live with its consciousness and cannot live without it. And in so living and not living, you take your place with the undead and the human puppet.”

In seeing the human race as tragically flawed, and seeing the cosmos as an inherently worthless nothingness, Ligotti is drawn to the figure of the puppet. He often refers to puppets allegorically to portray what he sees as the folly of human strife, and an embodiment of the biological paradox. Whilst puppets are inanimate, and can only be manipulated by a cloaked force, to Ligotti they seem to present what he says as a contarian folly in humanitys efforts to aspire beyond the natural. In his analogy of the puppet, this also figures how we might view the “weird” and the “uncanny” as a sublime object of horror;

“Because if we look at a puppet in a certain way, we may sometimes feel it is looking back, not as a human being looks at us but as a puppet does. It may even seem to be on the brink of coming to life. In such moments of mild disorientation, a psychological conflict erupts, a dissonance of perception that sends through our being a convulsion of supernatural horror.”

To Ligotti, the puppet has a contrarian quality. It is anthropomorphic yet seem animate, being made in the image of man, whose wooden form can be inhabited, moved, invaded by the uncanny. Expounding on this, Ligotti’s explores cult horror films such as John Carpenter’s The Thing and Philip Kaufman’s The Invasion Of The Body Snatchers. What makes both films unique, and relevent to puppetry in Ligotti’s view is that both movies deal with invasive, otherworldly, unearthly forces that seize, control and determine the behaviors of their hosts, doing so in ways that blur the onlookers perception as to whether the depicted persons act out of their own free will or are “possessed” by a will that is not their own.

Conspiracy Against The Human Race also owes a deal of influences to the Romanian misanthropist Emil Cioran. Inexhaustibly cathartic and cynical, his worldview could be summed up in a short passage from Tears And Saints, where he asks;

“Is it possible that existence is our exile and nothingness our home?”

This compliments Ligotti’s idea that in the trappings of what he sees as as the undead human puppet, we are condemned to live out our “biological paradox” and remain condemned to forego the tragic striving that only ceases when we die. This also should allow us to consider the first season of the crime drama series True Detective, in which the deeply disturbed, profoundly cynical detective Rust Cohle delivers a worldview and philosophy similar to Ligotti’s

Referring to humans as “sentient meat” and stating that consciousness is a “tragic misstep in evolution”, Cohle’s character and worldview, abundant with existential musings is tainted by the death of his child. It is a worldview that alienates those around him, rendering him a loner and outsider. This may in some respects be comparable to Ligotti’s experiences with chronic anxiety and anhedonia, of which he states that under its affects, “everything is revealed in its true purposelessness and inanity.” In parellel with Zappfe’s idea of limiting the “content of consciousness”, Ligotti also states;

“Assuming that anything has to exist, my perfect world would be one in which everyone has experienced the annulment of his or her ego. That is, our consciousness of ourselves as unique individuals would entirely disappear.”

Nic Pizzolato, creator and director of the series, has acknowledged the influence of Ligotti on True Detective’s first season and Cohle’s character. Zappfe’s idea of the “biological paradox” is also clearly referred to when Cohle’s pessimistic view of human existence is elaborated on throughout the series. Returning to Cioran’s notion of nothingness as a “home” and existence as an “exile”, Ligotti elaborates the following in regard to assisted suicide;

“There is nothing in this world as important as to be able to choose to die in a painless and dignified manner, something we do have the ability to bestow on one another. If euthanasia were decriminalized, it would demonstrate that we had made the greatest evolutionary leap in world history.”

This compliments what he sees as the tormented existence and animation of the human puppet, always wanting, striving for more, never fulfilled, unable to end its functions even when existence is rendered as a downward spiral of constant and never-ending pain. Yet it is a sentiment that matches Schopenhauer’s of suicide;

“They tell us that suicide is the greatest piece of cowardice; that only a madman could be guilty of it; and other insipidities of the same kind; or else they make the nonsensical remark that suicide is wrong; when it is quite obvious that there is nothing in the world to which every man has a more unassailable title than to his own life and person.”

It is not easy to fully find Ligotti’s conclusions and overall worldview fully agreeable on a good day, particularly in a world where despite cynical competition, people want the best for themselves, and see the world in what they deem to be their own earthly being and activity that accompanies it. His philosophy, regardless of whether you disagree with it is rendered profound by the level of withdrawal that he has from the notion of the “joy” of life itself.

Ligotti’s view of the human condition, whilst it may be atheistic from his own view, is strangely profound in that he makes us want to feel that behind Zappfe’s “biological paradox” there are forces, pupetteers, manipulators, powers of which we cannot fully comprehend nor fathom. This ultimately creates a mystique which touches the soul or the inner feelings of many a reader. Other than serving as a literary inspiration for a key element of True Detective, Ligotti has also collaborated with apocalyptic neofolk outfit Current 93.

What makes Conspiracy Against The Human Race a worthwhile read and gateway into Ligotti’s work, is that the author is fully aware of the fact that arguing for the end of human existence is not going to convince many people. Whether you feel that as a species we ought to simply die out or persevere is down to you. Like some strange magician from a dark corner of nowhere, what Ligotti does successfully is distance the anthropocentric experience from what it really is, treating humanity and all its minutiae as even as all other matter that “exists”, be it sentient or inanimate. To Ligotti, it is only the misstep of consciousness that allows the human race to somehow delude and flaw itself into believing that it can go beyond its biological limits.

Thomas Ligotti. Greatest horror writer ever, the apex of the Weird ...

 

Featured

The Musical Legacy Of Bathory And “Foundational” Black Metal

In the history of black metal, as with any area of music we can certainly point to pivotal moments in the genres history. These can all resemble crucial stylistic turning points, be it the beginning of a new “wave”, a “prototype”, a “sound” or a national “scene”. However, no figure has continuously shaped the developments, approaches, changes and ideas as much as Quorthorn (Thomas Forsberg), the mainman behind Swedish pioneers Bathory. Founded in 1983, the name is a reference to Erzsébet Báthory, a notorious Hungarian aristocrat said to have slain young woman and bathed in their blood.

Beginning with their self-titled 1984 debut, executing a dark, lo-fi hybrid between NWOBHM, speed metal and UK 82 hardcore, their early output can be compared to Slayer’s classic 1983 debut “Show No Mercy” or the early work of Venom, but with a more solid, ambient production that is given greater exploration on following works. It is also consistent with emergent extreme metal of the early 80’s, a catchy, memorable song-for-song effort. Whether or not Quorthorn had never really heard Venom at this time, a claim he denied remains to be seen, but for the majority of trained ears they remain an essential reference point in discerning the aesthetic of early Bathory recordings. That one of Venom’s signature songs is called “Countess Bathory” may lead many to believe that this is more than sheer coincidence.

With their sophomore “The Return” in 1985, stylistic changes are clear. Repetitive phrasing of riffs, influenced by hardcore become more prominent, songs tend to be longer, and production makes more prominent use of reverb and echo. Whilst headbangers like “Born For Burning” continue where the the debut left off, the general aura of their second album acts like an anti-rock take on Venom’s “Black Metal”. Where Sodom’s “Obsessed By Cruelty” accelerated brutality, “The Return” introduced a dark, hallowed atmosphere that would become a genre staple. The roots of what can be heard from the likes of Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem and Gorgoroth on their defining work is clearly evident here.

Recording “The Return”…

This is enhanced and given a deeper grandeur on 1986’s “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark”. Marked by a more immediate, speedier, pounding aggression, their third album builds on the dark ambiance of the second, and introduces more experimental production and aesthetics, with an added touch of dark keyboards and melodic riff playing. Whilst songs such as “Massacre”, “Equimanthorn” and“Chariots Of Fire” are more brutal takes of the more simplistic songs from “The Return”, the rest of the album oozes an epic theatricality, highlighted in songs such as “Call From The Grave”, “13 Candles” and the album highlight “Enter The Eternal Fire”. Solidifying and intensifying  the base they had built on the second album, their third embodies the perfection of black metal’s “pre-second wave”. All the tropes, techniques and aesthetics that nourish the Nordic, Greek and wider European black metal scene of the late 80’s and early 90’s is on full display here.

♆ Black Antiquarium♆ on Twitter: "BATHORY promo "Under Sign Of ...
A promo for “Under The Sign Of The Black Mark…”

The more epic components of Under The Sign... are expanded on more greatly on “Blood, Fire, Death”, in what is considered the last of the essential “black metal” works by Quorthorn. Embellished with choral synth and acoustic guitars, “A Fine Day To Die” and the closing title track show a Norse romanticism of Wagnerian proportions coming to the forefront, defining the dominant theme of much of Bathory’s essential work from then on. It also helps to accentuate the “symphonic” traits that ebb and flow within later black metal, as well as the “Viking” metal phenomena. With solid tracks such as “For All Those Who Died”, “Dies Irae” and “Holocaust”, the remainder of the album is a more extensive take on the more straight ahead aggression shown on “Under The Sign…”, and a definite template for much of the “black thrash” trend that would ebb and flow in decades to follow. “Blood, Fire, Death” is also the teaser to a trilogy in which the heathen sagas of the ancient Scandinavians become predominant.

Promotional shot for “Blood, Fire, Death”

It is important that in addressing what is called “Viking metal” that this is little more than an aestheticization, and not a genre in itself. It is like calling “gothic rock” its own genre when really, it is post-punk that overly tends to emphasize the “dark and gloomy”. With this comparison in mind, it is best to consider the monolithic, slow paced epic hymns that defines the best of post-“Blood Fire Death” Bathory more as epic heavy metal played at a doom tempo. Whilst their fellow countrymen Candlemass helped pioneer “epic doom” with virtuosity and funereal precision, Bathory’s later “Viking” themed output assesses a variety of moods; the triumphant and tragic, victory and defeat, life and death, the upbeat and the melancholic.

It is akin to a more conceptually realized, more self-aware take on the more epic, serious moments from the first four Manowar albums. Quorthorn’s shrieks give way to a mix of frail, airy balladry and barbaric, half sung, half-shouted vocals which are a perfect fit for slow, grinding, monumental anthems. Released in 1990 and 1991 respectively, Hammerheart and Twilight Of The Gods are unique in that they reinvigorate what had tired itself out in the best of 80’s mainstream heavy metal. Ushering in a decade when many heavyweights either grew tired and dull, became purposely commercial and watered down (Metallica, Pantera), or came to embody a millennial generation of irony and self-loathing (grunge), the more ‘ear-friendly’ Bathory was just as passionate as before.

They still conjured an esoteric weight that would make its mark on underground 90’s metal, through the more “pagan” themed elements of the black metal movement, and much of the “epic doom” that emerged in that decade since. As the onus on metal’s best output in the 1990’s switched indefinitely towards these underground channels, epics like “Shores In Flames”, “Baptized In Fire And Ice”, “One Rode To Asa Bay”, “Twilight Of The Gods”, “Blood And Iron” and “Under The Runes” were a remedy to the decay of metal’s mainstream. With the title of Twilight Of The Gods alluding to a Richard Wagner opera of the same name, the closing track “Hammerheart” also takes a melody from Gustav Holst’s “The Planets” as its lead.

Untitled
Quorthorn (middle left) with Kerry King, Jeff Hannemann and Tom Araya of Slayer

When listening to the “lost album” Blood On Ice, recorded originally in the late 1980’s but only released in 1996, we can obviously sense the transitional period that lay between Blood, Fire, Death and Hammerheart. The speed metal influences are for the most part completely eschewed, though there is a more general variation in pace, with songs like “One Eyed Old Man” and “Gods Of Thunder, Wind and Rain” displaying that missing link. On the other hand, songs like “The Woodwoman” and “The Lake” are the true prescience of setting the tone, mood and style of their new direction. Whilst it has some small production flaws, largely being assembled from demos, it is still a very worthy archival release that is full of potential and clarity, and far from being a “completist” addition to a musical collection. If treated chronologically it makes the stylistic transfer between early to mid-period Bathory seem more obvious and less sudden.

After a series of largely uninspired albums, Requiem , Octagon and Destroyer Of Worlds, Quorthorn finally revisited the formula that was first laid out on Blood, Fire, Death and laid out across the remainder of his Viking themed material. Whilst epic in length and scope, the Nordland I (2002) and Nordland II (2003) albums were more matured and varied in technique, with speedier riffs sitting alongside the more pounding, slow tempos, interwoven with dark Nordic folk music. They make for a fitting epitaph just prior to Quorthorn’s untimely death at the age of 38, highlighted in songs such as “Nordland”, “Ring Of Gold”, “Foreverdark Woods” and “The Wheel Of Sun”.

Throughout a musical career spanning over 20 years, Bathory delivered a series of works that consistently broke new ground for underground metal. There was also a consistent stylistic evolution between each of his works, with a large body of acclaimed albums which consistently outweigh career “low points”. Amidst all of this, the music of Bathory was mastery of all formats, be they the infernal and the romantic, the simplistic and the epic. All of the ideas and themes that embody the history of metal as a genre are explored and in depth throughout this one man band’s canon.

Datos Curiosos Quorthon | •Metal• Amino
Thomas Börje Forsberg  AKA Quorthorn (17 February 1966 – 3 June 2004)

Featured

Seer Of Decay: An Interview With Mikko Aspa

The following interview/conversation is with Finnish artist Mikko Aspa, who works within a number of mediums. Many readers may know him as the founder and owner of the record labels Northern Heritage and Freak Animal. In addition to this, he has a highly prolific musical output, with the black metal of Clandestine Blaze, the power electronics of Grunt, and the funeral doom project Stabat Mater, among many other ventures. He is also a prolific publisher, through the printed zine and online forum Special Interests. To say that his name is something of repute within contemporary underground music circles would be putting things lightly.

There has been a distinct maturation in the sound of Clandestine Blaze over the past few years, yet the musical expression and artistic intent is still the same, without compromise. Music is still raw, yet there are points on City Of Slaughter and Tranquility Of Death where songs are accentuated with layers of synth, or in the case of the title track from the latter, acoustic guitar passages.

In some respects this reminds me of the simple, yet sophisticated approach that Beherit made on Engram. Traditional black metal, well thought out, and not just “varied” for the sake of being “open-minded”. Would you care to tell us what brought these changes, or better to say developments in the musical direction of CB?

MA: Natural progression took me into making songs different than they had been in early days. It would be foolish to repeat exact same template over 20 years. In case of Clandestine Blaze, shift is slow. It can be seen happening between each album. To compare couple first ones with couple last ones, there may be drastic shift. To follow discography in chronological order, the transition is subtle and almost logical.

With new albums, my intent has been to make songs that are not following the absolutely simplest expected template known from pop/rock. They are not progressive or complex by any means, but often you can not guess what will be coming after next riff or song part. In early days vast majority of tracks were intentionally repeating most common type of template with no musical variation or display of musicianship.

I wanted music to be utterly monochrome, everything else than “fun” to listen to. Nowadays intent is that music is not totally predictable or mathematical. There are many other goals too. Certainly not to sound uplifting or joyful like a lot of contemporary Black Metal appears to be.

You have undertaken many other projects across the metal and noise spectrum, in a variety of different capacities, exploring different themes and concepts. Of all of these, your work as Clandestine Blaze and Grunt seem to be the most collectively representative of all these as a whole. Could you tell us how it came to be that these two projects ended up becoming the dominant projects in your portfolio, and giving a background to that?

MA: Bands where I work with other people, I am often in role of assistant or collaboration and role of leader is taken by someone else. A lot of projects are sort of spin-off from main works, that are Grunt and Clandestine Blaze. These two are the focus points. Both were the most important right from the start. They are expressions of myself in many ways.

Many of the spin-off projects have narrow and tightly framed singular artistic vision they are meant to fulfill. Approach of these projects may differ from what is done with my main works. Scope of Grunt and CB is not merely specific artistic vision, but they represent my worldview and approach to life in general.

Are there any direct or indirect means by which the other projects you have done influence the development of CB and Grunt, or vice versa?

MA: There is always crossover. Most of the other projects have been spawned as “spin-off” to explore specific sound or theme, had already been dealt in main work. Instead of giving one particular topic too much attention in Grunt, there are opened a path that took closer look into specific topic or sound, while Grunt continued to explore with wider scope.

Besides this, you can draw line from one to another and find the common topics and musical elements. During last decade, often Grunt and Clandestine Blaze albums sort of communicate with each other. They include similar topics, similar themes, but often discussed with different language – so to say.

Bands I play or have played as member, also may influence at least in ways of keeping musical skills developing more than bands that exists only in form of recordings.

 

Can you tell us about the history of Special Interests as a print and online publication, its various mediums and what you’ve set out to achieve with it?

MA: I have edited noise related zines since the 90’s. Freak Animal and Degenerate ‘zines most notable. At the time when first issue of Special Interests came out, print magazines that focused on industrial-noise and related genres were pretty much non-existent. Original aim was to publish ’zine 3 times a year.To preserve current moment of the genre to physical form, to distribute information and to give platform for artists that would never get covered in music press of magazines of other genres.

There was also seemingly futile attempt to resurrect the 80’s/90’s style of approach, where wide variety of experimental noise co-existed in same milieu. Reality is that subgenre mindset is so strong these days, that eventually it was best to conclude Special Interests has barely ambient, electro-acoustic and such material. Focus remains power electronics, noise and closely related material. Scope is still very broad, not being spokesman of one subgenre or even my own personal taste.

Out of all these aims, Special Interests paper fanzine exists. It is published less regular manner, but remains among very few print publications of the type. There are various attempts in creation of podcasts, documentaries, etc. It all remains limited by lack of time. There will be more, but there is also other things to be done. Big part of my activity is not visible to foreign people, as I have shifted major part of my writing to Finnish.

Most stable activity is Special Interests forum, that enables bands, labels, collectors, and so on, to discuss, promote, sell and trade their material. To do this without restrictions enforced by social media platforms and marketplaces. Due strong content of many industrial-noise releases, it appears good to have some true independent infrastructure left. It is unfortunate that so much of contemporary ”underground” relies purely on good will and platforms of multinational corporations.

The opening track from Terror And Degeneration features a quite prominent sample from the David Cronenberg film Videodrome, which asserts that “we’re entering savage times” and that one needs to be “pure, direct and strong” to survive them. The film had a lot to say in regard to the convergence of human destiny and ever advancing technology, which i noticed seemed to be present in themes explored in other Grunt material.

This seemed to inform particularly the “surveillance” elements of Someone Is Watching. If any, to what extent is this explored in the work of Clandestine Blaze? As an artist who has worked and performed in the audiovisual medium before, to what extent does cinema influence you on an individual level and in the sonic output of Grunt?

MA: Those works you mention are created back in 1997-1998. While subject matter is far more relevant now than over 20 years ago, it is also almost too banal and trivial to deal with it now. At least it should be looked from less obvious perspective. Things explored in those releases are just daily life now.

Clandestine Blaze does not observe this type of elements of society. Material is meant to be sort of beyond technology and timeless in many ways. Not bound to society and current daily reality in same ways as Grunt can do. Things Clandestine Blaze deals with, are more primal. It would never talk about tech of surveillance, how it happens in contemporary society.

CB work could of course touche the motivations and reasonings and the spirit what is behind the actual technical level. It could observe the shattered free will and the necessity of illusion of paradise where sheep and wolves co-exist in peace like in Watchtower magazine covers. Surveillance society has traits of this.

To return to question about movies. I do have plenty of movies in my collection and I respect the artform. However, it is far less important that music or books. I can live perfectly without having TV or watching movies. It is most of all prioritizing my time. I am not looking much of entertainment, but food for though. These days I watch way less movies than I used to.

Most of the time I am not even seeking to find any particular movie and most of my collection I have never actually watched. They remain there for sake of one day wanting to do so. It is unlikely those movies to be found in popular streaming services and after times of wide and easy availability. It’s been several years since I last time put movie dvd to player.

Black metal and power electronics are genres of extremes. The widely mythologized and eulogized Norwegian scene of the early 1990’s was extreme not only in musical and ideological intent, but in the sense that destructive and fatal actions arose from its “inner circle”, with similar and more widespread illegal acts taking place in its wake.

Consistent with tropes within the genre, it is something which reflects itself in the cryptic and occult lyrical content of Clandestine Blaze, which often tends to reflect and portray destructive forces and urges within the nature of man. Whether one could consider this as the Hobbesian war of all against all, the Darwinian survival of the fittest, or Nietzschean concepts of will to power or the overman.

Power electronics on the other hand is a subgenre of industrial where many practitioners, since the early 80’s tend to aestheticize various extremes, be they socio-political, ideological, sexual, criminal or otherwise into a format which is presented in a manner that is confrontational, impartial and lacking in irony to the extent that many of the tropes inevitably shock, alienate, and anger the untrained listener.

Whilst not a type of “propaganda” to those outsiders, it may be interpreted literally and thereby judged as such. What are your thoughts on this? In increasingly politically correct times, to what extent do you think that “elitism”, “extremism” or “extremity” such as the types described above are a fundamental prerequisite to these forms of music having their desired effect, or as a means to achieve a sense of ‘authenticity’?

MA: We would first have to consider what *is* the desired effect? Lets say, if you are looking for people to be offended. Of course, that is probably easier than it ever was. However, this doesn’t have any real level of achievement in adult life. It may have seemed good in adolescent perspective, …but now? If you know the triggers how people are outraged, and you know that this outrage leads nowhere, why bother?

Confrontation and provocation is valuable when target is advanced enough. Of course one can’t totally rule out of usefulness of sheer terror or even annoyance, but generally I feel the music and the message is not performed for the enemy, but yourself and for potential fruitful receiver.

The goals of old industrial to ”shock” live audience with ripping noise, is futile in situation where most of the audience comes to enjoy the ripping noise. People receiving splatters of blood and rotten meat from stage of Black Metal gigs, are not offended or disturbed by such actions. It leads to necessity to evaluate whether the ”shock” or ”extremism” has value, and if yes, then in what way.

We live in utterly different cultural milieu than in times when the underground was largely directed to an unprepared generic crowd. You know, the 90’s youth house gig collecting every kid from the town, vs. gig of devotees and veteran followers of music gathered from all around the world. It is totally different realm.

I believe that the most important factor is that the creator himself has genuine sense of importance of his work. That he feels and knows that work has both meaning and purpose. That this meaning is personal, and beyond. Transgressions that are personal, have a purpose, that is not linked to any goal that requires ”audience”. I feel that there needs to be real revolutionary element to it. That this process is about change and transgression, not about irritating some sensitive pussies.

One should approach it not as a lecturer, but really realize your own role in the process. Artist himself is also in process of learning and experiencing things and transforming. It should not be the tales of something, but the actual thing taking place. Meaning, in context of Black Metal, this is personal magical transformation, and not some foolish ”telling how it is” to bunch of listeners.

Same can be of course said in context of industrial-noise. I feel most of the music is aimed to enable elevated level or perception and cause change in reality. It is the real apocalyptic music, where world formerly taken granted in shattered and no longer existing. It is full re-evaluation of values and system of world that crumbles in front of you.

Most often my own works, for me, are the realization and illumination. It is the moment of certain era of process being summed up. Many things are already in your brain and character, but only articulated in form of art taking shape. It is the utmost opposition to entertainment and ”fun”. It is less about telling audience, and more about revealing to myself. It is the journey into darker consciousness.

Furthermore, as I mentioned above, it is not about ”telling how it is”, but album often can reveal itself to its creator AFTER it has been done. Unconscious decisions and seemingly well thought reasons may appear in different perspective in light of new look to it – especially when compared in synthesis with past works. Returning few albums backwards and seeing what you attempted to say, but could not fully articulate yet.

Fact that most people appear to be totally unable to handle even modest irritations and emotional challenges, rules them totally outside the scope any art should (or could) reach. It is ok for them to listen it as music. I think good bands work on that level too. I am fine with my work being treated pure as music, even if it is not that for me.

To separate people who “really get it” – that is of course elitist attitude, and therefore to reply your questions: Of course, elitism both necessary and mandatory and extremity is logical destination of path that is always willing to take the next step. It may only manifest itself in different forms than what people generally think when those words are being used. Many of the traits and symbols of “extremism” are now only decor and eye candy.

Whilst Clandestine Blaze releases have become more varied in a way that might appear to be more “ear-friendly” to the untrained listener, harsh noise elements seem to take a more upfront, abrasive position in more recent releases of Grunt. They come across as more directly rhythmic and not unlike Genocide Organ or Grey Wolves in this respect. The more prominent use of abrupt, chaotic feedback blasts and squelches recall 1980’s Whitehouse, and hark back to the origins of extreme electronic music.

Yet at times, tracks are shorter and resemble more “song-like” forms. Can you tell us about how you undertake the compositional process, and whether these “changes” were a conscious decision or “from the gut”, so to speak? In regards to both CB and Grunt, what are the most “fun” or enjoyable processes in recording, and the most frustrating or time-consuming processes?

MA: Both are designed to satisfy my urge as both creator and listener. Both have progressed during the years, based on shifts of my approach. As explained before, Clandestine Blaze has shifted to create musically more interesting pieces. It certainly does not aim to be easy listening or any sort of ear-candy, but there is elevated level of song writing and riff structures. Especially the next album will be another leap on that.

My biggest influence is, and often has been, to create opposition to stuff I dislike. I am not so much being influenced by my favorite albums, but the ongoing situation of not being able to find material that satisfies me. While I do not want to complain about situation in Black Metal, for me it is highly inspiring to be nearly antithesis of contemporary Black Metal of almost all kinds. This remark is not saying there would not be abundance of good bands too. I feel I am rather influenced by what I do not want to be associated with at all, on any level.

Process of Clandestine Blaze is accumulating ideas for couple of years and then regurgitating this in fairly fast process where the ideas – both music and lyrics, are articulated into concrete form. Recordings are usually very fast and when material has sort of ”created itself”. I am more in role of observing the mental state and absorbed ideas of last couple of years that come out in shape of CB. Moment of creation is fast, when it is only about making the idea happen. I usually do not “intend” to write album, but one day it happens in sudden urge of gathering all the ideas that have been emerging and see what it may result.

Grunt is actually quite versatile. Full length albums give you one view. Live shows give another. Small scale releases may be utterly different. Abundance of material that does not show itself to audience or exists within ”scene” per se, but are private sessions or public street actions or such – again Grunt takes very different forms. It is true, that large pressing full length albums have taken very song oriented form.

Most songs are 3-5 minutes at length what may be easier for listeners to grasp than 60 minutes non-stop abstract harsh noise. However, Grunt has that element as well. For example ”Kraniometria” cd that came out last year was pure instrumental harsh noise. There are hours of such material existing, but I have not felt the absolute need to make it public.

These days, most recordings I make, are studio-live recordings of raw, but fairly complex song cores. Usually one overdub and vocals are added. There are plenty of things that need to fall into right place that the song is ready to be published. It is hard to say what is the ”fun” in making, when most of it is basically challenging and consuming. There is the urge that material must be made, and it is satisfaction to get something meaningful completed. It may have not been really ”fun” at most stages of creation, but it is satisfying.

You have a track on “Myth Of Blood” entitled “Linkola Legacy”, which references the recently deceased Finnish ecologist and anti-humanist Pentti Linkola. Do you share any outlooks or worldviews similar to his?

MA: Although his ideology is unrealistic and in many ways flawed, I agree with several points of his conclusions and respect his life’s work and contributions to culture. His passion for nature was obsessive and most of all focused locally. He was more of almost poet, than ”political” or “philosophical” person. His approach changed over the decades. I prefer the later era, especially the outspoken Linkola who would not shy express his views in media.

Lyrics in this song, are well known quotes of Linkola. Till very end of his life, he was opposed by many, but also appreciated by many. Considering the loathsome state of contemporary media, it was unusual that Linkola could be sort of mainstream ”celebrity” and also given plenty opportunities to speak. He was able to express opinions and facts that normally would never be accepted to be voiced in mainstream media.
This is the notable example. To strive towards your goal and ideal, in hostile surrounding. Opposition or time and devotion in seemingly futile struggle.

Of course, most of the audience respect him in form of martyr. Never in form of leader. It was his stubborn and futile struggle, that has passionate religious fury, that makes people look at him in same kind of awe like for saints. Although process is there merely to justify themselves continue the ways of sin, if we use the religious terminology. Acceptance the true divine wrath is simply too much for a man.

Do you believe there is a “misanthropy” inherent in the Finnish subconsciousness that might contribute to the country’s fair share of talent within various subgenres of underground music? If otherwise, what do you think that is?

MA: It may be called that sometimes. Perhaps the specific kind of stubbornness combined to lack of universally acknowledged talent would be better. I would assume that a lot of Finnish music appears less focused on “PR” and “marketing tactics” and “trends” than in some other countries. As one can observe, Finland has very short history of producing “globally meaningful” culture. There are very few globally known masterminds.

Most of underground music used to be somewhat clumsy, noisy and raw. Be it early 80’s hardcore punk, late 80’s thrash, 90’s death and black metal. Finnish industrial-noise, even Finnish techno was known to be somewhat low-tech and primitive. Back then, when the idea of “what Finland sounds like” was establish, it can be actually that lack of talent contributed greatly to the sound. Instead of visionaries and geniuses, you got most of all: circumstances.

It is curious observation, that in these golden times of raw music, most relevant Black Metal and noise and such emerged from small towns. If there was meaningful and legendary bands from Finland, you can trust that almost without exception, they come from small towns and villages. At least they originate from there and later on moved to bigger cities.

In the 80’s and 90’s, basically before all devouring entertainment business and digital communication, people were most likely not predominantly “misanthropes”, but seekers of meaningful things to do. This drive and hunger to do something else than just vegetate and rot, will certainly cause misanthropic tone when you see the small town “normies” just be happy and content with… vegetate in apathy.

It is curious to see, what are the effects, of not having this type of environment. Of course we have had already 20 years to observe, and one can ask whether Finnish underground music still carries the same spirit? To certain extent it does, but when looked critically, one may see it has been largely tainted by same global flaws that plague underground music in general. Large part of its uniqueness is gone, in favor or “better quality” and “professionality”.

What lies next for Grunt and Clandestine Blaze? Is there any new material currently in the works?

MA: I just released new GRUNT album “Spiritual Eugenics”. That was major effort to get finished in a way it is. It is double LP / double CD format, consisting wide variety of tracks in 80 minutes duration. There is more Grunt material that is “under work”. I am not in hurry, so it is not decided when and how something comes out.

Clandestine Blaze next album is probably within 2020. It is recorded for most part, but like with Grunt, I am not in hurry with actual release. I’m more focusing on feeling the material is strong enough to survive test of time and my own critical evaluation.

Aside from a full-length, various splits and a recent compilation of said works, is there anything we can expect in the future from your doom project, Stabat Mater?

MA: Yes. There is completed new recordings, but I can not yet confirm when exactly those are being released. There will be more material recorded, which might be released even before formerly completed recordings are being published.

What upcoming releases, new, reissued or otherwise can be expected in the near future from your labels Northern Heritage and Freak Animal?

MA: There will be soon new albums of VIGILANTISM and BIZARRE UPROAR. More will follow.

Northern Heritage will have new material from unknown new names coming in 2020. However, reissues keep coming and next expected DIABOLI CD repressings of Kirous, The Antichrist and Wiking Division CD’s. Baptism repressings on vinyl.

COVID-19 has been all the hype, dominating all forms of media and cultural dissemination. This affects business and day-to day life too. Firstly, what are your observations on the mass media alarmism that has characterized the outbreak, taking into consideration past events in world history? How has this affected or challenged your running of Northern Heritage and Freak Animal, in terms of supply, distribution, international shipping, print press et al?

MA: There is barely effect for me, except that shipping is not possible to all countries. Also there are delays here and there.

For me, this appears as good opportunity to re-organization and prioritization of things. It proves that many things that were formerly considered out of questions and totally impossible to do, suddenly were very much doable. Whether these actions were good or not, is up to debate.

That concludes my questions. If you have any last words, please feel free…

MA: Thanks for the interview.

Featured

Sculpting In Time- Tarkovsky’s Ritual Of Cinema

“Some sort of pressure must exist; the artist exists because the world is not perfect. Art would be useless if the world were perfect, as man wouldn’t look for harmony but would simply live in it. Art is born out of an ill-designed world.”

The cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky, like that of various classic “auteur” film directors, is the type that does not necessarily filter through into the world of mainstream commercial success. Nor is it the type of thrill-based, expectational cinema that one excepts from an audience that needs to constantly be “wooed”.

If you are a first time viewer of Tarkovsky’s science fiction films Solaris (1972) and Stalker (1979), and running on the excitement that would define a generic viewer of the Star Wars or Aliens franchise, then there is always the chance you may feel disappointed or misled by the drawn out, immersive aura of Tarkovsky’s cinema.

Ivan's Childhood (Ivanovo detstvo, USSR 1962) | The Case for ...

As a response to the Soviet State Committee of Cinematographer telling him that the film was too slow and dull, the director amusingly responded that “the film needs to be slower and duller”.  In spite of how idealistic and lofty his aspirations were, we are still speaking of a director who had the following to say about James Cameron’s The Terminator;

“The brutality and low acting skills are unfortunate, but as a vision of the future and the relation between man and his destiny, the film is pushing the frontier of cinema as an art.”

Though he held a lofty and idealistic view of what he believed made his cinema, and that of those he admired (Bergman, Ozu, Bresson, Bunuel), it was clear that he could still grasp the depths of cinema that was more geared primarily towards entertainment that art. Yet for his own craft, he called it “sculpting in time”.

Whether this concerned the bleak, science-fiction otherworlds of Solaris and Stalker, the icons and epiphanies of Andrei Rublev and Nostalghia, or the non-linear, “autobiographical” Zerkalo (1975), Tarkovsky’s films are meticulously crafted pieces of work that demand a total yet singular attention to be appreciated fully.

Andrei Rublev Japanese poster" by ConallGulban | Redbubble
Japanese promotional poster for Andrei Rublev (1966)

If you’re born, raised and inculcated into a culture that encourages the “expectational” mindset that I have referred to, one of increasing technological immersion and addiction, and overt emphasis on extroversion, then Tarkovsky’s “advice” for the young certainly gives a good insight into his own inner world and thoughts. It also suggests how you also might best approach his films, as a solitary, ambient ritual;

“I don’t know… I think I’d like to say only that they should learn to be alone and try to spend as much time as possible by themselves. I think one of the faults of young people today is that they try to come together around events that are noisy, almost aggressive at times. This desire to be together in order to not feel alone is an unfortunate symptom, in my opinion. Every person needs to learn from childhood how to spend time with oneself. That doesn’t mean he should be lonely, but that he shouldn’t grow bored with himself because people who grow bored in their own company seem to me in danger, from a self-esteem point of view.”

This type of value is one that largely lost on many within contemporary Western society, where introspection, contemplation a sense of looking inwardly is looked down on within a heavily mechanized zeitgeist. Tarkovsky said this at a time before digital technology had truly penetrated cinema, and the internet and social media were yet to even be commodified.

Solaris (1972)
Russian language promotional poster for Solaris, 1972

The statement that the Russian director made about Terminator was essentially a foreknowledge of these intense new developments that are now taken for granted. In an environment where restrictions bought about by the medical crisis of COVID-19 force people out of work and into greater social isolation, it is these very sentiments that Tarkovsky critiques which have been put to the test.

People who will forced out of work, or out of the “grind” of their daily routine will be left with more free time, and with a greater vacuum in their usual bustle of production and consumption, be forced to comprehend what life truly means to them. For many this may leave a void, a profoundly spiritually empty void.

On first viewing the movies of Tarkovsky some years ago, I felt that the best of my attention was spent primarily on the aesthetics of his films, particularly the mood and ambiance that was conveyed by his classic “long take” motifs. The use of classical music and ambient electronic scores by long term collaborator Eduard Artemiev also empowered this initial attraction to his work.

Nostalghia
Domiziana Giordano in 1983’s Nostalghia

Though I had found myself neglecting other and more fine details, this was more greatly refined by reading his seminal book on directing, “Sculpting In Time”. Whilst the lush, dreamy cinematography, choices of shots, choices of music and sound design most certainly give an “essence” to his filmography, these aspects don’t necessarily make them personable. Which brings us to how and for what purposes actors are used in his films, and how they might serve to further fulfill a sense of the “divination” in his work.

This is made quite explicit in his use of acting leads, particularly Anatoly Solonitsyn, who plays leading roles in Andrei Rublev, Solaris, Stalker, and a smaller part in the director’s “biographical” Zerkalo. Were it not for his untimely death, Solonitsyn was also written in mind for the lead roles in Tarkovsky’s final two works, Nostalghia (1983) and The Sacrifice (1986). The placement of Solonitsyn by the director in his movies is a crystallization of the authors ideas, or the placement of his abstract ideas into a material, living form, whether the actor plays a medieval icon painter or a scientist.

James King on Twitter: "Tarkovsky alert: STALKER Subterranean ...
Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of 1979’s Stalker

For those new to Tarkovsky’s work, or vague on what his cinematic world is meant to highlight, then a more specific way to understand this relation is to use films you already know as a point of reference. For the writer of this article, David Lynch’s Dune (1984), Blue Velvet (1986), and the entire Twin Peaks franchise appear to use Kyle McLachlan as a more “youthful” embodiment of how the director wishes to see himself in his own cinematic universe.

It may be convenient to say that Tarkovsky worked with Solonitsyn similarly, though rather as a representation of an idea, rather than the projection of the artist as they wish to represent themselves on a screen. The director-actor partnership is nothing new to cinema, and to Tarkovsky and the seasoned viewer of his movies, then some of the partnerships of his favourite directors may act as more solid references.

The stoic, Nordic heroism that Max Von Sydow portrayed in movies such as The Seventh Seal (1957) or The Virgin Spring (1960) may seem the most conspicuous if we see this merely from the perspective of the Tarkovsky-Solonitsyn partnership. The use of actresses such as Setsuko Hara by Yazujiro Ozu, or actresses such Bibi Andersson and Liv Ullman in the films of Ingmar Bergman also indicate how the female role in the cinema may be expressed.

Analysis of Tarkovsky's The Mirror through the words of who saw it ...
One of the most powerful scenes from Zerkalo (1975)

In doing this delicacies, sensualities and various psychological underpinnings associated with their manifestation can be expressed. This can all be tied back to how Tarkovsky works with female leads in his work. This can be said for Natalya Bondarchuk as Hari in Solaris and Margarita Terekhova as Maria, playing the “mother” role in Zerkalo (1975), where these characteristics are embodied and then played out.

Concluding, for those unfamiliar with Tarkovsky’s work but with a deep interest and passion for cinema, purchasing a copy and reading the directors excellent book Sculpting In Time would be highly advised. It is here in which the artist states his intent for film as a means of composition and form, as well as the nature of his films and the objectives of how he wishes to create a new form of poetic language through the cinematic medium.

For those familiar who are still yearning to make sense of the dreamy, abstract narratives of his work, then it is this book that will ultimately help you make more rigid, structural sense of them. In addition to some wonderful personal insights and thoughts of his, as well as some beautiful illustration and the inclusion of the poems of his father Arseny, it can be used as an essential “footnotes” section to the vast wealth of his essential cinematic legacy.

A Miniature Film Set : The Sacrifice (1986) » ShotOnWhat? Behind ...
Andrei Tarkovsky with a miniature on the set of 1986’s Offret (The Sacrifice)

 

Featured

Album: Revenge- Strike.Smother.Dehumanize

Strike.Smother.Dehumanize | Revenge

Like their monochromatic black and white artwork, and their consistent use of three word album title prompts, Revenge are stark, punctual and monochromatic in their musical approach. The creation of J.Read, the former battering ram behind Conqueror and Axis Of Advance, Revenge’s aesthetic has a unique uniformity and consistency in approach. To call the content of these Canadians both relentless and inflexible would be an understatement. The printed lyrics to opening track “Reaper Abyss (Real Rain)” is an embodiment of their elitist, anti-human idealism;

“Earth’s cancer is mankind
Cockroach humans
Wasted lives”

That being said, there is a significant tonal shift on “Strike. Smother. Dehumanize” that sets the new Revenge album apart from its predecessors. The guitar tone is given much more clarity, rendering the riffs as more upfront, sharp and discernible than on previous outings. Considering that both Read and guitarist/vocalist Vermin are both former alumni of Axis Of Advance, this certainly demonstrates the influence of their previous project, particularly from albums such as “The List” and “Obey”.

The musical template is as always dominated and led by Read’s psychotic blasting and signature fills. They have a slightly more compact, less ‘boxy’ and “roomy’ sound than on previous albums, but have a far more muscular tone, with great accentuation on the clashing of cymbals amidst a performance completely bereft of respite. Vocals consist of visceral barks and shrieks, and occasional grunts, with lower end emissions often treated with various effects, echos and pitch shifting to create a savage, animalistic vocal tone.

Riffs contain a certain element of “groove” that usually follows the hammering charges of drums. These are a staple of Revenge’s riff writing; whilst not teetering on indiscernable in the way “War Cult Supremacy” did, the thick layer of fuzz from guitars and bass have a quality that is akin to the Napalm Death’s “Scum” trying to get used to early Beherit at machine gun pace. Along with their new shift towards a more “clear” production, there are moments that amount to Revenge coming close to “deviating” from their usual routine. There are breakdown moments that sound as if they could quickly turn into inverted variations on thuggish Oi!, whilst solos and the bass guitar are given more lenience in the mix.

For untrained ears, this will be a harsh and barbarous introduction to a band with a solid discography. For the seasoned listener this will be a breath of fresh air with a slight adjustment in terms of a more crisp “accessibility”, in which the band retains its pounding, organic core. In the generic malaise of war metal where the impetus is for so many bands to consistently “outgoat” one another, Revenge keep their own original mark, compromising nothing in what is their most streamlined effort to date.

Featured

Interview: Rob “The Baron” Miller (Tau Cross, Amebix)

Sword stamped with Rob Miller makers mark

The following interview/discussion is with Rob Miller. Readers may know of him through his work with the seminal crust-punk pioneers Amebix, as well as with Tau Cross. In additional to his musical output, Rob is also a globally renowned swordsmith, for some 30 years plying his craft through Castle Keep. This Q&A looks at the history of Amebix and the forthcoming Tau Cross album. Other questions concern the practice and wider meaning of swordsmithing to the modern world, as well as wider questions surrounding technology, mysticism and culture.

One of the great qualities about Amebix was that the atmospheres of post-punk, the visceral guitars of early heavy metal and the raw anger of anarcho-punk are merged together seamlessly into a tribal, ritualistic whole. Could you perhaps give us a quick chronology of Amebix? What got yourself and the other band members at the time to eventually mature and then achieve the sound that you’d commit to tape? Who and what influenced each of you individually?

Growing up in Rural Devon in the 60s and 70’s my brother and I started a band in 1979 after he returned from a stint working on the island of Jersey. I was still in school, and formed a couple of different incarnations of the first band “The Band With No Name’ playing in local village halls, having fun being a young bunch of kids messing around with this new idea called Punk Rock.

The darker side of things really began with our moving into Martin Bakers house on the edge of the moors, an old Manor House with ruins dating back to the Saxon era. His parents were living in London so he opened the place up to us without anyone knowing about it. We practiced at night,slept during the day, lived a nocturnal existence.

We moved to Bristol in 1981 just after the riots and started to live a life of Squats and general uselessness punctuated by the occasional foray into a studio to produce two singles, a 12” and eventually the defining album “Arise!”. Moving back to a more rural
setting in a small Somerset mining village we continued until 1987,when the final album “Monolith” was released.

Shortly after the band dissolved into different areas,to emerge again in 2009 for a
retrospective DVD project with the help of drummer Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour/Ministry/Nausea etc etc). This led to the triumphant “Sonic Mass” album in 2011, after which the familiar gremlins reared their ugly heads again and the band once more dissolved into a now unresolvable form.

I went on to start my own band called Tau Cross,releasing a first album to considerable praise, the second to a little less. The third album was due to be released last August but was shelved by Relapse records due to the reference I made to an author in the thanks list. I also lost my band and the entire catalog in production, received Worldwide opprobrium and some idle threats along the way. At this point in time I have started to re write and record that forbidden album, as I believe it is a good body of work that can only be improved on now.

The name Tau Cross comes from a variation of the crucifix, if I’m not right? Lyrically, songs seem to express ideas that could refer to states of affairs in the present day but are encoded in archaic language, lore and wisdom. Could you tell us more about the ideas and themes that are explored in your output?

I have generally been quite obscure in my lyrical approach,using mythological themes and strong images to allow the listener to develop an internal landscape,a sort of projected cinema for the songs. I have always been drawn by the visual side of music by which I mean the pictures it can conjure,and regard that as an essential part of the approach.

I have stayed clear of obvious Political or Social commentary because it is temporal, it has no lasting power. I want to write something that can be related to in any generation,although I admit that the musical style can hinder that. As for the themes,they change over the years, I have always been interested in the Occult,the hidden, in the Mystery traditions and the Esoteric generally. My most current preoccupation is with a variety of subjects, I have been looking for an over arching ‘theory’ of things I suppose.

This has led me into some darker areas that I could not avoid, and with that journey
comes a bagful of problems as well as startling discoveries too. I have tried to draw an arc through our History as a race and to define the points at which we have been ‘formed’ and manipulated to some extent.

“Messengers of Deception” was a tribute to the work of Jacques Valle and John Keel as well as an examination of the Nag Hammadi Gnostic Cosmology in the light of John Lash’s work. It is about the beginning of creation and the consequences of our consciousness here on this planet,what forces work on us behind the scenes.

A noticeable aspect of the music of Tau Cross is that the more diverse, experimental aspects of the last Amebix album “Sonic Mass” have been integrated into a more punchy, streamlined sound that is both aggressive and anthemic. This has been consistent for both the debut and “Pillar Of Fire”. How is the re-recording of the new album progressing? What can be expected from “Messengers Of Deception”, sonically and lyrically? Given that Relapse withdrew the original recording, can any significant changes be expected with this version?

The first Tau Cross album was my own work and my own material,with some help on one or two songs, whereas Amebix’ Sonic Mass was really the work of Roy Mayorga, who managed to rope us into making our familiar noises over his richly layered backgrounds. I wrote a few of the songs,and “Knights of the Black Sun” is perhaps one of the best tunes I have ever penned, but even that foreshadows the Tau Cross material when you realise that it is a very very simple song, not musically complex in any way.

That is because I am not really a musician, I am just someone who feels how a song should go rather than has any practical ability, it is instinctual and more primal. “Hangman’s Hyll” is another good song that has been slated for its simplicity by some people, but songs are not about how clever you can be, for me at least. It is all about how powerfully they can effect a person.

I have taken the songs apart on this new album and in some cases re written parts to help them flow better. I have disposed of the material that I did not write, and have permission to record one of the songs that Jon wrote which is superb and would be a crime to omit. The way it all sounds at this point is deeper and heavier than the first time around, I would like to spend some time on production to create a more lavish atmosphere over all, more in line with the more cinematic landscapes of Sonic Mass.

Before Amebix came into being you were in the Air Corps. Going from a martial life to a musical career and counterculture consisting of squatting and communes is quite a contrast, and would seem odd to an outsider. Could you explain what brought that to come about?

The ATC was a school cadets force for the RAF here. I was in that until I was 15 or so, I loved it, traveled all over, got to shout at other kids when I got my stripes and was happy to go on to a career in the Air Force, but punk happened and that put an end to that. There is a curious genetic predisposition in our family towards Military and Militaria which I seem to have unconsciously followed. I am glad of the experience.

Would you go as far to say that what brought you to come to the Isle Of Skye and become a swordsmith was an “epiphany”? Could you perhaps elaborate on what drove you to do this?

Well yes it was. I have talked about what should have been a more private matter in the past but a series of events took place synchronistically that shaped my life from 1991 to the present day, I was at a point very aware of an outside influence working on my life in a very specific way. I had come to a crossroads that required a radical change to happen in order to break out of my old cycle of behaviors. A motorcycle accident was the fulcrum of that change.

You were releasing music with Amebix in a time where Cold War paranoia and the broadcasting of films such as “Threads” and “The Day After” tapped into commonly held fears about our “civilization” falling apart. Domestically the UK was characterized by events such as the Falklands conflict and the Miner’s Strike of 1984-1985. How do you feel that the events, panics and subsequent global measures taken in the midst of COVID-19 compare to such prior experiences?

The Falklands War and also the first Gulf war were times that I remember well, but both of those still had a feeling of remoteness despite the propaganda being spread about WMD’s. This is very different. It has the appearance of a psyop to me, not purposefully engaged with by individual states or leaders, but definitely overseen and managed by more Globalist NGOs, much like the Migrant ‘crisis’ and several other initiatives designed to break and fracture traditional European cultural identities and make any form of protest far less coherent.

Given the events of the past Year in my own life I am not surprised but still shocked at how effortless it has been to corral everyone into an attitude of total Conformity. To hear the great and the good of the ‘Counter Culture’ begging to be locked into their own homes, slavering over a miraculous ‘vaccine’ that may save us all from this terrible yet unremarkable faux plague is embarrassing. And to see how they demonize anyone who does not agree sits very well with my own experiences.

I wonder how many people would say that it is legitimate to lock someone up under the Mental Health Act for refusing an untested vaccine? To separate families who refuse to comply and forcefully violate them..I can see this being the case in the future if this entrainment works successfully,and i think it has.

There seems to be a lot of explicit gatekeeping of late in the music industry/press for very implicit actions, statements and associations of artists deemed to have engaged in all manners of “wrongthink”. I most certainly sense this in the reactions to Tau Cross and their removal from Relapse…

There is no real counter culture,just a manufactured pastiche that has emanated from the same well as the Frankfurt School and what we refer to as Cultural Marxism today. Everything is controlled at a certain level, there are very specific ideas and talking points that are absolutely forbidden within the entertainment industry. To voice an opinion that is even slightly off message results in either expulsion or demotion/demonetization.

Society as a whole reflects exactly this message now,despite the vitriol hurled at the conveniently stupid Political leadership we have,they all tow the same line at one level and will enforce a doctrine that is designed to demoralize and destabilize the Natural Law. The search for Truth is not ‘Hate Speech’ or ‘Thought Crime’, these ideas are preposterous and toxic. My own journey into Heresy came about not through hatred or animosity for any particular person or group, but through reading about a woman called Ursula Haverbeck and following that, Sylvia Stolz.

I tried to reconcile the idea of sending a 90 year old to Prison for 4 years for
something she said,not something she did..just a question she raised and i could not think of anything that could justify that treatment, I was shocked at the ugliness of people who hate what they are told to hate without questioning for a moment the process of indoctrination we have all passed through. I was speaking to a friend about this the other day and we can agree that people tend to calcify in their opinions at various points in their lives.

But I have never felt the need to hammer a nail into the door and stop the questioning of all of this stuff we wade through year after year. You have to remain flexible,in the same way that a sword must be flexible to have the best properties, if you ‘lose the temper’ it becomes useless. Social Media of course is a massive contributor to the anti intellectualism of the Internet,we live in an Age where people are unable to debate at all, they simply take sides and throw shit at one another. Nothing will ever evolve from that apart from an increasing sense of division and isolation,until we are a broken people,unable to respond to the real threat, which is now very much in front of our faces.

In The Technological Society Jacques Ellul defined technique as “the totality of methods rationally arrived at and having absolute efficiency (for a given stage of development) in every field of human activity”. Do you believe that the general advancement of technology is a means of control and subjugation? If so, are there ways that this can be curtailed or kept in check?

I have watched my life become more busy, more hectic with the rise of the Internet in
particular. What was sold to us as a liberating blessing is very much a two edged Sword. We have become increasingly integrated into the operating systems, always on call and alert to the Pavlovian signals being sent out constantly. We can look at the benefits of this technological progress but i am not sure there are that many, are our lives enhanced in any way? Do we have better relationships with our World and one another? Can we appreciate our life more deeply?

In an increasingly interconnected world, Marshall McLuhan’s term “global village” couldn’t seem more real. As a swordsmith living in the relative tranquility of the Isle Of Skye, where Gaelic is still spoken as a first language, do you believe that encouraging a return to more archaic practices (such as your profession) and immersion in the natural world can serve a redemptive purpose to the chaotic, bustling modernity?

I absolutely agree. The only reality is Nature,simply taking time to observe the birds,the wind through the trees,the sea allows that essential part of us to drink in what we really need. When my World has been turned upside down i have found that shutting off all the outside noise and simply watching and listening is almost miraculous. There is a different heartbeat to Nature,one that we can clearly feel ourselves having stepped away from in our hurried slave culture,this is a living breathing Entity that we live on, reconnecting is imperative i feel.

Whilst technology might render the everyday use of the sword as obsolete, without the sword much of what we call “culture” would be equally obsolete. Swords and blades permeate all histories and civilizations, whether in their original practical use, or on a wider mythological, metaphorical level. What do they mean and symbolize to you, and to your client base?

I don’t know about my client base, but when I started on this journey of the Swordsmith it was at a time when I was more in tune to the esoteric, studying the Western mystery tradition as well as dipping into Jungian psychology and alchemy. My initial reason for starting this was as an enquiry, to try and connect to the elements at the level of Will.

I was in that zone for the first few years,but of course once the necessity for money comes into the equation we lose touch with the original source of the creativity in return for an income. I am still surprised at how people respond instinctively to the Sword, it is a very potent symbol on a spiritual/psychological level that acts as a kind of atavistic key.

You make swords according to a lot of different historical and cultural designs. What are the technicalities involved behind a certain pattern or design, and what level of research has to go into crafting a particular blade? What factors of modernity or “industrial technique” come to influence your everyday work in an otherwise ancient artform?

I encourage people to bring their own elements to a design idea,often working form Historical examples,but trying to make something very personal for the customer. Over the past 30 years of doing this I have had to assimilate and learn a number of different disciplines,and that is always ongoing, for instance I am currently trying to get my head around cloisonné garnet fittings such as the Sutton Hoo sword and hoard, when you actually look at the incredible workmanship of people living in what we term the Dark Ages it is apparent that we have lost a lot of skills and artistry. I am often stunned by the level of detail achieved by people working with only daylight and very simple tools. I use grinders, polishers all manner of modern tools to achieve what i can.

You’ve stated on previous occasions that you view yourself as a Gnostic. Considering world history, and the capacity for societies, civilizations, countries, kingdoms, empires and all minutiae humanity to destroy, conquer, annihilate and dissolve some way or another, do you think this seemingly unchangeable pattern of cycles validates views the Gnostics would have held about human nature and existence? More importantly, what does Gnosticism, or to hold a Gnostic worldview mean to you?

My references to Gnosticism are very much aligned with the work of John Lamb Lash, with whom i have been in brief correspondence. He was one of the first non religious people to interpret the Nag Hammadi texts and to make the connection with the vast cosmological outlook that seems to have been shared by these groups of Shamanic people.

It appears to have been a Pagan teaching system that was rooted in many cultures in the Ancient world, but with the advent and eventual domination of the Abrahamic perversion cults there was a concerted effort to almost completely eradicate any trace of exactly what it was that they ‘knew’ and shared.

1947 was a very odd year in many respects,the codices began to appear in the public arena ,Crowley died, the first popular UFO flap took place in the U.S and Jack Parsons had recently completed his Babalon working which some occultists credit with having created a hole in time/space which allowed the entry of what we term extra terrestrials, although that term is completely misleading in my opinion.

The Gnostics seem to have been familiar with a lot of the effects and consequences of Magick, and the Hierarchy of beings that comprise the otherworld part of the Messengers of Deception. They rely heavily on human agency in order to be able to interact and enter into our space,this is what i believe happened at the heart of our current World dominant Religion.

I have been attempting to bring together a variety of streams of thought which have not all been connected in sequence to my knowledge. I do realize that my preoccupations are a bit strange to most people,but i am just following a path that has always been before me, stumbling along and trying to gain a little insight here and there along the way.

Other than making swords and the upcoming Tau Cross, can anything else be expected from you in the near future?

I am aiming to continue playing music, generally i need to get one project completed before the substance for the next begins to present itself. I cannot sit down and write to order, it takes a period of calm and then trying to interpret whatever is coming through from the darker recesses of my Psyche. I enjoy the process of writing,but the manufacturing part does take far too long for an impatient person.

If there is anything that you’d like to add yourself, that ends my questions. Thank you very much for taking the time to answer them…

Thank you for your questions.I don’t really have much to add. You catch me emerging from a whole shitstorm that seemed likely to overwhelm me at one point, I am more wary of people now and their cowardice, more cynical perhaps, which is not how I would want to be. I wanted to stay true to my own principles, to question everything and fear neither God nor Master in this life, I thought that other people were tuned into that but regret to see that people are for the most part “religious’ on their opinions, unable to accommodate any other views than the prescribed ones.

On the other hand my journey has also allowed me to find a lot of new friends who have gradually come out of the shadows along the way. People who are concerned with the principles under which we live. I am thankful for that and also thankful for having passed through this Fire into a very different space, the ground has been cleared,the weeds pulled up and thrown aside. It is time to sow new seeds.

 

Featured

Joy Division And The Aestheticization Of Post-Punk

Curtis
Ian Curtis performing live

I have written about Joy Division before, in a prior analysis of their debut full length Unknown Pleasures. That being said, with 40 years having passed since Ian Curtis tragically died, it would be of no harm to elaborate somewhat on the greater breadth of Joy Division’s legacy.

The story begins in Manchester, and the Sex Pistols playing a concert at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall in mid-1976. A gig immersed in urban myth and legend, this was attended by Joy Division’s bass player Peter Hook and guitarist Bernard Sumner. Also purported to be in attendance were founding members of The Buzzcocks, The Smiths and The Fall. To say that this event was a watermark would be an understatement.

Whilst it was originally suggested they go with the moniker Stiff Kittens, the name “Warsaw” (apparently taken from the David Bowie instrumental “Warsawa”) would stick. Hiring Ian Curtis as vocalist, their sound would be a more raw, aggressive take on what would later solidify their sound. Rather than being “post-punk”, their unreleased debut album sounds like dark, nihilistic punk rock trying to escape the paradigms and trappings of the UK 77 sound.

Finally becoming Joy Division in early 1978, and with Stephen Morris now settled on drums, their debut EP “An Ideal For Living” would come with a more refined production, though their sound aesthetic was something that wasn’t fully realized. Though it impressed listeners, it still had more in common production-wise with the likes of Iggy & The Stooges “Raw Power” than it did with Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” or David Bowie’s “Low”.

Image
Martin Hannett, producer of “Unknown Pleasures” and “Closer”

The sound of Joy Division really starts to find its dark oeuvre through their partnership with producer Martin Hannett, who would work with the band through the rest of their short career. Their sound design becomes considered and spacial, eschewing much of what Simon Reynolds referred to as the “sonically conservative” character of their punk origins, taking on some of the best qualities of Brian Eno or Conrad Plank (Kraftwerk, Neu!). The guitar becomes a more textured instrument that becomes increasingly separate from bass and drums, and the pitch of Ian Curtis’s vocal becomes lower in pitch, and helps dictate the downbeat and melancholic aura that would define their newfound ambient approach to recording.

By using the maximum potential of studio technology to cultivate sonic space, Joy Division fully cemented the aesthetics of post-punk, building on what subgenre pioneers such as Wire and Magazine were already exploring. In emphasizing, it would be valid to say that Hannett, whose approaches to production were both innovative and unorthodox, were essential to the band’s growth. He acted as an unofficial fifth member of Joy Division, and his innovations helped cultivate the aesthetics that would later become the sonic staples of post-punk.

This is first illustrated on their contributions to the compilation albums A Factory Sample (Glass, Digital) and  Earcom 2: Contradiction”. These new explorations now became a fully fledged sonic canvas on Unknown Pleasures, where echo, reverb, synths, electronics and a plethora of studio trickery are used more liberally. Of the “catchier” songs such as “Day Of The Lords”, “New Dawn Fades” and “She’s Lost Control” the quartet offer torchlight anthems of gloom, and whilst tracks such as “Disorder”, “Shadowplay” and “Interzone” are comparatively speaking, a glimmer of hope, they do not quell the bleakness that the band have now made their own. Songs such as “Candidate”, “Insight” and the monumental closer “I Remember Nothing” are the most stark examples of this, a hint of what is to come on their epitaph, Closer.

Whilst opener “Atrocity Exhibition” is a percussive, textured teaser of what’s to come, “punchier” songs such as “Colony” and “A Means To An End” carry the baton from where their debut left off. The likes of “Passover” and “Twenty Four Hours” are deeply cathartic, with Hannett’s production emphasizing yet more effects, delay and echo on the guitars. The use of electronics is more pronounced than before through; with “Isolation” and “Heart And Soul” being dark, hypnotic synth led numbers that act as an early indicator as to the musical approach of the bands post-Curtis outfit, New Order. The final two songs, the piano-led “The Eternal” and string led “Decades” are funereal, ethereal epics that showcase the band at their most downbeat, and cement their sophomore album as a perfect career epitaph.

Joy Division, pictured from left to right (Peter Hook, Ian Curtis, Stephen Morris, Bernard Sumner)

The non-album material of Joy Division was also worthy of deep praise. Their best known singles “Love Will Tear Us Apart” and“Atmosphere”, perhaps their most widely known songs can be seen as beautifully uncanny attempts by a band with an unshakable sense of morbidity to come across as upbeat. Additionally, the first half of the B-sides compilation Still is a consistent display of leftovers that were recorded with Hannett, with highlights such as “Dead Souls”, “The Only Mistake” and “Something Must Break”.

It would be crude to end the article without some short testimony to Ian Curtis himself, whose tragic suicide was the end of the band. Though sadly idolized by nihilistic, self-loathing millennials and zoomers for the fate he chose, his lyrics and voice in which he delivered them are deeply poetic, and should be appreciated before the fact. Unlike the rock/pop star bravado that defined the likes of David Bowie or Bryan Ferry in the 1970’s there was a profound sense of introversion, an implicit desperation and deep torment.

Some might say this reflected itself in his shy yet chaotic stage presence, where prone to fits of epilepsy, audiences at times assumed that his convulsions were part of the show. Whilst the literary work of Nikolai Gogol (“Dead Souls”), JG Ballard (Atrocity Exhibition) and William Burroughs (“Interzone”) are points of reference, “Heart And Soul” display a deep existential despair that is solely in the authors domain;

“An abyss that laughs at creation,
A circus complete with all fools,
Foundations that lasted the ages,
Then ripped apart at their roots.
Beyond all this good is the terror,
The grip of a mercenary hand,
When savagery turns all good reason,
There’s no turning back, no last stand”

The very same can be said for “Decades”;

“Here are the young men, the weight on their shoulders,
Here are the young men, well, where have they been?
We knocked on the doors of hell’s darker chamber,
Pushed to the limit, we dragged ourselves in,
Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying.
We saw ourselves now as we never had seen.
Portrayal of the trauma and degeneration,
The sorrows we suffered and never were free.”

Whilst it is up for debate whether the untimely passing of Ian Curtis was the cynical catalyst that led him and Joy Division to endure posthumous fame and critical acclaim, no one can deny that there is a profound weight to their body of work as a musical, aural and lyrical outlet. One that shaped and changed the history of popular music, the approach to musical production. The aestheticization of existential gloom in the wider pop culture, which become a staple for various avenues of post-punk and the soon to emerge “gothic rock” movement, along with the emergence of the “Manchester scene” would build itself largely on a reputation which Joy Division laid the seeds of.

 

Featured

How Ronnie James Dio Made Metal Real

Ronnie James Dio - IMDb

It’s now 10 years since one of heavy metal’s most important and pivotal vocalists passed away. Ronnie James Dio’s voice was unique, characterized by a gravelly wail and all round powerful range, which would help shape the framework for the theatrical, operatic techniques that distinguish lead vocals in the genre. Involved with many projects, the most important work that he ought to be remembered for would be as the lead vocalist of Rainbow, Black Sabbath and a successful solo career with his own band Dio.

His career with Rainbow began after Ritchie Blackmore left Deep Purple, who recruited Dio from the band Elf, who had supported Blackmore’s previous outfit on tour. With their first three albums Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow (1975), Rising (1976) and Long Live Rock ‘N’ Roll (1978), the proto-metal that defined Deep Purple would find itself stripped of some of its more overt blues influences, and a stronger neoclassical influence would take the forefront within the songwriting and Dio’s vocal talents would be able to thrive.

Whilst balladic songs such as “Catch The Rainbow” and “Temple Of The King” resemble the reflective moments of 70’s UK prog, more upfront, straight ahead hard rockers such as “Kill The King”“Man On The Silver Mountain” and “Starstruck” are anthemic prototypes for most heavy and speed metal to follow. Perhaps the most powerful aspect to their Dio era material is to combine and balance both of those aspects into epic compositions that are the typical ‘staple’ of their output, evidenced in classics such as “Tarot Woman”, “Gates Of Babylon”, “Stargazer”and “Light In The Black”.

The desire of Blackmore to depart from the epic/fantasy themes that typified Rainbow was a catalyst in Dio’s departure, and subsequent remergence as Ozzy Osbourne’s successor in Black Sabbath for two albums, Heaven And Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981). Consistent with the emergent New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, Tony Iommi’s heavy riffs have a more consistent uptempo, and the pace is greatly suited to Dio’s agile, energetic range. Songs such as “Neon Knights”, “Lady Evil”, “Turn Up The Night” and “Sign Of The Southern Cross” are among classics put together during that short period.

Whilst some would deem this era of Black Sabbath’s discography stylistically less coherent than with their 1970’s output, it highlights all of the best qualities of all of the involved musicians and their myriad of prior influences. Dio’s time with Black Sabbath came at a crucial point where the NWOBHM had clearly established itself as a “foundational” musical movement. Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules proved successful and essential to a canon in which pivotal early works by Angel Witch, Diamond Head, Raven, Iron Maiden, Venom and Holocaust were released, to name but a few.

Since his days with Rainbow, Dio’s lyrical output constantly fixated on the mythical and magical. In a 1986 interview he emphasizes it as being essential for the genre, a form of escapism from everyday madness and an embodiment of what makes theatricality essential in musical and performance art, as well as affirming the positive, chivalric and heroic. This formula thrives in Dio albums such as Holy Diver (1983), The Last In Line (1984) and Dream Evil (1987), and the influence of his legacy can be clearly sensed in the emergent power metal scene of the 1980’s.

What was always apparent with his output is it that it symbolized a withdrawal from the notion of the love song, petty thrills or teenage hangups that continuously defines much counter-cultural and popular music. What would become the metal genre would follow suit from Dio, taking the aesthetic and lyrical content to more metaphorical, allegorical and abstract realms.

Bands such as Manowar, Helloween, Omen, Manilla Road, Crimson Glory, Queensryche, Savatage, Fates Warning, Riot, Running Wild, Cloven Hoof and many others would all find their crucial lineage in the music and lyrical themes of these aforementioned ventures. Black and death metal would then later take the fantasy element and hybridize it with the deeply macabre and eerie.

The tropes that we typically associate with these artists would be literally nothing if it were not for this greatly talented Italian-American. Ronnie James Dio was pivotal in conceptualizing what listeners now know to be metal, both as a singer, a lyricist and also as a songwriter. What the genre is, has been, and will continue to be known as will all will trace its heritage to his achievements and innovations.

 

Featured

Album: Choir Boy- Gathering Swans

Album Review: Choir Boy - Gathering Swans - New Noise Magazine

Choir Boy’s sophomore album “Gathering Swans” follows a direction that was hinted at in their late 2017 single “Sunday Light”, having signed to cult indie label DAIS Records. What is more apparent on the new record is that the overall tone and mood is lighter than on their debut “Passive With Desire”, yet still maintains and affirms the bittersweet, “happy/sad” character of their take on post-punk/new wave.

The influences are quite obvious; Choir Boy sound like China Crisis or Tears For Fears channeling the sadness of The Cure or The Smiths.  The sophisti-pop influences are used a little more heavier than on their debut. Opening song “It’s Over” is almost like a tonal sequel to “Sunday Light”, setting the stage for the rest of the album. Lead single “Complainer”, along with tracks such as “Shatter” and “Eat The Frog” lead the charge and form the general mood and pace.

Singles “Toxic Eye” and “Sweet Candy” stand out in that they’re the most upbeat tracks Choir Boy have yet released. They give off a quality that one would expect from a featured “hit” that forms the soundtrack to a John Hughes film or otherwise affiliated “brat pack” movies of the 1980’s.

Ballads in the form of “Nites Like These” and the closing title track are slow burners, which vary the pace somewhat, whilst “Happy To Be Bad” offers a monumental penultimate track. The short instrumental “St Angela Merici” acts as an interlude that separates the two sides of “Gathering Swans”, and has the vibe of an unnerving soundtrack sequence one would expect from Angelo Badalamenti.

ChoirBoy_CreditKarenJudithDavis - Vanyaland

Brief “calm before the storm” moments, such as the opening notes to “Complainer” can be found throughout “Gathering Swans”, and as subtle as these motifs might seem, they help to make the album as a whole more of an experience than just a mere “collection of songs”. Other small additions, such as the use of trumpet on “Toxic Eye” and a saxophone solo towards the end of “Nites Like These” embellish “Gathering Swans” further, giving it cinematic flourishes.

Consistent with their musical influences, Choir Boy have the power to evoke a profound sense of nostalgia and warmth, guided by excellent songwriting and the multi-faceted vocals of Adam Klopp, whose high range lies somewhere between Antony Hegarty/Anohni and Morrissey. The production and instrumentation is a perfect fit, with chiming, nocturnal keyboards and melodic guitar arpeggios underscored by warm, pulsing basslines which would make Simon Gallup and Steven Severin blush.

“Gathering Swans” emerges at a time where a sentimentality for tropes of the 1980’s isn’t going away. Like their label-mates Drab Majesty, their musical aesthetic is one that clearly references the alternative mainstream of that era. Rather than merely tick the style box, Choir Boy are full of substance, and they filter it into a superb encore album. This Utah based quartet aren’t just essential for post-punk; they’re essential for pop music in general.

https://choirboy.bandcamp.com/

Featured

A Brief Beginners Guide To Kraftwerk

Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider has died, aged 73
Florian Schneider (front), founding member of electronic pioneers Kraftwerk.

We live in a postmodern, hyperreal age where the corporeal is becoming increasingly intertwined with the technological, to the extent of great interdependence. Regardless of whether you like that or not, it is what it is. Few musical artists could foreknowledge, anticipate and ambiguously represent this acceleration in the world more profoundly and beautifully than Dusseldorf’s electronic legends Kraftwerk. Their founding member, Florian Schneider, died yesterday at the age of 73.

Starting with krautrock origins, not far too removed from the likes of Can, Neu!, Faust and Amon Düül II, and working with renowned producer Konrad Plank, their transition to their signature sound began with 1973’s Ralf und Florian. What followed, with Autobahn (1974), Radioactivity (1975), Trans-Europe Express (1977), The Man-Machine (1978) and Computer World (1981) was a series of profound, high concept electronic records that utilized pop music’s capacity for simple hooks and melodies within contemplative, crystalline soundscapes and mechanical rhythms.

Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider dies, aged 73 - Radio X
Kraftwerk (w/Schneider, centre top), Trans-Europe Express era.

Timeless and transcendental, they were futurists and romantics with an indisputably Teutonic soul. They were also highly influential on the producer/musician Brian Eno, whose solo work, productions and work with David Bowie (who named the song “V-2 Schneider” after Florian) would inspire the turn towards electronics that characterized the new wave split from the punk rock movement in the late 70’s. From this, all synthpop, post-punk, hip-hop, and all forms of subsequent electronic music to engage the mainstream consciousness would be influenced heavily by Kraftwerk.

In an ever-increasing virtual environment we are now repackaging nostalgia, or to paraphrase what Mark Fisher called “lost futures”. This comes particularly in the form of uber-aestheticized, often retrospective pseudo-genres that have emerged and trended in the last decade such as synthwave, witch-house and vapourwave, which are often characterized by a cut and paste nostalgia for the cultural utopianism of western society in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Kraftwerk channeled and prophesied these futures when they were yet to even manifest, albeit on a musical and thematic level that was entirely their own making. Without the input of one of their founding members, none of what is being referred to may ever have been possible.

Rest In Peace, Florian Schneider (1947-2020)

Featured

Album: Black Curse- Endless Wound

Endless Wound | Black Curse

Although a relatively new band, Denver, Colorado based quartet Black Curse play in a style that has enjoyed waves of popularity since the early 2010’s. The musical approach and aural impact of “Endless Wound” follows a line of cryptic, sludge-influenced death/black metal, and can be deciphered through the contributions of individual band members. Featuring an alumni that have played in bands such as Blood Incantation, Spectral Voice, Primitive Man, Khemmis and Vasaeleth, it is clear that individual membership of the band heavily influences the outcomes of their musical approach.

For those who have listened to Vasaeleth’s “Crypt Bound And Tethered To Ruin” and then listened to Black Curse, it is unmistakable that the same drummer is playing on “Endless Wound”. Percussion is at times consistent with the semi-martial battery of James Read (Conqueror, Revenge), but more varied and prone to doom metal tempos. Bass has a muscular, grinding distortion that fills in the thick, rounded yet cavernous guitars.

Whilst not a death/doom or sludge album in form, slow intersections take inspiration from Autopsy, and the production as a whole clearly shows the influence of Primitive Man, evidenced in the final mix of guitars and bass. A subtle element of suspense that recalls the work of more “psychedelic” death/doom lies within the framework of more compact, orthodox songwriting. The vocalist grunts and shrieks somewhere Craig Pillard and Chris Reifert, with impressive range, and plenty of echo applied.

None of these subtle influences outright dominate the form of “Endless Wound”, but they accentuate and allow to give an extra sense of punch to their sound, allowing the band to stand its ground and deliver a quite solid debut album. If you are looking for a consistent full-length that incorporates components of war metal, doom and sludge into a form that is consistent with “by the books” old school death/black revival, one cannot go amiss with listening to the full length debut by Black Curse. 

https://blackcurse-svr.bandcamp.com/releases

 

Featured

Album: Caustic Wound- Death Posture

Death Posture | Profound Lore Records

Structurally, “Death Posture” certainly recalls Terrorizer’s masterful 1989 debut “World Downfall”, as well as thematically, with song titles that hint towards ambiguous depictions of war, violence and technology. This is in a subgenre in which themes are often starkly juxtaposed between either the social-political or plain gore. Fans of Napalm Death’s “Mentally Murdered” and the hyperspeed intensity of Assück may also find something to appreciate here.

As opposed to the more warm Morrisound production, Caustic Wound have a sound that is more barren, cold and clinical, yet full of precision and clarity. This recalls Insect Warfare’s ‘World Extermination’, but less compressed, the instruments having more individual space within the mix.

The percussion has the same upfront barrage that you’d expect from powerviolence acts such as Nails and Weekend Nachos, whilst the guitars have a cavernous yet crunchy tone similar to Disma, interspersed with aggressive soloing and feedback ridden breakdowns. Bass guitar has a nice fuzzy distortion, whilst guttural belching vocals make a generic yet perfect fit.

Uniqueness can sometimes come with simple ideas and formulas. What is on offer is a full length that tests the minimal extent of what merits a death metal release, and what by grindcore standards is epic, with 14 tracks clocking in at just over 26 minutes. With a well-thought out distribution of influences and ideas, “Death Posture” makes for excellent death/grind by numbers.

https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/death-posture

Film: Zardoz (1974)

Featured

Image result for zardoz poster

John Boorman filmed Zardoz on the back of the highly successfully Deliverance. On the back of great commercial and critical acclaim, the English director would film the movie on location within the mountains of County Wicklow in his country of residence, Ireland. Zardoz also stars Sean Connery in the lead role, who was keen to throw off the typecasting he’d acquired as the lead in the James Bond franchise. In spite of this high profile combination, no collaboration could be more odd, bizarre, and downright bewildering as what was committed to celluloid.

Image result for zardoz brutals

The closest comparison to another film of this era would be Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain. Both clearly have aesthetic nods to the post-hippie counterculture reflecting the zeitgeist of the time and deal with the concept of a journey as a greater metaphor. Where Jodorowsky’s work explores spiritual ascendancy and transcendence through alchemy among its main actors, then Boorman’s piece explores a Nietzschean noble savage foregoing the moral order, overcoming and smashing an effete, decadent and nihilistic elite that has been become aimless and corrupted in its physical immortality.

Image result for brutal exterminators

Whereas both films are certainly abstract, Zardoz is altogether more confusing and difficult to make sense of. It is at times, hard to follow the plot due to a humour which permeates every scene, let alone Connery’s costume and personal affects, which are a steampunk twist on a medieval kitsch. Wielding a revolver pistol as opposed to a sword, red underpants and a pair of what look like cowboy boots, his character is befitting of a proto-Mad Max villain, but harking more to the camp of Flash Gordon than to the Australian Outback.

Image result for brutal exterminators

The year is 2293. Humanity is stratified into extremes. The Brutals are a mortal caste, who make up the bulk of the population, subservient, fertilizing the barren wastelands. Zed (Sean Connery) is an ‘Exterminator’ among the Brutals. The Exterminators occasionally kill and massacre more passive, peasant-like Brutals. They do so in subservience to a giant floating godhead called Zardoz which gives the Brutals guns in exchange for the food they harvest.  The Eternals are the ruling caste. They are a secretive, bourgeoisie and cult-like elite that rules what is known of the world. They are also immortal, and hence they have lapsed into a vegetative, unproductive, sterile existence.

Image result for zardoz ending

As explained in the introduction, Zardoz is in reality overseen by an Eternal by Arthur Frayne, not so much a god, but a magician whose purpose on earth is to find a eugenic experiment among the Brutals who may bring about the decline of humanity’s stagnation, and restore death and rebirth to the Eternal realm. It is here where the role of Zed is of importance. His place in Boorman’s Zardoz is like that of Frank Herbert’s Paul Mua’dib in Dune, someone who is procured and prophesied by the Eternals, who act as a religious and political force comparable to the Bene Gesserit. Not too dissimilar to the psychic, eugenic all female caste of Dune, the Eternals maintain a exclusively top-down relationship with the Brutals that is a form of feudalism. The Brutal Exterminators are commanded by Zardoz to kill members of the general population to curb breeding and ensure that the mortal human population does not ascend into a way of life that is not barbaric.

In a scene where he boards the godhead, Zed slays it’s creator and navigator, Eternal Arthur Frayne (Niall Buggy), voyaging to The Vortex and is taken into captivity by two female Eternals Consuella (Charlotte Rampling) and May (Sara Kestellman). Zed is made to work as a servant in their deathless dystopia, a matriarchal society akin to a hippie commune. It is one of leisurely indulgence as imagined in the works of Aldous Huxley, but devoid of sexuality and procreation. In an environment where immortality has been achieved on a material plane, impotence and catatonia are commonplace, and mortal outsider Zed becomes a strange curiosity to his captors. Whilst the Eternals are deathless, their society is not without stratification nor punishment for those who transgress within it. One caste, the Apathetics are those who have descended into a catatonic state, whilst another, the Renegades having broken codes and rules within the Vortex are condemned to artificial aging.

zardoz4

We gradually learn that the relation between the the Brutals and the Eternals, through Zed’s quest is not as it seems. We find that on journeying into the Vortex and on discovering its secrets, that the immortality of the Eternals is protected by an artificial intelligence interface called the Tabernacle. To destroy the Tabernacle is to destroy what keeps the Eternals in their immortal yet stagnant state. In a scene in which Zed implores the Exterminators to overwhelm the Vortex and slay many of the Eternals we see the latter welcoming their annihilation, or for the female Eternals their insemination at the expense of granting the Brutals their knowledge, and hence civilization all of man. A poignant closing scene shows Consuella, Zed’s initial captor giving birth to a baby boy, who grows gradually into manhood through a series of fades as Zed and Consuella age and wither away.

Zardoz is initially hard to take seriously. It has aged immensely and is at times aesthetically juxtaposed. The deep themes that are explored are at times overwhelmed by sheer hilarity. On first impressions hearing the stone head of Zardoz exclaim “the penis is evil…..the penis shoots seeds” may just come across as amusing, even though it is meant to highlight the Malthusian, anti-natalist theocratic creed that forms the power relation between the Eternals and the Brutals. Though it appears that Zardoz was not intended as a comedy, it is very easy to interpret it as such. The ideas explored are indeed clever, but at times feel off balance or lacking a central grip, and make for a genuinely quirky and trippy experience.

John Boorman made this movie when trying to write an aborted take on J.R.R. Tolkiens Lord Of The Rings. At times one could easily imagine that the abstract concepts he developed here were loose takes on characterizations of Middle-Earth, but seen through a stoned, post-apocalyptic lens. As far as John Boorman’s work goes, Zardoz may be compared to his surreal, psychological neo-noir film Point Blank, though as a genre film it straddles between science fiction and a form of high fantasy, the latter genre of which is fully transitioned to by the time director put out 1981’s atmospheric epic Excalibur (1981). For whatever flaws it may have, Zardoz is a cult gem worthy of anyone’s time, and a fascinating take on the themes of death, rebirth, mortality and fate. Or in the word’s of the character Arthur Frayn, full of mystery and intrigue, rich in irony and most satirical.

Image result for zardoz final scene

Featured

Armia- Legenda (1991)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is armia.jpg

Armia have legendary status in their native Poland, and for all intents and purposes should be considered as primarily belonging to the punk canon. Their second album Legenda is a stylistic and aesthetic departure, although their experimental approach, musically and lyrically is refined. Whilst their 1980’s material had a more generically “tinny” production quality that is typical of much hardcore, crust and D-beat, the overall production is far more thick and rich in texture. The guitars are far more metallic, both in tonality and in use of playing technique.

Lyrics (I am not a Polish speaker) seem to have a quite Gnostic, existential fixation, unsure of one’s place in the world, yet yearning for light and willing to overcome evil and wickedness. They do not quite fit the typical lexicon of the metal genre, and their lyrical leanings may potentially offend the sensibilities of both punk and metal listeners. I refer firstly to a notion widespread amongst punks that state mythological and religious lyrical frameworks have no place in a genre that is meant to be “preachy”, realist or agitprop focused. Secondly I refer to a notion amongst metal listeners that any use of Christian sentiments are anathema to metal values, and should either be rooted out or considered disingenuous.

The newfound metallic charge exhibited on Legenda has the same monochromatic flourish as the Don Quixote depicting cover. Anthemic, charging and melodic, one can imagine the influence of To Mega Therion by Celtic Frost channeled into a more direct sense of melody and catchy choruses. The prominent use of French horn throughout the album (as Celtic Frost used on songs such as “Dawn Of Megiddo” and “Necromantical Screams”) has an obvious parallel, and it would be of no great surprise if Armia were familiar with such bands.

It is hard to truly ascertain an authentic prior “black metal” influence on Legenda, considering that the metal influence is ultimately from “pre-second wave” acts. The influence of Kat’s 1988 album Oddech wymarłych światów looms over Legenda, though in terms of musical form Armia more heavily veer towards the singalong qualities of Oi! than they do the percussive, syncopated speed metal guitar rhythmic of early Metallica. What both of these albums do have in common, however, is a very similar “crunchy” sound in the guitars. This aesthetic similarity would sit them next to each other in the same listening session in a comfortable yet uncanny way.

Having released this album in 1991, it comes at a time when the productivity underground metal was at its most fertile and creative period. Heavy and speed metal already had established a firm legacy in Poland courtesy of Kat and Turbo, whilst foundational death metal bands such as Vader, Imperator and Magnus were at a peak of youthful early momentum. This was also the very same year that black metal bands such as Graveland and Behemoth were formed, parallel with a myriad of emergent and strengthening scenes throughout Europe.

When listening to Legenda, one can certainly discern the prior legacy of 80’s underground metal and D-beat, as well as the adventurousness of alt-hardcore bands such as Husker Du, Die Kreuzen, NoMeansNo and Fugazi, tamed towards a dark, mythical veneer. Much has been said as to the tonal and aesthetic similarities to black metal, which I briefly mentioned before in this review. Whether you want to determine that this anthemic opus had an implicit, direct or coincidental overlap with these developments is down to the listener.

David Lynch’s “Blue Velvet” As An Examination Of Evil

Featured
Blue Velvet title

David Lynch’s 1986 cult classic Blue Velvet is arguably the first film in his body of work that fully affirms what are now classic Lynchian tropes. These often occur within nostalgic, dreamlike settings which seem idyllic but cover a seedy underbelly, one that entices the intrigue and speculation of the films protagonist. It is one where a state of harmony and perfection is breached when the protagonist crosses a boundary into darkness, uncertainty and danger where evil consistently lurks. Violence and sexuality, as evidenced here, serve as gateways into this portal.

Image result for blue velvet ear

In the case of Blue Velvet, this idyllic world is represented in the lush, picket fenced suburbs of Lumberton, North Carolina, a world romanticized in the ideals of Ronald Reagan’s America and permeated by the comfortable post-war years experienced by many in the post-World War II baby boomer generation. Amidst the score of Lynch’s long-time collaborator Angelo Badalamenti, this nostalgia is further embellished with the use of the songs “Blue Velvet” by Bobby Vinton, and “In Dreams” by Roy Orbison.

Image result for dororthy valens

Fitting the genre of neo-noir, the narrative explores the misadventures of young Jeffrey Beaumount (Kyle McLachlan), who on discovering a human ear in a field, proceeds to investigate the case independently with an acquaintance, police detective’s daughter Sandy Williams (Laura Dern). The subsequent investigation, its plot twists and grueling subject matter lead Jeffrey further into the world of disturbed nightclub singer Dorothy Valens (Isabella Rosellini) and psychopathic sex criminal Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper).

Image result for blue velvet

What begins as eavesdropping on Valens apartment whilst pretending to be a pest control man becomes an entanglement in a twisted son-mother Oedipal sexual relationship between the two. Valens is also involved in an abusive sadomasochistic relationship with Frank Booth, who eerily interchanges between the role of a submissive son and a violent father, his schizoid outbursts accentuated by breathing into an oxygen mask.

Image result for blue velvet ben

McLachlan’s clean-cut, youthful, investigative character could easily pass for a college student precursor to the more mature Agent Dale Cooper, who McLachlan later portrays in the Lynch directed series Twin Peaks. Hopper’s legendary performance, whilst transgressive and pushing the boundaries of good taste has a twisted deviance that is partly Lynch’s originality, yet has all the classic traces of the villains played by Robert Mitchum in 1955’s Night Of The Hunter and 1962’s Cape Fear. Rosselini gives a stunning performance as tortured, visceral femme fatale Dorothy Valens, her role aestheticizing the perverse beauty and darkness inherent to the themes that are explored.

Image result for blue velvet

As part of a plot in which the heroic protagonist descends further into an abyss, Jeffrey’s soon to be romantic love interest Sandy prophesies a dream in which robins descend from the sky to consume the insects that have overran the earth. Not only does this hierophany suggest an eventual triumph of light over darkness, it compliments a motif that defines the beginning and the end of Blue Velvet, in which a descending zoom shot takes us from the glistening utopia of green grass of a garden lawn to a hellish colony of bugs that nest underneath.

Image result for blue velvet sandy

Even something as implicit as Jeffrey posing as a pest controller can be interpreted as someone who comes to confront evil within the film. A zoom shot into the canal of the discarded ear that Jeffrey finds symbolizes the protagonist’s immersion into Lumberton’s wicked maelstrom, later zooming out in reverse to symbolize his emergence from his dangerous ordeals. A robin devours a bug towards the films conclusion, rekindling Sandy’s dream and affirming the triumph of love over evil.

Image result for blue velvet yellow man

Whilst 1977’s Eraserhead introduced us to many of the facades of the Lynchian world; a Kafka inspired nightmare world of blurred realities, layers of consciousness and subconsciousness and the interchanging of psychic realms, his next two feature films, 1980’s The Elephant Man and 1984’s Dune were only Lynchian so far as he directed them. Whilst there are undoubtedly touches of his quirks, oddities and aesthetics, they do not do much to further animate the wider conceptual frameworks that are explored in later work he would direct. This becomes truly foundational in Blue Velvet, and later goes on to taint later works, such as Twin Peaks, Wild At Heart, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive.

Image result for blue velvet ending

Blue Velvet is ultimately a movie that carries concepts that Eraserhead left of at, cultivating a more accessible, real yet spiritually dark, violent, voyeuristic and erotic insight into the mythos of the American Dream. This is consistently reexamined and explored in different guises throughout Lynch’s career, and this is a great starting point for anyone wanting to familiarize themselves with his films.

 

 

Featured

Film: The Lighthouse (2019)

Image may contain: 1 person, beard, text and closeup

A noticeable aesthetic of Robert Egger’s latest effort, The Lighthouse is the poignant clarity of black and white, and a beautiful use of lighting within a dark, cold and hostile landscape. On first impressions this is quite similar to the films of Hungarian maestro Bela Tarr (Sátántangó, A Turin Horse, Damnation), but rather than being slow and drawn out, there is a more conventional narrative pace comparable to the dramas of Ingmar Bergman (The Seventh Seal, Wild Strawberries, Persona). One could say that due to its barren maritime setting and general downbeat aura, that Andrey Zyvagintsev’s Leviathan is also a valid reference point, whilst it’s occult factor runs parallel with John Carpenter’s The Fog.

Image result for the lighthouse

An atmospheric work that falls within the folk horror genre, The Lighthouse is loosely based on an unfinished Edgar Allen Poe tale of a similar name. Periodically, the film is consistent with the setting of the New England of the 1800’s. The characters speak in dialects closer to colloquial forms of British English, rather than a generic American English. The narrative deals with a young contracted lighthouse keeper Ephraim Winslow (Robert Pattinson), his irritable old supervisor Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) and their adversarial relationship. Amidst this toxic and storm-ridden landscape emerges a foreboding narrative of dark apparitions, grueling labour, alcoholism, paranoid delusions, self-abuse, a sickening synthesis of dead flesh, tentacles and “Promethean” fate.

Image result for the lighthouse willem dafoe burial

The Lighthouse is unique in that it is American, periodic and fabled, but strays from cliches. It hardly portrays the America that actor John Wayne embodied, and Robert Egger’s style of film-making has something in common with the philosophical explorations of fellow countryman Terence Malick (Badlands, The Thin Red Line, The Tree Of Life). There is a display of folkloric, pastoral superstition that owes far more to the townspeople of Witchfinder General and The Wicker Man than it does the malevolent backwoods rednecks of Deliverance and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Whilst it is clearly a work that draws from various literary and mythical influences, it distinctly refrains from any nuances of politicization, and any sort of “morality” that the film might contain draws itself from these more archaic reference points. Amidst the darkness and misery that defines the turbulent relationship of the two protagonists is an interplay of dark humor and ribaldry, with which both Dafoe and Pattinson give strong performances in an excellent film.

The Lighthouse Robert Eggers Jarin Blaschke cinematography

Featured

Sacriphyx- The Western Front

Australian duo Sacriphyx, hailing from the Canberra area play in a style that juxtaposes the traditions of the metal spectrum with a lyrical eclecticism that despite its ‘oddity’ on the surface adheres conveniently with the ideology and aesthetics of the genre. In patriotic spirit and in ancestral honour, their battle songs explore the ANZAC military effort in the First World War.

Many will make an immediate comparison with the provocative American band Arghoslent, evident in their syncretism of musical ideas. Sacriphyx thrive on excellent songwriting and the ability to stick together strong twin guitar dynamics. The progressions in their songs adhere to the progressive ends of traditional heavy metal a la Manilla Road and early Fates Warning , with lead work often reminiscent of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ and ‘Non Serviam’ by Rotting Christ. Drums have a bombastic tone, capturing the whole range of the kit but never overpowering the rest of the mix. Vocals have a quite powerful, guttural delivery, similar to that of Vorphalak on the early Samael records if undertaking a death metal style.

Often songs tend to be mid-tempo, and particular highlights that adhere to this standard include ‘Buried Between The Lines’, ‘Fatal Fromelles’ and ‘The Crawling Horror”. There are exceptions to this, with the slow pace of ‘Without A Trace’ coming across like a hybrid between the NWOBHM tinged funeral doom of Warning and the death-doom of Asphyx. ‘Damn Passchendaele Ridge’ is a acoustic interlude with spoken word vocals that brings a more ‘human’ character to Sacriphyx’s war theme, dominated and characterised by the abrasiveness that naturally, one associates with a metal band.

A band with excellent compositional skill and conceptual depth, an idea which they apply with originality and finesse. Like Bolt Thrower, they manage to capture a narrative of the beauty and horror of war, albeit portraying it through the lens of an organic, melodic death/black metal hybrid. The literacy by which they express this is also deeply sincere and poignant. The novel qualities within each song’s narrative compliments passages that could easily have been taken from books such as ‘All Quiet On The Western Front’ by Erich Maria Remarque and Ernst Junger’s essential World War I diary ‘The Storm Of Steel’.

 

Featured

Film- Zodiac (2007)

 

David Finchner’s 2007 film takes inspiration from the Robert Graysmith book of the same title. Zodiac explores the phenomena of the anonymous and unknown serial killer who terrorized California through the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. The case , the documentation, the media blitz and the meticulous intelligence by which the killer operates is not only a matter of cult interest, but retains a significant influence in the wider American popular culture.

Jake Gylenhaal plays Graysmith, who works for the San Fransciso Chronicle as a cartoonist, whilst Robert Downey Jr. plays Paul Avery, a more senior colleague and crime reporter at the publication. Their intrigue towards the case is brought on by the delivery of cryptogram letters from the Zodiac killer, whilst Dave Toschi, who leads the SFPD’s manhunt in the case, is played by Mark Ruffalo.

As the killer takes more lives and his elusiveness plays to his advantage, the dismay of the police and the media become more apparent. The narrative portrays the moral panics that the Californian public of the age subjected themselves too, the investigators consistently failing to find a means to an end. Graysmith’s aptitude for puzzle solving leads to the unlocking of obscure cryptograms that detail the killer’s apparent motive and philosophy, whilst Avery is troubled by a personal threat by the Zodiac, amidst his cocaine and alcohol abuse. Toschi’s subsequent investigations gain no hard evidence to suggest the certainty of the killer’s identity. As a full decade passes by, only Graysmith is left to pursue clues and hints against the will of a disinterested SFPD.

In aesthetics the counterculture of the late hippie era lurks within the background but never surfaces within the individual characters. Using popular music of the time as the main bulk of the soundtrack, it provides a distant backdrop which manages to give a dark juxtaposition to the general eeriness and violence with which the Zodiac killer conducts his murders, whilst intentionally hoaxing and misleading both the investigators and the media.

Unlike many films that emerge from Hollywood, there is an excellent balance between the qualities of the film’s direction, production, and the actual performances of ‘big name’ lead actors, which are successfully weighed in with the content, mood and general atmosphere of suspense that Finchner cultivates. Clearly the product of a large budget, it is still easy to distinguish an obvious sense of quality control.

Refreshing here is that Zodiac is also a mainstream film that manages to tackle the subject of the very American ‘serial killer culture’ and make something quite esoteric from it. It is the very anonymity of the actual killer who no one can truly know that embellishes and enriches the narrative of the film. This very sense of mystery, the aura of the unknown, predatory assailant is a theme that Finchner clearly re-uses to his advantage, having explored this with the 1995 neo-noir masterpiece ‘Se7en’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured

Film: ‘Calvary’ As A Critique Of Irish Society

gleeson

Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is a likable, down to earth ‘good priest’. The film opens with a scene at a confession booth, where an anonymous parishioner details disturbingly the sexual abuse inflicted on him by a priest as a child. The parishioner tells Father James that he will kill him the next Sunday. His reason being that it would a greater loss for the Church to lose a good clergyman than a bad one.

Working chronologically, day-by-day, ‘Calvary’ focuses primarily on the central character. Throughout, he gives his energy trying to offer counsel and help to his parishioners, whom we find out immediately are quite troubled and conflicted.

The local butcher Jack Brennan (Chris O Dowd) is supposedly beating his adulterous wife Veronica (Orla O’Rourke), who is in turn having an affair with Simon (Isaach De Bankolé), an Ivorian car mechanic. The butcher is seemingly tolerant of this, and his wife is lustful, depraved, insatiable, dysfunctional, selfish, her principles based solely on impulses.  She makes crude attempts to seduce Father James himself, through pseudo-sexualised, sadomasochistic allusions to kneeling, prostration and submission.

Calvary_2014_720p_Blu_Ray_x264_ROVERS_00_17_22_00

Bishop Garret Montgomery (David MacSavage) answers the concerns of Father Lavelle with oblivion. Clarifying that the position of the Church on confession is not synonymous with that of the greater legal system, he is devoid of genuine advice as to whether James should contact the police. Father Leary (David Wilmot), with whom Father James shares the parochial house is not tyrannically corrupt, but he is quite cowardly, the type that would turn a blind eye to avoid a tense scenario.

Fiona (Kelly Reilly) is the daughter of James. She has a history of self harm and suicide attempts. Her presence in Calvary is one that offers a barrier of warmth amidst the coldness and darkness that surrounds him. Though this facade is only another conduit for the scorn of locals, who use it as an excuse to find loopholes in the decency and honesty of a man whose former life was not one of the cloth.

Micheal Fitzgerald (Dylan Moran) is a wealthy man. He is concerned only for commodities and possessions, and mocking towards Father James. His wife and kids have left him. His condescending vindication of Father James vocation contradicts his own role in modern Ireland’s financial woes. We are given the idea that he is a financier or usurer of some sort. He urinates on a painting whilst drunk in front of the priest, only to later to weep and seek absolution from him. He is the closest of the secondary characters to have any nuance of humility in him.

calvary_2878338k

Dr. Frank Harte (Aidan Gillen) is the ‘atheist doctor’. In a climate where there is much angst towards the Catholic Church for abuses under its name, it is here where we’d expect moral justification to arise most vehemently. Instead what we see is a sociopathic, sleazy, passive-aggressive, amoral creature who treats his cadavers as one might treat a scrapheap.

A sociopathic young killer Freddie Joyce (played by Gleeson’s son Domnhall) tries to convince Father Lavelle in quite shallow terms that he is remorseful for his murder of a young woman. This explicates a clear moral threshold in the virtues of the central character, ones which divert from official doctrines, and simply abide to a common gut feeling of ‘what’s right’, when ‘enough is enough’.

Inspector Stanton (Gary Lydon) offers Father James a gun. He is a homosexual, but his inclinations are restrained, leaving us to question whether his character may or not have been a subject of abuse as a youngster. On the other hand, Leo, a rent boy and drama queen to boot, has all the obvious signs of an abuse victim, yet appears so institutionalized in his very promiscuity, that he seems not to care.

To paraphrase a recent observation, Father James ‘carries the weight of the world’. His institution, as a result of its wrongdoings, has had its name dragged through the dirt, yet the society he tries to work for the greater good of, spits in the face of his sense of virtue. The film also offers a strong insight into his own sense of purpose, and does not shy to examine his own sense of contradiction and character flaws. This is especially significant in regards to where he places his sense of empathy, on both personal terms, and in the greater scheme of things.

calvary-2013-006-father-james-alone-on-coastal-rocks

The use of religion is relevant, as this conduit of ridicule was once something that many of the characters would have prostrated to without question. Here were the very people who made them powerful in the first place, now considering themselves utterly blameless. The state of a society can be judged by the people in it, and ‘Calvary’ makes a good, blackly comedic observation of that. From the scheming of ‘gombeen men’ who wish to make quick gains at the expense of communities, there is the degenerative malevolence of the small-town culchies, who attempt to belittle and smear the virtues of lone wolves. It shows a greater picture of a society in decline and denial, as opposed to a widely accepted ‘post-Catholic’ narrative of evil being spawned from one source, and nowhere more than that.

My only critique of ‘Calvary’ lies with the cinematography, which exposes us to the beautiful yet foreboding and windswept landscapes of County Sligo. It never goes far enough to cultivate any greater atmosphere from this, and gives all of its power to the scripting and dialogue, which are the most pertinent strengths of the film. In what is a very bleak piece, with little optimism to offer, and purposefully so, it would have been interesting to imagine bleak, brooding, slow shots in the style of a Béla Tarr film, though this would perhaps detract from the greater focal points.

In order to get a better context of the qualities of this film, it should be made clear that along with its ‘realist’ angle, the writing and scripting is heavily tinged with bitter, dark humour that goes beyond the threshold of ‘laugh out loud’ and becomes inseparable from the dark, cynical subject matter that is dealt with. Many of those critical of ‘Calvary’ suggest that the secondary characters in the narrative are highly generalized and are a ‘straw man’ portrait’ of modern day Irish mentalities. They fail to consider the ‘black comedy’ angle that is in part satirizing, and also genuinely reflecting the crooked spinelessness that is a visible trend in Ireland.

Sundance 2014: Day 7 - video

Featured

Essentials: Bathory- Under The Sign Of The Black Mark

bathory3

BACKGROUND:

Sweden’s Bathory had already put behind them two essential works that were definitive cornerstones of 80’s underground metal. Their self-titled debut took the dark aesthetic of Venom and applied the pioneering style of Slayer’s ‘Show No Mercy’, furthering the structural framework of the earliest black metal.

‘The Return’ would see a logical continuation of this, with furthering of techniques, such as a greater emphasis on the tremolo strum, as well as an ‘ambient’ form of percussion and riff alternation. These grandiose ideas in particular songs ones would become conspicuous in the works of Darkthrone, Mayhem, Immortal, Burzum, Gorgoroth and Ildjarn among others.

ANALYSIS:

‘Under The Sign Of The Black Mark’ is the full realization of these developments into something that combines the infectiousness of their debut, the new use of techniques and narratives in their second album, and sealed together with an intense precision, ferocity and atmosphere that makes for arguably the first truly ‘foundational’ black metal. Quorthorn’s trademark gravelly shriek, as distinct and familiar as that of the menacing rasp of Tom Araya or the deathly grunts/wails of Tom G Warrior varies little, nor does it relent.

Mechanistic, battering percussion is the driving force behind tracks such as ‘Massacre’, ‘Equimanthorn’, ‘Chariots Of Fire’ and finale ‘Of Doom’, where the interplay with ambient, punk-derived riffs clearly foreshadows the Norse black metal style, as well as various ‘pre-second wave’ acts. This time the idea is not just merely hinted at, as was in previous work, but is fully crystallized into Bathory’s method of composition.

The epic leanings of ‘Woman Of Dark Desires’, ‘Call From The Grave’, ’13 Candles’ and album centerpiece ‘Enter The Eternal Fire’ express a more obvious use of heavy metal’s theatricality and melody, with which Quorthorn’s soloing, whilst splintering and noisy is a perfect match. The underscore of synth is a precursor to the symphonic layering that is a fundamental component in the best work of Emperor, Graveland, Enslaved and Master’s Hammer. It is also a theme that is yet to fully envelope on the follow-up ‘Blood,Fire, Death’, another fundamental work by Bathory that would introduce and conceptualize the romanticist themes that became the dominant ‘ideal’ within the European black metal movements of the 1990’s.

What makes this such an excellent album is that it consolidates Bathory’s reputation as an act of great depth, conceptually, musically and artistically. It is a record that for the attentive listener allows one to assess their chronology from rudimentary beginnings to a more sophisticated yet vitriolic barrage. Whilst ‘Under The Sign Of The Black Mark’ is essentially an ‘early’ Bathory work, it is a mark of their maturation and a highly transitional release in metal history.

Featured

Split Releases: I

Into Oblivion/Disinterred- Oblivion’s Oceans

oblivions oceans

Released late last year, ‘Oblivion’s Oceans’ brings together two bands whose approach and ideal towards  underground metal runs parallel. Toronto’s Into Oblivion already have two full lengths behind them in the form of a self titled debut and their epic ‘Creation Of A Monolith’. Disinterred from Kansas make their first public recording.

Into Oblivion’s side consists of four re-recordings of songs from their first album. These have a much more clear, powerful and crunching production, a mighty improvement on already excellent songs. Whilst a quick categorization would firmly fit them within the ‘black/death’ category, they remind me of Norwegian death metallers Molested, mixed with the eclectic, aggressive grinding black metal of Sacramentary Abolishment and Axis Of Advance. It’s the closest potential description for a band who have managed to cement a sound that is respectful to the traditions of the genre, yet rightfully their own. ‘By This Marvel Overthrown’ gives a excellent hint towards how later Bathory would sound if working within the ‘war metal’ subgenre.

Disinterred put forward three songs. High in speed and aggression, they take the execution and savagery of Angelcorpse and make an abundant use of black metal harmonics, the latter being an excellent strength. The vocals are tortured and guttural, not unlike a more lower end version of Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates, and have been recorded at a high volume, with a very direct, almost radio-static tone. A minor complaint would be that this comes at the expense of drowning out the guitars and rhythm section, which are high in treble. Otherwise, everything here is well performed and expressed, and for something that wouldn’t grab overly ‘aesthetical’ listeners, it’s both a grower and a gem, rounding out an excellent split.

Plutonian Shore/A Transyvanian Funeral- Alchemical Manifestations

plutonian shore a transylvanian funeral

‘Alchemical Manifestations’ brings together two US acts, San Antonio’s Plutonian Shore and Tucson’s A Transylvanian Funeral, both of whose take on black metal largely derives from the second wave bands of the early to mid 90’s.

Plutonian Shore play a symphonic style of black metal. Keyboards lead each song, and comparisons to Emperor would not go amiss. Guitars play grainy, trebly riffs which would fit the likes of the ‘Wrath Of The Tyrant’ demo rather well. Song structures have a linear feel to them which are reminiscent of the Australian band Naxzul. Their end of the split is a cover of Rotting Christ’s ‘The Fifth Illusion’, which exchanges the warm, Hellenic sound for a cold, grainy, Nordic facade that is pulled off fittingly, yet faithfully. Two live tracks conclude their side of the split, giving off a more garage-sounding aesthetic that evokes a tighter sounding version of Les Legions Noires.

A Transylvanian Funeral play in a more raw, melodic style, similar to Darkthrone’s third and fourth albums but with a thinner sound and a more high fidelity tone overall. Whilst they are consistent, they invent nothing new, and this is without doubt intended. The playfulness in use of guitar technique nuances and hints at the melodic stylings of early Gorgoroth and the French-Canadian act Sorcier Des Glaces. This is the type of release where there is something you want to find rewarding, but it doesn’t quite raise the bar as high as one would expect.

Beherit/Archgoat- Messe Des Morts/Angelcunt

beherit archgoat

Beherit’s side is an overlooked insight into their experimental leanings. After ‘Drawing Down The Moon’, the material of ‘Messe Des Morts’ shows Beherit returning to the atavistic, filthy riff-playing that was heard on their demo recordings. Drums are programmed, vocals are veering towards semi-robotic, and whilst synths aren’t as prominent, there are quirky oscillations. This is essentially the likes of ‘INRI’ and ‘Blood Upon The Altar’ filtered through an alien, industrial lens and offers a perfect blend of both the primitive and forward thinking side to Beherit.

Archgoat play a primitive form, one that has all the grinding intensity of Blasphemy, but more heavily tainted with a death metal influence, with an abundant use of breakdowns, guttural vocals, within grindcore-esque structures that bring to mind Blood’s ‘O Agios Pethane’. Vocals tend to be delivered amidst faster, blastbeat-driven guitar riffs, which are often followed by a regular pattern that breaks into slower, doomy sections that are occasionally accentuated with synth, not dissimilar from Beherit’s approach on ‘Drawing Down The Moon’, but coming across as less eclectic.

Whilst for some, this split might not represent the pinnacle of either bands output, it shows them both leaning towards their raw, adventurous beginnings. Very passionate and sacrilegious Finnish split.

Featured

Morbus Chron- Sweven

morbus-chron-sweven-82633

The recent crop of Swedish metal bands has in the past year or so, witnessed a pattern of change similar to the original wave of death metal from said country. Bands seeking out more accessible avenues of musical expression but attempting to maintain an experimental edge. Tribulation’s second album ‘The Formulas Of Death’ saw a transition from relatively ‘straightforward’ death metal towards 70’s psych-prog with a death metal aesthetic. The dark heavy metal of In Solitude on last years ‘Sister’ found itself occupying gothic rock territory, a la Fields Of The Nephilim.

When thinking of this in cycles, something similar took place in the form Hypocrisy’s transition to slickly produced melodic death/heavy metal after their more traditional first two albums, or Tiamat’s sudden transition to dark, progressive rock on ‘Wildhoney’. It’s hard not to think that history repeats itself here. Morbus Chron step into avant-garde territory on ‘Sweven’. The result is largely a success.

Where the material of their first album ‘Sleepers In The Rift’ pays homage to the likes of Autopsy, these traits are thankfully not thrown away, in spite of the obvious difference in execution. The Swedes retain some of their filth and grime, but take on board a technicality that runs parallel with Canadian oddball acts Obliveon and Voivod, specfically ‘Dimension Hatross’ and ‘Nothingface’ from the latter.

There is a much more instrumental emphasis than on their debut, with voice being less central to what is now a broader dynamic, structurally and texturally. The production isn’t too much of a departure, in spite of the use of a much cleaner guitar tone overall. Drums still have a punchy, pounding timbre that could be heard on ‘Sleepers’, and it indicates that whilst the band wish to retain remnants of their original influences and sound, they at least wish to re-invent themselves within the context of a metal band, rather than just imitate the genre ‘sound-wise’ and claim to have ‘branched out’.

Vocals are still the familiar Chris Reifert-esque bellow, though lyrically Morbus Chron’s humoured, gore drenched themes have given way to abstract, cosmic, science fiction inspired monologues. This oddball execution, whilst original in intent, is reminiscent of Deceased’s ‘The Blueprints For Madness’.

At first play, it is quite awkward to get used to this new direction; opening instrumental ‘Berceuse’ and ‘Chains’ make use of subtle arpeggios to build up into songs that use angular guitar phrases and heavily syncopated time signatures one would expect from late-80’s Voivod or Atheist. This use of themes is constant, as is the use of subtlety. Thankfully throughout the fifty minutes plus duration, this is done quite effectively. Rather than being purposely placed somewhere mid-section to dramatize or ‘break down’ songs, these playful interludes give momentum and continuity to each piece that follows.

The impression that ‘Sweven’ will make in the long term remains to be seen. Like Tribulation’s ‘The Formulas Of Death’ it may bring objection from purists on the grounds of its experimental direction. It may even garner the accusation of being less focused than earlier work. For those with a blank slate, and admirers of Autopsy, Voivod, Obliveon, Dead Brain Cells, expect to find a quite brave, clever, gripping though imperfect foray into a progressive take on death metal.

Featured

Current 93- I Am The Last Of The Field That Fell

current 93

The new album by Current 93 sees David Tibet indulging into artsy, psychedelic rock. As opposed to the neofolk style which defines the likes of ‘Thunder Perfect Mind’, ‘All The Pretty Little Horses’ and ‘Black Ships Ate The Sky’, we hear a much more playful and experimental outfit. More than ever before, Current 93 sounds quite similar at times to The Legendary Pink Dots. This compliments the usual eccentricities that many listeners have come to associate with David Tibet.

Once again, Tibet uses a plethora of guest musicians to enrich the musical palette. Thankfully, the amount of material here isn’t overly expansive and drawn out, and a great amount of potential is realized for the most part.

The opener ‘The Invisible Church’ demonstrates this, with gentle, tinkling interplay of piano, acoustic guitar and clarinet backing up the maniacal borderline spoken word of the frontman, with sombre backing from Bobbie Watson. This vocal duet continues on ‘Kings And Things’, which is a little more sparse, permeated by the backing of distorted guitar pedal.

John Zorn is prominent on the saxophone. When the brass and drumkit mix with the dramatic, almost child-savant prose of Tibet, particularly on ‘Those Flowers Grew’, it’s hard not to compare the result to the progressive rock bands Van Der Graaf Generator or Soft Machine, filtered towards a singer/songwriter medium. It’s one of a few highlights of an immersive and exciting listen. It is revisited later, on the penultimate song ‘Spring Sand Dreamt Larks’, more uptempo, though not reaching the peaks that the former manages to.

‘With The Dromedaries’ follows a poignant, minor chord progression that repeats and varies, as Tibet speaks of ‘smoking fags/or doing speed/or drinking mead’. It epitomizes the strange brilliance of Tibet’s lyrics, characterized by the innocence and obliviousness of an outsider, like the paintings and drawings of Louis Wain put to words. His Christian and Gnostic sensibilities are explicated with ‘Christ descends/dove above/Jesu God/whose home is the Cross’. ‘Why Did The Fox Bark?’ is just as wondrous, continuing where the previous song left off. It is a melodic, subtle, poignant, minimalist excursion in which Tibet speaks of ‘peppermint palaces’.

Folk rock, Canterbury Scene and spaghetti western soundtracks are partly alluded to in ‘The Heart Full Of Eyes’, obvious in the abundance of playful flute and the echoing washes of guitar, though it is somewhat lacking in the depth and substance it could potentially reach. ‘And Onto Picknickmagick’ improves this a little, playing similar elements against a dramatic, self repeating piano cycle that emphasizes build up and crescendo, other instruments enhancing the maelstrom.

‘Mourned Winter Then’ features a lead vocal by long-time collaborator Antony Hegarty. ‘Guest vocals’ can often tend to be a wasted experience, something that simply contributes to the hype of a recording, but it is ensured that his talents are used to get the very best mood and atmosphere out of a relatively minimal chamber pop song. It is highlighted by Hegarty’s trademark sorrowful, vibrato ridden croon backed by the sparse piano and and lullaby-esque backing hums. It’s one of the centerpieces of the album.

‘I Remember The Berlin Boys’ is a quite upbeat, almost cabaret-esque piece, the most uptempo song here, though Tibet’s vocal lead seems not as well suited to the song as a guest vocal might be. Through listening to ‘I Am…’, he seems more suited to more sparse or brooding arrangements that allow a greater length of duration to express themselves conveniently.

Nick Cave contributes a lead vocal to the final song ‘I Could Not Shift A Shadow’. The end result is a disappointment. The subtlety of the instrumentation doesn’t contrast well with the emotional dynamic of Cave’s singing, and sadly comes across as quite lacklustre.

Overall, ‘I Am The Last Of The Field That Fell’ is an enjoyable work. There are some moments that distinctly aren’t as substantial as the highlights, though this detracts marginally from what is a very decent effort by this distinctly eccentric, distinctly English eschatological collective.

The Who & The Futility Of Countercultural “Rebellion”

Two of the best known songs by The Who epitomize a tectonic shift in cultural attitude and outlook. Whilst we may look back at such an era of music as one of “oldies”, where boomers reflect on an age you couldn’t possibly have imagined their old selves being part of, they show just how long a time in music six years could be.

I refer of course to their 1965 paean to bottled, manufactured teen angst, “My Generation”, and the 1971 epic rock opera single “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Chronologically, both singles span The Who’s beginnings as a flagship band of the “Brit invasion” of the 1960’s, towards becoming seasoned, weathered veterans of the cultural upheavals that defined mass culture throughout these years.

The Who, in their early days

Both songs also symbolize the journey of narratives that were undertaken within the counterculture, beginning with raw, petty nihilism, and a sense of knowing no better as a result of wishing to be eternally young “I hope I die before I get old”, unquestioningly writing off anyone who doesn’t fit the malaise of fast fashion and the “cool Brittania” of “swinging Sixties” London as “square”.

“My Generation” is for its time raunchous, angry and to the point. Like the punk rock movement phenomenon that engulfed the UK in 1977 to the tune of “Anarchy In The UK”, this was the sound and words of a generation of youngsters who in the midst of their impulses thought they were the essence of a revolution that once attained would be unsurpassable.

Yet in reality it was a quick dead end for a generation of youngsters who for the most part lacked the conscientiousness to realize that what made for their “rebellion” was in reality consumerism masquerading as a revolt against the very system they helped sustain through their spending habits, disposable incomes and lifestyle choices.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” comes across as a sober wake up in contrast. Led by a pulsing, panning synthesizer tone (an attempt to attain the “universal chord”) and accentuated with upbeat power chord bashing, Roger Daltrey’s vocal is now less snotty but more powerful, less nasal and with more expressive range.  

Pictured to the right, insane skinsman for The Who Keith Moon with fellow Anglo drunkard Oliver Reed

Various manifestations of pop culture and music were also invoking a conscious effort to become something that went beyond the shallowness of the counterculture’s more superficial whims. Within less than a decade, the progressive rock movement had encapsulated this willingness to become more “complete”.

His backing of Pete Townshend, Jon Entwistle and Keith Moon, though they have musically “matured” and found a greater sense of conceptual ambition, still sound intent on destroying and pummelling their instruments as much as possible. Whilst not “brutal” on an aesthetic level, we are talking of a band who may have without intent pioneered a “proto-death metal” vocal technique on “Boris The Spider”.

With “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, not only do The Who deliver a powerfully anthemic song, yet they appear to be very aware of the futility of the revolution they thought they would usher in, realizing that they themselves are now their own “royalty” and that history is bound to stages of blossom, wither and decay, that youthful energy is always at risk of giving way to sad decrepitude.

Such is the legacy of those who wish only to “seek and destroy”. One may only look at the raw, visceral energy of punk, a genre where the artists life cycle burns quickly but brightly, so brazenly that no other direction but a “progression” beyond their initial “anger” becomes inevitable.

The Forever War & Afghanistan

People are talking about the “forever wars”. Especially regarding Afghanistan. Eternal, fruitless endevours. Joe Haldemann wrote a prophetic sci-fi novel in 1975 called The Forever War. Based largely on the authors experience in Vietnam, it is quite prescient. Set over a lengthy timespan involving interstellar combat, the protagonist, Mandella travels back to Earth.

I will not exhaust the totality of the themes but one major aspect is that the entire human race has become for the most part homosexual. This change in attitudes appears to have been encouraged as a solution to human overpopulation. Extreme rationing and widespread umemployment has become rampant. Such is the protagonists inability to adapt to the new social engineering, he re-enlists to go back into army life. This runs many parellels to a contemporary states of affairs, where neoliberal economic hegemony and the radical liberal, anarcho-bourgoise tropes of “woke capitalism” are now themselves an occupying force.

Whilst a work of fiction the metaphor of The Forever War was meant to refer to the cold and bitter reception war veterans recieved on their completion of service in Vietnam, booed and jeered by a spiteful malaise of socially engineered “revolutionaries” and the values they held aloft. This is becoming increasingly more real to this day. Those who wish to go out and fight in the West’s forever wars and engage martial vigour do so for a system that despises them and seeks to grind them down once they have done their bidding.

There is a short clip from Adam Curtis’ “Bitter Lake” which acts as a perfect reference to the ideas of a conquering regime and the ideas it seeks to impose on its new subjects. A classroom of Afghan women are lectured on contemporary Western “art”. Rather than great tapestries, sculptures, mosaics, churches, portraits, aqueducts and so forth they are subjected to a presentation slide of Marcel Duchamp’s “installation” of a urinal.

“A urinal. Wait, a work of art!!!”

To a society that hasnt been totally brainwashed, pathologized and browbeaten, the notion that this is “art” is of course bewildering. Its an act of psychological war designed to disintegrate the human psyche and its sense of evaluation. A deliberate act of conditioning.

That also speaks for a wider system of values. A one which men will fight for, whilst it simultaneously encourages their women to cheat them, their kids to sterilize themselves and change gender and then mock you when you come home, regardless of whether youre in one piece, injured, partly dismembered or in a body bag.

That is the consequence of the contemporary West, its controllers and their Forever Wars.