Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So Pure...So Cold: Transilivanian Hunger as an Embodiment of the Faustian Spirit

If only one word could be used to describe Darkthrone's 1994 release it would be minimal. That can be misleading to some, conjuring thoughts of mindless simplicity or uninspired drivel. In actuality, the minimalistic nature of Transilvanian Hunger - with its swirling vortex of repetitive, trance-like riffs and static percussion - accomplishes something few modern albums have: it captures the infinite space of the Western, or Faustian spirit.

In Decline of the West, philosopher Oswald Spengler, describes what he calls the Faustian soul and its development around 1000 AD when Western Man confronted and gained knowledge of Death - when the idea of an impending end of the world spread throughout Europe. The Faustian, or Western, soul in contrasted with that of the Classical, or Apollinian. Classical man regarded as the prime problem of being: "the material origin and foundation of all sensuously perceptible things." Reality, however, exists beyond this tangible plan, as he explains further: "The prime symbol of the Classical soul is the material and individual body, that of the Western pure infinite space."

For example, he cites Apollinian cosmology as well-ordered and ending in a quantifiable "heaven," which is reflected in the grounded columns of Classical architecture. Compare this with the soaring buttresses and magnificent facades of Gothic cathedrals. Faustian art, such as a landscape of Claude Lorrain (one of Spengler's favorite examples), is pure space. Spengler describes this space: "Space - speaking now in the Faustian idiom - is a spiritual something, rigidly indistinct from the momentary space-present, which could not be represented in an Apollinian language, whether Greek or Latin."

Language, mathematics, science, and art allowed the Faustian man to contemplate and develop ideas in relation to the concept of space, a chaotic universe, and wild nature. Spengler goes much more in depth and discusses the origins and importance of this space in great detail, which warrants an essay or book of its own. However, that is not meant to be the crux of this essay. This is an essay about music, something uniquely adept at capturing space: besides Lorrain and architecture, Spengler also uses music as an example of it in the Faustian world: "It [18th century instrumental music] is the only one of the arts whose form-world is inwardly related to the contemplative vision of pure space."
He refers particularly to the music Ludwig van Beethoven: "Here infinite solitude is felt as the home of the Faustian soul. Siegfried, Parzival, Tristan, Hamlet, Faust, are the loneliest heroes in all the cultures." The music of Darkthrone, like Beethoven (though on a lesser scale, and vastly inferior to the great master) embodies this solitude, contemplation, and ponderous awakening.

In Matt's last essay he talked about the "Metal Ear," an ear which applies to any intelligent music. When I first heard Darkthrone I didn't have this ear and I heard the Preparing for War compilation. As a result, my initial reaction to Darkthrone was not of the positive nature. I didn't dislike it, but I certainly didn't like it. Looking back, I think it was because I didn't understand it. Armed with a lukewarm appreciation of metal and a thoroughly unfocused musical attention span, I attempted to listen to Darkthrone. I had heard and enjoyed Emperor and other extreme metal years before, so extremity wasn't the issue. Darkthrone is different, it is extreme, yes, but also extremely minimal - adding a layer of difficulty.

After putting Preparing for War on the shelf for almost a year, I decided to give Darkthrone another shot. I had begun listening to more and more metal, and a lot of it extreme. The more I read about it, the more I felt it deserved a second chance, something I was bad about up until a few years ago: I'd hear something once or twice, make a snap judgement and ignore it. Why else would it have taken almost five years of serious interest in metal to get over a ten year aversion to Deicide (based on one listen in a record store in middle school) and listen to Legion?

I bought Transilvanian Hunger for a couple of reasons: the reviews seemed interesting, I liked the title track from the compilation, and it was the only one in the store at the time. I slowly began warming up to it, and my appreciation for its beauty grew as my metal ear developed and as I began taking a more thinking man's approach to music in general.

Transilvanian Hunger reflects the infinite space of Spengler's Faustian soul even before the music starts, as the inner sleeve art features a blazing full moon above a thick forest and the almost encapsulating arms of mountainsides. The mountains do not, and cannot enclose the sky, and the breadth of the night sky in triumphant.

The triumph of infinity is solidified when the music commences. The opening track is the aforementioned title track. The percussion, Fenriz stripped down to a human metronome, serves as a backbone for the boiling, simplistic riffs. The initial/primary riff is arguably the best example of this. The "space" embodied in Transilvanian Hunger derives mainly from the trance-like repetition of 2 to 4 note patterns, while tremolo picking and vacuum guitar sound make it even more all-encompassing.

There is also something so utterly European and medieval in the album's title, which conjures images of mountainous expanse, endless horizon, and cold castle walls. "Over Fjell Og Gjennom Torner" captures this feeling as the muffled, spoken, throaty vocals set a frightening atmosphere - suited to the vastness of Northern forests.

A personal favorite, and a track especially expressing space, is "I En Hall Med Flesk Og Mjød." The repetition of a SINGLE NOTE for an extended period truly creates a whorling infinity. The listener becomes enscrolled in it just in time for a more aggressive passage, which gives way to cloaking repetition yet again. It is thinking music that requires full attention to comprehend the beauty, power, and art in its simplicity.

It is possible for Darkthrone to create this space because the music is not rhythm driven. It has a rhythmic backbone, but, like the instrumental music of the 18th century so acclaimed by Spengler, is driven by stringed instruments - in this case the melody-assault of the guitars. "Slottet I Det Fjerne" features a particularly piercing high-end thanks to Fenriz' (according to Metal Archives) furious guitar playing.

In Transilvanian Hunger, Darkthrone has created an intelligent work of art that, as Spengler says of 18th century music "contemplates the vision of pure space." This space is so important because it is a representation of humans thinking in more abstract terms and of the complexities of a chaotic, infinite universe.


Thursday, October 23, 2008

Metal for One Please

I was staring out the bathroom window today, taking notice of the tree across the street. Autumn seems to be so gradual at first as if it might never arrive but then before you know it you find yourself staring at a blazing orange and gold tree in your neighbor's yard and wearing a flannel shirt nearly every day. It's been month's since I've written anything in full. I have a bad habit of starting a review or an essay on an enthusiastic whim and days later I'm four paragraphs in and stumped. I could easily blame it on the ever flowing stream of thoughts that run through my mind resulting in a failure to focus. I guess I could also blame it on current events,depression,laziness,the list could go on. Plainly spoken,it's been a general lack of good content that's to blame. When it comes to reviews I could spout my personal reasons for liking such and such an album any old time but I intend on making each review above average. If I find myself just repeating a lot of what's already been written elsewhere I end up being frustrated and tend to watch the cursor blink persistently on notepad while daydreaming. It would be easy to sit on the computer all day,fantasizing,reading,peeking in on various forum threads, but I grow restless and want to make use of my time. If writer's block manifests itself then I had better move along to the next project while it's still early. Since I haven't been working my part time money gathering job I've been painting,practicing guitar and trying to gain some ground battling my constant overworked brain through meditation. Early last Thursday morning(after 12:30 sometime)I captured a fleeting moment of thoughtlessness. I had no sense of sitting cross legged in the dark living room but rather felt as if I were floating in a swirling void. Being the meditation novice that I am, I registered the "I DID IT!" thought and that sent my mind back into normal mode,out of any such void,back into the living room,back to anticipating the cuckoo clock cuckooing and I then remembered that it was nearly 1 am. This speck of time was the highlight of last week. I'm glad I am able to comfortably experiment like that. Glad I spend around 85% of my time with my brain and myself. It's throughout my daily "routine"(or at least my daily unemployed routine)that I THINK about THINKING or analyze and plan actions..and of recently I try to just "BE" at least once a day. I have grown so used to this living style that I would be easily annoyed or even hostile if I had someone else constantly buzzing around and intruding on my thoughts and time. Sounds a bit extreme if you're a social extrovert but I have developed a lot as a person under conditions of maximum alone time. Often I come to realizations about important things by myself and it's hard to communicate them to friends or family a week later. An element which has aided me in contemplation and been my companion throughout is heavy metal(grave metallum:the music of the gods)

*Metal,most notably the extreme cast of metal,is most rewarding when listened to in solitude. The live show while being an intense and moving aural and visual experience is..an experience..a social "bonding" moment for some. However, surrendering your undivided attention to a full album in a relaxed state of mind yields far greater appreciation and understanding.

I have never been a mingling,chit chat type of human being. I'd moved around a lot in my childhood years which made long lasting friendships pretty hard to keep. Once I was in my late teens, and settled down, I had broken out of my shell somewhat and had best friends,friends and those unsure types(I called them school friends).
Life was nearly DEFINED by a group of people at one point which resulted in a lot of temporary happiness but foolish infighting and easily damaged egos(a lot of low self esteem) often resulted in self hatred. I felt like a goofball most of the time. Downsizing that group of friends of lesser known friends and acquaintances was a good move but so much of me was still based around other people. When I moved out west more circles of "friends" came around. I'd smashed through the small town prison walls and entered the BIG CITY to find exactly what you'd expect. Loose attention whores,greasy hipster types who bummed off of rich college brats,artists and "musicians" out to kiss ass and gain notoriety. Feeling at odds with this majority, I steadily spent more time alone and my friends spent more time involved in their new lives. Towards the end of my Texas stint I was home by myself almost every day. This was the first time in a long time that I'd truly been left alone..and I wasn't fully dependent on friends. Tiring pop/rock songs made me sad as they typically discourage solitude. When one is alone so often and not used to it they usually become lonely..and loneliness results in pity partying and depression. Therefore many people fear solitude(and find hermits to be batshit crazy). I had bouts of depression stemming from loneliness,"nobody wants me" syndrome and poor self image issues..the lack of peers around to validate my existence and importance was hard to get used to. Moving back to the previously rejected small town intensified all of those issues.
My relationship with metal was very fickle before entering this slow zone. I was previously in search of adventure and instant gratification and would hardly ever sit and contemplate life or reality. Most of what I listened to acted in the same way..those old familiar chord progressions and accessible melodies that easily trigger basic emotions..acting as instant gratification in a sense. Music you needn't really hold a magnifying glass up to because it's whole shtick is being simple and easy to tap your foot to. Pop and rock call out to the lonely individual by predictably tugging the usual heartstrings,"I feel your pain","I'm so lonely too man..I gotta find myself some action."At their worst they act as a soundtrack for the lives of the masses who weep over sappy songs and schmaltzy ballads or feel uplifted by one dimensional "I"m gonna make it" songs. Pop and rock weren't complimenting my life but rather depressing it. What worked well in a group setting failed miserably when listened to in my chilly upstairs bedroom back home.

Metal seems tailor made for one,that so called loneliest number. A rebellious spirit fighting against the world,never giving up,encouraging and genuinely empowering the dedicated listener. It's almost a beacon for loners. To enter the realms of extreme metal and gain transcendence one must first develop an ear. It's hard to do so at first but little by little you will "get it." The best metal requires much listening,ear developing, and thinking..something that cannot properly be done with lots of people around yapping it up. Many people will talk about how much they understand death and black metal without ever having really sat down and listened to full albums. It's usually easy to identify hipster parasites within metal because they are all about the shuffle feature. Listening to a mix match of random black,death and "doom" metal tracks on your ipod while sitting in Starbucks,spending about 10 minutes talking on your cellphone or LOL'ing with a bunch of people online..this is not the way one listens to and appreciates extreme metal. I suppose if you are listening to a bunch of mediocre SHIT then it might serve you well to listen to it in shuffle format while not fully concentrating upon it. Don't get me wrong here..a good mixtape is nice to have around and sometimes you might be in the mood to hear just one particular tune...but nothing beats a good quality album from start to finish. Deep and intermediate listening separates the wheat from the chaff so to speak. There is little room for mediocrity in vinyl,cassette,cd or mp3 collections when you are listening in a full sitting with a critical ear. That 46 song pornogrind cd doesn't sound so good now does it? But so many will enjoy metal as a hobby or a social networking tool. This greatly depreciates the power of metal and lowers it to radio rock standards..it becomes nothing but background noise or strings of songs that stick in your head and remind you of certain people or situations. A lot of common folk don't take metal seriously because they don't seriously listen to it. I recall the days of sitting in the family living room at the slow PC around 2004/2005..particularly one time,hunched over the speakers and listening to a track from Immortal's "Full Moon Mysticism." Just giving it a try..only one song you know? To these ears then it was basically noise ..I picked out some notes under the Orc-like vocals and tinny "thwack thwack thwack" of the snare drum but didn't care to focus any real attention on it because it didn't appeal to my brain on instant. Of course it didn't help that I seldom had any peace and quiet or time to stretch my mind. After simplifying my life situation and living conditions years later I was able to focus in on such well known extreme metal classics and was knocked head over heels by their sheer power and ability to really stimulate my mind on a higher level. I was soon able to hear past the common butchered production jobs and Darkthronian recording techniques..grasping the essence with enthusiasm.

Besides reaping the aural benefits of extreme metal listening,I also became turned on to a lot of previously ignored literature and philosophy. I might have had a keen interest in outer space beforehand..an overload of extreme metal listening enhanced it. Realizing you are but a microscopic fragment of dust in the universe is vital,as is realizing the inevitability of your death. Death metal(most notably the more evolved and advanced of it's kind)was a powerful tool in terms of death contemplation. Thinking of death as less of an enemy and as more of an ever present fog that drifts behind each of us..it may envelop some suddenly but it gradually covers and devours us all..and no biological organism shall escape it. I find it healthy to fixate my mind on death often as it's fascinating and seldom thought about in a rational way. How to imagine the actual end of YOU,snuffed out and no longer anything? Quite a difficult thought to ponder because I,like you and everyone else,have only existed being conscious and cannot imagine otherwise(not that anything exists after death). People tend to deny themselves such thoughts especially when they are alone. Death is pushed to the attic of the mind or covered up with the comfort blanket of religion. I enjoy talking about these things with close friends but it's of utmost importance to arrive at such ideas on your own since we can all be our own masters. Life is rich thinking material too of course,no need to zoom in solely on death. Even the most basic pioneering metal acts championed the individual and the glory in living life to the fullest by your own set of rules. Inspiring introspection. So in short,metal got my mind working a lot more and gave me a lot of self confidence in thinking and in being. Not self confidence stemming from compliments of friends,girlfriends,family members,co-workers but self confidence originating inside..awakening to aspects of myself that had gone unnoticed or been unappreciated. Perhaps extreme metal won't spark the same fire inside of everyone. For those with naturally non-metal ears I suggest classical music or some traditional folk.


Saturday, October 18, 2008

Extreme Metal - The Exercise of a Thinking Mind


This essay has been germinating since April and I’ve finally gotten around to typing it. I decided to compile these thoughts into an essay on one of the first truly hot days this spring while trudging through the cement jungle of Boston on my way to a favorite record haunt. Listening to a tape I have for such situations I started thinking about my distaste of heat, how that’s related to my personal philosophies, and how it boosts my already substantial intake of extreme metal.

Besides being uncomfortable, I’m bombarded by more people doing more things I dislike. Spring brings blooming and celebrating a rebirth in the natural world, but it also brings families crowding the sidewalks, loud children covered in ice cream, people flopping around in oversized sunglasses obnoxiously proclaiming their love for the “great weather,” and artificial or deliberate suntans to name a few. These things may seem trivial, but they are a reflection of things in direct opposition to all I hold dear. As a result, I’m more hostile which is reflected in the heavier rotation of extreme metal. The heat and humidity of summer are ever-present dislikes from which there is no escape, which makes other, more serious distastes, only more bitter.

Bitterness towards what exactly? There are a lot of things about the current state of humanity that make me squeamish, but for the most part all of them are a product/element of the following three things: the herd mentality of the populace, the double-edged sword of monotheistic morality dominating the West, and humanity’s destruction of its only home. These interrelated attacks on the human mind are the primary causes and targets of my aggression.

The general sheepdom of the populace is evident in the physical and mental laziness of a large segment of it. Poor eating habits, lack of exercise, and either the inability to or desire not to think make people easy targets for control. For the most part it is not the inability to think, but fear and the lack of want or knowledge on how to think. The human mind, as exemplified by the great thoughts, music, and artistic creations of humans throughout history, is capable of great things. The minds of many intelligent are dormant and have been for too long. Not all minds have the ability to create something as majestic as Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, but most have the potential to think.

A dormant mind makes it easy to consume food that is nutritionally lacking, culture lacking substance, the blatant lies of politicians, the existence and omnipotence of a supreme anthropomorphic desert deity, and to accept all of these as fundamental truths. Many people question, but never break away from the necessity and security of belief in god or the Democratic and Republican parties. The human brain is a complex thing with the ability to process and reflect; to not exercise the brain is to not live up to our potential as human beings.

One of the biggest culprit in the enslaving of the mind has been monotheism, in the form of Judeo-Christianity in the West. The doctrines and morality of monotheism comprise a sword with two equally sharp edges. On the one hand there is the preaching of humility and unending submission, which when compounded with the sense of entitlement felt by the practitioners and products of monotheism on the opposing edge, is a recipe for cerebral inactivity and herd mentality.

According the Judeo-Christian bible, human beings were created by a supreme god in the image of said supreme god, therefore they must live in eternal fear, guilt, and submission to their creator. This vile bastard of a creator demands unquestioned obedience, which discourages thinking. Free thought and the expansion of personal knowledge is either a) blasphemous or b) impossible because humans can never truly know all that god does. There are many people who still follow this path openly, yet there are many lackluster believers and nonbelievers alike who similarly don’t think because the anti-intellectual ideology of Judeo-Christianity has been force-fed to their ancestors for centuries. This stifling of thought and uniqueness has been exhibited in many ways over the past 2000 years in the West in the burning of pagan libraries, the destruction of heathen shrines and co-opting of festivals, the Inquisition and witch trials, censorship of scientific and artistic ideas not inline with doctrine, and in the creation of a global uniculture which has largely replaced genuine local cultures. Those who have accomplished great feats of art, literature, philosophy, etc have done so in spite of this: those with the ability and passion to rise above an intellectually bankrupt order. Monotheism greatly aided in the destruction of unique human culture around the world by spreading its agenda via crusades, colonization, and missionaries. Not only has this happened, it has been championed by the very people who’s culture is being destroyed!

While the tradition of monotheism has played a significant role in suffocating intellectual freedom and creating a culture of laziness, it has also put the notion of entitlement into the heads of said lazy populace. Being created specially by god as the only intelligent beings on the only planet, which is of course the center of the universe, has created a false superiority complex in humans. If one believes they are specially created and that they are the pinnacle of all creation, it makes sense they should feel the planet has been created for them and is theirs to use and abuse as they see fit. Created as a separate entity, Man not only has the ability, but the duty, to dominate his surroundings, the planet, and other species (including segments of his own).

As the divinely appointed stewards of Earth, humans have pillaged and destroyed the only home they’ve ever known. For the believer it doesn’t matter because this life is temporary and there is eternity in heaven, but for the secular and less serious religious folk its the feeling of control embedded by the same monotheism that perpetuates the destruction, even in the face of impending doom. It isn’t the use of the natural world by Man that is the problem, but the abuse. Human beings are animals, and all animals must use their environment to suit their fundamental needs. Humans have gone above and beyond the fundamental needs of food, shelter, resources and have been driven by greed. Exploiting more resources means gaining more paper. More paper means more things. More things means more status and happiness.

The core issue is that for centuries the majority of the populace in the West, largely due to monotheism, have viewed themselves as “above the law” when it comes to the natural world. They do not view themselves as part of the animal kingdom and a strand (albeit the only known one with the ability for complex thought) in the web of life, but as being separate from the entire web itself. Massive discoveries have rocked the collective mind of humans; from learning that they are not the center of the solar system, that in fact there are billions of solar systems in billions of galaxies and possibly more than one universe, to learning the complexities of evolution, yet many still retain the “I am the center of the universe” complex, which makes destruction and mental inaction inevitable. A strong sense of self and individual autonomy is important, and I take pride in my own individuality, but do so without losing sight of that fact that I am a part of the whole of nature and a community, not a whole in and of myself. Only upon understanding this was I then able to embark on a quest for personal betterment.

Now how is metal related to any of this? Metal in general is a big “fuck you” to mainstream modern society and makes a conscious effort at separating from it. The music is loud, fast, and harsh; lyrics deal with “touchy” subjects; songs break away from the cyclical structure of popular forms; and similarly, many adherents purposely set themselves apart by their appearance.

Interest in metal begins with disenchantment, and some use that to strengthen themselves in the face of the society they are at odds with. Given that this essay is supposed to deal with extreme metal, I will limit the discussion to death and black metal. I don’t plan to write an illuminating study of extreme metal because plenty of those exist and that’s not my intention. My purpose is to explain the appeal and importance of extreme metal to me, what I get from it, and how it relates to the “bigger picture.”

Death metal is more than lax disaffection administered through an ugly wall of sound - it is the exercise of a thinking mind. It’s easy for the average humanoid to dismiss metal, especially extreme metal, as “just noise” but it is anything but. Death metal recognizes the decay, falsity, and inherent emptiness in modern society and embraces the inevitability of death, destruction, famine, etc., thus rejecting it [society] wholeheartedly. Instead of being angered, reverting to fatalism or altruism, death metal constructs music that is brutal, violent, and ugly but also complex, intelligent, and beautiful.

The term “death metal” applies to a wide range of music, and the genre is one the most expansive in metal. Whether it be the technical innovation and fusion of Atheist, the off-kilter rhythms and inhuman vocals of Demilich, or the blasting assault of Immolation, death metal (in it’s true and unadulterated form) is unified in expanding beyond the confines of popular music and a culture of stagnancy.

The first step is detachment, which death metal achieves. From the embracing of decay and negation of the mainstream it is then necessary to secure an existence amidst the surge of consumerism and whittling away of human uniqueness. Black metal uses this detachment as the foundation for rediscovering connections with nature, culture, past musical achievements and the strength and will of a healthy human spirit striving for personal betterment. If death metal is a fist in the face of society, black metal is the foot that holds it down allowing the mind to flourish. Black metal embraces and glorifies the power and beauty of the natural world and Man’s undeniable connection to it and to the past.

Death and black metal appeal to my disaffection with the above mentioned “big three” and my constant strive toward personal betterment. Extreme metal, and all of the music I like, stimulates my artistic pursuits, musical knowledge, and is an exercise in appreciation by an intelligent human mind.

Forging an existence in a world beyond my control is not easy because, ultimately, it is just that - beyond my control. That does not mean I should give up and become a zombified dimwit, but that I should try my damnedest to improve my physical and mental health to better cope with the world, to be as prepared as possible for whatever it should throw at me, and to not forfeit my potential as a human being with a working mind. By making healthy living choices, expanding knowledge through reading and engaging in stimulating conversation, physical activity, and artistic endeavors I can better relate to and appreciate my surroundings and the people I care about while hoping and working for a healthier future. I don’t know if I will ever experience a fully transcendent moment or see bonds of Judeo-Christian morality broken in my lifetime, but I will never stop working for personal betterment because I respect myself, my origins, and my sometimes overactive brain.

DISCLAIMER: I do not hold any value, philosophy, or ideal that I do because of the music I listen to - I listen to it because of the ideals I hold. Furthermore, I refer to authentic extreme heavy metal - absolutely NOT to trend-ridden, herd-appealing iPod diet metal.


Thursday, June 19, 2008

A Destination Unknown

It's been a long time coming, but here it is...


Kebnekajse - Resa mot okänt mål, 1971


Gunnar Andersson - Chorus
Pelle Ekman - Drums
Mats Glenngård - Chorus
Kenny Håkansson - Guitar, Vocals
Pelle Lindström - Chorus
Bella Linnarson - Bass
Tomas Netzler - Chorus
Rolf Scherrer - Guitar

Where on earth do I begin to describe this album? I suppose I'll start somewhere near the beginning. Resa mot okänt mål (roughly translating to "A Journey to a Destination Unknown") was the first Kebnekajse record I owned, which is fitting seeing as it's their first.

Named after the tallest mountain in Sweden, Kebnekajse had its roots in the seminal Mecki Mark Men, which Kenny, Bella, and Pelle were three fourths of. The Men played a more English-styled psych rock with heavy doses of organ and Cream - an influence clearly evident, though a bit more subtle, on Resa mot okänt mål. This more than adequate first album has been described as straddling a no-man's land, so to speak, with one foot firmly rooted in the psych rock of Mecki Mark Men while the other is searching for a foothold in the more adventurous and progressive avenue of later Kebnekajse output. Later albums ventured from this hybrid, to prog folk, jazz rock, and African music. I have the first three: RMOM, II, III (the latter two being excellent progressive folk albums), and in the three or so years since I've had them, the first has remained the best.

The album is striking before it even starts: the electric, undeniably psychedelic cover art immediately grabbed my attention. The colors are crisp and the concept simple. Most importantly, it is psychedelic without the usual trappings (kaleidoscopic imagery, neon colors, flowers, etc). The music contained in this artful package continues to hold my attention for the full 39 minutes, that's the important thing.

"Tänk livet" opens with a trademark of Swedish psychedelia - quite possibly the warmest guitar sound put to tape. Warm doesn't do justice to a sound that can be both dissonant and affectionately warm, while at the same time forcing a smile of tranquility lasting the length of the album. Not a particularly "special" song in the way of breaking any new ground, it's like the cover in that you know it's psychedelic, but there is something separating in from, say, The Pretty Things. In my own closeted world of the Northeastern United States, I'd have to say the immediate thing setting it apart was the vocals/song titles. Being Swedish, they added an exotic aura to a style of music previously dominated in my record collection by Anglo or US groups (or continental groups singing in English).

Besides things like the album cover and whatever exoticism (whether real or purposely created), it's the music itself that strikes me as a little "off." Not in a negative sense, but in the same way the Cirith Ungol or Manilla Road transcend the standard fare of heavy metal, so Kebnekajse transcends the standard psychedelic fare. This, without question, makes it more appealing to me and my own outsider personality. I like a lot of psychedelia, and even more metal, but it's the bizarre ones that stand out and warrant "top album" nominations. Resa mot okänt mål is one of those albums. The opener is just so damn catchy, and Håkansson's extended solo gets my head in a hypnotic trance, setting the mood and preparing my mind for the rest of the album.

"Orientens Express" features even more whirlpool guitars over a rhythm that's a cross between blues and a weird railroad worker polka or something. This lighter track is a fitting introduction to the title track, definitely the darkest on the album...probably the only one I'd use the term "dark" in describing. It has a subtle heaviness, especially in the rhythm guitar and how it plays off the lead. The last couple of minutes of the 7+ track are the highlight for me, featuring a steady, yet at the same time frantic rhythm section. For some reason, I don't even find myself hating the truly fucked up Alvin and the Chipmunk vocals on display throughout. They only serve to add to the already established quirkiness of the album.

In "Förberedelser till fest" you have what is, quite possibly, one of my favorite songs of all time. At different junctures it's everything from surf rock, Eastern, freak out, to mind-boggling guitar work that I can't even begin to do justice to. A true masterpiece of Swedish psychedelia that must be heard to be appreciated. The title translates to "Preparation for a Party" and if this tune is any indication as to the atmosphere of said party, I sure as hell want to be there.

The final track is a bit underwhelming, especially following the aural ecstasy of its predecessor, and judging by some of the song titles ("I love the summer" for instance) the lyrics are probably not up my alley, but these don't keep Resa mot okänt mål from being a beautiful listening experience standing apart from much of their Swedish peers...from the more droning sounds of Träd, Gräs och Stenar/Harvester/etc, the pop sensibility of Pugh Rogefeldt, or the hard rock of November and Shaggy. The closest thing to the Kebnekajse debut I've heard is the self-titled Råg I Ryggen album from 1975 (a great album in its own right).


In the not too distant future look for an essay about the summer and extreme metal (which will most likely be heavily laden with some of my philosophies on life), a review (possibly the Eternal Darkness compilation), and a maybe collaborative "best demo" list. There would have to be some sort of qualifier though, best death metal demos, best US demos, etc to keep it to a reasonable number.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Appreciating Decay Through Metal

Zach is working on a really great review which he will hopefully be posting sometime this week. He is also cooking up quite the essay about extreme metal listening and the summer season. I gotta say that I am quite similar to him when it comes to summer. We both detest the summer for a number of reasons and it always seems that our extreme metal interest intensifies around this time of year. It's safe to say I generally feel more at odds with the average human during this so-called "nice" time of the year than I do in the cooler,wetter,winter months. Everyone seems to come out of their house and mingle around,soaking up the sun and rejoicing in the abundance of life,overgrowth of plants and ect. I don't want to steal or spoil Zach's more in depth essay here so I will not expound any further on WHY the summer aggravates me. There always seems to be such a great possibility of destruction and doom in the summertime. I have never had a premonition or anything..just this kind of shitty feeling that some dark cloud is ready to burst over my head. Perhaps I feel more connected to the outside world in the summer because I can't really escape hearing it(outside of my window),seeing it everywhere I turn and it becomes much more obvious how rapidly our Western society is decaying.

In recent months I have been learning to grin in the face of despair,that is to say I have been attempting to find humor and happiness in the midst of negativity. I am certainly no friend of our modern world but I am obviously a part of it,I am entangled within it's web and undoubtedly just another "worker ant" who is becoming dissatisfied. There are quite a lot of choices concerning what belief or activist stance I could take on the myriad of problems looming in the near future. I could fight,vote,stock food,pray,research,donate and recruit but I have come to the conclusion that it is all essentially pointless. The problems within our society and world are extremely deep rooted and building to a climax(as they have been for many years). We could very well be on the tipping point. While feeling afraid and sensing panic at first I have now come to realize it is far better to point and laugh at the modern world. Why should the result of so many mistakes built upon past mistakes be anything less than a total collapse? Nobody knows when this supposed collapse will come..nobody knows what will collapse first. People have speculated half their lives away and concocted all kinds of solutions both radical and subtle. If there were perhaps some kind of common enemy or common goal and I found it agreeable then I might fight. The truth is,the speculations,conspiracies and solutions amount to just as much chaos as the problems and issues do. So I laugh..I read the news on occasion and I mock and chuckle as I hold back the paranoia and panic which can benefit me in no way. I can appreciate this mess and embrace the ugliness as a result of my fellow man's foolishness. I can even look to the future with a glimmer of hope because once the empire has crumbled there might be a chance for intelligent humans to rebuild it. Then again logic tells me that nothing significant may collapse within my lifetime. It's very possible we could all just continue to run around continuously in our rusty hamster wheels for another 100 years. Either way things are heating up at the moment..unfortunately I am also referencing the weather.

The playlist that accompanies this attitude adjustment is made up of mostly death metal. The classics,some obscure demo tapes..a lot of "advanced" death metal if you will. The vibe of turmoil and urgency accelerating in the outside world is reflected well in the lightning fast riffage and complex drumming on a good chunk of these releases.
1.Order From Chaos-Stillbirth Machine*A fine example of a band living up to the standards of their name. If bombs were dropping and buildings were toppling onto screaming pedestrians in throes of bewilderment this would be the quintessential soundtrack to accompany the horror.
2.Immolation-Dawn of Possession*An album worthy to force upon all other humans by blasting it from my car while driving to work or to the grocery store. Also an album to really sit back and listen to with deep concentration. I am a fool for never giving this band a chance in the past.
3.Abhoth-Forever to be Vanished There In(1991 demo)*Prime obscure Swedish death metal. Three tunes on this tape..all pummeling and emanating a foreboding atmosphere.
4.Voivod-Dimension Hatröss*Voivod at their peak here with a harrowing view of the future delivered in 8 thrashing songs with heavily progressive leanings.
5.Embrionic Death-Stream of Solidarity(demo 1993)*Dripping with a quite a disgusting sound,these 3 tracks may be some of the best technical death metal committed to a demo tape(sadly no full length ever emerged from these guys). Some of the time signatures and riffs on this thing are so bizarre and the cover art is really far out. This recording captures the confusion I feel around me almost perfectly.

Descending now into the abyss of nothingness,this next playlist focuses on the bigger picture.
Consciousness,space,time and becoming comfortable with the nothingness which eventually all this disorder and turmoil must lead to at some point
1.Gorguts-The Erosion of Sanity & Obscura*Two phenomenal albums from these Canadian tech wizards. I can't get enough of these albums right now. They are a delight to really sink into and listen to,as the music on them is intense and satisfying. I can personify this music as some terrible,many tentacled beast which is near impossible for the human eye to make heads or tails of.
2.Demilich-Nespithe*If one can get over the croaking "frog" vocals they will most likely feel rewarded by the instrumentation and songwriting within this album. I can't say I like the vocals but I can appreciate them as another instrument slightly complimenting the guitars,bass and drums. Jazzy,twisted,weird and not of this world.
3.Timeghoul-Tumultuous Travelings demo & Panoramic Twilight demo*Existing completely outside of our solar system,these two demos are fucking amazing and should be heard by any death metal enthusiast. This band never got a deal,never got big,never went anywhere. Maybe it was the name? Perhaps people couldn't get into the sometimes chant like vocals? Or were the sci-fi lyrics a turn off to the one track mind of the gore obsessed metal fans at the time? Obscure and genuinely strange death metal which sadly gets the demo production treatment. The muddy sound quality might be a bit of a turn off to some but it doesn't hinder my enthusiasm or appreciation.

Alright,that is all for me today. Time to go make a sandwich and listen to Klaus Schulze.

*from the hall of wounded heroes


Tuesday, April 8, 2008


There might be a good list on here late next week sometime. To precede a good list I will post some various photos. I personally find pictures documenting the early days of death & black metal to be the most inspiring but I am posting some general metal pictures as well as this Medieval photo from Kick Ass Monthly.

A quote to live by.


courtesy of http://www.sadomator.com/beherit/


from www.myspace.com/helluk


Mark "The Shark" Shelton



Thursday, April 3, 2008

Stop These Lines


Paternoster - Paternoster, 1972


Franz Wippel - Organ, Vocals
Gerhard Walter - Guitar, Vocals
Heimo Wisser - Bass
Gerhart Walenta - Drums

Taking a break from metal, here's a review of Paternoster's self-titled opus.

One word comes to mind when I think of this record: Heavy.

I don't know much about this short-lived Austrian group who's only release was this 1972 album reissued by the German label Ohrwaschl in 1991. Vocalist/organist Franz Wippel was the group's sole composer, and what a monster he created -- seven tracks of organ-drenched prog with heavy psychedelic leanings. There are definite krautrock elements in that it's both acidic and cosmic with loads of atmosphere. It's unique in the sense that, after heavy, it's fucking depressive. I won't say all, but most prog/krautrock albums don't leave me feeling like I just tightened a belt around my neck...this one does.

The first track opens with a swirling organ and drawling Latin/English giving it a subdued hymnal feeling before being broken by some jazzy percussion and fuzz which fades into the first "real" track. "Realization" is pretty standard, but there's a nice breakdown about a minute in with crisp drumming and some spacey organ.

The few reviews of this album I've read (which all came after purchasing it and listening to it) seem to focus a lot on the vocals, and not in a positive way. "Stop These Lines" is the first place where I can maybe understand some of the beef. Wippel's voice sounds as if it's stretched to the maximum, almost to the point of breaking. But that happens to be one of my favorite aspects of the album. The odd, and sometimes uncomfortable, vocals only serve to heighten the already depressive atmosphere set by the crawling pace and church-like organ.

The gloom is near its heaviest on "Blind Children." The reverberating organ is accompanied by a steady rhythm section of slow, repetitive drums and Heimo Wisser's beautifully clear bass. This steadiness is important in anchoring the songs and providing the crushing backbone for the entire album. Maybe crushing is the wrong word...smothering is better. Crushing has too many "heavy = ultra low/loud" connotations. The guitars throughout are in the vein of many of their German neighbors like Ash Ra Tempel or Syd-era Floyd with more of an edge. The darkness of the composition is highlighted by Wippel's tormented vocals and suicidal lyrics as he sings: "Try to call yourself on the phone/ Surely you are not at home/ Sweep the swept floor once again/ Stab yourself to feel the pain."

Unfortunately, the album's weakest tune follows the haunting "Blind Children." "Old Danube" isn't a bad song, but it's far too typical for the album as a whole. Besides the vocals, there's nothing that grabs me and shouts "Listen to me, you crumb!" No creepy breakdown, no heavy freak outs, it justs leaves me wanting more "Blind Children."

Lucky for me, the next track doesn't follow the same mold and is my hands down favorite. "The Pope is Wrong" (besides having a great titles) contains everything that makes Paternoster one of my most listened to albums over the last three years: lots of organ and heavy/spacey guitar (which compliment one another perfectly), Wippel's vocals, and the feeling that I'm about to snuff out my own pathetic life.


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bow Before the Emperor

"Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk"
Full-length, Candlelight Records
July 8th, 1997

Line up:
Ihsahn : Main Lead Guitars, All Vocals, Synth
Samoth : Lead and Rhythm Guitars
Alver : Bass Guitars
Trym : Drums and Percussion

Emperor's "Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk" is one of the most outstanding records in the history of Norwegian black metal. A bit of a controversial statement but I can boldly proclaim this
opinion with conviction. It seems there are two general camps, those who view this album as Emperor's downfall into over-symphonic fluff and those who view each Emperor album as near masterpieces. I feel I am in a rare minority made up of individuals who see "Anthems" as an amazing counterpart to the debut, an album shedding it's black metal skin but still containing the dark energy and magic apparent on all of Emperor's earlier material. It seems as if many detest this album based on principle. This record was widely praised upon it's release, black metal was in the process of becoming fully commercial, Emperor's egos were expanding at an alarming rate, Ihsahn's sunglasses were finding their way into photo shoots. And just think about the promotional photos accompanying the release of "Anthems!" No one looking sinister, no corpsepaint, Samoth wearing his own band's merchandise(pathetic move). Point is, I can understand what this album symbolizes in a way but let's get serious..photo shoots, post-rave review ego inflation, sunglasses..none of these have anything to do with the compositions on this album so forget about all that shit. If none of this music connects with your soul then you are more than welcome to give this one a big thumbs down...but consider the music on the album. Albums outlive bands and their mistakes, titanic egos, sell out moves, conversions to Christianity and etc.

This was my first black metal album and the first metal album of any kind that really made an impact upon me. In 1997 I had but a few boring death metal cassettes. A bit of Obituary,Cannibal Corpse,Deicide's "Serpents of the Light"..basically whatever extreme looking metal cassettes they had stocked at Sam Goody. I picked up "Anthems" half as an act of rebellion and half out of curiosity. My knowledge of metal was poor and I had no real idea what I would hear upon playing this uncanny looking album. The back cover really made an impression upon me. The four members sit grim faced on wooden thrones,dark wood paneling behind them,their puzzling names in gold text beneath them.
As the cd began to play that night I laid down on my floor in the darkness and closed my eyes. "Alsvatr(The Oath)" is one killer introduction. No meandering around the keyboard,ambient droning or fake medieval battle sound effects to be open the album. Ihsahn speaks to us in croaked whisper,summoning the Nightspirit as the instruments slowly begin to enter the song..the electric guitar, the barely there bass guitar, keyboards and lastly drums. I am hesitant to spend so much time on this particular song but first songs are first impressions and even now when I listen to this album "Alsvatr" really amazes me. The main riff in this song is so fucking sinister it's a wonder it's not my favorite riff on the entire album. The plodding rhythm comes to a close as Ihsahn has completed his pact with the Nightspirit:

I am one with thee
I am the eternal power
I am the Emperor"

And it's with this proclamation that martial drums begin to beat furiously, blaring keyboard horns provide rousing fanfare and it is then that the listener gets violently sucked out of their surroundings and flung into the utter reaches of chaos.

Chaos is probably one of the best ways to describe "Anthems." Emperor is a skilled band,Samoth and Ihsahn are truly gifted songwriters and musicians and even in their earliest recordings were miles above and beyond many of their peers. However the production job on this album might leave the untrained ear in doubt at first. Recorded in the infamous Greig Hall and produced and mastered by Eirik Hundvin(along with Samoth and Ihsahn themselves) the possibilities of "what could have been" are a bit frustrating. Besides the bass guitar everything is audible. The problem lies in the fact that everything seems to be on equal levels. Sometimes it feels as if there is so much going on you need to pick out one particular instrument and listen intently to it or you will lose it amidst the cacophony. This presents a challenge but what a worthwhile challenge it is. Over a short period of time your ears might grow accustomed. The production isn't as bad as a Moonblood demo for example. You aren't going to still be in awe of the terrible production by the middle of the recording. Beautiful melodies abound alongside absolutely "evil" neoclassical bouts of thrashing madness. These opposing vibes are so well intertwined that you can't help but laugh and mock the thousands of bands that attempt to do this and miserably fail. There is no cut and paste separation. You won't find an aggressive intro riff abruptly succumbing to a twinkling electric piano and operatic vocals with putrid "gothic" undertones. All is one writhing mass,a swirling vortex of melodic distortion.

To delve into each song and pick it apart is something I will only do while driving at night on a long stretch of highway or while lying on my bed in the dark. Not only would that make for one hell of a long review,it would also be boring to read. There are far too many incredible riffs. I could name 4 parts or more to each song that really spark a sense of wonder in me and leave me feeling as if I will never truly be able to play guitar. The drumming on this album is superb as well..playful,progressive and really complimentary to the unruly music. Unlike many black metal albums the keyboards do not try and force any kind of atmosphere upon me. There is enough damn atmosphere to begin with and the keyboards only expand upon it. I do think they are a bit overbearing at times i.e. in "The Loss and Curse of Reverence" but this can be easily overlooked. The keys do play a pretty large role in "Anthems" and I would be an idiot to say that things would be just as good without them. It is nearly impossible to resist the energy and force of this album if listened to with a good set of headphones. Reason being that it just has to be played loud. Not only can you pick out details easier with headphones on but you can get lost in the experience much more quickly. Even if it seems you are running headfirst into a wall of sound I advise you to tough it out because the magic is there, the solid songwriting is there, the passionate execution is there. While departing from youthful aggression of the debut, the vision is not totally separated. I feel the vision is basically the same but a bit more confident, grown up, less entwined in the commitment to define or exclusively play "Norwegian Black Metal."

What is most important in reviewing this album is how it relates to me as a human being. The feeling that it evokes within me while I listen to it and the feeling it leaves me with afterwards. Listening to "Anthems" the first time left me bewildered. The flood gates had opened and there were so many albums I wanted to get my hands on. The listening experience is unique and truly special to me,as it's always been and always will be. I often feel a deep spiritual stirring within me and not only do I forget about my daily life and it's petty worries but all the calamities taking place within the world. It's an album set apart from many other albums which tend to make me focus on my general disenchantment with society as a whole. Standing outside of the world completely perhaps rather than struggling relentlessly against it, waist deep, obsessed with it's filth or redundantly commenting on it's filth. I hear so much beauty and pure freedom within "Anthems." It towers above the copycat hordes of "black metal" bands and records. It's more than a fist in the face of a god, more than a 43:58 minute hymn to nature or a long lost pagan past and more than a mere blasting black metal album lyrically obsessed with a Christian devil. It's my opinion that only the greatest most other worldly albums, regardless of genre, can produce such a strong feeling and transport you to a higher state of mind. Masterpiece is almost an understatement in my book because this album changed my life.

"No peace for me
No peace I seek
My quest goes far beyond..."
-Ensorcelled by Khaos


Saturday, March 22, 2008

Epic Doom Metal

Candlemass -
Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, 1986


Johan Lanquist - Vocals (of Jonah Quizz, who’s legendary 1984 demo deserves a review of it’s own)
Leif Edling - Bass
Mats “Mappe” Björkman - Rhythm Guitars
Klas Bergwall - Lead Guitars
Matz Ekström - Drums

Composed by Leif Edling

Another debut up for review: this time it’s the 1986 debut from Sweden’s Candlemass, Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. The aptly titled full-length almost single-handedly spearheaded the second major wave of Doom (the the first wave being the originators, namely Sabbath and Pentagram) in the 80s alongside Trouble, Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General, Pentagram (still). I’m talking Traditional Doom Metal here. No stoner, droning, funeral, et cetera.

Epic Doom, as Candlemass has been rightly called, is still traditional Doom containing all the elements and aesthetics: slow tempo, powerful riffing, and a sound that’s much more dense than most metal. Atmosphere is the key word when it comes to Doom. Impending dread and, well, DOOM. Without atmosphere, you’ve got nothing. Yes, there are many a traditional band lacking in atmosphere, but Candlemass is most definitely not one of them.

From the opening of EDM, you know what you’re in for. The clean guitar and keys the begin "Solitude" accompanied by Johan Lanquist’s phenomenal vocals build a wall around me each time I listen to it. Brick by brick I’m encased further as Lanquist begins the invocation:

“I'm sitting here alone in darkness
waiting to be free,
Lonely and forlorn I'm crying
I long for my time to come
death means just life
Please let me die in solitude”

As he draws out the last word, the guitar swells to mournful riff as the bricks get only heavier. The sheer power of the verse is suffocating. The riff is simple, deliberate, and utterly effective while the drums pound out a plodding rhythm. The bass isn’t extravagant and lends solid bottom support to the already thunderous rhythm. In keeping with the rest of the song, the solo is simple, but well-written, adding to the atmosphere and epic feel of the music.

Seeing how I just mentioned the lyrics to “Solitude” I should take the time to stress the importance of lyrics and vocals in Doom. Lyrics don’t have to be the same tired rehashes of Geezer Butler classics, but they'd better be pretty pessimistic in their outlook. War, greed, solitude, death, dread, religion (and more) all have a place in Doom, and lyrics are definitely one of the reasons Doom appeals to me so much. Other than the fact that the music rules.

My outlook on life is generally pessimistic, as anyone who reads my personal blog or has even a casual relationship with me is well aware. Human beings have, in thousands of years, destroyed billions of years of natural evolution. I find the large part of people I meet to be locked in a mental prison and most, if not all, people of power to be intellectually bankrupt. I tend to not spend my time dwelling on all of this, and revel in the fact that I am content with my life, for the most part, and haven’t yet been sucked into the bottomless pit of children, bills, money, things things things! I have the things and the people I like and need. But the ever-looming spectre of America’s corporate society and the “civilized” world’s “Man over Nature” attitude is always rearing it’s ugly face.

So as not to get off track...

Doom’s vocals tend to be clean and deep, at times more operatic and even theatrical. The gruffness of a lot of the crossover doom genres is noticeably absent, save for some well-placed rumblings. The lush, powerful vocals of Lanquist are one of EDM’s highlights, and I would take him over “Messiah” Marcollin without hesitation. And that’s not just the utter supremacy of the Jonah Quizz demo influencing my choice either.

Not all of the lyrics on the album are as spelled-out as in “Solitude” as many of the songs have fantasy-inspired lyrics -- in particular, “Crystal Ball.”

“I saw the rainbows end
I am raptured I cannot pretend
I have found Atlantis
The talisman of Seth”

But the foreboding element is still present:

“I have seen it all
dreamt away through
the crystal ball
Tell me more I want to know
please hear my call”

I read the lyrics not so much as a simple narrative of a character looking into a crystal ball or the reality/unreality of crystal balls themselves, but as a warning, so to speak, against mad lust for knowledge of the future/technology. Surely this is my personal philosophy reading into things, but that’s what I do.

Along the same line, lyrics that take a more narrative approach, though that don’t require so much interpretation on my part, can be found in “Under the Oak.” On any given day this track will have it out with “Solitude” for the illustrious title of “Zach’s favorite.” “Under the Oak” has excellent lyrics with clear Christian overtones, but the fact that it’s an oak strikes the truly pagan chord within me.

The song itself has much of the same elements as “Solitude” with the clean guitar and keyboard usage, but it isn’t as slow and crushing. The force “Under the Oak” hits you with isn’t so much like being buried in bricks, it’s more like being pummeled with baseball-sized stones. A much more painful and violent death, as I envision stones thrown by seething hordes of religious hypocrites.

There are surprising moments of speed on the album that I didn’t expect after hearing “Solitude”, but songs like “Black Stone Wielder” and especially “A Sorcerer’s Pledge” move at a much quicker tempo. The latter is positively rocking at points sounding more pure, unadultered heavy metal than Doom. Despite this, it still has all of the elements of Doom found throughout the album, so it doesn’t feel out of place, although I’m not sure how I like it as the closing track. I might prefer “Under the Oak”, but I’m not Candlemass and they arranged it the way they did for a reason, so that’s the way I listen to it.

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus is a prime example of another of Doom’s appeals -- it’s connection with the past. I’m constantly reading/contemplating about my past as a human being, a human of Germanic/Celtic descent, as an American citizen, and so on, and Doom is built around the past -- again, namely Black Sabbath. There are Doom lyrics about the past, but it’s more so the “worship” of the formula created by Black Sabbath and the experimentations within it that I am really drawn to.

The beauty of Doom is in the innovation and uniqueness each band brings to this formula. Candlemass’ “epic-ness”, the distant, muddy psychedelia of Dave Chandler’s guitars on the first Saint Vitus record, the extreme Christianity and crunchy dual guitars of Trouble, beautiful acoustics in Solstice, the list goes on. They are all uniquely individual, yet they are all Doom. Whereas the doom of Candlemass may be being buried by a thousand shattered pews of a crumbling stone cathedral, Saint Vitus is like running away from a knife-wielder but being held back by Chandler’s guitars, or inner/mental death from Solitude Aeturnus. I haven't even scratched the surface of the great Doom bands out there.

Whatever you may envision the impending doom as doesn’t matter, the point is that it’s there, and I feel it with this record. Lanquist’s vocals, the melodic guitar work, clean guitar, fantasy lyrics, the use of keys throughout, and the power the solos and choruses give provide the “epic” feel that goes along with the doom. The solos and choruses in particular, as they have a feeling of strength I don’t get from something like “Into the Void” or “When the Screams Come.” (Given that those are two of my favorite songs of all-time, this is by no means meant as an insult). All of these elements support the core of the record -- which is an excellently composed, monstrously heavy piece of Doom.


Saturday, March 1, 2008

I Just Want A Little Fire

Cirith Ungol - Frost and Fire, 1980

Michael Whelan painting originally for the cover of Stormbringer, book 6 in Michael Moorcock’s Elric saga.

Tim Baker - Vocals
Jerry Fogle - Guitars
Robert Garven - Drums, Vocals
Greg Lindstrom - Guitars, Synthesizer, E. Bow, Vocals
Michael "Flint" Vujea - Bass (joined after recording)

Bass written and played by Greg Lindstrom (A big thank you to Perry for clearing that up for me)

(try as I might, I couldn't find a picture of the F&F line-up and I don't have a scanner)

Frost and Fire is Cirith Ungol’s 1980 debut, but their second LP (1984’s King of the Dead) was the first I heard for a couple of reasons: 1) almost everything I read said it’s the best CU album, 2) I saw it described more than once as “more metal” than Frost and Fire. Well, maybe it isn’t as heavy as King of the Dead, but it’s certainly metal and it’s certainly heavy...both in 1980 and 2008.

A few weeks had passed by the time I got a hold of
Frost and Fire, so King of the Dead had already settled into a steady rotation when the killer intro to “Frost and Fire” pounded out of my speakers. A straightforward, yet superbly memorable riff is undercut by Greg Lindstrom’s punchy bass playing, which carries throughout the length of the album definitely adding to its 70s vibe.

After about ten seconds comes a heavy dose of Tim Baker. Baker’s vocals are a nuisance to some, and I was a bit hesitant after reading a couple of reviews, but as soon as I heard them on “Atom Smasher” (first track from
King of the Dead) I loved them. They’re scratchy, raw, distinct, and they compliment the darkness and mystery of Cirith Ungol perfectly. I probably shouldn’t have been hesitant at all because I’ve read numerous warnings/decries against Mark Shelton’s vocals and he’s been a favorite vocalist of mine for some time.

“Frost and Fire” displays a level of playing that’s so catchy, crisp, and together it gets stuck in my head multiple times a day. Normally I hate when things are stuck in my head, but I have no problem walking down the street inwardly shouting:

“I feel it burning and I feel the freeze
The frost, the fire, it burns inside of me, yeah.”

I’ve chosen these lyrics, not only because they’re the ones usually rattling around my brain, but because they also describe my relationship to the record, heavy metal, and all the music I love. Heavy metal, krautrock, Sibelius, whatever, it all flows through me as something much deeper than entertainment or escape. Music is not a passive/aggressive affair with me, it is completely aggressive. My search for new music is never-ending and when I come across a gem like
Frost and Fire, I not only feel vindicated, I feel an even stronger urge to find MORE.

It may seem ridiculous to talk or write so seriously about music, but I don’t mean it’s something I base life decisions around -- I am not who I am because of the music I listen to. I listen to that music because of who I am. I like to read, watch, and listen to things that make me think or that touch at something inside of me. Music wouldn’t have this affect on me if I formed my life around liking particular things for whatever liking that particular thing entailed. If that were the case, my love and appreciation for it would be as hollow as an empty trashcan.

Now that I’ve strayed a bit from my original intention, I’ll get back on track by saying it’s no surprise the musicianship is top-notch, as the band had been playing together for 8 years by the time F&F was released. How’s that for developing a sound.

Given that those 8 years were from 1972-1980, it’s also no surprise the album has a distinct 70s hard rock edge. Supported by
Lindstrom’s bass, the sound is further accentuated by the use of synthesizers throughout. I’m no enemy of synth, so something like that isn’t an immediate turn off to me, but I’ve come to the conclusion that synthesizers, especially in heavy metal, are either excellent (Cirith Ungol, Dawnwatcher, Hell, etc) or atrocious (pretty much anything under the “symphonic ______ metal” tag).

The keys are most prevalent in “What Does it Take” -- a song that also features my favorite bass playing on the album, and that sounds like a cross between Thin Lizzy and early Alice Cooper. Maybe being an intense Alice Cooper fan has me hearing that influence. Neither of these take away from the “metal”-ness of it, however (how could Thin Lizzy make something less metal?), but the guitars certainly do take a backseat here.

Not to worry, as the axes are back in full swing on side 2 with “Edge of a Knife”, which probably me least favorite. It’s a good sign when the weakest point is a ripper like “Edge of a Knife.” The rock and roll attitude is quite in clear in the song’s chunky chorus, lyrics, and Baker’s lower singing in some parts, which gives him more a snarl. While it’s a straightforward tune, I was never ambivalent toward it like I was to another rocker, “Better Off Dead.”

My first reaction to “Better Off Dead” was similar to my reaction when first dropping the needle of Status Quo’s
Piledriver....”Oh, shit.” Both start off in ways that immediately turn me off: groovy/boogie and utter blues rock, respectively. Luckily, “Better Off Dead” and Piledriver both progress into some choice cuts.

The track in question began to grow on me after a couple of minutes, just in time for the nice minute of metallic fury before breaking back down again into the intro/verse part. I think the grooviness of it caught on so quickly because the guitar work is great (both the licks, and the almost buried leads and bends poking through at different points), and of course the actual part I originally didn’t like is short and fits well into the song.

“Better Off Dead” isn’t the last song on the album, but it’s a fitting one to end the review with because it sort of sums up the album as a whole: it’s well written and performed, a little weird, memorable, and left me a little confused after the first listen. Not confused in a bad way, but in the best way -- I knew I liked it, but I couldn’t exactly figure out why.

Well, I know why now. It’s a superb piece of music, recording by superb musicians that appeals to so much more than my auditory senses. It’s dated in the best way, in a way that almost makes it timeless. There are things that sound dated to me in the sense that I think to myself “maybe I’d like this if it were 1984” and there are things that sound dated that make me think “this SOUNDS like the late 70s” and I can almost FEEL the late 70s when I’m listening to it.

There you have it, I love the music, I love the lyrics, I love the feel of it, and I love the cover art.


NOTE: I tend to shy away from writing “song by song” reviews because I don't particularly like reading them myself. Some reviews may have more breakdowns and analysis than others, but for the most part I’ll talk about a couple of songs and the feel of the album as a whole.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

In the Dungeon of the Dark Quarterer

The first time I heard Dark Quarterer's self titled album I was rather turned off. Right from the very beginning. With impatience I waited for it to sound like something else. The opening vocal line delivered these following lyrics in a wavering amateur voice:

"What is my life
Without any sense
What is my life
What is music
Without my presence?"

Over the next few weeks I became sidetracked with other albums,other discoveries but I knew I would soon have to confront and really give my undivided attention to this album. I hadn't listened to it in full yet as I was very preoccupied with other albums and singles.
Hailed by more than a few as an amazing epic heavy metal record I knew in the back of my mind it had to rule..somehow. Investigating Dark Quarterer leaves you a bit mystified. There are no overtly "metal" graphics on this album at all,a metal archives search for Dark Quarterer reveals a picture of the trio looking like a back up band for Esteban. They are Italian as well which is usually a red flag for me. I have struggled with Italian prog rock "masterpieces" in the past. Everything just sounds so theatrical and showtunes from the vocals to the bombastic or sometimes carnival-esque melodies. So I was going into this album with a type of pre-disappointed feeling. I believe that I listened to it in full for the first time on a rainy day in August...

"Red Hot Gloves" is the first,and probably most normal,song on the 1987 self titled album. The vocals tend to sound fine after a spin or two and I really like the higher almost ear piercing delivery of "RED HOOT GLUVES!" Yes Gianni Nepi has quite the accent..but I find accents pretty charming.
The second song "Colossus of Argil" starts out with a lengthy instrumental intro with a bit of a progressive flair. The drums then begin to play a slow rock beat and the listener is greeted by a particularly doomy riff. About half way through this song a victorious passage pops up kind of out of nowhere. It's the kind of gallant medieval sounding stuff that wouldn't sound out of place on a Brocas Helm album. Dark Quarterer seem to do this frequently throughout the album mixing bits of melancholic doomish riffage with epic or bombastic interludes. I almost hate using the word "epic" as it is used to describe such a wide array of things(many of them being awful)
Imagine perhaps you are on some kind of underground journey,passing by rows of skulls piled to the wall. With rapier in hand you descend further down into this dungeon,your fate interlocked with that of the unspeakable forces of evil that await you in the main corridor. THAT is the kind of "epic" feeling that entraps my mind when listening to this album. Not Braveheart,or umpteenth visions of generic looking Norse warriors ready to do battle with ogres. An esoteric and obscure vibe. Let's take the song "Entity" for example.

"All my pores are oozing
white cold blood
while my soul
vibrates for you
oh my leader,my possessor
my unknown entity"

I don't know about you but I find those to be rather creepy lyrics. Lyrics like that have been written a thousand times over but never in such a strange way. "Entity" is rather typical in it's songwriting/structure but that doesn't take away from the sinister force that I feel when listening to it. I seemed to skip over "Gates of Hell" and "Ambush," but that is no matter. "Ambush" is a kick ass instrumental tune and "Gates of Hell" is a pretty good dark and doom laden metal tune. I want to talk about the song "Dark Quarterer" now because it's probably the best on here. Featuring a delicate guitar melody with quivering vocal work, it sounds like some lost psychedelic track from the early 1970's. Of course this is a metal album and the song picks up with a really great drumbeat(featuring a cowbell)and a simple but awesome guitar passage.
The whole end of the song I can just imagine them putting their everything into this recording..which is always important to me. After a lot of in depth listening it's clear that these songs were written and executed with the utmost passion and dedication to the craft of heavy metal. Obviously this record had to grow on me a bit but any feelings of disappointment were usurped by the overall atmosphere,transmitted to me successfully after but a few full listens.

If you have the Eat Metal reissue like myself than you have the pleasure of experiencing the bonus track "Lady Scopolendra."
A lot of wonderful vocal melodies on this song seeing as the drummer is pitching in. This song has some really catchy parts much like "Red Hot Gloves" and "Colossus of Argil" and is top notch along with the rest of the LP. I didn't get too much into production here but if you are a real stickler for clean and professional sounding shit then you might find your listening experience a bit ruined. The production job is dirty and sometimes the louder vocal parts are distorted. I for one think the production is quite fitting in keeping with the fantasy world that I am teleported to upon playing the record. The final nail in the coffin is the album artwork. A close up profile? A head wearing a cross between a space helmet and some Roman legionnaire type of headgear? It looks like a wall mural or something and it's got this sepia/brownish green tone to it. So let's see who handled the artwork. The cover painting is attributed to Maribruna Toni. A google image search for that name doesn't reveal too much but we can guess it's maybe a friend of the band or some old and forgotten artist. The album cover is important because it intensifies the aura of this album and there nothing about it that gives away what Dark Quarterer are. It's not a typical heavy metal cover at all but dreary,ancient looking and leaving you with a slight feeling of uneasy dread. AWESOME record.

*Soft rock promo shot

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Matt has already written a more than adequate battle cry outlining our fundamental objectives in maintaining a blog, so I won't bore you (are there even any of you?) with a regurgitation of his post. I figure this short list will serve as a good introduction to both the blog and to me personally.

Without further ado:

Ten records I wish I could hear for the first time again.........in no particular order

I posted this a few months ago in my livejournal after giving it a lot of thought. After a couple of hours I had a list of 49 albums, so narrowing it down to ten wasn't easy.

The reviews we'll be posting will obviously have more substance that the few sentences in this list. I guess "review" isn't really the right word because our connection with the music we love is deeply personal and I don't feel like trying to go piece by piece through each album and rating it or anything like that. Ratings are stupid anyway. I will write about records that I love and why I love them. I'm not opposed to reviewing albums--there are a lot I wish I would've read before dropping $20+ on a mediocre record, but I don't feel like taking up webspace writing about records I don't like. There you have it.

Black Sabbath - Black Sabbath

I wish I could remember the first time I heard the rain at the beginning of "Black Sabbath." Sadly, I never will because there has never been a time in my life where Sabbath didn't exist. As one of my dad's two or three favorite bands, I grew up running around my house in a Batman costume screaming the lyrics to Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Alice Cooper songs. I can't begin to count the reasons why I love Black Sabbath, so I'll narrow it down to three: Tony Iommi (master of the riff), they are the undisputed originators of Heavy Metal, and after all my musical explorations I still find them brain-rattlingly heavy.

Black Sabbath isn't my favorite Sabbath record, that honor is bestowed on any given day to either Master of Reality or Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but I've chosen it for this list because it is their first. What better way to make your stamp on the world than with the opening track? The rain, thunder, and bells began the storm of heavy metal, still raging after 40 years. Sabbath doesn't pull any punches, and I'd give a lot to hear the crush of opening for the first time.

When Ozzy belts out the first line, "What is this that stands before me?" the pointing figure in black is heavy metal.

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti

Another band that has been with me for as long as I can remember. For my 5th birthday I got a tape player and my dad gave me taped copy of Physical Graffiti and I can only remember two things...1)"In My Time of Dyin'" was my favorite song and I sang the lyrics a lot, but I had no idea Robert Plant was saying "Oh my Jesus" so I kept saying "Oh my Teela" which was kind of fitting because I loved He-Man...2) I got into an argument with my kindergarten teacher when she told me she liked the Rolling Stones, but didn't like Led Zeppelin.

The debate about Led Zeppelin could go on forever, are they heavy metal or hard rock? Classic rock? What? It ain't metal, that's for sure, but it's certainly heavy. I figure I don't need to write much about Led Zeppelin, so I'll be moving on...

Misfits - "collection"

I bought this CD the summer before 8th grade (or sometime around then) and listened to it 4 times in a row when I got home. I don't remember why I bought a Misfits album in the first place...the cover art maybe? Either way, the Misfits soon became my "thing" because no one I knew (which wasn't many people) liked or had even heard them. Short songs full of energy and horror lyrics enforced my "outsider" status (somewhat self-imposed...I remember getting pulled out of gym class..shortly after Columbine...to talk with the guidance counselor. I'm certain it was because I wore boots, army pants/jackets, and shirts with skulls on them. Anyway...his first question was "So, Zach, do you like girls?" to which I responded "None of the ones at this school." The rest of the meeting progressed in similar fashion). While I find punk in general to be hollow, pre '83 Misfits will always contain the power and emotion I look for in music.

Bathory - Blood, Fire, Death

Ultimate power is all I felt during and after listening to this record for the first time. I still want to stand up and scream at the top of my lungs whenever I play it. A perfect blend of harsh, thrashing power and majestic heathen power that will never be attained again, ever.

Hawkwind - Warrior on the Edge of Time

It's safe to say that whenever I put this album on I'll immediately be transported to some strange world of cosmic phenomena and motorcycles. There isn't a song I don't like, and I think of all bands to ever exist Hawkwind may be the one I'd choose to be in if you held a gun to my head and forced me to pick.

Amon Düül II - Yeti

I'd give almost as much to hear the intro to "Soap Shop Rock" as I'd give to hear "Black Sabbath" for the first time. And even more for the rest of the album. Yeti has been such a huge record in my life I've written essays about it, some of which may find there way on here eventually. This record opened so many musical doors; the floodgates of krautrock, the ability to utterly lose myself in the near perfection of sound, and the fueling of an already burning fire for more music.

"Losing myself" isn't a good phrase because I'm more "found" when listening to Yeti or any great album because my mind is working on so many levels. Listening to Yeti is like looking at satellite photos of earth...I realize how cosmically small and insignificant I am in the infinite expanse of the universe. That's certainly a sobering thought, but not a depressing one as I take a sort of comfort in knowing I'm a speck in the galaxy, so to speak.

Kebnekajse - Resa Mot Okänt Mål

Here's that Swedish Psych Matt was talking about. It's been two years since I first heard Kebnekajse, but this record still blows my mind every time I listen to it. I remember sitting on the edge of my bed repeating to myself over and over again "holy shit" and "what the fuck?!?" for the entire 40 minutes...sometimes with less space in between (like during "Förberedelser Till Fest" which was pretty much one long "fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck"). Kenny Håkansson's guitar playing in unbelievable in it's dexterity and utter beauty.

Sorcery - Sinister Soldiers

Heavy and catchy as hell. Sure that sums it up, but to leave it at that would be a travesty. There isn't a song on the album I don't like, my favorite being the opener, "Arachnid (The Dark King)." It was released in 1979, though it sounds like it should've/could've been released five years earlier. I don't mean that in a negative way AT ALL, because just like 70s Pentagram, it will remain timeless to my ears until it makes me deaf.

Cirith Ungol - King of the Dead

So heavy and loaded with full-out anthems. As soon as "Atom Smasher" started I knew I'd found a new favorite. By the time I got to "Master of the Pit" I needed no convincing. This album has everything that makes Heavy Metal important to me: speed, heaviness, hooks, honesty, power, and emotion. While I'd say without hesitation that Frost and Fire is my favorite Cirith Ungol record, KotD makes the list because I heard it first and it's what caused me seek out F&F. The glory of metal is evident from beginning to end, but I'll focus only on the lyrics to "Atom Smasher" to save some space.

The lyrics:

Welcome to the brave new world
The Future's here, or haven't you heard?
The sons of man have fell from grace
Till the Smasher comes to save his race

Here it comes, there it goes
Just a flash in the sky
Atom smasher, here he comes
Better run for your lives

He is the hero of the atom age
Born in a test tube raised in a cage
A reaver King his throne defiled
Roaming the streets to the call of the wild

As upstarts strive to rule the world
Against them Chaos legions hurled
The Smashers force has swept the land
Again begins the Dawn of Man

I've tried for a long time to put my love for heavy metal into words, but it's difficult. If these lyrics mean anything to you, you probably have an idea of what heavy metal means to me. The Smasher, like Conan and Elric, is the epitome of the outcast/loner individual who takes hold of life to forge his own destiny. He may be unwillingly forced into situations or out into them through no fault of his own (like the Smasher born into and from an age of atomic despair), or have to battle forces over which he has no control, but succeeds because he has the strength and will to make it happen.

Manilla Road - Crystal Logic

While on the subject of heavy metal's glory...

Manilla Road, for the past two years, has been a staple of my daily listening. A day doesn't go by where I don't blast at least one song and revel in it's sheer greatness. More often than not, that song (if it's not a full album) ends up being "Necropolis," a killer riff, Mark "The Shark" Shelton's unique and thoroughly awesome vocals, and of course the great lyrics that accompany most Manilla Road songs.

Each and every time I play Crystal Logic from beginning to end I find myself wondering two things: how did anyone record such an amazing bit of music, and will I ever even come close matching the greatness of it. If anything, it will definitely foster the creative drive to attempt it.

Honorable mentions:
Pentagram - First Daze Here (a compilation, I know)
Pagan Altar - Volume 1
Alice Cooper - Love it to Death
Uriah Heep - Demons & Wizards
Budgie - Bandolier (try picking ONE Budgie album)
Thin Lizzy - Live & Dangerous (it's a live album, deal with it)
Death in June - Brown Book
Black Widow - Sacrifice
Bodkin - Bodkin
Pugh Rogefeldt - Pugish
The Band - Music from the Big Pink
Yes - Close to the Edge

Only some from the original list of 49.

Expect more substance in future posts, this is merely to give a hint of what I/we will be writing about.