overground scene


Guilty pleasures #1

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.

 

 

 

 

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Awesome music in 2014

The end of the 2014 is closing in compelling me to account for all the awesome albums that were released during this time. Music-wise, 2014 has been one of the best years I can remember. Some excellent albums came from Sweden, but also from the Americas. It seems to me that every single band on earth released an album in 2014, and there are many which I would have liked to listen to properly but didn’t have the time (and were not a priority), such as the new Mayhem, Obituary, The Haunted, Triptykon and Septic Flesh. As usual I will start with the albums that I liked less and continue with the albums that have impressed me the most.

The reunited – and now defunct again – Massacre, featuring only two members of the classic line-up (Rozz and Butler) released an album, Back from beyond, which to my ears is an embarrassing shadow of their former selves. I listened to the new Judas Priest album a couple of times out of curiosity to see if there’s any creative spark left in the band, and I don’t think there is.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

Vaitor offer yummy, albeit derivative, Thrash as it was played in the late 1980s.

The old-thrash resurgence holds well in 2014 with lots of new bands that pay homage to 80s thrash bands, often with some really good results. My personal favorite release from this new wave of old school thrash is the album Deto-nacion by the Colombian band Vaitor. Vaitor’s style is often reminiscent of RDP (listen for example the chorus of the eponymous song) as well as Invocator. Another band that impressed me was Korzus from Brazil. Their album Legion is a high energy thrash attack in the vein of Sepultura, Demolition Hammer and Epidemic. On songs like “Time has come” and “Die alone”, apart from speed and a super-tight rhythm section one can also find some great melodic choruses. Executer‘s Helliday (an 80s band from Brazil that had disbanded and reunited a few years ago) sounds like a modern version of old Destruction. The vocals especially sound a lot like Schmier’s and riffs like on “No sense” are pure Eternal Devastation.

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

The Adolescents are primarily driven by Soto (second from right) and Reflex (second from left).

Moving on to California, The Adolescents released a cool album, only one year after their previous release. The new album, titled La vendetta, is similar in style to what they have been doing since The fastest kid alive; mid-tempo melodic punk with lyrical themes around government politics, corporate politics, friendship and everyday life. I think that side B is excellent, testifying that the Adolescents are still a punk force to be reckoned with. Listen to the beautiful “Rinse cycle“, “Nothing left to say”, “Sludge”, “Sanctuary…” and “Let it go“. Side A however, in my opinion, is not equally strong, although it has a few songs that I like.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

The sophomore album by Vallenfyre is raw and cold.

Going back to the more extreme end of the metal spectrum, Vallenfyre, the band led by Gregor Mackintosh – one of the most important contemporary musicians in the world – released its second album this year titled Splinters. Although I consider it to be a very good album, with lots of awesome songs, I cannot deny that it is miles away from being the masterpiece the debut was. On this album, Gregor focused on the crust and grindcore elements of the debut and almost completely ignored the death metal elements. The two songs that are more in the traditional sludgy death metal vein – “Bereft” and “Splinters” – are indeed my favorite ones in the album. Note the excellent use of feedback on the more grinding songs. Behemoth also released a new album and although I stopped following them since after Thelema.6 – and everything I heard by them since I considered to be derivative and boring – I quite enjoyed the new album titled The satanist. Some of the songs are typical Behemoth, sounding exactly the same as anything after Satanica (i.e. a mix of Morbid Angel, Vader and Satyricon). Still one cannot deny the distinguishing features of Behemoth, such as Nergal’s infernal voice and their ability to create some chilling and majestic music. The eponymous song, for example, sends chills down my spine.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Nick Holmes of Paradise Lost (in the front) returning to his roots.

Another extreme metal band in which I lost interest since the early 2000s – after their first album – is Bloodbath. I gave their albums a listen over the years, but I always thought they sounded uninspired and forced. Their new album, Grand Morbid Funeral, however, sounds pretty cool and the addition of Nick Holmes definitely helps – I found his vocals much more genuine and honest than Akerfeldt’s. I thought that songs like “Famine of god’s word”, “Let the stillborn come to me”, “Beyond cremation” and “Total death exhumed” are pretty awesome, but I liked the rest much less. Misery Index released a cool album titled The killing gods which is very straightforwardly death metal compared to their previous releases. There are lots of simple fast-tremolo picked riffs lots of thrashy riffs, blast-beats, and some very powerful arrangements (check out the insane breaks in “Gallows humor”). However, I personally found it quite monotonous, although I’m pretty sure that most fans of extreme music would disagree with me. They also did a tremendous cover of Ministry’s “Thieves”. Sinister, in my opinion, lost part of their identity when Aad resurrected them and started singing and stopped playing the drums. Moreover, in the last couple of albums the line-up changed drastically and the identity of Sinister suffered even more. The post-apocalyptic servant, just like the previous album,  sounds like a common brutal death metal album. Only a couple of songs, like “The end of all that conquers”, sounds like old Sinister. Having said that, there are some great songs here and some mind-blowing riffs that give praise to the great ones of US death metal, such as Monstrosity and Cannibal Corpse (listen for example the beginning of “The macabre god”).

I will now move on to the 10 albums that I liked the most this past year. Four out of these 10 albums come from Sweden, five from the US and one from Brazil.

MorbusChron-Sweven-Cover1. Morbus Chron – Sweven

My favorite album from 2014 is Morbus Chron’s Sweven. I feel blessed to have lived the release of an album like this one. As I have said several times during the last year, Morbus Chron is the pride of contemporary Death metal. Their latest album is musical in the old sense of the word; that is, it has songs that are thought-through, coherent compositions, musical narratives, with an introduction, a story that musically unfolds in the main part of the song and a conclusion. The production of the album was craftily handled by none other than Fred Estby, a veteran of Swedish death metal. The result is a sound that is completely different from all the homogenised contemporary productions where everything sounds fake. Instead, here one can actually hear a band of people playing music, doing mistakes and being passionate, elements that I think are lost with modern productions. For a more detailed review of Sweven read here.

img-1023105-seculo-sinistro2. Ratos De Porao – Seculo sinistro

My second favorite album from 2014 comes fron Brazil. RDP is for hardcore what Napalm Death is for grindcore, what Slayer is for thrash, what Blind Guardian is for heavy metal; that is, a consistently awesome, if not the best, band. Gordo’s throat is one of the best in extreme music; he is a beast and he’s getting better with time. I have been a fan of RDP since the mid-90s and I was initially exposed to their Roadrunner thrash period. Over the years they gradually went back to their hardcore roots, without however ever dismissing their love for thrash. Although, the previous two RDP albums were brilliant and I did not think their perfection could be surpassed, I think that the new album might even be their best yet! This is a collaborative effort by all the band members. Everyone contributes in the writing process and the result is a monster of an album with scorching thrash riffs, D-beat worship and aggressive vocals and rhythm section. The pure energy of “Puta, Viagra e Corrupção”, probably my favorite song off the album (I cannot get used to how perfect the chorus is), the unique mix of hardcore and thrash on “Boiada pra Bandido” and “Viciado Digital”, the dissonant riffing and mosh-inducing mid-tempo of “Grande Bosta” and the head-on thrash attack of “Stress Pós-Traumático” and “Pra fazer Pobre Chorar” are simply mind-blowing! Sick album.

dagger3. The Dagger – The Dagger

My third favorite album from 2014 comes from Sweden. The new band by former Dismember musicians Fred Estby, David Blomqvist and Tobias Christiansson could be perceived as a nostalgia act; as music made by people who did not experience late-70s and early-80s heavy metal when it was born and who have a distorted, fabricated idea of what heavy metal used to be. This, however, would be an unfair judgement given that both Fred and David have always been heavy metal aficionados since the 1980s and even in their death metal days they drew on that tradition. I have to confess that I did not expect to be impressed by The Dagger. Traditional heavy metal took form within a specific historical – cultural, social, political and economic – context. Any effort to replicate this “feel” under different conditions is doomed to failure. However, seasoned metal musicians like Fred and David have embodied the principles of heavy metal. This old heavy metal logic in the present context resulted in an album that is great to listen to over and over again, just like old heavy metal, without however sounding old or like anything that could have been released back in the day. Jani Kataja, the singer, has a beautiful and flexible voice, that at times sounds like Dio and at others like Ian Gillan. There are certain songs where one can easily guess the influences, such as “Skygazer“, which resembles a lot Deep Purple and Rainbow. The beginning of “Ahead of you all” sounds like something Iron Maiden would come up with after the mid-80s. Some of the twin guitar harmonies also remind of Iron Maiden. However, lots of the music on The Dagger is much darker, bringing into mind the more doomy sects of the genre, and bands like Trouble and Candlemass. In any case, each song is better than the other. Some incredible moments include the awesome chorus and guitar harmonies of “Skygazer”, the bridge and chorus of “Ahead of you all“, the last section of “Electric dawn” (starting at 2:51), the driving pace, the melody halfway through and the chorus of “Dogs of warning“, the entire “Inside the monolithic dome” (which sounds ridiculously like Deep Purple’s “Pictures of home“) with its brilliant harmonies, chorus and sing-along melodies and the brilliant closing track “Dark cloud“, in which Jani gives a stunning performance and also has one of the best endings I have ever heard.

AtTheGatesAtWarWithReality4. At The Gates – At war with reality

At the gates’ comeback album is awesome. To be honest, I did not expect ATG to come up with something impressive. In the case of Carcass’s comeback last year, Bill Steer, the main songwriter, had abstained from extreme metal for two decades, and, in that sense, I expected him to be thirsty and full of ideas for some extreme music. In the case of ATG, though, I always thought that the Bjorler twins’ riffing ability reached saturation by the time The Haunted released One kill wonder. And, at the end of the day, I don’t think I was wrong. To my ears, there is not one single riff in the new album that can compete with the perfection of any riff off “Slaughter of the soul”. Furthermore, in terms of pushing the envelope they are not even close to what they achieved with the first two albums either. Nevertheless, even the worst ATG album is much better than the best effort of most bands. ATG are in a league of their own. The fact that I think that the new album cannot compete with the old ones doesn’t mean that I don’t love it. I consider most of the songs monumental. “Death and the labyrinth” is a perfectly crafted song, with a beautiful bridge reminiscent of The red in the sky is ours era. My three favorite songs off the new album are, “The book of sand“, “Order from chaos” and “The head of the Hydra“. The latter has some of the most beautiful riffs on the album (that trill on the main riff gives me goose bumps) and an awesome chorus. “The book of sand” is one of the most breathtaking songs they have ever recorded. In this song they repeat what they did in the past on songs like “The break of autumn” where they replace the electric orchestration of a theme with a clean rendition of the same theme. The final section off “The night eternal” is extremely beautiful and ends the album in a monumental manner. “Eater of gods” and “Upon pillars of dust” – the latter having a main riff that would make Exodus blush – could have been in the sophomore The Haunted album, although they are maybe a bit too dark for The Haunted. I thought that the second riff on “Eater of gods” was cringeworthy, and I’m really glad they only repeat it once throughout the song. Another thing that disappointed me was the production of the album; all the instruments are crammed together and the drums sounds fake.

entom5. Entombed A.D. – Back to the front

The first listen of the new Entombed album – after their official transformation to Entombed A.D. – left me unimpressed. The first thing I noticed was that no songs really stood out. However, I also noticed that Entombed haven’t been so coherent since Wolverine Blues. And although I have loved every single post-wolverine album, maybe with the exception of Uprising, I realised that I had indeed missed the stylistic consistency of the first three albums. With the second listen of the album, however, I started paying attention to the nuances and the beauty that can be found in simple and straight-forward death metal. For sure Entombed A.D. is nowhere close to being as extreme, groundbreaking and brilliant as the first three Entombed albums, but it is still pretty awesome. Slow songs like “Eternal woe” (maybe my favorite on the album) and “Soldier of no fortune” (fittingly ending the album like “Soldier of fortune” closes Deep Purple‘s Stormbringer) have a certain Clandestine vibe to them, which send chills down my spine. The opener “Kill to live” is a powerful song with a wicked main riff, genius tempo changes, melodies and solos, a true gem faithful to Entombed’s early death legacy. Other brilliant moments in the album include the break near the end of “Bait and bleed“, the chorus of “Second to none”, the atmospheric sections of “Bedlam attack” and overall the awesome arrangements on “Digitus medius”. Several songs follow a particular recipe, namely, they have a slow or mid-tempo start which then develops into a fast double-beat or d-beat. “Waiting for death” is a thrasher in the vein of Ritual Carnage or even late Infernal Majesty. The only bad thing about this album is the production/mix. Disappointingly, sometimes the lead guitar and other times the rhythm guitar are way too low in the mix, with the result of either some awesome melodies or some great riffs to be inaudible. Nevertheless, Back to the front remains highly addictive and satisfying, like only very few albums can be these days. Attention hordes!

incantion-dirges_of_elysium-600x6006. Incantation – Dirges of elysium

Incantation has been one of the founding monoliths of brutal death metal. Founding member John McEntee and long time partner in crime Kyle Severn have served the unholiest sects of extreme music without ever straying and following trends. Over the years many members have come and gone, but always, no matter who was in the band, they submitted their compositional style to the swampy, dark and dissonant mission that McEntee set on since the beginning. The last two albums saw the inclusion of Alex Bouks, who revamped Incantation’s style by adding some very memorable melodic passages. Unfortunately Alex left after the recording of this new album. Dirges is typical Incantation; brutal and blasphemous American death metal, shifting from sludgy sonic pessimism to intense grind. It starts majestically with a instrumental called “Dirges of elysium” and continues with a super fast “Debauchery“. “Bastion of a plagued soul” is another full-frontal attack with an excellent slow dissonant break followed by an incredible gloomy section that only Incantation can pull off. The intense and fast “Impalement of divinity” and the massive, swampy and ceremonial “Charnel grounds” can successfully summarise the character of this album. An excellent album by a consistently awesome and committed band.

Mastodon_-_once_more_'round_the_sun7. Mastodon – Once more around the sun

Mastodon is a band that I only started appreciating after I heard their mind-blowing fifth album, The hunter. The new album is just as perfect. It kicks off in a very dramatic way that reminded me of the first Tragedy album. Sanders is wailing through the opening song (“Tread lightly”), a majestic composition with some super heavy riffing towards the end. With certain songs, like “The motherload” and “High road”, Mastodon take an even more laid back approach to song-writing than in The Hunter. To be fair, even in the more melodic and straightforward songs, behind the simple melody the musicians are restless. With songs like the brilliant “Aunt Lisa” (which reminds of something off Faith No More‘s Angel Dust) and “Asleep in the deep” they fully explore progressive and technically proficient routes to composition and performance. In some cases I felt that Mastodon repeat themselves (for example compare the singing on songs like “Chimes at midnight” and “Feast your eyes”). In any case, this remains a brilliant album that invites the listener to explore its nuances for a long time after the first listen.

cannibal-corpse-a-skeletal-domain8. Cannibal Corpse – A skeletal domain

CC have rightfully earned their position as a death metal institution through a series of awesome albums in the early-mid 1990s. Over the years, however, I thought that they stalled and kept repeating themselves. Still, especially in albums like The wretched spawn and Kill, I thought that they kept a high quality of death metal musicianship. I found CC’s new album much more interesting than Torture. While in the latter the band sounded as if they were making a conscious effort to revisit past glories, in the new one they sound more free and in a more experimental mood. The new album has some typical CC “hit songs” with catchy choruses and vocal patterns, like “Kill or become” or “Vector of cruelty”. However, there are some pretty interesting arrangements and, of course, heavy doses of extreme brutality. The opening song is obliterating and the chorus of the eponymous song has one of the most excellent vocal patterns that Cannibal ever wrote. The more I listen to the album the more interesting stuff I discover and the  more I enjoy it! “The murderer’s pact” showcases Webster’s trademark sick melodies and “Vector of cruelty” is easily one of the most awesome mid-tempo songs in the CC roster (up there with “Sentenced to burn”, “Nothing left to mutilate” and “Slain”)! “Icepick lobotomy” is another masterpiece by Barrett with an awesome breakdown half-way through. “Asphyxiate to resuscitate” must be one of the most memorable songs CC ever wrote. All in all an awesome album.

tourni9. Autopsy – Tourniquets, hacksaws and graves

Tourniquets… is pretty awesome in the typical Autopsy way; sometimes swampy and sometimes fast, always creepy death metal with the sickest vocals possible. However, I like it much less than last year’s brilliant The headless ritual. I think that Cutler composed some extremely memorable and chilling songs, like the eponymous one, or “King of flesh ripped”, which are my favorite on the album. Two other songs I really liked, “Deep crimson dreaming” and “Burial” were composed by Reifert. Coralles contributed the crazy “Parasitic eye”, a typical Coralles composition, with a great intro-melody and a fast chorus. All in all, Tourniquets is a good album by musicians who know their craft well and are the undisputed leaders in this specific sub-genre of extreme metal.

rigor-mortis-cover10. Rigor Mortis – Slaves to the grave

The comeback, and I imagine last, Rigor Mortis album is both a reason to celebrate and mourn. The leading member of the band Mike Scaccia, tragically passed on during a Texas show two years ago. His awesome guitar work is present on this album nonetheless. This final offering is an awesome album worthy of their three masterpieces from the late 1980s – early 1990s. The line-up features all original members as appeared on the debut album. Slaves to the grave comes with an awesome cover. The musical recipe includes ridiculously fast tremolo picking, fast songs in the vein of “Contagious contamination” or “Shroud of gloom” (such as “Flesh for flies” and “Poltergeist”) and punk-influenced songs in the vein of “Throwback” (such as “Rain of ruin”) and pissed-off vocals. There is also an instrumental song titled “Sacramentum gladitorum” whose chord progression reminds of “The call of Ktulu”. It is always interesting to confirm what lasting impact Metallica had in the world of extreme music, given that so many bands have written instrumentals that use “The Call of Ktulu” as template. The introductory section of “The infected” reminded me of Iron Maiden. The only song that I don’t really like is the last song on the album. All the rest are delightful thrash anthems. I’d like to see any modern band trying to compose equally memorable and catchy thrash songs.

2014 playlist



Now I sleep, the city weeps, hush: monumental song endings

One of the characteristics of old school death metal is that it is dramatic. It is a captivating type of music that commands the full attention of the listener. Old school death metal was never meant to be background music. It is full of twists and turns and every song has a rich narrative music-wise, independently of the lyrical content. Because most songs are complex musical stories, at any point of the song something new and interesting is bound to happen.

I think that in popular music performers are aiming to capture an audience with the opening notes of a song. In this post I will focus on the very last few seconds of songs. I will present songs that manage to excite me not with their intro, their chorus or an impressive guitar solo, but with their ending. This post will be an open one, meaning that every time I think of another song with a brilliant ending I will add it to the list. In this first version of the post I present five brilliant death metal songs, and I also throw in an awesome thrash song which would be a crime to ignore.

1. Benediction – Jumping at shadows

benedictionBenediction’s unholy trinity, namely The grand leveler (1991) – Transcend the Rubicon(1993) – The dreams you dread (1995), will always be among my all time favourite albums. From the beginning what set Benediction apart from their peers was the swampy, claustrophobic atmosphere, laden with murderous intent. Their obsession with serial killers combined with the murky musicality produced a chilling effect in all these releases. “Jumping at shadows” in paradigmatic of the terrifying atmosphere that only Benediction are capable of producing. The song describes the activities of David Berkowitz, a serial killer in the US who coined for himself the title “Son of Sam”, and the lyrics themselves have been paraphrased from letters sent by Berkowitz. The ending of the song sends chills down my spine: “now I sleep…the city weeps…hush”.

2. Suffocation – Surgery of impalement

Suffocation1Only a few bands can make one want to jump out of their body, and Suffocation is definitely one of them. Suffocation defined heaviness and brutality with their first album, an album that inadvertently paved the way for brutal music, with its razor-sharp triplet riffs, monolithic breakdowns and deep guttural vocals. Suffocation took a break for a few years after 1998 and returned in 2004 with a beast of an album titled Souls to deny. It is an offering that, in my ears, competes with any of their old albums for the title of the best Suffocation album. “Surgery of impalement” comes from this monumental comeback album. Its ending is pure brutality.

3. Carcass – Cadaver pouch conveyor system

Carcass-BandIt takes a unique musical chemistry to manage to offer something awesome after having already contributed some of the most innovative and genre-defining music in the world. Carcass did that with their comeback album Surgical steel (2013). If there’s one thing missing from contemporary brutal death metal is the sense of groove, not only in riffing but also in singing. Contemporary brutal death bands might be able to play a thousand notes per minute but the lack in ability – or are not interested – in composing clever musical phrases and rhythms that can hook the listener. The main riff of this song, the drum beat, Jeff’s performance and the perfectly applied guttural vocals – courtesy of Bill Steer – at the end of this song manage to do exactly that.

4. Kataklysm – Exode of evils

k3Sylvain Houde will always be one of the most creative singers that have ever passed through the infernal gates of death metal. Only a few singers have sung with such passion. Sylvain’s passion denotes an insanity which does not come across as fake, as a gimmick of death metal conventions. His insanity is 100% credible! Temple of knowledge (1996) is a monumental, absolutely unique album. Sylvain’s insane performance grants it uniqueness. In the end of “Exode of evils” the listener that has survived the relentless attack finds themselves faced with an infernal chant that can only mean that the worst is yet to come.

5. Malevolent Creation – Monster

retributRetribution has always been my favourite Malevolent Creation album and one of my favorite death metal albums from the US. The chemistry in this album, and especially the presence of the impeccable Alex Marquez, is unmatched and the band is on fire offering some of the most aggressive death metal ever recorded. Special reference should be made to the unique Scott Burns who applied his magic to this recording and brought the best out of the band. “Monster”, from beginning to end, is pure violence.

6. Slayer – Beauty through order

slayer-pr2-smallIn their heyday, Slayer have still been capable of producing earth-shattering musical attacks. World painted blood is an excellent album and a sad example of how a bad producer can fuck up awesome music. “Beauty through order”, my favourite song off this album, showcases an amazing chemistry that unfortunately will never be captured again; Jeff’s compositional prowess, Araya’s manic vocal performance and Lombardo’s genius drumming (here placing in the most appropriately genius way a devastating double bass drum attack) create one of the best endings I have heard in my life!

 



Metallica in Glastonbury: Ethics and popular music

A few hours ago an extraordinary campaign for the world of popular music started taking place, a campaign to ban Metallica from playing in Glastonbury festival. The official reason behind this campaign is Hetfield’s indeed appalling hobby of bear hunting. Although I agree with the basic premise, I disagree with the conclusion.

Practices of musicians, promoters and audiences alike, that have a moral dimension are not a new thing. In fact, they are an everyday phenomenon. Every time that a fan of Malevolent Creation – who likes their music but hates their politics – does not attend one of their gigs, this fan makes a morally informed decision. It could also be said that all those fans who attend the concert also make a moral decision, either with their approval or with their acquiescence. Jello Biafra’s decision to not appear with his band in Israel has a moral dimension, as well as the practices of all those other bands that do appear in Israel.

What it all comes down to is, should we reduce the identities of musicians down to their capacity to create music or should we take into account all other aspects of their identities? Musicians are people whom most of us have decided to judge based on the music they create rather than all their other personal and social practices. However, the advent of the internet and the tendency of even alternative media to treat musicians as celebrities have opened a window to musician’s personal lives. I personally lost respect for many of my music heroes over the years.  I sometimes think that I would prefer not knowing about musicians’ personal lives. On the other hand, I would not like to support fascist bands. It appears that enjoying music regardless of musicians’ politics and staying true to one’s values are two things that are very difficult to be reconciled.

The heavy metal genre had working class origins within which very specific discourses operate. Based on the context within which heavy metal was born, it would be very unlikely for sexism, for example, to not be present. A moral stance that punishes all musicians who are sexist would mean the dismissal of the heavy metal genre in its entirety. Of course, social actors based on their different biographies have differential degrees of agency within any structure. Accordingly, heavy metal musicians can be sexist to different degrees or even be critical of sexism. In any case, the social, cultural and economic contexts in which music happens should be taken into account, without this meaning that we should absolve musicians and forgive their shortcomings.

Now, there are two reasons why I find the reaction to Metallica’s appearance a bit hypocritical. The organisers of the campaign argue that removing Metallica is important because:

"This is a cruel and abhorrent thing to do. 
Killing animals for food is one thing. 
But killing for so called sport is wrong.

They have thus arbitrarily decided that killing animals for sport is wrong, but killing them for food is ok, which I find problematic. The other interesting thing about Metallica‘s headlining appearance in Glastonbury is that when it was first announced, I witnessed some negative reactions in various online forums. The reason seemed to be that the audience associated with Glastonbury has not been a heavy metal audience historically. One of the things that I read was that people who had already bought tickets before the headlining act was revealed would definitely be disappointed.

This is the basic reason I have to question the motives behind the campaign against Metallica. Metallica’s appearance would disappoint lots of people who have bought tickets and would have preferred another headlining act. Additionally, all the douchebags who buy a bunch of tickets in advance and then sell them back in super-inflated prices to people who did not manage to secure a ticket, would also be disappointed. Who says that the campaign was not started, or, if not started, supported, by some of those people?

Would Glastonbury’s audience accept Dave’s Megadeth to appear in the festival? Dave has written the song “Countdown to extinction”, a song explicitly critical to practices such as bear-baiting. Yet, Dave also has some pretty radical right-wing views. I personally think that what it comes down to is probably musical taste and opportunism. Nevertheless, this development raises interesting questions with regard to the changing relationship between artists and their audiences, the role of social media in the democratisation of decision making, or corporate responsibility and the role of the public, among other things.



A brief history of growing up with vinyl in the 1990s

Back in the mid-1990s two cultural/economic trends were dying away: the vinyl and the death metal genre. This concurrence brought happiness to a small group of friends from Nikaia, a suburb of Piraeus in Greece, who were just starting to discover extreme metal.

By that time, death metal had undergone a period of explosion, saturation and relative stalemate, and was considered a thing of the past in mainstream metal circles (the same goes for traditional metal and thrash). Melodic and highly canonised black metal, on the other hand, was spreading its wings. At the same time, the CD had been widely accepted as the orthodoxy in music dissemination. The vinyl was deemed an inefficient format for music storage; it takes up too much space, it is vulnerable, it cannot carry more than 50 minutes of music among its delicate grooves without compromising the sound quality and, finally, its sound is inferior to the polished digital sound of the CD, which is also small and more easily storable, can hold up to 80 minutes of music and, or so it was claimed, it could live forever. Nevertheless, these two trends – the cultural and economic depreciation of vinyl and (death) metal – resulted in another brilliant trend that made us oh-so-merry: the mid-1990s was a heaven of ridiculously cheap second-hand vinyl records of metal bands.

At the time, me and my friends were in secondary school. Before metal, our cultural consumption was limited to sports shoes (I am not kidding), fast food and, in the case of some people, video games. Then metal came and became an all-encompassing leisurely activity. For some of us there was nothing beyond metal music, although some still placed loyalty in football or video games, albeit to a lesser extent. Back then, every single album obtained, in any type of format (cassette tape, CD or vinyl), was a treasured artifact. Every single album was laboriously listened and appreciated. Listening to music, sometimes an individualistic and other times a social experience, was done with passion.

My weekly allowance at the time was 1000 drachmas (approximately two British pounds) and 1500 drachmas a bit later on. From time to time, my grandparents would also give me an one-thousand drachmas note on top of that standard allowance. Today it may sound crazy, but at that time this weekly allowance was enough to buy one cheese pasty and a soda per day from the school canteen. That’s how my parents intended me to spend my money.  When I started listening to metal I started saving this allowance to buy cassette tapes in order to copy my friends’ albums, as well as CDs and vinyl. The first metal album I made a cassette copy of was Iron Maiden‘s Number of the beast, owned by a friend living in the same building as I did. The first CD I ever bought was Iron Maiden’s Live after death. The first metal vinyl was (surprise, surprise) Iron Maiden’s Fear of the dark.

As I have explained in an earlier post, there were several factors that eventually made vinyl our format of choice. One factor was a specific “record collectors” discourse – which is currently stronger than ever – according to which vinyl is both an investment and a subcultural artifact which gives its possessor prestige and legitimacy (among one’s peers).  Another factor was financial; vinyl used to be slightly cheaper than CDs (the opposite of what happens today). Nevertheless, the aforementioned first few metal albums were bought from local record stores (D.J. records and 5000 V) and were quite expensive (3000-3500 drachmas each). The decision to buy vinyl was not fully determined until we discovered second-hand record stores, where we would find a much bigger volume of albums in much lower prices.

Not before long, me and my friends discovered the numerous second-hand record stores at the centre of Athens. The record stores in Monastiraki, Athens, were the ones I early on bought records on ridiculously low prices. Morbid Angel‘s Altars of madness for 1500 drachmas from Tsampas, Xentrix‘s Shattered existence from 7 plus 7 for 1750 drachmas, Massacre‘s From beyond for 1500 drachmas from Shiva records, are some of the great bargains I can remember. Of course the other music retailers (that were selling both new and second-had albums) in Athens were also great. Who can forget the awesome Happening that also had great offers, the two Rock City stores, and Jim’s Metal Era. For at least two years these stores were our temples of metal appreciation.

Then a great revelation happened in early June 1997. It was after the summer physics exam when me and my friend Dimitris decided to go to Athens on a record hunt. When we got off the bus at Koumoundourou square we saw another friend, Nikos, who was just returning from his record hunt and he told us about this awesome record store he had found, that had the best prices ever. Its name was Art Nouveau, at Solomou street, Exarcheia. However, we did not visit it on that day. Instead, I bought the newly released Dismember Misanthropic e.p. from Metal Era and returned home ecstatic.

Art Nouveau proved to be one of the best record stores ever. It was founded by Nikos, an avid fan of rock music, in 1983. (The store apparently operated also as the “headquarters” of Nikos’ independent music productions company which released the Αδιέξοδο (Dead End) – Γενιά του Χάους (Chaos Generation) split tape in 1983.) The metal section consisted of three stalls on the right hand side of the entrance to the back room. Each stall contained 50-70 records. All the records had been removed and stored, so the customers browsed through the record jackets. On the top right corner of each album there was a tiny hand-written price-tag. The price was also written in pencil on the inner sleeve. As I write this post I am listening to Morgoth‘s Cursed, which I bought from there for 1800 drachmas (3,5 pounds). Other notable records I bought from there include Paradise Lost‘s Gothic for 2000 drachmas, Pungent Stench‘s first album for 1800 drachmas, and Cannibal Corpse‘s Butchered at birth and Cadaver‘s Hallucinating anxiety for equally ridiculous prices. Art Nouveau can nowadays be found at 42 Arachovis street, Exarcheia, still preaching the old rock gospel and stubbornly resisting music fads and the pressures of big music retailers, music digitisation and the internet.

Old habits die hard, and even at a time when some of the most obscure music can easily be obtained by anyone with internet access, all the people who came together in that group two decades ago still buy vinyl records. For most of us it is no longer a matter of prestige. It is simply that we know no better way to enjoy music. Because, all those who have been part of the social organisation of vinyl-purchasing (the excitement of patiently browsing through thousands of albums for hours on end and eventually finding an album you were looking for, finding a hidden phrase engraved on the vinyl close to where the label is, looking at the pictures of the musicians, reading the “Thanx lists” trying to understand who is friends with whom and to discover new bands, finding out who composed what, reading the lyrics, carefully examining the artwork, and smelling the cardboard odour off the record jacket), know that it constitutes an experience that enhances the experience of music-listening itself.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

Me and my friend Nikos, 19 years after our first record-hunt.

 

 



Is this where I came from? #3 My Bloody Valentine and Psychotic Waltz

In previous installments of the “Is this where I came from”  series of posts, I have addressed the influence of British heavy metal on Swedish death metal and German power metal. In an effort to seek more obscure influences across genres rather than the more obvious ones within the same genre (for example, how the main riff off Iron Maiden‘s “The Wickerman” is exactly the same as Judas Priest‘s “Running wild“) I will go out on a limb in this post, so to speak. In this the third installment I hypothesise the possible influence of an alternative rock band from Dublin, Ireland (My Bloody Valentine) on a progressive metal band from San Diego, California (Psychotic Waltz).

My Bloody Valentine – Soft as snow (but warm inside) (1988)

My Bloody ValentineMy Bloody Valentine is a band that pioneered the shoegazing genre. The first time I heard about them was through Napalm Death; MBV is one of the bands that Barney usually mentions, alongside the Swans, when he accounts for the more atmospheric influences of Napalm Death. MBV’s first album, Isn’t anything, is the only one I have heard from them and is quite amazing. An old school garage/rock ‘n’ roll spirit hides behind a veil of melancholy and uncanny noise and dissonance. “Soft as snow” is the opening song of the album.

Psychotic Waltz – Lovestone blind (1994)

psychotic“Lovestone blind” comes from Psychotic Waltz‘s third album, Mosquito (1994). In this album, the complex orchestrations and instrumentation used in the previous ones were to a large extent abandoned in favor of a more stripped down and direct sound akin to the, at the time, burgeoning grunge sound of the early 1990s. Indeed, harmonic progressions that remind of Nirvana, The Fluid, or Soundgarden, and so on, can be found here and there throughout this album. It is probably my least favorite PW album, although songs like “Haze One”, “Mosquito”, and “Cold” are all-time favorites. One of the less obvious influences of PW however, I think comes from My Bloody Valentine. “Lovestone blind” is mainly built around grunge-y dissonant harmonic progressions and an equally abrasive chorus. However, three minutes into the song, the band goes into a slow atmospheric part. During this slow part, Lackey starts singing the final verse, “now they look into the eyes of a silver screen can of lies…”. The harmony and feel of this passage is very similar to the melody of “Soft as snow”.



A day in Brighton’s record fair

Today (Sunday, February the 16th) was the third time I attended a record fair in Brighton. The event took place at the Brighton Center, a huge building at Brighton seafront that accommodates all kinds of cultural/commercial events. The event started at 8:30. The early entry fee was a bit higher than the late entry fee (£5 before 9:30 and £2 after). I arrived around 13:00 so I missed the slaughter among those record collectors who derive their identity from their record collection. Luckily those types are less likely to be interested in the kind of music I like so I was not too worried about missing out on amazing finds.

The entry fee was not unreasonable but, nevertheless, has some weird implications. By charging people to attend an event as this one, the meaning of the event is effectively constructed as a service provided to record-buyers who are given the opportunity to buy records, rather than an opportunity provided to a bunch of record-merchants to sell their stuff. In other words, the fee signifies that as a record buyer you should feel lucky.  Anyway, I guess both things are valid and as I said the fee was not unreasonable. The music coming from the speakers on my arrival was African. There were not too many people so it did not usually require waiting for one to check out their preferred section. On my arrival and after paying the £2 fee I decided to start my quest by genre. This means that I decided to go from merchant to merchant focusing initially on the genres in which I am more interested. Thus, the record-hunt started with heavy metal and punk.  Few merchants were specialised in a specific genre, one was specialised in rap-hip hop, another in punk and hardcore, and a couple were specialised in funk. Most merchants offered records in a variety of genres. As expected, metal records were thin on the ground. Wherever there was a heavy metal category it contained mainly lame hard rock and glam metal records from the eighties. This is not surprising given that metal was a phenomenon of the 80s, a period where dreadful bands sold lots of albums to masses which were doomed to get rid of these records once they grew a bit older and the fad was over. Now all these rejected records by bands like Motley Crue, Poison, Krokus, Def Leppard, and so on, are doomed to haunt the “on sale” sections of record stores around the world.

The punk sections were a bit more interesting, albeit sad reminders of the fact that US and European punk never reached England. An exception to the trend was the guy who specialised in punk and had goodies from around the world who also used to run a cool local record shop at Kensington Gardens, in the North Laine. 51PfthVgR-LEarly on I was lucky to find Electric Frankenstein‘s Don’t touch me I’m electric (Twenty Stone Blatt records, blue vinyl) there for only £5. This was my only purchase during that initial phase.

The music coming from the speakers eventually changed from African to psychedelic rock. After I finished my search based on genre, I went back to the start and begun the tedious process of looking through the “on sale” sections. Through this process which caused ankylosis on my right hand I got Killing Joke‘s Revelations album for £4. Killing_Joke_-_Revelations-coverA bit disappointed from the lack of good records I decided to buy a record from the NWOBHM band Tygers of Pan Tang. I never listened properly to this band, and those songs that I had listened off their first couple of albums I thought were cool but nothing special. However, I had never listened to an entire album by them. I found their fourth album The cage for half a pound so I bought it. A guy next to me bought a bunch of records (more than 10) from the half pound section.

As time went by, record sellers started reducing the prices of the records. Around 15:00 and when the event was about to finish I happened to be going though a bunch of heavy metal records which I thought were a bit pricey. At that point the guy who was selling them announced that all records go at half price. I bought two albums I always thought were brilliant but I never owned in any form, Judas Priest‘s Sin after sin for £4 and Helloween‘s Pink bubbles go ape for another £4. Sin after sin has always had a magical influence on me, as I have always been enchanted by its cover and songs like “Dissident aggressor”, “Here come the tears” and “Raw deal” always gave me an uneasy feeling of melancholy. Pink bubles has some of my all time favorite Helloween songs, like “The chance” , “Someone’s crying” (establishing Grapow as a worthy replacement of Hansen) and “Number one“.

As I am writing this post I am listening to Revelations, an album I have never heard before, and I have to say that it sounds pretty awesome. Electric Frankenstein is a band I love and Don’t touch me I’m electric was amazing, as expected. I also listened to Sin after sin twice and got chills down my spine. The quality of early Judas Priest records is unprecedented. I only heard side A of the Tygers of Pan Tang record and I’d rather have my little toe repeatedly hit against sharp corners than listen to the other side.