overground scene


Take Refuge in old Rage
July 9, 2018, 4:36 pm
Filed under: Heavy metal, people | Tags: , , , , ,

Refuge is the alter-ego of Rage, a band led by one of my all-time favourite songwriters, Peavy Wagner. Alongside Peavy, Refuge consists of Manni Schmidt and Chris Efthimiadis. This configuration of musicians is the same one that offered a series of Rage albums of unparalleled beauty, including Perfect man (1988), Secrets in a weird world (1989), Reflections of a shadow (1990), Trapped (1992), and The missing link (1993). After 1993 Manni left the band and Rage went through many different configurations. By the late 1990s Chris was also out of the band. For many people, the trio of Peavy, Manni, and Chris was the absolute Rage line-up. I first heard the news of Peavy re-uniting with Chris and Manni a few years ago (May 2014) through the comments of a reader of this very blog. The trio performed songs from that bygone era of the band live, first under the Tres Hombres moniker (listen to “Shame on you“). Last month this configuration released a beautiful debut album full of the excellence one would expect from the old Rage. The first day I got the album I listened to it five-six times back to back.

Peavy has written three songs all by himself, and the rest are co-written with Manni. All the lyrics are by Peavy. Overall, the lyrical thematology and musicianship are instantly recognisable as classic Rage. Peavy’s usual questions regarding mortality (“Summer’s winter”, “We owe a life to death”, “From the ashes”), loneliness (“Man in the ivory tower”, “Bleeding from inside”), and heartbreak (“Let me go”) are all here. The album kicks off with a small masterpiece about the end of the world titled “Summer’s winter”. The brilliant “We owe a life to death”, a song clearly crafted after “Who dares” (one of the best anti-fascist songs ever written, from The missing link), deals again with Peavy’s usual obsession with death. “The man in the ivory tower” is another instant classic, flawlessly crafted song, about loneliness and regret. On “Hell freeze over”, one of my favourite songs on the album, Peavy forgets mortality and other sad topics for a bit and celebrates a life of creativity, camaraderie and perseverance. Musically, the album is on par with anything the trio did back in the day. It is an album full of Manni’s frantic guitar-playing, and trademark pick-squeals, Peavy’s infectious melodies and perfect (and catchy) choruses, and Chris’s powerful style of drumming. I cannot get used to the perfection of “Hell freeze over” (Manni’s on fire on this one). “Waterfalls” is the slowest song on the album, and is a craftily put together masterpiece that takes the listener through a beautiful musical and emotional journey. “Let me go” is a perfect example of the inventive ways Peavy incorporates unexpected chord progressions and arpeggiated chords, and their resulting unconventional melodies, in his songs (past examples include “Take me to the water” and “Spider’s web”). Although this is another small masterpiece, the “go, go, go” bit in the chorus is, in my opinion, doing the song a disservice (similar to the “sky, sky, sky” bit in “Higher than the sky” from End of all days (1996)). “Bleeding from inside” is another cool song with interesting structure and a great chorus, and although in the beginning I could not avoid comparing the verse vocal pattern to Savatage‘s “Power of the night”, I got used to it and I don’t even notice it anymore. The mind-blowing “Another kind of madness” that closes the album was originally a bonus track on The missing link, but the version here is a re-working of the demo version of the song (available in the demo collection only recently made available titled Demonizer). The Missing link version was (mostly) acoustic, whilst this version is electric; the verse and bridge melodies are kept almost intact, whilst the pre-chorus and chorus are changed. Chris’s performance on this song deserves special mention. Unfortunately, it is not included in the vinyl version of the album.

In my opinion Solitary men is not reminiscent of any of the Rage albums the trio released in the past, especially not Trapped and The missing link alongside which many rush to classify it. Solitary men is a slower album, much less frantic than the aforementioned. At least to some degree, and on account of songs like “We owe a life to death”, it is also a self-consciously self-referential throwback album, as opposed to any of the older ones. At the same time, it contains Peavy’s artful song-writing and beautiful voice, Manni’s genius guitar-playing, and Chris’s awesome drumming, and the resulting chemistry which has been without a miss the generator of musical miracles. Refuge released an instant classic, in a seemingly effortless manner, just like they used to do year after year between 1988 and 1993. Peavy has been writing music non-stop for 35 years and he still comes up with some of his best songs. I have said it before and I will say it again: someone built this man a friggin’ statue already!

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Overground Scene: 10 year anniversary

I started this blog 10 years ago, on July 4, 2008, during a challenging period of my life, in pursuit of some meaningful interaction around popular music. This clearly did not happen, but I decided against using this anniversary post to discuss the communicative opportunities and limitations of the internet, or the practice of debating (or the written word for that matter!) as an obsolete mode of social interaction. Instead, I’ll recount some of best moments associated with producing Overground Scene over the last 10 years.

Firstly, the practice of blogging, the translation from the more ephemeral (i.e. passing thoughts) to the more permanent so to speak (i.e. blog-posts), has been a pleasure in itself. I presume this translation must be one of the most attractive aspects of social media generally. Writing a post is much more than simply transferring one’s thoughts to written form on a web-page. Undergoing this translation, for me, means mobilising skills accumulated over many years of writing, reading music magazines, and absorbing various cultures of media production. There is effort involved in creating posts that are intelligible (an epithet that does not really apply to most of the early posts on this blog), both in terms of syntax, and curating (e.g. the inclusion of peripheral aspects of an argument – mainly images). Mobilising all these skills and seeing the end result of this labour has always been very fulfilling.

Some of the texts that inadvertently laid the groundwork for my blog*

The fact that some people enjoyed my blog and registered to receive updates means a lot to me and constitutes an encouraging reminder that I am not simply talking to myself. But through this blog I also got the unexpected opportunity to interact with some of the people I have admired since my childhood. Jeff Walker, the singer/songwriter of Carcass, one of the most excellent bands in the world and a band I respect and love, came across my review of Carcass’s comeback album and, I presume, regarded it a healthy expression of fandom. He then posted the following update on the band’s Facebook profile, by which I am massively honoured and at the same time constitutes an incredible act of legitimation.

Carcass giving Overground Scene the ‘thumbs-up’.

Another highlight was the brief interaction with Andre Tolhuisen and Ron van de Polder from Sinister, two musicians that I have also admired since the mid-1990s. Andre contacted me through the comments section of a post I wrote about Ron and his significant contribution to extreme metal. This initial contact led to an interview with Andre, whose brief contribution through Sinister’s sophomore album is also hugely significant. This interview led to one of my favourite posts celebrating the 20th anniversary of Diabolical Summoning (1993). Ron also came across the post dedicated to him and commented briefly. I understand that most people would not wait until their favourite musicians accidentally came across their blog to interact with them. Most people would simply add those people on Facebook or follow them on Twitter, but myself, being a bit more old-fashioned and quite unable to embrace the social media “revolution”, would never do something of the sort (I would consider it overstepping boundaries). So, the fact that these people contacted me or cited my blog means a lot to me.

Death Metal Masters

By this point, I have established several themes that I enjoy writing and have contributed several installments, including famous break-ups (What happened to us?), obscure references among bands or between bands and other popular culture texts (Is this where I came from?), important musicians that are inactive (Whatever happened to …?), and unfavourably reviewed albums (On reviewing). Some of my posts, for reasons I cannot know, have been much more popular than most. The post about the influence of H. P. Lovecraft on death metal has been one of the most read and commented on (and plagiarised by other blogs/websites). If anything resembled the kind of interaction I hoped to achieve through this blog, that would be the comments section of this post. Another post that still brings in traffic daily is the one on my favourite Swedish death metal albums (everyone likes a list). The post on Carcass’s comeback album (This Carcass feel) is also quite popular, mainly due to people still searching for the meaning of the number appearing during the chorus of “The granulating satanic mills” (I believe that a reader of this blog – Bill’s left pinky – offered the most plausible interpretation in one of the comments on the respective post – October 9, 2013).

On the occasion of this post I would like to articulate anew my commitment to writing about popular music from a critical perspective, and denying to provide a platform to any fascist discourses and their producers. Loving metal (or any other kind of music) does not mean that we should accept our favourite musicians and the fruits of their labour unconditionally. Music fans and musicians who believe in compassion and equality should be vocal about it, especially since ‘being vocal’ seems to be the default position of people who lack compassion and hate the idea of equality. Of course, there are also bands and music fans that are unapologetic enemies of humanity, compassion, and equality. These people are usually threatened by women who speak against rape, by victims of our colonial past who speak against racism, people who question gender and sexuality norms, and so forth. Sometimes, the reason why some feel threatened by such fights for justice is because they feel that they are better off with the status quo, not even considering the possibility that treating people better would also make their own lives better, more worth living. More often, though, these people are simply pawns in the games of much more powerful social actors and institutions, the Trumps, Farages, and Breitbarts of this world. Some of us still operate within political and judicial contexts where the extermination of dissenting voices is not yet common practice, but it is also terrifying to think that some others live in “democracies” where speaking out against orthodoxy equals at best imprisonment, at worst death. As such, speaking out is a precarious privilege and we should be making use of it, fostering it, improving it. I will end this post with a playlist that spans the years that this blog has been active. Enjoy responsibly.

*Images used to create this collage taken from:

Blackpig blog

Metal Invader

Iron Maiden collector blog



On reviewing albums #2: caught between the dunderhead and the elitist prick

This is the second installment (read the first installment here) in the series of posts that I write to let off steam and make fun of Encyclopaedia Metallum reviewers. I like to think that all different kinds of music have the potential to give pleasure to people, and that whether one enjoys a certain band/artist or not depends on their personal tastes and their desire and capacity to invest time understanding said band/artist. In this blog, I avoid talking about bands I haven’t invested time listening to or trying to understand, or bands that I haven’t found something nice to say about. Even when I acknowledge that a band or an album disappointed me, I make it very clear that it is a subjective opinion rather than a “fact”. One of the things I hate is when album reviewers talk about albums as if they express an “objective fact” or feel that their opinions are representative of audiences’ opinions.

Before I continue, I would like to explain that the reason why I choose to ridicule reviews written by “common fans”, as opposed to more “professional” critics that write for publications such as Metal Hammer, Metal Sucks, All Music, and so on, is not because I think that the latter do not deserve ridicule. If anything all those publications have set the standard in terrible reviewing. And most certainly I do not want to insinuate that because someone’s review has the seal of approval of an official publication it automatically has value. The reason I focus on the reviews of Encyclopaedia Metallum users is simply because I no longer read, and for a long time have not been reading, the reviews of any of the aforementioned publications.

In this post, as opposed to my previous post on reviewing albums, I will not talk about albums that have an overall terrible rating, but rather infuriatingly ridiculous reviews I accidentally came across about albums I consider brilliant. As I demonstrate in the three reviews that follow, through my brief “research” on Encyclopaedia Metallum‘s reviews section, I identify two types of annoying reviewers: the dunderhead, and the elitist prick. Of course, one could always assume that some reviewers are simply trolls, in which case they do their job pretty well!

1. Kataklysm – Temple of knowledge (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

This album is a masterpiece, and my favourite death metal album to have ever come out of Canada. Listening to it makes my skin crawl. Although strictly in a musical sense this album is by no means revolutionary, the execution, lyrical themes, and vocals make it an extraordinary death metal artifact. The intensity and absurdity of the pace of the music and vocal performance elevates this album to a league of its own. The music, although overall simplistic, is quite impressive, most musical sentences are extremely inventive (e.g. beginning of “Fathers from the suns”), and the way the band keeps pushing itself to new extremes is unprecedented. Now, on Encyclopaedia Metallum one person gave it a 10% and another 42%. These two reviews are very much representative of the kinds of people who tend to give bad reviews: one, the complete dunderhead with surprising self-confidence, and, two, the elitist prick who makes us feel thankful (or, at least, hopeful) that his/her influence is limited to Encyclopaedia Metallum and not in more significant social fields (education, government, mass media). In this case the dunderhead gave it a 10%, but commenting on that would be taking a cheap shot. So, I move on to the elitist prick who gave it a 42%. His review is laden with the usual elitist tantrums about pseudo-individualisation that would make Theodor Adorno blush, and “profound” insights on the thought processes of audiences (who apparently listen to music in the exact same way as he does). It is indeed ironic how this person, who clearly holds himself and his tastes in extremely high regard, at the same time without a shadow of a doubt proves himself completely ignorant by assuming that everyone engages with culture in a uniform way. He should do the world a favour and hurl himself off the top of the temple of knowledge on which he thinks he is sitting. My rating: 97%

2. At The Gates – Slaughter of the soul (71% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

In the case of ATG’s most popular album we can see the usual suspects spewing diarrhea in written form. Six out of 25 reviews give the album a bad rating. I will not dwell on all of them, instead I will focus on the one reviewer who gave it a 0% and clearly has never experienced joy in his life. I pity the fool. I would go out on a limb and argue that this person is either an arts student or cultural studies student who has done a very basic and uncritical reading of the Frankfurt School’s critiques of mass culture, or some poor soul who has made the phrase “you are what you consume” his modus operandi, and thinks that by consuming culture that is socially legitimated as high he will automatically occupy a much-desired high position in society. Once again we have a review of utter elitist drivel about what is high and what is low art, full of token aphorisms of mass-produced culture, McDonaldisation, and so forth. Maybe by the end of his degree he changed his mind, although if this review is representative of his student work then there’s not much promise for the future. His comment on LaRocque’s astonishing solo on “Cold” is pure blasphemy. If he listened to SOTS, an album that is the result of unbelievable effort and talent, the embodiment of years of experience, and which has had an enduring impact on popular music, and the only thing he had to say is that it is worth nothing, then the only thing I have to say about him is the above. My rating: 100%

3. Atheist – Jupiter (72% on Encyclopaedia Metallum)

Atheist’s Jupiter was my favourite album of 2010, alongside Imperial State Electric’s, Desultory’s and Blind Guardian’s albums of that year. Again here I will focus on the prodigy who gave this album a 0%. The person who wrote the review in question informs his readers from the outset that Atheist is “one of [his] first death metal bands”, in a pathetic attempt to invest his opinion with credibility. I wouldn’t be surprised if he started listening to death metal a month before he typed this review, and, truthful to his claim, at the beginning of that month he listened to Atheist. He goes on and on about how terrible the production is and how this is the major flaw of this album; jeeesus faux-king christ, some albums happen to be badly produced, or one might dislike the production; it happens all the time, get over it and listen to the faux-king album. What about Piece of time (1989) where the kick-drum almost completely drowns out the snare drum in all the fast songs?! After that he gets obsessed with the technicality of the album. I don’t believe I have read “tech” so many times in my life in one piece of writing. Of course, every single word he writes is completely subjective. He simply does not like the album, end of story. Along the way he references a bunch of contemporary bands (The faceless, Suicide silence, Mudvayne) which he implies are shit, but at the same time possesses suspicious reserves of knowledge about them as he compares specific bits of Jupiter to those bands. It’s almost as if he listens to those shitty bands. Almost as if he likes them. Interesting… Anyway, through his review he also plugs a website he is writing for, although this review is hardly an advertisement. This album is brilliant and from the day it came out ’till this very day I worship it (as much as I worship the first and second Atheist albums). If I have one problem with this album is that it is so brilliant that when it ends I’m sad. My rating: 96%



Misogyny on Blabbermouth’s comments section

Whenever I read the comments section on Blabbermouth I increasingly find myself being terrified. Lately I’ve been following the news on Decapitated‘s trial (they’ve been accused of gang-raping a woman during their USA tour), and every time I end up being shocked by commenters who utterly discard the accounts of the woman who pressed charges. I would expect that given that none of the commenters were present in the situation, they would acknowledge that they cannot know what happened for sure. Moreover, given that male aggression is a trait widely encouraged in western societies, an aspiration, a status symbol for both boys and men, and a performance played out in metal concerts, football stadiums, and out in the streets, and violence against women is acknowledged not only in the reports of women’s organisations or feminist writers, but in wider popular culture (e.g. literature, film, music, porn), the news of a group of men who play a hyper-masculine type of music possibly raping a woman does not come as a shock. Maybe she is lying, but if I had to give someone the benefit of the doubt that would be her. Still, I would understand someone keeping a skeptical perspective given that we were not present in the situation.

Collage of comments by men making fun of Ford being beaten up.

I was reading a news item on Blabbermouth about Lita Ford’s autobiography and the accusations that she was physically abused by Tony Iommi in the 1980s. Apparently Ford informed Iommi in advance that she would make these claims in her book, and Iommi apparently attributed his actions to taking drugs during that period. Given that Iommi has not denied these charges I would consider it an open-and-shut case of physical abuse against Lita Ford. What one comes across on Blabbermouth’s comment section, however, is a frightening tirade of misogynistic comments. The themes emerging from these comments range from men making fun of the fact she got beaten up (see image above), saying that she got what she deserved, to attacking her credibility and her book (see image below).

Collage of comments regarding Ford’s book

What we read in the comments section of the Blabbermouth article are not necessarily representative of the views of the metal community, but the views of the conservative segment of this community which is over-represented in such forums. Conservative people tend to be more vocal than others. Being conservative by definition means that one’s views are in line with the dominant discourses in a specific societal context. In that sense, the person holding conservative views is more likely to think that their views are the right ones. Moreover, and for the same reason, this person is more likely to think that these views will most likely go unchallenged if expressed publicly because they are shared by most people. Even if the conservative speaker, lets call this speaker a “he”, thinks that someone might challenge his views, he will still feel that the majority of people will back him up.

Do misogynists feel that their views are widely accepted?

The views expressed by this conservative segment of the metal community might reflect an attempt to manage the terror experienced in its ranks from living in times where their dominant views are increasingly challenged. I was recently reading an article on the Black Lives Matter movement (Hoffman et al. 2016) where the authors used Terror Management Theory to explain the polarisation around the issue on social media. According to terror management theory people who take their point of view for granted and are used to not having this view challenged experience existential terror when their views are eventually challenged. The men in Blabbermouth’s comment section who make misogynistic comments and try to relegate the issue at hand to the realm of “fun” and “piss-taking”, are terrified because views they have held for a long time are now being challenged. Most importantly they are scared because they know that they could also be accused of similar deeds (i.e. abuse and rape) in the future. Their comments collectively contribute towards an environment hostile to accusations such as the ones made by Lita Ford. In other words, they are sending a message to all those women who might consider making similar accusations, hoping that they will preempt such actions. The message is, “you will be publicly ridiculed and verbally abused”.

Comments more sympathetic to Ford exist but they are few and far between, and they don’t have the same “success” as misogynistic comments. The fact that there are some non-misogynistic voices out there who are not scared of making themselves heard is hopeful, but it is clear that we have entered a period where more and more of men’s privileges and hurtful practices are challenged on a daily basis and increasingly in popular discourse. Men should see this as an opportunity rather than a threat. It is an opportunity to make themselves better people, able to create better relationships and lead better lives. If that happens they will be able to understand that the song that follows is not about them, but about women’s experiences of living in a misogynistic world.

Reference

Hoffman, L., Granger Jr, N., Vallejos, L. and Moats, M., 2016. An existential–humanistic perspective on black lives matter and contemporary protest movements. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 56(6), pp.595-611.


Metal lyrics and nazism: denunciation or praise?

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

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

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

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

Slayer’s Angel of death

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

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

Dismember’s Thanatology

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

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



On reviewing albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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