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Metal lyrics and nazism: denunciation or praise?

The topic of this post is something about which I have thought many times in my life as a heavy metal fan. I think that now is a good time to address this topic, given that all kinds of authoritarian ideas are increasingly entering public discourse. The ostensibly “moderate” face of nationalism/patriotism that has persisted over the centuries, despite the catastrophes it has brought about, once again emerges as nazism. So, I think now is a good time to reflect on how our favourite music has talked about the repulsive legacy of the nazis. I will do that through a textual analysis of the lyrics of two songs that deal with the topic: Slayer‘s “Angel of death”, off their album Reign in blood (1986) and Dismember‘s “Thanatology”, off their album Hate campaign (2000).

The starting point of this discussion are three ideas coming from the British and French cultural studies traditions. The first idea is that a preferred meaning is encoded in a text. This means that the lyrics of a song are structured in such a way by the author in order to convey a specific, intended message. The second idea is that the audience of the text will not necessarily decode the message in the intended way. The audience might listen to the song and misunderstand what the author meant, or might understand what the author meant and agree, or might understand and disagree. The third idea is that the type of decoding that a member of the audience will do depends on this person’s own experiences, values, cognitive frames, as well as the cultural field within which the text is encoded and decoded. For example, a heavy metal song about Cthulhu is created and intended for consumption within a cultural environment where knowledge about Lovecraft is more or less taken for granted. Within this specific cultural environment of heavy metal fandom it is more likely to understand what the author intended to say, as opposed to another cultural environment where misunderstandings are more likely to occur.

The first point I want to make from the get-go is that nazis should be represented as nothing other than vile and disgusting. The nazis are the exemplification of absolute oppression, inhumanity, and evil. In that sense, I strongly believe that there is only one way nazis should be talked about in song lyrics, and that is condemning their actions and denouncing their ideology as a disease that needs to be cured once and for all. Nazis and their contemporary manifestations as white supremacists or “alt-right”, or whatever they want to call themselves, must be crushed. It is an ideology that has discrimination and oppression at its core, and it is our duty to imagine a society where each person strives for one’s own happiness as well as the happiness of others, rather than a society where everyone strives for one’s own happiness at the expense of others.

With this in mind I will now look at the song-lyrics of the two songs I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Both songs deal with the horrors of nazi Germany. Both songs appear to be “simply reporting the facts”. There are three questions that I want to pose: Is there a problem with simply describing the crimes committed by nazis? Do the lyrics unequivocally condemn nazis? Or does the way in which the lyrics are structured favour interpretations that celebrate the nazis?

Slayer’s Angel of death

“Angel of death” is a song about Josef Mengele, a vomit-inducing puddle of diarrhea nazi doctor that conducted vile experiments and murdered many people in nazi concentration camps. “Angel of death” is widely considered Slayer’s absolute masterpiece, and has also gained notoriety due to its subject matter. The band itself has defended itself many times over the years against accusations of being nazi-friendly. This defense ranges from explanations about how “describing what happened in real life” does not equal condoning it, to pointing out the contradiction that “how can Slayer be white supremacists if one member of the band has Chilean and another Cuban origins?”.

The majority of the song-lyrics are gruesome descriptions of the crimes committed by Mengele. Four words endow the text with a value-judgement towards those crimes. These words are “sadistic” and “infamous”, both used to describe Mengele, “sickening”, used to describe nazi methods of murder, and “harmless” used to describe the victims. The adjective “pathetic”, used alongside “harmless” to refer to victims, is more ambivalent. “Pathetic” could mean both “inferior” and “sad”. Whether it is meant to stand in a relation of complementarity with, or opposition to, “harmless” is therefore unclear. “Slayer fans who want to defend the band against accusations of nazi admiration would say that the band is “educating” people about the horrors of nazi Germany. Indeed, the four words I enumerated earlier favour a reading that condemns nazis. The same people could also argue that the subject matter is used for shock-value in line with a broader tradition of heavy metal gory thematology. On the other hand, due to the ostensibly neutral character of the lyrics and the ambivalent character of words such as “pathetic” it could also be argued that a far-right reading of the lyrics is possible by a far-right segment of the audience. Where Slayer fail, in that sense, is in providing an undisputed, straightforward message that nazis are vile. In other words, are “sickening” and “infamous” adequate for sending a clear message to neo-nazis that we don’t agree with them? Probably not.

Dismember’s Thanatology

The second song I will look at is “Thanatology” by Dismember. “Thanatology” is, in a sense, a tribute to Slayer’s “Angel of death”. The subject matter is similar, in that it deals with the horrors of the concentration camps. Another parallel is that it deploys some of the adjectives used in “Angel of death”, such as “sadistic” and “infamous”. In this case, however, there is much more evidence of far-right thinking than in the Slayer song. The most problematic thing is that the lyricist deploys the language of nazis to talk about the people who were so unfairly murdered by the nazi regime, by referring to “cripples”, “retards” and “unworthy”.  The only moments that could be read as a condemnation of nazis are the verse “brutal acts of infamy, never fading memories, sadistic hate campaign, in the pages of history”, the sentence “victims of nazi science suffer even to this day”, and finally, that he actually acknowledges the “holocaust”. So, do these lyrics unequivocally condemn the nazis? I would say that the lyrics are ambivalent. They could be read by people like myself, who is a fan of Dismember and who don’t want to think of their singer as right-wing scum, as an account of a horrible time in human history. But, I am afraid that it is equally possible to be read by neo-nazis as a celebration of the nazi regime, especially given the offensive and derogatory epithets used to describe the people murdered by nazis. For a band that has written some amazing lyrics about alienation, inequality, and the horrors of war (especially in Massive killing capacity), this is shameful and should not have happened! It is one of the few songs that I have struggled with, because when it came out I was already a huge Dismember fan and this song offended and disappointed me.

In the scary times we live there is no time for ambivalence. It is time to ask ourselves “which side we are on” and send a clear message to nazis, and that includes to speak against those songs that praise authoritarianism in our favourite music genres. Even if we acknowledge that interpretations vary, or that “we know better” than to be brainwashed by far-right rhetoric, we should be able to recognise the harmful potential of “neutral” or ambivalent lyrics, and shelter ourselves and others from it.

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On reviewing albums

Getting angry at album reviews has been a past-time activity since my early teenage years. It is almost a masochistic fascination. I remember looking forward to reading the album reviews section on the Greek Metal Hammer, even though I knew that I was going to be pissed off. Over the years it became obvious to me that musical tastes are to a large extent subjective. Still that realisation did not stop me from getting angry at those reviewers who had a different opinion to mine. I eventually realised that the reason I would get angry was twofold. Firstly, I was angry with the fact that reviewers with a different opinion to mine received exposure by virtue of being in a mainstream magazine, which endowed them with the power to shape tastes. Secondly, I was angry because of the language they used. They would talk as if they stated an indisputable, objective fact, rather than a subjective opinion.

The times of print magazines and their monopoly in shaping public opinion are over. But the practice of authoritatively expressing opinions as if they were facts persists. The Metal Archives, also known as Encyclopaedia Metallum, is an amazing initiative and one I resort to almost daily. I mainly use it to look up connections between bands and information on discographies. But another feature of this resource is its album reviews written by registered users of the website. I almost never read those reviews, given that I know that I will disagree with the reviewers anyway. But from time to time I will come across an album rating (the average of all the ratings given by reviewers) that I will find so surprising that will make me want to read the reviewers’ rationale.

Recently I came across some terrible disparaging reviews of albums that I adore. Some of those reviewers are so deluded that they somehow think that they have cultural authority to judge what is good and what is bad. One of them had the nerve of telling the audience not to buy an album that the reviewer disliked! Here are five albums that I love but were reviewed in extremely unfair and ridiculous ways. As opposed to what I usually do, which is only giving my opinion on albums that I have carefully evaluated and discovered positive things about, I will respond to those reviews using their own disparaging language.

1. Scanner – Mental reservation (62% on Metal Archives)

One of the most obnoxious cases is Scanner’s absolute masterpiece from 1995, Mental reservation. This is an album that is clearly different from their first two albums. The latter were your average 1980s power metal albums, with awkward singers, and straightforward song structures sticking for most of the time to the popular music canon. I still like those albums, but comparing them to masterpieces like Mental reservation or Ball of the damned (1997) would be a crime. The album in question is amongst the best albums ever recorded. Leo Szpigiel is one of the most exciting singers in the German power metal scene, a truly genius singer and composer. The song structures are rarely straightforward. Each song has mood changes, beautiful chord progressions as well as verse-bridge-chorus progressions, musical intervals, perfect and more riffs that entire albums by other bands. Axel’s riffing is on an all time high on this album (listen to the mouth-watering verse-riff on “Upright liar“, or the triplet goodness of “Rubberman“). Each song has an awesomely crafted and memorable chorus. The lyrics and the story are beautiful. I cannot believe how anyone could listen to this album and not fall in love with it. There’s no point picking out favorite songs because each single song is a remarkable masterpiece. 100%

2. Sinister – Savage or grace (55% on Metal Archives)

The problem with some ratings on Metal Archives is that even if certain reviewers have actually made an effort to do a decent review of an album, a number (I’m using the word “number” here as in “I am not a number, I’m a free man”) might come along and destroy the overall rating. This is the case with Sinister’s Savage or grace. The horrid 55% rating is due to one reviewer who gave the album a 5%. Now, this reviewer admits that this was the first Sinister album they had ever heard. If that is the case why rush to publish an utterly rubbish review? Why judge a band whose history or style you are completely unaware of? I think it would be much more interesting if people shared their opinions about albums they make an effort to understand. I would not review a recent Arch Enemy album because I stopped following them 20 years ago, and I know that they play a type of music I haven’t made an effort to understand. I would not review a Nightwish album either, because they play a type of music I haven’t bothered with, so it is likely that I will not appreciate what they have to offer. So, the reviewer of Savage or grace should not have bothered writing a bunch of crap about Aad, Rachel, and one of the most genius guitarists in the planet, Ron van de Polder, who composed this album. An album that indeed suffers from a poor production, but every single song is a small orgasmic masterpiece. More vile reviews have been written about two other masterpieces by Sinister, Aggressive measures (1998) and Creative killings (2001), but I’ll get to that another time. 94%

3. Gamma Ray – Sign no more (63% on Metal Archives)

Gamma Ray’s Sigh no more might be my all-time favourite album by them. It is their last album featuring genius (and greatly missed from other GR releases) bassist Uwe Wessel, who wrote or co-wrote some of the best songs in Gamma Ray’s career, including “Changes“, “Start running” and “The spirit“. It is also the only album featuring the talents of Uli Kusch, a truly awesome drummer and arranger (listen to some awesome chops on “As time goes by“). This is one of the last power metal albums where the genre was going forward with new fresh ideas. Scheepers is giving some of his best performances ever. The first reviewer on top at least explicitly mentions her/his standpoint; s/he learned about Gamma Ray through No world order, an album I cannot listen to even if someone paid me. It makes sense if someone likes that version of Gamma Ray to not necessarily like the old Gamma Ray. But don’t fucking characterise their old masterpieces as “weak and overblown” for fucks sake! Another heavy metal authority who also likes No world order (my condolences) gave the album a 15%. Another reviewer who gave the album a 34% has some extremely laughable opinions (presented as facts) about the album’s “constant rock beat”, “laughable lyrics” and, last but not least, the profound “there is little value whatsoever here”. To use the same kind of eloquent language, this album is fucken awesome! 93%

4. Slayer – Repentless (48% on Metal Archives)

Slayer is a band famous for many things, including having some of the most fanatic and committed non-admirers. I can understand why someone might feel the need to slag off a band that is almost universally admired and recognised for its contributions to popular music. A band held to such high regard might be a bit too much for someone who does not agree with this recognition, who thinks that the band in question does not deserve it. Of course, that does not make the person in question any less a whinny little brat. If you don’t like a band just do what the rest of us do and don’t listen to it. The second reviewer gave the album a 30% had the nerve of admitting that s/he “listened to this thing twice full though”. An album that has taken a band ages to put together can surely be appreciated after two “full through” listens. What a number. Anyway, I am not going to repeat how much and why I liked this album, you can read my review here. Slayer are gods, they have over the years mastered the art of song-writing, and they became famous for their ability to compose songs like they do. In this album, Jeff or no Jeff, they did the same. 92%

5. Rage – Seasons of the black (69% on Metal Archives)

Rage’s new album is a great example of what is wrong with some of these reviews. The album just came out, yet a bunch of people, without taking some time to listen to the album a few times, re-evaluate their initial response, allow themselves to discover new things, rushed into making a negative judgement in a public platform. What gets to me is how some people, with regard to Rage, seem to completely ignore the band’s rich history and take as a given that Smolski was the best thing that happened to Rage. To these people I have to say that there was a worldwide following in the late 1980s and 1990s that loved Rage and who don’t give a shit about Smolski and his self-involved guitar playing and deaf-tone “melodies”. With regard to Rage’s new album, which I’ve been listening to non-stop for a month now, I have to say that it is almost perfect. Beautiful choruses, awesome riffs, awesome drumming, mindbogglingly beautiful melodies and song-structures. It’s an album full of catchy, inventive songs, and this is what old-school Rage fans like. 90%



Rage and Death
September 2, 2017, 2:07 pm
Filed under: Heavy metal, people | Tags: , ,

I recently found myself in a group of friends having a conversation on “death”, and how such an important fact of life is laden with taboos in everyday social situations. One of my friends mentioned an acquaintance of hers who is doing research on the limited social discourses around death, how people find themselves in uncomfortable situations when faced with the topic. That made me think of Peavy from Rage, and the lyrics of a song off their Trapped! (1992) album. The song I am referring to is “Questions” and the lyrics are the following:

“And did they teach you death? Yes they did but just a part of it. What does it mean “a part of it”? It means they  taught us how to kill, they taught it and they practiced it, they never told us how to die, death’s place in life and how to face it […]”

In my opinion these are some amazing lyrics, some of the best that Peavy ever wrote. Indeed, the most prevalent popular discourses within which we make sense of death are predominantly religious and few and far between. The response “R.I.P” is an example of one of the most common ways in which we treat death; as if death is potentially a permanent state of peace, safe from the turmoil and suffering of life. I am aware that different cultures from around the world have their own understandings of death, but in my experience responses to death remain very limited in range, especially considering the ubiquity of death, and normalised. Peavy again addressed the normalisation of death in “Forever” off Black in mind (1995) (“from the beginning you learned that we all have to die, you got so used to the fact that you don’t wonder why”).

This post is not meant to be an academic enquiry into death, but, with the occasion of the release of Rage’s new beautiful album, an exploration of the ways in which Peavy has written about death over the years. Die-hard Rage fans know that Peavy’s obsession with death is manifested not only in his lyrics, but also in his hobbies and professional life too. He has a huge collection of skulls, and more recently I learned that he is a professional cast-maker and makes replicas of bones and fossils. Death is definitely a topic that consumes much of Peavy’s life.

When you’re dead” – a song off Execution guaranteed (1987) where the musical influence of Venom as well as Peace sells…-era Megadeth are more than obvious – is one of his very first songs that dealt with death. I would not be surprised if this was actually an autobiographical song, where Peavy talks about his hobby of collecting skulls.

“He’s got a pleasure in his life that’s a real chill,
I think it’s funny but the people say he’s ill,
he likes to keep what’s transient, save it from decay,
that’s what you’ve got to know if you should pass his way.
He’s not a killer, but death is his dearest friend,
it is for everyone beginning and the end.
And on the graveyard, where there’s rich and poor the same, he’s digging in the ground to set them free again”

Peavy seems to be explaining to the world his fascination with death, and at the same time discursively producing death as the great equiliser, something that we all share regardless of our socio-economic status. At the same time, this song could be an opportunity to clear the air, so to speak – to explain himself to people who might find his hobby weird.

Going through Rage’s discography, I have identified a series of songs were Peavy seems to be struggling with a notion of death whereby death marks an absolute, permanent end, and it is primarily a material state of affairs. On “Time waits for no one“, off Secrets in a weird world (1989), Peavy alludes to the insignificance of each human life in the bigger scheme of things with the beautiful lyric line “Time waits for no one, you can join it for a little while”. “Wake me when I’m dead“, off The missing link (1993), is a masterpiece that goes down the same path. It is a song about suspended animation. Here again Peavy talks about the “realities of death” in terms of never experiencing worldly pleasures (“the warmth of summer”, “springtime’s grace”, the face of his partner) ever again. Peavy wrote another song about suspended animation, in the album End of all days (1996) the song “Frozen fire“.

Marcos, Peavy, and Lucky holding one of Peavy’s creations.

Another significant part of Peavy’s body of lyrical works, on the other hand, deals with death in a less materialistic way, clinging onto the idea that death is not the ultimate end. This does not mean that the songs in question are explicitly optimistic. In one of his most melancholic songs, the song “Dust” off Reflections of a shadow (1990), Peavy constructs one of his more pessimistic narratives of death. He describes the afterlife as a lonely place, and death as a state of consciousness wherein he can reflect upon the choices he made when he was alive. Peavy talked about death in terms of an afterlife again in the song “Until I die” off Black in mind (1995), and the song “Talking to the dead” off End of all days (1996).

In the song “Time and place” off Perfect man (1988), one of my all-time favourite songs and perhaps Peavy’s most optimistic narrative on death, Peavy talks about death as both a beginning and an end. While this can be read as a belief in re-incarnation (“and when I’m gone, what will become of me, an animal or man?”) it also has a more scientific basis; the idea that everything in the universe has the same origin, and that after death our energy does not disappear but just transforms into other forms of energy.

Finally, Peavy’s struggle with death has a very humane face. He is sad about the people he will leave behind (see “Wake me when I’m dead”, and “When death is on its way” off Soundchaser (2003)), the friends he never made (see “Dust”), and the people he did not help (see for example “The dark side of the sun” off The devil strikes again (2016)). I hope Peavy will live for many, many years and continue to supply us with beautiful songs.

Peavy staring death in the face (fan-art by Akadio)



Propagandhi, intertextuality, and YouTube.

Propagandhi is one of my all-time favourite hardcore-punk bands, a band that constantly develops its style instead of resting on its laurels. They have proved themselves time and time again over their 25 years-long career. One of the things I really like about Propagandhi is that lyrically their songs are quite obscure. In some cases I find their lyrics relatively straightforward, but mostly I experience them as labyrinths of signifiers very difficult to navigate.

A classification I like, although I do find problematic at the same time, is the distinction between “readerly” and “writerly” texts. Barthes (1990) defines readerly texts as those that are there for passive consumption, whilst writerly texts are those meant for active consumption. The reason I am critical of the concept is because I am aware that lyrics I unproblematically decode are not “objectively” more straightforward, reactive, but rather deal with issues with which I happen to be familiar.

Nevertheless, I still think that the distinction between readerly and writerly texts is valuable. To the extent that there are forms and traditions that can be considered mainstream or hegemonic, and others that are counter-hegemonic, those two concepts have heuristic value. It could be argued that most of Propagandhi’s songs are writerly texts; their meanings are not immediately and unproblematically decipherable because they often deal with counter-hegemonic or non-mainstream topics. For this reason, they require dedication and cultural labour on behalf of the listener.

Indeed, I was recently reading the lyrics of “Rock for sustainable Capitalism” off their masterpiece titled Potemkin city limits (2005). It is clearly a song about the appropriation of underground protest music by the Capitalist music industry. The beginning of the song, however, eluded me completely; I had no idea what it was referring to. The same goes for another awesome song whose lyrics I happened to be reading one day, the song “Potemkin city limits” off Supporting caste (2009). The lyrics tell a story of oppression, escape, capture, and death, but the specifics of the story always eluded me.

Recently I found myself listening to “Rock for sustainable Capitalism” on YouTube. At some point I hovered over the comments section, and I came across a discussion that focused on the beginning of the song. Through this discussion I discovered that the song actually refers to Lars Frederiksen and the Bastards‘ song “To have and have not“. This discovery allowed me to appreciate the Propagandhi song even more, although I’ve been listening to it for 12 years. For the first time I appreciated the comedic element of Chris’s lyrics, and even now I find it hard to listen to the song without cracking up. I then looked for “Potemkin city limits” on YouTube. In this case, too, the mystery of the lyrics was quickly solved by reading the comments. The sad story of oppression and murder was about a pig that briefly escaped death in the abattoir and roamed free for months in the countryside, before it was eventually captured.

The YouTube user Tommy Lindberget informed the audience about Francis the pig.

“Rock for sustainable Capitalism” and “Potemkin city limits” are intertextual; they refer to other texts, and knowing those other texts reveals hidden meanings. One of the texts the former references is the Lars Frederiksen video clip. One of the texts “Potemkin city limits” references is a real-life text/urban legend of animal liberation, torture and murder. YouTube and music fans, in this case, work in unison forming an intertextual enabler (Fiske, 1991); YouTube gives the platform to music fans to produce commentary that reveals those hidden meanings that, in my case, were lying dormant in the song lyrics, waiting to be discovered.

References

Barthes, R. (1990) S/Z. London: Blackwell.

Fiske, J. (1991) ‘Moments of television: neither the text nor the audience’, in: Seiter, E. et al. (eds) Remote control: television, audiences and cultural power, London: Routledge, pp.56-78.



Neocaesar – 11:11

Although this is not a music reviews blog, every once in a while a new album comes out that gives me so much pleasure that I feel the duty to mobilise the limited resources in my possession to promote it. Neocaesar‘s debut album, titled 11:11, is one of those albums. 11:11 marks the return of one of death metal’s finest duets, Bart van Wallenberg and Mike van Mastrigt. This constellation’s finest achievement has been Sinister‘s Hate (1995), a masterpiece of unique death metal. Although Bart and Mike are also partially responsible for another masterpiece, Sinister’s Diabolical summoning (1993), it is Hate that showcases Bart’s song-writing style in all its splendour (Diabolic summoning is primarily Andre Tolhuisen’s brainchild – read more here). Completing the line-up of Neocaesar are Erik de Windt, who sang on Sinister’s monumental  Aggressive measures (1998), and Michel Alderliefsten, who played bass on Sinister’s Bastard saints (1996).

I cannot overstate how happy this release has made me. Neocaesar’s debut is an album that takes the listener back to Sinister’s golden era. Listening to this album feels like listening to a classic death metal album from the past. It contains eight astounding songs plus two dark instrumental pieces. It is hard to decipher what makes 11:11 such a fantastic album. Mike’s vocal delivery is one of a kind, and the vocal patterns he’s come up with are extremely catchy. Bart is sensitive to composing songs with a narrative rather than riffs awkwardly glued together. He also knows how to change the mood of a riff by adding layers to it. In most cases this in not even a complicated approach, but it is so skillfully done that it’s astonishing. One good example of this can be found in the middle of “Invocation of the watcher” where the main partially palm-muted frantic razor-sharp riff – whose role in the rest of the song is to induce intensity – is complemented by an accented tremolo-picked three note progression to create a more eerie atmosphere. “Victims of deception”, a song about child abuse by the christian clergy (thematically I sense an affinity to “Bastard saints“), has to be the most infectious song of the year; one awesome riff after the other, great performance by Mike, and great drums written by Erik. “Sworn to hate” is a dark, atmospheric track, reminiscent of the respective turn of Sinister after Bart took over musically (between 1995 and 2001). The beginning of this song is another great example of Bart’s beautiful orchestrations. Each song is so well-made that trying to identify highlights is meaningless; this album is unique and perfect from beginning to end. Note the awesome Slayer-ish “Criminally insane” section  halfway through on “Valhalla rising”. Old Sinister fans will notice the lyrical reference to “Art of the damned” on “From hell”. Mike’s raging delivery during the last 30 seconds of “Angelic carnage” (as well as earlier on in the song) brought forth memories of his delivery on the ending of “Embodiment of chaos“. “Blood of the Nephilim” closes the album in a majestic manner, its opening slightly reminiscent of the opening of “Sense of demise”.

If you grew up listening to early 1990s brutal death metal, Neocaesar will blow your mind. If you find contemporary death metal soulless, over-polished, and generic, then Neocaesar will restore your faith in death metal’s ability to surprise and send chills down your spine. If you can afford to buy only one album in 2017 then this album should be Neocaesar’s 11:11.

p.s. Support the band by buying their merchandise and music here.



An auto-biography of gig attendance #2: Cannibal Corpse, 1998

Each time someone poses the question “which one is your all time favourite gig?” my response is usually, “Cannibal Corpse”. I saw Cannibal Corpse in Woodstock Club, Peristeri (Greece) on the 25th of October 1998. The venue was small and claustrophobic, and would serve as the site for many other awesome gigs in the years to come. I was with two of my best friends (and one not that close friend), all of us big Cannibal Corpse fans. Cannibal Corpse shared the bill with Dark Funeral and Infernal Majesty. Although Gallery of suicide had just been released, we had already learned most of the lyrics by heart. My friends also liked Dark Funeral (one of them was obsessed with Vobiscum Satanas) but I didn’t. Infernal Majesty had just released Unholier than thou, a great album, and even though I wasn’t a big fan (I hadn’t even listened to None shall defy) I was somewhat excited to see them.

We arrived at the venue all pumped-up and with our tickets carefully bent near the bottom so that they could be smoothly ripped at the door, rather than being totally destroyed. It turned out that the people at the door did not tear up the tickets, hence the white line on the ticket on top of the date (see ticket above). I have absolutely no recollection of Dark Funeral playing. I remember seeing Masse Broberg in full leather and spikes, towering over me on his way to the stage. I also remember Chris Bailey, Infernal Majesty’s singer, in the crowd before they played, and I approached him, welcomed him and asked whether they would play “Roman song” off their latest album. I cannot remember his reply but I think they did play it after all. Again, although I remember enjoying Infernal Majesty, I don’t have any recollections as I was burning with anticipation for the headliner.

The year 1998 was a time when exposure to death metal videos in Greece was rare, so, speaking for myself, I didn’t know what to expect from a Cannibal Corpse gig. When the band started playing I could not believe my eyes. I was at the front of the stage, at arm’s length from Jack Owen, and I saw all the mind-blowing fret-work in all its splendour. I had never seen something similar in my life, and, suffice it to say, it changed my appreciation of death metal in terms of musicianship. Webster’s face was hidden behind his hair during the entire gig, and his stage presence was imposing. The band visited all the stops in its, already by that point, long and impressive career. At least one song was played by each one of their six albums. The awesome set-list included (not in order played): Skull full of maggots, Covered with sores, Meathook sodomy, I cum blood, Hammer smashed face, Starring through the eyes of the dead, Fucked with a knife, Striped, raped and strangled, Devoured by vermin, Perverse suffering, Puncture wound massacre, I will kill you, Disposal of the body, Gallery of suicide, Dismembered and molested, Headless (and I’m pretty sure they also played “Sentenced to burn”, although I haven’t written on the back of my ticket). The sound was perfect and the performance was immaculate. Every single moment was an amazing experience.

After the end of the concert we went outside to get some fresh air and catch our breaths. Soon after Corpsegrinder came out, and my friends and I surrounded him. He was in a good mood, and really nice to us. I mentioned his pierced tongue – which I had noticed during his performance – and he did some grimaces for us exhibiting his piercing. He signed our tickets. We then asked one of our friends who had a disposable camera to take a group picture of us with Corpsegrinder. We struck a pose and when he tried to take the picture he realised that he had used up all the film during the concert. So, we started swearing at him in Greek, and, of course, Corpsegrinder picked up the word “malaka” (wanker), and started repeating it in his funny, distinctive voice – a performance which brought about laughter from everyone in the vicinity. Owen also came out of the venue but he was quite withdrawn and walked around on his own. We approached him and asked for an autograph, which he gave, but he seemed almost sad. He quietly signed our tickets and walked away humming some kind of bluesy tune. After a while we got into a taxi-cab and headed home. The taxi-driver asked us if we were in a rock concert, and we said that we were. He was a middle-aged man, and had a macho-attitude typical for Greek taxi-drivers. After a brief period of silence, he addressed all of us with the question, “So…do you guys fuck a lot?”. We instantly burst out laughing, but I have no recollection of how we addressed his question. He then went off on a tangent telling us about his various “hot, young” girlfriends. He dropped us off, and we ended the night making fun of him in raspy voices, the result of our tormented vocal cords.



An auto-biography of gig attendance #1: Rock Of Gods, 1996

Some of my ticket-stubs.

Many years ago I wrote a post about how music gigs are the best form of entertainment. Having reconsidered, I decided that music gigs used to be an amazing form of entertainment when I was young, when I hadn’t seen many bands live, and when I had like-minded friends to go to gigs with. Attending concerts has lost its appeal for me in more recent years. A few weeks ago my mother sent me some old ticket-stubs and rekindled all those memories of gig attendance of my youth. A few days later I learned that Immolation are coming to Brighton, UK, as part of Mammothfest. Immolation is one of my all-time favourite death metal bands, and in terms of consistency, endurance, and creativity, the best death metal band of all times, in my opinion. In anticipation of this gig and in remembrance of the music gigs of my youth I decided to start a new series of posts where I will share with readers some of my favourite moments of gig-attendance throughout the years. I will start with the first heavy metal gig I ever attended: the Rock of Gods festival in Piraeus, Greece, on July 12 1996.

The news of the Rock of Gods festival hit during a summer English course that some of my friends and I were taking. The line-up included Slayer (a band that I worshiped and still do), Blind Guardian (another favourite among certain members of our group back then, myself included), Motorhead (not a favourite at the time, but, still, exciting), Rage (hadn’t listened to them at the time), Nightfall (Greek black metal band), and Fatal Morgana (Greek progressive metal band). At the time I was 15 years old. Although I wasn’t particularly young, my parents were negatively disposed to heavy metal music and the wider subculture. Yet, the congruence of several factors around Rock of Gods allowed me to convince my parents to permit me to go: it was a summer festival (so we didn’t have school-related responsibilities), it was taking place close to our home-town (Piraeus), and several of my friends would accompany me (among whom a friend my mother considered the “ideal student”). So, I bought a ticket.

Most of my memories are of peripheral things around the concert rather than the bands themselves. My friends and I (a group of five) met with some older kids from school in a public square, and together we took the bus to Piraeus. The fan credentials of those older kids were much better than ours; they had long hair, they wore cool old t-shirts, they knew all the bands, and they were doing drugs. Savvas, one of the older kids, grabbed me by my Iron Maiden t-shirt (Fear of the dark) and, half-jokingly, told me “when Rage come out on stage, I will kill you!”. I laughed, but I was also a bit worried. In any case I made a mental note not to be near him when Rage would come out.

The bus dropped us off and then we had to walk for a bit in order to get to dock 3 where the festival was taking place. Our group was walking alongside hordes of heavy metal fans with smiles in their faces. On the way to dock 3, I remember seeing the following slogan written in spray on walls: “Αγαπάς το Rock; 7χίλιαρο!” (“Do you love rock? Pay 7.000 drachmas!”). Although I remember getting the anti-commercial message of the slogan, I was also confused. I was not sure whether the slogan was directed to fans (that were seen as passive dupes of capitalism), music promoters (that were seen as exploiting the fans), bands (criticised for not playing for free), or the broader system including all those actors together (the culture industry). That was a festival that cost money to organise, with an international bill consisting of several awesome and successful bands, so I couldn’t see how the price would be an issue. Upon reflection, I guess it was meant as commentary on the culture industry; a system whereby heavy metal music is mass produced and marketed as a commodity. The slogan was trying to point out that “if you love rock music you are forced into market exchange relations”. The contradiction in this message is that rock music itself, as we know and love, is the product of the capitalist economy; an economy that is producing albums, and has allowed relatively affluent kids from around the world to own instruments and make bands like Slayer and Blind Guardian, that are eventually recruited by the music industry. I still think that rock music as a commodity should be critiqued, but that slogan did not offer any meaningful critique.

Inside the festival area the atmosphere was beautiful. I had never seen so many heavy metal fans at the same place. I remember feeling quite awkward and slightly scared, so I made sure I stayed close to my friends. Before any of the bands started playing, I spotted Thomen, Blind Guardian’s original drummer, in the crowd. The feeling of seeing one of my music heroes up-close was unique, so without much thought I went to get an autograph. Thomen was very friendly and happy to sign our ticket-stubs. I thought about my friend, Nick, who couldn’t attend the concert because he was away on holiday, so I found a piece of paper and asked Thomen to sign it for him. I gave it to Nick when he came back from holidays and the bastard couldn’t care less. Around that time, we heard the disappointing news that Motorhead were replaced by Saxon…

My memories of the actual bands are extremely blurry. I think I was over-stimulated, by the crowd, the bands, and the newness of the experience of a heavy metal festival, so being attentive of the actual music-listening experience was hard. One of the things I remember clearly is the asphyxiating atmosphere at the front of the stage. Especially when Slayer came out, kicking off with “South of heaven”, the heat combined with the the crowd crushing on me, made me feel faint. I was next to my friend Mark, and when the first notes of “South of heaven” came out of the amps we looked at each other with surprise and started screaming like the little fanboys that we were. Mark then asked me “which song is this!?”, to which I replied “Dead skin mask!”, a mistake that I eventually corrected a few seconds later. I have no other recollection of Slayer that night, apart from the fact that they played quite a few of the punk covers off Undisputed Attitude (1996), and, if I remember correctly, Jeff’s guitar with all the punk stickers. Similarly, I have almost no recollection of Blind Guardian, apart from “The bard’s song”. This is really peculiar, especially since I was dying to see them, and Imaginations from the other side (1995) was (and still is) one of my favourite albums of all time. Although I was not listening to Rage at the time (I fell in love with them after the concert) I vividly remember Peavy at the front of the stage singing “Alive but dead”. Under different technosocial circumstances, a recording of this concert would be widely available, and I would love to be able to experience it again. The only thing I could find online was the YouTube video below, of an audio track from Blind Guardian’s performance on that evening, 21 years ago.