overground scene


An auto-ethnography of vinyl consumption

In the early 21st century vinyl has been making a comeback (Savage, 2017). After more than a decade, between the late 1980s and early 2000s, during which the music industry put its faith on CDs, and in the midst of the digital revolution, the few remaining record stores left are full of vinyl records once again. Overpriced vinyl issues of new releases, reissues of old albums, vinyl pressings of albums never released on vinyl before, vinyl pressings of bands’ obscure demo tapes, limited editions, limited editions that are more limited than the previous limited edition of the same album (but less limited than the one yet to come), and so on. Enough cultural commodities for vinyl junkies and trend-followers that would make king Solomon blush.

get-yours-todayBehind the resurgence of the vinyl market are many factors, including the music industry’s imperative to survive, opportunism, but also pure fan passion. The music industry sees in vinyl an opportunity to impose artificial scarcity (Hesmondhalgh, 2007); it is a medium for music dissemination that does not lend itself to expropriation by fans. The reason behind this is not some kind of “objective” quality linked to the medium; it is rather that “vinyl” has been situated in a discourse appropriated and actively reproduced by the music industry that fetishises (not in the Marxist sense) the physical object (i.e. manufactured paper and plastic) rather than the immaterial content (i.e. songs). In other words, the fan buys a vinyl record because they believe that there is inherent and exclusive value in the physical artefact itself. The value might be exactly that not everyone can own one, as opposed to mp3s, so it gives the fan a sense of distinctiveness. The value might be that the vinyl collector is a category that has been invested (partially by the music industry itself) with the meaning of the expert, or the “true fan”, or that listening to vinyl is seen as the “proper way” to consume music. This is a slightly different discourse to the one produced by the music industry in the 1990s whereby CDs derived their value from being on the cutting edge of technology, as well as the effectiveness (better sound) and efficiency (more space) associated with digitisation.

Of course, the activity of vinyl consumption cannot be reduced to the record industry’s imperative for profit and audience exploitation. Consuming vinyl means different things to each different person. Nobody can deny that music fans are at the mercy of the music industry. Almost every single aspect of our music consumption – from the existence of bands, the mass production of music so we can access it around the world, production values, to the existence of genres – is contingent on the existence of the music industry. Nevertheless, as Michel De Certeau (1984) or John Fiske (1989) would say, as consumers we make do and we make with those primary materials provided to us by the music industry. This post is about what I make with those cultural commodities.

I have talked in more detail about my history with vinyl consumption in a previous post. Here I will focus more on my rituals of vinyl consumption, using as an example the most recent album I bought, Deranged‘s Struck by a murderous siege (2016).

I listened to Deranged’s new album a couple of months before I bought a physical copy of it. I first listened to a song that the record company (Agonia Records) released in the form of a YouTube lyric video to promote the album. After the album was officially released I downloaded it for free and listened to it on my computer and mp3 player. I then decided that I liked it enough to buy a physical copy of it. The purchase took place online. This is a process that involves very different thoughts and feelings to the pre-online shopping record purchasing experience. Entering a shop and searching the record stalls involves an element of excitement that cannot be replicated online. Buying a physical copy from a physical record store means that I own it from the moment I have paid for it. There is a sense of finality that in the case of online shopping is postponed until the moment the record is delivered, which can be several weeks after the purchase. Hence, buying online is always stressful for me.

der1

When the album arrived, the first thing I did was to examine the jacket and vinyl to make sure they are not damaged. I was happy to find it in perfect condition. I spent some time investigating the cover art. Struck by a murderous siege has an awesome albeit cheesy cover. It is awesome because it is pretty detailed, so there is a lot to be discovered. I try to work out if the cover tells a story. The album title works as a caption, the linguistic message that offers guidance on how the image should be read (Barthes, 1984). In this case, the iconic message stands in a relation of complementarity to the linguistic message. The title of the album works as a relay. There is a murderer loose wreaking havoc in a big city. His threatening figure looming over the city connotes that the city is under siege. The police are after him, and they also look for his victims, which we can seen dumped in the sea by the city. I pay attention to all the details; the rotting corpses in the sea, the crow preying on one of the victims, I am looking for signs on the city buildings that could give me information of the identity of the city. I spend quite some time gazing at Deranged’s logo, and I think that it is one of the best logos ever designed.

der3

I then remove the lyric sheet from the album. I am happy to see that all the lyrics are printed therein, there is information on writing credits, and photos of the band members. Sadly, there is no Thanx List. I look at the band members photos and then I go to the writing credits of each song to see who wrote what. I discover that all the music is composed by Thomas Ahlgren, who has been with the band for almost a decade. Rikard Wermen (the only original member) was involved in all the arrangements, keeping the trademark “Deranged sound” alive. Lyric credits are shared between Wermen and the bassist, Anders Johansson, and there are also lyrics based on letters by various serial killers such as the Son of Sam, the B.T.K killer, and the Toy-box killer. The band has also allocated vocal patterns credits (shared between Wermen and Johansson), in the style of Cannibal Corpse (see Gallery of suicide, 1998).

I then remove the vinyl from its sleeve. I smell the inside of the jacket, a habit I have had since high-school, searching for the distinct musty odor of cardboard that old records have to no avail. I look at the grooves and investigate the label. I then check to see if there are any interesting engravings around the label. There is none other than mundane pressing-related information. Back in the day I loved when I would discover messages such as “WATCH OUT FOR TERRORIZER” (Morbid Angel, Altars of madness, 1989), or “IS NICK HOLMES THE NEW ANDREW ELDRITCH?” (Paradise Lost, Gothic, 1991).

der2

I put the album on the turntable, position the stylus and sit comfortably on my chair with the lyric-sheet in my hands. The opener “The frail illusion of osteology” is one of my favourite songs on the album. While I am listening to the second song, whose lyrics are based on the Son of Sam, I start thinking that no band will ever be able to write a better song than Benediction on this topic (“Jumping at shadows”, 1991). I then wonder whether the murdered figure on the album cover was inspired by the Son of Sam. I put the lyrics on the side and go on Wikipedia and read a bit about the Son of Sam, the B.T.K. killer, and the Toy-box killer. The lyric-sheet has pictures of all three of them. I then go back to the album cover and try to see if the figure resembles any of the murderers addressed in the songs. I notice no apparent resemblance.

I then go back to the lyrics and keep listening and reading. During the third song – one of the very best on the album – I begin to evaluate Johansson’s lyrics next to Wermen’s lyrics, and I think that Wermen’s are much weirder and chaotic, while Johansson’s are more structured and catchier. The first song on side B is another great song, about the B.T.K. killer. B.T.K. stands for “Bind, Torture, Kill”, which reminds me of the Suffocation song of the same title. The song inspired by the Toy-box killer (“Toy-box torture chamber”) has the most disturbing lyrics, matching the disturbing nature of the crimes. The song is sung in the first person which makes the depraved and misogynistic character of the lyrics even more disturbing to read (I won’t be reading the lyrics of this song again). I continue listening to the album, occasionally air-drumming and playing air-guitar, until it is over.

What I described is an experience of vinyl consumption that cannot be reduced to commodity fetishism, following music industry trends, or seeking to improve fan credentials. Listening to an album can be an auditory, visual, olfactic, and tactile experience, that brings people in connection with their personal biography (past experiences, old habits, childhood memories) and the broader culture (links with other bands, cultural events, the transformation of culture).

References

Barthes, R. (1984) Image, music, text. London: Fontana Press.

De Certeau, M. (1984) The practice of everyday life. Berkley: University of California Press.

Fiske, J. (1989) Understanding popular culture. London: Unwin Hyman.

Savage, M. (2017) “UK vinyl sales reach 25-year high”, (Online: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-38487837)



Heavy metal news websites: why is “Ratt” newsworthy?

A similar question to the one in the title of this post, is one I used to ask myself quite often when I first started reading Blabbermouth many years ago. Why are news-feeds full of news stories about completely irrelevant bands? Why do hasbeens from the 1980s still populate Heavy metal news? The aim of this post is to reflect critically upon the character of mainstream Heavy metal journalism as exemplified by news websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

In my opinion, there are three factors that need to be taken into account when thinking about the content of Heavy metal news websites: First, the imperative of profit in journalism, second, the effects of digitisation on journalism, and, third, the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources.

Mainstream Heavy metal websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks aim to generate revenue through selling audiences to brands. Blabbermouth commands the attention of a wide audience around the world, and that is its selling point. The text that follows is taken from Blabbermouth’s “ADVERTISE” page:

Get backstage access to millions of hard rock & heavy metal fans from around the world via a broad range of campaign options; display, video, social, custom executions, and more.

Request the Blabbermouth.net Media Kit to learn more about available campaign bundles, demographics, and pricing. Or simply touch base directly to receive a customized proposal based on your objectives, budget, and timeline. (Source: Advertise – Blabbermouth)

A similar text can be found in the “Advertising” page of MetalSucks (see below). A further enquiry into Blastbeat, the company that manages – among others – MetalSucks’s advertising strategy, provides further information on the variety of brands to which heavy metal fan audiences are sold as commodities (these brands include 20th Century Fox, Orange, Peavy, Epic, Nuclear Blast, Relapse, and many more).

MetalSucks is represented for advertising by the Blast Beat Network of heavy metal sites, which also includes Metal Injection, Lambgoat, The PRP, Decibel and several other of the world’s top metal properties and reaches 14 million unique viewers monthly.

Blast Beat has worked with both Fortune 500 companies and unsigned bands; no advertising request is too big or too small. We have a variety of ad placements available to suit your needs, whatever they may be. (Source: Advertise on MetalSucks)

Heavy metal fans who read Blabbermouth and MetalSucks are exposed to various music and non-music related products that advertisers pay Blabbermouth to promote. Of course, the brands that are most likely to benefit from appearing on a music news website are bands. So, it would not be far-fetched to hypothesise that the readers of Blabbermouth are also packaged as an audience commodity (Fuchs 2014) and sold to the bands themselves. Because of Blabbermouth’s imperative to make profit, it treats its audience (the heavy metal fans) as a commodity that is sold to brands and bands from around the world.

The second factor I want to explore is the effects of digitisation on heavy metal journalism. News websites differ from traditional news media in that they are not static. Websites are dynamic, news are constantly updated, and new stories can be reported in almost real-time. This affordance of web 2.0 (see, Flew 2002) defines the rules of competition in online journalism, which can be summarised in the expression “you snooze, you lose”. If a news website wants to maintain the attention of its audience it has to generate news constantly, or else the audience will switch to a competing website. If a news website loses its audience it also loses its source of revenue, because it no longer has something to offer to advertisers (various brands, as well as record companies). Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to churn out news stories constantly. This creates the following problem: how do we keep the flow of content (almost) uninterrupted? This problem can be addressed in two ways. First, the website could employ many journalists that investigate and produce new stories. This option is costly. Second, the website could rely primarily on stories generated by others. Which brings me to my next point.

If Heavy metal news websites depend on existing stories to populate their news-feed, then the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources should also be considered. Record companies act as news sources by publishing press releases (on the relationship between news and public relations, see Cottle 2003; McCullagh 2002; Reich 2010) or arranging interviews with bands.  A press release is a very convenient source of news for a website like Blabbermouth or MetalSucks, because it is written by someone else, it is easily accessible, and it is easily reproducible. It is a practice that serves the record company (which advertises its bands indirectly without having to pay proper advertising fees) and the news website alike (which has access to content for “free”). It follows that the record companies and musicians that are more capable of constantly generating press releases, are those more likely to end up dominating attention on websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

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Sensational news on Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

A final point I want to make, related to attracting audiences, is the journalistic practice of creating sensational news stories. If a news story is sensational it is expected to attract more attention. To understand why “the sensational” sells, we should consider the sad reality of alienation in capitalist societies and people’s fascination with idle talk (Gunkel and Taylor 2014, p. 39). Sites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks excel in constructing sensational stories. Even if a news story is not essentially sensational, these websites often deploy practices in order to give stories a scandalous appearance. One practice is the generation of misleading and evasive titles known as clickbait. Another practice is the framing of stories through selecting and emphasising aspects of a story that are more sensational than others (De Vreese 2005).

So, maybe the reason why we are constantly exposed to news stories about bands like Skid Row, and Ratt, and Motley Crue, and a bunch of other hasbeens and their embarrassing intrigues and sad lives, is that websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to link audiences to advertisers, and in order to do that they need to attract and maintain the attention of audiences by providing a constant stream of news stories. Bands that are more likely to afford constantly generating (sensational) news stories are those posers that became millionaires during the 1980s as well as contemporary posers and hipsters who are already famous, or whose record companies and themselves aspire to become famous.

In any case I think it would be interesting if the hypotheses I put forward in this post were tested more rigorously. It would be interesting to measure, for example, the presence on Blabbermouth of successful record companies like Nuclear Blast compared to that of smaller companies. Maybe I’ll do that when I find the time. For the time being enjoy a song dedicated to all those posers that dominate our attention on Heavy metal news-sites.

References

Cottle, S. (ed) (2003) News, public relations and power. London: Sage.

De Vreese, C.H. (2005) ‘News framing: theory and typology’, Information design journal and document design, 13 (1) pp. 51-62. 

Flew, T. (2002) New media: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social media: a critical introduction. London: Sage.

Gunkel, D.J. and Taylor, P.A. (2014) Heidegger and the media. UK: Polity.

McCullagh, C. (2002) Media power: a sociological introduction. London: Palgrave.

Reich, Z. (2010) ‘Measuring the impact of PR on published news in increasingly fragmented news environment: a multifaceted approach’, Journalism Studies, 11(6) pp. 799-816.

 



Is this where I came from? #10 Dean Koontz and Autopsy

This series of posts has traditionally been about obscure examples of musical intertextuality across genres. I have so far discussed several examples of riffs, melodies and song structures traveling through time and space; from 1970s English Hard rock to 1990s Swedish Death metal (#5), from 1980s Irish Shoegaze to 1990s US Progressive metal (#3), from 1990s Welsh Alternative rock to 2000s German punk (#8), and others. In this, the 10th installment, I will do something slightly different. I will focus on song lyrics (as I have done in the past in a post on H.P. Lovecraft) and I will hypothesise that Autopsy got the idea for the song “Dead” from a section of Dean Koontz’s book The eyes of darkness.

dean_koontz-1Dean Koontz – The eyes of darkness (1981)

For a long time I considered Koontz a horror/mystery writer who was good, but by no means of the order of Clive Barker or even Stephen King. That opinion changed when I read the absolutely fascinating Phantoms (1983), a book whose plot is amazing, the different avenues that the plot follows and the crossroads on which these avenues meet is mind-blowing, and it is quite gruesome as well. The eyes of darkness is a book that was definitely enjoyable, but nowhere near as good as Phantoms. It is about a mother who tries to solve the mystery around her son’s death. I will not go into more detail because the plot is irrelevant to the aim of this post. What is relevant to this post is a description of the protagonist’s dead son on page 6:

“Torn and crushed in a bus accident with fourteen other little boys, just one victim of a larger tragedy. Battered beyond recognition. Dead.

Cold.

Decaying.

In a coffin.

Under the ground.

Forever.”

14c-autopsy-bandAutopsy – Dead (1991)

Mental funeral is an unprecedented masterpiece, and my all-time favourite Autopsy album. The song Dead is a strange song, in that its lyrics are just 10 words, morbidly narrated (and written) by Chris Reifert, on top of a gruesome riff. The melody preceding and then following the narration proved to be an extremely influential one in the death metal genre, with countless bands imitating it (you can hear the similarity on Entombed‘s “Somewhat peculiar“). The muddy composition, the singing style and the lyrics make it one of the most memorable and creepy songs in one of the most memorable and creepy albums of all time. The lyrics/theme are almost identical to the short text by Dean Koontz:

“Dead.

Stiff and cold.

In your box.

To decay.

Dead.”



Awesome music in the year 2016

another year, another bunch of awesome albums that give life in this unbelievably shitty world some value. Once again, limiting my favourite albums of 2016 to a list of 10 choices proved a very difficult task, and I already regret leaving some albums out. There are a few bands whose new albums I didn’t get to listen to, such as Imperial State Electric and Disharmonic Orchestra, whose new albums I have yet to find at a reasonable price, Asphyx and Sodom, whose albums I did not bother listening to in their entirety after listening to a couple of songs, and The Adolescents, whose new album I just discovered. I will start my review of the year with albums I wasn’t impressed by.

bombs-of-hades_2014aBombs of Hades is a band I discovered because they did a split-EP with the awesome Tormented. I liked bits off their new album titled Death mask replica, but after having listened to it a few times I stopped wanting to listen to it again. I may have had a different opinion of Interment‘s new album, Scent of the buried, had it come out in the early 1990s. Maybe if it had come out back then I wouldn’t have thought that their music is a bad imitation of Entombed (“Chalice of death” is one of the most blatant rip-offs I’ve ever heard) and Dismember. But something tells me that even if the date on the back of this album was 1991 I would still consider it well-played, albeit uninspired, Swedish death metal. Protector‘s comeback album titled Cursed and coronated is sporting an awesome cover artwork. The music is not a big departure from their old sound, that is, fast but very repetitive thrash-death, but not as brutal as in the past. I personally think that their albums Golem (1988) and A shedding of skin (1991) achieved all there was to be 256_artistachieved. Abbath‘s debut album sounds unsurprisingly like post-Blizzard beasts (1997) Immortal, that is, brutal black metal with razor-sharp riffs and blastbeats, but also cold, Amebix-inspired, melancholic hymns. I think that Abbath has a unique song-writing style and his songs are always enjoyable. One of the most devastating cuts is “Endless“, whose main riff is reminiscent of Massacra’s “Apocalyptic warriors“. Another cool song is “Ashes of the damned”, whilst “Winterbane” is a good mid-tempo song. However, the main riff off the latter, as well as the second riff off “Fenrir hunts”, is reminiscent of dozens of other riffs Abbath has written in the past. Feeling that I have listened to this same album several times since the mid 90s I got tired of it quickly. Sorcery released a new album, titled Garden of bones. I liked some of the songs, and I listened the album a few times when it first came out, but got tired of it very quickly. The vocals are, in my opinion, the highlight of the album, and if Morgoth are ever in need of a singer descendthey should definitely turn to Ola Malmstrom for help. The new album by the Descendents kept me company for a few days. The style is consistent throughout the album, true to the melodic and poppy hardcore that characterise Californian punk, but far from the crazy and inventive structures and melodies of their debut. Just like with everything this band did after their groundbreaking debut, I quickly lost interest. Dark Tranquillity is an all-time favourite band, but I don’t like all their albums. Just like the last couple of albums they released, the new one had some songs I liked. I don’t think I can get over the cheesy keyboards, and the ideas that come with having a keyboard player whose influences probably come from dance music.

Some of the albums that I enjoyed, but didn’t make my top-10 list are the following: Insision released an album after many years. I first listened to them in 2002 on the awesome split-lp they did with Inveracity. Their brutal death metal is not ground-breaking but it definitely is enjoyable. destro I stopped following Destruction shortly after their comeback in the early 2000s. Although I was never a big fan, their new album titled Under attack has some awesome trademark riffs that are instantly recognisable Destruction riffs (check out the awesome “Pathogenic“, “Second to none”), and some excellent songs, like the intense and peculiar “Elegant pigs“. Slaughterday is a band that, as the name suggests, pay tribute with their music to Autopsy. Their new album (Laws of the occult) is really good. The songs are a bit too lengthy for my taste, the vocals a bit too monotonous and the riffs and melodies a bit too stolen from Autopsy, but still is a well executed and enjoyable death metal album. Testament is another cult band that I was never a fan of. The only moment in their long career that grabbed me was their album with Lombardo, the brutal The gathering. The new album, however, has some songs that are very addictive, such as the beautifully structured “The pale king“, and the rapid “The number game” and “Centuries of suffering“. Overall, there’s high quality of songwriting and execution. Deranged‘s derangnew album (Struck by a murderous siege) is an album I enjoyed quite a lot. I’ve always considered Deranged the Swedish equivalent of Cannibal Corpse, with all their Squeaky riffs and low guttural vocals, and unique drum style. With the exception of The redlight murder case (2008) I haven’t enjoyed much of their output since after III (1999). Overall I would say that this one is a very good album that sits comfortably in their 1998-2001 period. It is full of trademark catchy riffs and arrangements, good vocals, and very good production. I found some of the songs a bit too long-winded for my taste. Nevertheless, songs like “Reverent decomposition” and “The frail illusion of osteology” are instant classics! This new album made me want to revisit their post-Plainfield cemetery period. Finally, Megadeth‘s new album (Dystopia) is a good return to form. Mustaine keeps the level of riff-making to an extremely high standard, and his ability to construct songs is undeniable. With the exception of two or three songs (“Post American world”, “Conquer or die” and “Last dying wish”) I consider Dystopia maybe the best album they have released since Youthanasia (1994). Songs like “Dystopia”, “Fatal illusion“, “Death from within”, “Look who’s talking“, are pure pleasure. I cannot deny that the exposure of Mustaine’s political views on the media over many years ruined his image for me, and that has affected how I perceive his artistic output. These days I focus on the music and ignore the lyrics.

The following are my 10 favourite albums from 2016, albums that have offered countless hours of entertainment or cultivation and I anticipate will continue to do so in the future:

Diamond-Head-self-titled-cover1. Diamond Head – S/T

I’d like to start this review with a disclaimer: any NWOBHM best-of list that does not include Diamond Head’s debut, Lightning to the nations (1980), is absolutely devoid of any credibility. Their first three albums are personal all-time favourites, and Brian Tatler and Sean Harris constitute one of the best musical collaborations of all time.

The new album is clearly a throwback album – an obvious effort to tap into the sound that made Diamond Head an iconic band over the years. The new singer, Rasmus Bom Andersen, has obviously studied Sean’s style and mode of contribution to DH’s sound, and he is doing an awesome job imitating it. There are songs that sound like they came straight out of the debut, like the phenomenal “Shout at the devil”, “Diamonds”, “Speed” – which reminds of “The prince” – or the rapid “Wizard sleeve”, which is pure Deep Purple (first mark II era). Other orchestrations and melodies are reminiscent of the more progressive and atmospheric style of Canterbury (1983), like “Silence”, “All the reasons you live”, and some sections of “Bones”. “Blood on my hands”, a tremendous slow, bluesy song that could easily be on Borrowed time (1982) and in which Rasmus gives an amazing performance, is perhaps my favourite song on the album. There are some excellent orchestrations, the guitar and bass tones are excellent and the production is perfect. The annoying thing about the vinyl version is that the song “Diamonds” is inexplicably excluded from the vinyl and is included instead on a “bonus” 7inch. Overall, this is an album that has provided so far countless hours of entertainment. Brian and Rasmus emerge as an awesome compositional duet. It’s worth noting that Duncan Scott (the band’s original drummer) has a couple of song-writing credits.

28784218742. Metallica – Hardwired to Self-Destruct

Metallica is one of those few bands whose output cannot be judged with a simple “I like it” or “I don’t like it”. My opinion regarding the songs on this new album have changed a dozen times since it came out. At first I only liked a few songs (i.e. “Hardwired“, “Atlas rise”, “Moth into flame“, “Halo on fire”) but, overall, I found each song to be a bricolage of incoherent ideas.  The songs I thought were more coherent and resembled “songs” in the conventional sense, were the ones that I liked less (i.e. “Now that we’re dead”, “Dream no more”, “Am I savage?”). Compared to Death Magnetic (2008), an album that I loved and continue to love since the first listen, I initially found this album to be disappointing. Hardwired, in my opinion, lacked in two departments: choruses, and thrashy riffs.

At the same time, I found myself strangely drawn to the various ideas albeit incoherent, so I kept on listening. “Here comes revenge” gradually became one of my favourite songs on the album, and I quickly surrendered myself to the infectious groove of riffs and vocal melodies reminiscent of the And justice-Black album era on super-heavy songs like “Confusion“. Some of the heavy, slower riffs on Hardwired are super exciting, James’s vocal melodies are beautiful, and the Californian-punk vibe of the faster songs/sections (“Hardwired”, “Moth into flame”, “Spit out the bone”) is refreshing. It definitely is an album that grows on you, and the unconventional structures and melodies have something to do with that. For example, the craftily put together chorus of “Confusion” (and how it’s resolved with the line ‘my life, the war that never ends’), sends chills down my spine. The same goes for the end of “Dream no more”, a masterpiece whose heavy chorus and lyrical theme allude to “The thing that should not be”. I also thought that the lyrics are really good overall, especially compared to the poor quality of the lyrics in Death Magnetic, and there are moments that remind me of the awesomeness of old Metallica (one of my favourite moments is the verse after the first chorus of “Here comes revenge”). After many listens I think that Hardwired is a beautiful album, chock full of awesome songs that only Hetfield and Ulrich can come up with. My favourite songs would be “Dream no more”, “Confusion”, “Here comes revenge”, “Moth into flame” and “Am I savage?”.

93166-rage-first-studio-making-of-for-the-devil-strikes-again-revealed-11201373. Rage – The Devil Strikes Again

Peavy has always been among my favourite singer-songwriters. I always thought that his genius burned brighter than the sun between 1988 and 1996. During that period he was the driving force behind eight of the most brilliant albums of all time. With XIII (1998) however, and thenceforward, I thought that the elements that made Rage a unique band increasingly faded. The final nail in the coffin for this band, in my opinion, was the compositional take-over by Victor Smolski. While Smolski is an undisputedly awesome guitarist, in my opinion he was a horrendous song-writer. Unity (2002) was the last album I liked from Rage, and even on that album the songs I liked the most were three brilliant compositions by Peavy (“Insanity”, “World of pain”, “Seven deadly sins”). It turns out that Peavy himself stopped being happy with the situation and last year decided to re-assemble his band.

The result is a return to the Rage that I love and an album that sits nicely in the 1994-1996 period of Rage. It kicks off in a style similar to Black in mind, with a devastating song, the homonymous one. Whilst the riffs themselves are not on par with what Peavy, Manni, Chris and Spiros came up with back in the day, the songwriting itself is brilliant. Overall, the guitar playing in this album reminds a lot of Spiros’s playing, especially the heavy use of palm muted hitting of individual notes of chords. Peavy’s distinctive vocal melodies make the difference. His brilliance shines through gems like “The dark side of the sun”, where his vocal melody on top of a typical Slayer-ish riff makes this song one of the best in Rage’s career. Another song I love is “Ocean full of tears”, a song that is very craftily put together; Peavy’s vocal pattern on the pre-chorus is magnificent, and the way the fast double-bass kicks in during the chorus and the way it juxtaposes the contained energy of the palm-muted guitar riff are genius. The slowest song on the album, “Times of darkness”, is a dark and gloomy small masterpiece, with awesome vocal melodies and chorus. The choruses in some cases are quite formulaic (such as on songs like “Deaf, dumb and blind” and “Requiem”) and lack the adventurous spirit of old Rage. The opening riff of “Final curtain” is reminiscent of Megadeth‘s “Disconnect”, but it’s an incredible song, with a beautiful chorus, an awesome middle section and guitar solo, and ending. Among the bonus tracks, “Into the fire” is mesmerising, and I cannot believe that it is excluded from one version of this album (thankfully not the vinyl version). Overall, this is an album that made me really happy and stands proudly next to this band’s masterpieces. From recent interviews I’ve seen with the band – and the thanx lists in the album – Peavy appears to be really happy with his new music partners, and Marcos and Lucky are aware of the huge privilege they have of playing next to one of the greatest songwriters of our time. I hope they stay together and create another great album when they’re ready.

a1231087888_104. Temisto – S/T

Since Morbus Chron’s sad break-up I have been keeping an eye out for any new undertakings by Robert Andersson and Edde Aftonfalk. This search led to the discovery of Temisto back in May of this year. According to the Metal Archives, Robert sung for this band at some point, so as soon as I found out I instantly looked it up. My curiosity was rewarded greatly. This is Temisto’s debut, and although Robert is not participating in it, he did co-produce it. If it didn’t have the awesome production that it does have, the aesthetics of this album reminds of the mid-1980s when underground extreme metal was one big category, and the lines between Thrash, Death, and Black metal, by today’s standards, were blurry. If I had to pin Temisto’s sound down more specifically, the following albums instantly come to mind: Necrosis (2004) and Discipline (2001) by Cadaver, Neverending destiny (1990) by Agressor, Horrified (1989) by Repulsion and Sweven (2013) by Morbus Chron. Another, maybe more accurate description would be that this album sounds as if Morbus Chron  decided to play like Repulsion. The up-tempo moments on this album are as furious as Horrified‘s, and Necrosis‘ (or even Discipline‘s) moments of utter madness. The furious pace and vocal patterns on songs like “Succubus” and “Descent into madness” are pure Repulsion. Especially the latter song is a masterpiece of unrestrained brutality. The intro of “Temple of the damned”, another furious masterpiece, draws on a riffing style made popular by Slayer on “Postmortem”, and used extensively by bands like  Immortal. The weird riff played halfway through the song could have been found in Internecine‘s Book of lambs (2001) (for example “Ceremonies of deceit“). The slow and mid-tempo songs, especially instrumental songs like the beautiful “Demiurge”, remind of Sweven‘s dissonant and more melancholic moments. However, the instant association I made with Sweven is unfair, as any album that is compared to it (an unprecedented death metal masterpiece), is doomed to come off looking bad. The song-structures and the narratives in some cases are simple; songs like “Abyssal depths” lead nowhere, their structure reflecting the nihilistic attitude of old-school black metal, devoid of any emotions, and simultaneously devoid of any twists and interesting sections that abound in most of the other songs in this album. Still, this is an extremely intense and fascinating album that has provided me with endless hours of listening pleasure.

600x6005. Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan

Brujeria is a band for which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, I find it impossible to resist their unique brand of grindcore-death. On the other hand, I realise that their appeal, in my case at least, stems from how their music reflects an extremely aggressive type of masculinity and femininity that I reject, yet I find “exotic” because I get to experience it from a safe distance. Anyway, my expectations for this release were not very high. Cazares and Herrera, both of whom had a big influence on Brujeria’s sound, are no longer part of the band, and since Shane Embury’s compositional loyalty lies with Napalm Death I imagined that he wouldn’t have much to contribute here. This album was therefore a pleasant surprise, as it has some awesome songs in the familiar style of Brujeria. Pocho Aztlan provides more evidence in support of the hypothesis that Embury fell in the cauldron of magic riffs when he was a kid. Most of the songs are composed by him. The combination of his trademark riffs and melodies and Juan Brujo’s insane performance have once more created something unique. Some of the songs on the album have appeared in various other formats in the last few years, such as E.P.s and compilation albums. As a result different songs are recorded under a different configuration of musicians. Erlandsson’s drum-playing can clearly be heard on songs like “No aceptan imitaciones“, and Barker’s hyper fast rolls on songs like “Satongo”. Overall, the style is very reminiscent of Brujerismo (2000). However, in my opinion, Pocho Aztlan is even better than Brujerismo, albeit without something as awesome as the two stand-out songs of the latter, i.e. “Pititis te invoco” and “Division de Norte”. Some new elements, such as the ritualistic chants on the homonymous song and “Angel de la frontera”, are adding to the quality of mystery and horror of Brujeria’s music. Songs that in my opinion stand out include “Pocho aztlan”, an awesome tune composed by Patrick Jensen, “Profecia del Anticristo”, composed by Jeff Walker, “No aceptan imitaciones”, “Isla de la fantasia”, and “Plata o plomo”, composed by Embury.

1000x10006. Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn

The new Entombed A.D. album is awesome. “Old-school” Swedish death metal has been making a comeback for more than 10 years now, and this trend has accelerated in the last few years. Nevertheless, Entombed A.D. still have, in my opinion, an important advantage over all those new (e.g. Entrails), and newly reformed (e.g. Internment, Sorcery), bands. The advantage stems from three facts: firstly, although the songwriters of Entombed A.D. are far from being original members, they probably feel the duty to preserve the Entombed legacy. This obligation guides to some degree their song-writing practices; secondly, Olle and Nico have been in the band enough time (playing the old Entombed songs) to have embodied to some extent, and according to their interpretation, the essence of Entombed’s sound; thirdly, LG is an original member and a unique singer. These three elements make Entombed A.D., in my opinion, better than most other bands which try to reproduce what bands like Entombed, Dismember, and Grave did back in the early 1990s.

I enjoyed Dead dawn a lot. I thought it was a bit more varied than Back to the front, which had several songs that seem to follow the same recipe, that is, mid-tempo start leading up to a fast-double beat or D-beat chorus. Dead dawn has some slightly unusual doom-laden songs, like “Hubris fall”, mid-tempo groovier tracks, like “Down to Mars to ride”, and some fast Slayer-beat tunes with fast tremolo picking, like the excellent “Midas in reverse” and “Black survival”. The influence of old Entombed is obvious on songs like “Dead dawn“, reminiscent of songs like “Evilyn” off Clandestine (1991), or “Total death”, a brilliant song reminiscent of the perfection of “Serpent speech” off Hollowman (1993). The main problem I have with this release is the guitar tone, which I dislike, and the production overall; I think that these choices are not doing justice to the music, and I imagine the same songs with the sound of Clandestine or Wolverine blues would be super. All in all, it is an album that I have enjoyed a lot and, although my interest has recently waned a bit, I think that I will be coming back to it frequently.

mercylesspatheticdivinitycd7. Mercyless – Pathetic Divinity

The melodies and structures in the new offering by Mercyless explore the lost art of grim, mysterious and dissonant death metal of early 1990s Morbid Angel and Immolation, but with a much larger dose of European thrash and melody, not unlike Aggressor‘s Medieval Rites (1999). A good example would be the song “How deep is your hate” whose heavy and dissonant riffing is interrupted by a beautiful instrumental section near the end. The main riff of “Pathetic divinity” reeks off Morbid Angel, and it is super awesome and memorable. The interesting structure of songs like the aforementioned and “A representation of darkness”, or the hooks of songs like “Left to rot” and “My name is legion“, are sure to keep old-school death metalers grinning with satisfaction. “Eucharistic adoration” is another stand-out song, with an impressive sonic attack after the mid-tempo intro. The vocals are simply amazing, and quite reminiscent of Morgoth. However, I also found the vocal patterns throughout the album to be a bit repetitive. Another element that I dislike is the drum sound which is quite fake and drags down – especially the grinding parts – the impetus of the riffing. The only two songs that left me unimpressed are “Christianist” and “Liturgiae”.

5505538. Brutality – Sea of Ignorance

Brutality is a band that I’ve known and listened for decades, yet never fell in love with. The new album showcases a band that seems frozen in time; it could have easily come out in 1993. It is an album completely untouched by styles that emerged in the broader metal genre the last 23 years. The singer has always been the big asset of this band, and he is indeed doing a great job on this new album. His voice is as brutal and furious as ever. Each song is a good mix of noisy grind, but also melancholic melodies. “48 to 52” is a phenomenal song, and one of my very favourite songs of 2016 overall. The chorus is extremely catchy, the slow melancholic solo section and the grind explosion are insane. “Brutally beheaded” and “End of days” are two other of my favourite songs (the vocals on the latter are insane). “Tribute” is the most thrashy song on the album, and has some pretty cheesy lyrics, as it is full of old extreme metal band references (similar to what Entombed did with “Masters of death” and Tormented with “Reversed funeral”). Initially I did not pay attention to the Bathory cover, as it represents a period in Bathory’s career that I never liked. I now think that it is a brilliant cover, successfully capturing the mystery of the original whilst adding Brutality’s brutality. Overall, I would say that Sea of ignorance is a great album and my favourite one from them.

Cauldron_In-Ruin9. Cauldron – In Ruin

Canada’s Cauldron is another relatively new band that looks nostalgically back at 1980s heavy metal. I am very happy that I found out about this band, as this album offered countless hours of musical enjoyment. They play nondescript old-school heavy metal, and definitely they don’t offer anything terribly new, but the songs they compose are brilliant. Songs like “Burning at both ends” are driving and exciting; songs like “Hold your fire” have a rare epic quality. The choruses are absolutely infectious and the guitar solos are inspired. It took me a while to get used to the vocals, which are unusual for a heavy metal band, in that they are a bit asthmatic. My first impression was that of a band that could not find a singer, ending up with one of the other members handling the vocals as a last resort. Nevertheless, this gives Cauldron a somewhat distinctive sound, and in any case, the songwriting is so good that the vocals don’t pose a problem in the end.

64610. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

I have never been a huge fan of black metal, although over the years there have been albums that I have loved and respected from the broad body of works that could be characterised as black metal. Dark Funeral made their own contribution to black metal early on with their extremely fast and majestic take on the genre. I haven’t listened to them for ages, and the last album I bought was Diabolis interium (2001) when it came out. Their new album blew me away and stayed in my mp3 player for months. “The eternal eclipse” is hands down one of their best songs, on par with “When angels forever die” (1996), “Shadows over Transylvania” (1996) and “Hail murder” (2001). Slower songs like “As I ascend” and “Temple of Ahriman” are equally brilliant. Every single song is really good and catchy, overall a fine example of mid-1990s black metal. I can imagine that being mentioned by Justin Bieber is something that can destroy a black metal band’s credibility, and probably Dark Funeral were bummed out when it happened. I only wish he had mentioned some other Black metal bands that take themselves much more seriously and would make them lose their sleep forever, such as Mayhem or Burzum.

2016 PLAYLIST



Guilty displeasures

There are bands and albums that are widely considered embarrassing in specific subcultural fields, making the music fan of such bands and albums inherit their embarrassing quality within those fields. I would imagine that the more senior one gets in any given fan-subculture and, accordingly, more confident in their fan-credentials, the easier it gets to admit those guilty pleasures. For example, it would be quite hard for a young metalhead to openly admit among his or her peers that he or she likes St Anger by Metallica, or Illud divinum insanus by Morbid Angel. Similarly, it would be hard for a young death-metal fan participating in a Facebook Old-School Death Metal group to express his or her admiration of Children of Bodom or Insomnium.

In a similar fashion, there are bands and albums that have achieved legendary status, to such an extent that is embarrassing for fans to admit that they haven’t listened to them (guilty omissions), or that they dislike them. The latter are guilty displeasures; distastes that would be embarrassing to admit within a specific subcultural field. In this post I will talk about two of my guilty displeasures; records considered legendary that I don’t like, and whose extraordinary status has pushed me to make an extra effort to try to like them, to no avail.

emper1. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

An album I wouldn’t easily admit in public that I disliked – in the past – was Emperor’s debut. I listened to it back in the late 1990s and I have tried to listen to it again a few times since. I have always had the same reaction after listening to it: what is the big deal?! I have always found it long-winded, boring, and the vocals pissed me off. With the exception of some riffs and arrangements in the beginning of each song, I found the rest of the music unexciting. I still think that the vocal patterns are completely boring. I do get that it probably was an innovative album whose majestic and symphonic character influenced the genre a lot, but I cannot for the life of me listen to it back to back. An album that I did love and still like today by Emperor was their final one.

peacesells2. Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying (1986)

Megadeth’s second album is an album that have always eluded me. I bought it back in 1995, right after I bought Megadeth’s absolute masterpiece titled Rust in peace (1990). After a few listens, however, I got rid of it. That was difficult to do, because I loved the album cover. I listened to it again after a few years and I again failed to be impressed by it. I thought that Mustaine’s voice was annoying, and that the songs were boring. A few years ago I listened to it again and I did discover some things that I like. Some of the arrangements are pretty cool, and I can appreciate that they were probably quite impressive at the time the album was released, and I like a few songs, like “My last words” and “Black Friday”. I still think that it lacks the catchy riffs, hooks, choruses, and melodies that make RIP such an important album, and the intensity and riffs of their debut. Moreover, did Megadeth really take the genre much farther musically than Mercyful Fate and Satan had by that time? I doubt it. So, even today I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I particularly like it.



Viva Presidente Trump!
November 9, 2016, 6:36 pm
Filed under: people, social theory

There’s a silver lining to Trump’s victory. Trump’s election is a major blow to hegemony. It’s a blow to the widespread and commonly accepted idea that “our representative democracies are not a joke”. If Clinton had won the election then everyone would slip back to the fantasy that the “system is ok”; “Look at our respectable, by-the-book president”, while the USA would continue going around the world murdering people, and their repressive apparatus at home would murder African Americans on a daily basis. Trump is a joke, a dangerous joke, but so is the political/economic/cultural system in which he is situated, and there are no longer excuses for not accepting this fact.

Yet, this silver lining is also ambiguous. Waking up to the idea that the things we take for granted and consider common sense are deeply problematic could go either way. Fascist groups might use it to offer “alternatives to the establishment”. Of course, the idea that fascism is much different from the facade we call democracy today is in itself a fantasy. The other option is to engage society in a humanist critique of the existing political system, which is by no means autonomous, but rather linked to capitalism, racism, sexism, and so on. But this option has been preempted and incapacitated by centuries of developing inequality and alienation of the masses, so I wouldn’t count on it. The more likely alternative, which becomes increasingly plausible, is the necessity for grassroots resistance, even violent, on a daily basis. It all depends on when my generation and the younger ones will stop clinging on to dreams of a family and a nice house with a garden.



Perfect bonus songs, imperfect albums, and the internetisation of popular music

Music ownership these days, in terms of paying for music and owning the medium that carries the music, is not as relevant as it used to be before the digitisation and internetisation of music. As many have pointed out, today it is more about access rather than ownership; people access music on Spotify, YouTube, Bandcamp, and so forth, rather than owning it. Of course even with digitisation/internetisation there are ways of owning music, through the practice of downloading and storing music on different types of digital repositories. Still, this type of ownership feels quite different to the thing I am used to, that is, owning physical copies in the form of LPs, CDs, and Cassette tapes. One of the ways in which it is different is in terms of the “unity and autonomy” of the cultural product. This is what this post is about.

By “unity and autonomy” I refer to the things that make a cultural product distinct from other cultural products as well as a unified whole. It concerns the age-old question “what are the limits of a distinct body of works”? When does an artist decide that a specific number of songs constitutes an “album”? There are different actors and processes that have conspired to offer practical answers to these questions. The subjection of music to the logic and the laws of the capitalist market is one process, and tradition is another. Most recording artists don’t rely on the record company to tell them that they need something between 8-12 songs to have a”proper” album, they already know this is the case because they are familiar with popular music conventions. In turn, the popular music industry is partially responsible for those conventions.

What crystallises a body of works as distinct is its subjection to the manufacturing process and its reification, its transformation into a product such as an LP or a CD. First of all, there is a physical medium that contains a limited number of songs. Both CDs and LPs secure autonomy by including the chosen number of songs and excluding all other songs. Then there is a cover artwork that symbolically unifies the songs included in the CD or LP in question. Beyond those two important elements there are other things like a consistent production style and a specific band configuration, that construct a given body of works as unified and autonomous. The person who bought Gutter ballet (1989) and Power of the night (1985) by Savatage on CDs knows that whenever she listens to “When the crowds are gone” she listens to a song off Gutter ballet (1989) by Savatage, but when she listens to “In the dream” she knows that she listens to a song off Power of the night (1985) by Savatage.

How do things change with digitisation/internetisation? In a way things are not much different. Songs on online music platforms or downloadable songs are usually organised in traditional album formats. I could search for the Gutter ballet album by Savatage on Spotify, and I could access it independently from the rest of their albums. I could also download the same album and keep it in a distinct folder, separated from all other songs that can also be found in my computer. The folder as well as the information potentially embedded in the mp3 track (e.g. artist, album title, year of release) contribute towards the unification and autonomisation of the product. However, a key difference is that I could delete any of the songs from that folder. I could, for example, delete “Of rage and war” because the lyrics piss me off. I could also “cut” all the Savatage songs from three different albums I have neatly organised in distinct folders and “paste” them all together in one distinct folder titled “Savatage”. That wouldn’t change, of course, the information inscribed on those songs that ascribe them to distinct bodies of works, but still digitisation offers unique opportunities in challenging the unified and autonomous character of music industry products. Other unifying elements, such as cover artwork, lose their effectiveness as well. Of course, someone could say that in the past people would make mix-tapes, and, in that sense, blank cassette tapes and CDs offered opportunities for manipulation, but that didn’t have an effect on the “original” products, the CDs and LPs that were used to make the mix-tape. More things could be said about digitisation and convergence, such as how they effect modes of listening that are less demanding than, for example, sitting in your living room and handling big and sensitive media such as LPs and turntables, and the effect this has on perceiving an album as unified and autonomous.

The thing that prompted these thoughts was listening to Dark Tranquillity‘s excellent song “Exposure”. I first listened to this song during the summer of 1999 when a friend of mine bought the digipak version of the newly released Projector album. By that time I had gotten over Swedish melodic death metal, and I was more into brutal death metal such as Immolation, Broken Hope, Sinister, and Vader. But even by Swedish melodeath standards, I found that album extremely disappointing, and to this day it’s my least favourite DT album. However, in the end of the album there was a hidden track that we played non-stop for days. That song was “Exposure” and it was excluded from the regular versions of the album.

That fact made me reflect on how annoyed I was every time I bought an album and I realised that there was another version that included songs that my version of the album did not include. I then thought that this wouldn’t be much of a problem in the contemporary world, where some listeners are less loyal to physical cultural commodities. For one thing, the folder on one’s computer titled “Dark Tranquillity – Projector” is probably not as meaningful a unit as a CD or an LP. Moreover, the bonus track can be found and downloaded and subsequently added to the folder. Due to the resistant to modification character of CDs and LPs, an artifact without the bonus tracks was for ever condemned to be without. In the present historical period in advanced hyper-consumerist capitalist societies do “special editions” with bonus songs have the same appeal that they used to in the 1980s or 1990s, and for those people who exclusively use the internet to access music do concepts such as “bonus track” or “album” have any meaning?

In most cases, I think that bonus tracks are not on par with the rest of the songs on an album, but in some cases they are amazing. I will now finish this post with five examples of extraordinary bonus tracks that in some cases are better than all the songs in their respective albums.

projector_album_cover1. Dark Tranquillity – Exposure (Projector)

“Exposure” is hands down my favourite song off Projector (1999). The only other song that comes close is “On your time”, which has an unbelievable ending. The change that DT underwent during that period, and which to a large extent defined their style, did not go down very well with me, especially the extensive use of clean vocals and keyboards, and the slowing down of pace. “Exposure” is a song that could have easily been on The mind’s I (1997), an album that I’ve loved non-stop since it came out. It is fast, it has a perfect main riff and melodies, and Anders’ drumming is mindboggling.

slayer-diabolus-in-musica2. Slayer – Unguarded instinct (Diabolus in musica)

Diabolus in musica (1998) and God hates us all (2001) are my two least favourite Slayer albums, but if I had to choose one that I like better I would go with Diabolus. There are some awesome songs on this one, including “Perversions of pain”, “Screaming from the sky”, “Scrum” and “Bitter peace”. However, the Japanese edition of the album includes “Unguarded instinct”, the hands down masterpiece and best song on the album, in my opinion. This song has some of the best riffs and one of the best choruses Slayer ever came up with, and Bostaph’s performance is phenomenal. At least the version that I own includes another bonus track which is also quite awesome, the dark and menacing “Wicked”.

05_the_code_is_red_long_live_the_code3. Napalm Death – Losers (The code is red…long live the code)

Napalm Death have always released special editions of their albums with bonus songs unavailable in regular editions. Most of those bonus songs are awesome, because ND is awesome, but usually they don’t stand out. However, on this specific case I think that it was a shame the song “Losers” was not included in regular editions of The code is red… as it is an extremely powerful and memorable track, from the catchy drum intro, to the driving beat and the various tempo changes. This song was included on the digipak version, but unfortunately not on the limited edition LP version.

r-3402905-1329030970-jpeg4. Eldritch – Nebula surface (El nino)

El nino was the album that introduced me to Eldritch back in 1998, a band that I respect a lot although I don’t like all of their albums. Still, their powerful take on progressive-power metal always impressed me, and to this day I don’t think I have listened many other bands that manage to combine more conventional melodies with aggressive song-writing (another band that comes to mind is Rage) as effectively as Eldritch. The limited edition CD I own has this hidden track in the end right after the monumental homonymous song, and it is among my favourite songs on this album.

1239265840_large5. Vader – Anamnesis (Black to the blind)

Black to the blind (1997) is in my opinion the last great Vader album. When it first came out me and my friends were driven to insanity during endless hours of listening to the album back-to-back and headbanging violently. Unfortunately, the song “Anamnesis” is missing from our version of this great album, but is included in the Japanese version. At least it was included in the Kingdom E.P. too. This song is characterised by sheer intensity, phenomenal drumming courtesy of Doc (a death metal innovator), and an awesome start. Without a doubt it’s one of the very best songs on the album.