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Metal lyrics and nazism: denunciation or praise?

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

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

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

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

Slayer’s Angel of death

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

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

Dismember’s Thanatology

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

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

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On reviewing albums

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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



In memory of Lemmy

Almost seven months ago, Ian “Lemmy” Kimister, one of the most important figures of popular music, died leaving a terrible void in the hearts of millions around the world. This post is a small tribute to Lemmy’s awesome life and contribution to music. I draw on Lemmy’s autobiography (White line fever, 2002, co-written by Janiss Garza) and the documentary Lemmy: 49% motherfucker, 51% son of a bitch, to refer to some of the most important musical stations in his life.

Little Richard, a musical innovator and Lemmy's major influence.

Little Richard, a musical innovator and Lemmy’s major influence.

Lemmy’s music, in many ways, stands in sharp contrast to heavy metal, due to the former being deeply rooted in blues and rock ‘n’ roll and devoid of classical music influences that define heavy metal. What made Lemmy’s style distinct was his disposition to engage with and re-interpret new trends in popular music through his rock ‘n’ roll lenses. Behind a song like “Orgasmatron“, on first appearance a brutal heavy metal song, hides a classic surf-rock rhythm and chord progression, only slowed down, distorted, and accompanied by a a heavy growl.

Lemmy’s life had been soaked in Rock ‘n’ roll. He lived and breathed it in its first incarnation, that is, African-American musicians’ interpretation of blues and gospel music in the late 1940s-early 1950s. Some of the musicians that influenced Lemmy in this early period of his life include Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but also their white contemporaries, Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. In his auto-biography he identifies Billy Haley‘s “Razzle dazzle” as the first Rock ‘n’ roll song he ever heard, although he considered Bill Halley’s music as inferior to that of his contemporaries.

Johnny Kid and the Pirates

Johnny Kid and the Pirates

Lemmy also lived first-hand the appropriation of this music by the first British musicians in the 1960s. He lived in a period during which hundreds of bands made by young English men and women started their careers by covering African-American rock ‘n’ roll, slowly embodying its logic. This period was followed by all these bands eventually spitting out their own interpretations of this musical tradition. The Yardbirds, a band which served as the breeding ground for some of UK’s most famous musicians (i.e. Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck) was one of his favourite bands. Lemmy is known to have claimed that The Beatles were and will always be the best band in the world, and he got to see them perform in the beginning of their career. Another one of the bands that Lemmy admired was Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, and one of their songs, “Please don’t touch“, was covered by Motörhead and Girlschool in their St. Valentine’s day massacre E.P.

It was within this context that Lemmy took his first steps as a musician. He played in some bands around London (e.g. P.P. Arnold’s band) and eventually in The Rockin Vickers, a rock ‘n’ roll cover band, which was quite successful for a while in the English north. Sam Gopal was one of the first bands in which Lemmy had a leading role. He sung and played guitar on their album Escalator, released in 1969. According to his autobiography Lemmy wrote almost all the songs on Escalator. What he misses to mention is that the music he wrote for one of the most beautiful songs on this album, “The sky is burning“, re-appeared in Motörhead’s album Snake bite love (1998). The song to which I am referring is the sorrowful dirge “Dead and gone“.

Lemmy on the far right sitting next to Hawkwind’s leader, Dave Brock.

His next major station was the psychedelic rock band Hawkwind, which he joined as a bassist and backing vocalist. Hawkwind played furious psychedelic rock, full of improvisations and chaotic arrangements. Lemmy’s new role as a bassist was a fortuitous one, as his recruitment coincided with Hawkwind’s bassist not showing up for a gig in London. Due to his previous experience with the guitar, Lemmy was predisposed to play the bass in a slightly unorthodox way. During his time with Hawkwind, Lemmy got the chance to live a lifestyle of abundant sex, drugs and rock’n’roll as a world-touring musician. He recorded three studio and one live album with them, before he got ousted due to what looks like personal differences with some other band members. The last song he wrote for them was titled “Motorhead“.

His ousting from Hawkwind left Lemmy disappointed, but full of experiences and confidence that he would use to pursue his own musical vision. Motörhead was created in 1975. By that time, and probably due to years of abuse (alcohol, drugs, smoking) his voice had already lost its youthful quality and had transformed into the raspy growl that would change popular music forever. According to his auto-biography, Motörhead (US slang for speedfreak) was fashioned after Little Richard, Hawkwind and MC5.

Motörhead ended up being the last major musical station in Lemmy life. During the first couple of years, the band was on life support, and just before its demise things started picking up for them. What is now considered as the classic Motörhead line-up consisted off Lemmy, Phil Taylor (drums), and Eddie Clarke (guitar), and the first album they recorded together was a masterpiece titled Overkil (1979). The title song is arguably the most devastatingly heavy song that had ever been recorded by that time, and there is no doubt that it opened the floodgates for what we now call extreme metal. Interestingly, the title tracks of the next three albums [i.e. Bomber (1979), Ace of spades (1980), Iron fist (1982)] were also the heaviest cuts in their respective albums. “Ace of spades” is considered an all-time classic, while several extreme metal bands have either covered “Iron fist” (Sodom in their “Persecution mania” album, 1987) or paid tribute to it (Entombed‘s “Serpent saints“, off the homonymous album (2007), alludes to “Iron fist” both musically and lyrically).

motorhead_another_perfect_dayThe next couple of albums (i.e. Another perfect day, 1983, and Orgasmatron, 1986), which are two of my all time favourite albums, included several line-up changes, resulting in a revamped sound. The next big change in the band’s sound came with the phenomenal 1916 (1991) album, which includes a more straighforward heavy metal aesthetic, on songs like “No voices in the sky” and “Nightmare/the dreamtime”, a metal ballad (“Love me forever“), and a stripped-down sorrowful dirge about dying in the battlefield (“1916”), alongside more typical Motörhead masterpieces (e.g. “Shut you down“, “Make my day”). Since then these elements became incorporated in Motörhead’s musical pallet, and with the stable line-up of Lemmy, Phil Campbell, and Mikkey Dee, they offered enjoyment, inspiration, and a cultural constant for many albums.

Motörhead has earned the title of the ultimate and most honest heavy rock band of all times, and Lemmy himself is being recognised as the ultimate heavy rock icon. By 1981 Motörhead were praised as gods. Lemmy has reiterated over the years that he always lived life to the fullest, and that whenever the time would come for him to leave this mortal coil he would go with no regrets and with being grateful for what life gave him. In 1980 he sung “that’s the way I like it baby, I don’t wanna live forever” (“Ace of spades”, Ace of spades, 1980). Lemmy’s life was enviable, and as he tells us in 1986, ‘I swear I can’t complain, if I die tonight’ (“Built for speed”, Orgasmatron, 1986). It feels unreal to know that Lemmy is gone. Listening to his songs will from now on break my heart, but as Lemmy said, “Everyone dies to break somebody’s heart”.

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Reek the vote
June 7, 2016, 11:24 am
Filed under: people, social theory | Tags: , , , , , ,

Here are some thoughts on the upcoming referendum on the UK’s future with the EU. I will not try to predict what the outcome of this referendum will be, or what the outcomes of any outcome might be, because nobody knows. I just felt like reflecting on the phenomenon.

First of all, this phenomenon reflects the fact that the ruling class is not a coherent group; the interests of different actors within the ruling class do not necessarily converge. I am not going to argue over whether the political elites are the representatives of powerful economic groups in society, I take that as a given. It would be interesting, however, to investigate properly whether Boris Johnson’s position and Cameron’s position on the referendum are consistent or not with the interests of their allies/friends in the economic field, or more precisely the economic/political field, what Bourdieu would call the field of power. My guess is that they are consistent.

Secondly, and linked to my first point, the referendum has nothing to do with democracy. It has to do with minor redistribution of power between different elite groups, and with designing a new status quo whereby the exploited will be exploited even more. Regardless of which group gets its way, all elite groups (even the “losers”) will continue occupying a privileged position in designing the strategies within which all the rest of us will have to make do. Regardless of who wins, the only certain outcome will be more exploitation of the dispossessed (remember if the UK stays in the EU it will negotiate its position therein). If you think that abolition of free movement of labour power in the case of a Brexit will negatively affect the manufacturing sector (because manufacturers will lose access to reserves of cheap labour), you are wrong. If cheap manual labour is what part of the economy wants, then the establishment will find a way to provide it, in or outside of the EU.

Thirdly, something that concerns EU immigrants in the UK, and linked to my previous point, the destiny of EU migrants in the UK is not going to change massively regardless of the outcome. If you are an EU citizen residing in the UK and you earn a lot of money, you will continue having the right to reside in the UK as long as you continue making loads of money. If your life in the UK is precarious now, it will continue being precarious regardless of the outcome. As I said earlier, this referendum is about re-designing the strategy of domination. If the UK decides to stay in the EU, don’t be surprised if some of the “rights” enjoyed by the precarious are taken away anyway.

Fourthly, ultimately the choice between EU and no-EU is a mechanism for legitimating the new status quo of exploitation.

It has been interesting (not really, I’m exaggerating) watching the different discourses being produced. As expected, EU membership is usually reduced to things such as immigration, lack of accountability, the TTIP negotiations, and contribution to EU budget by those in favour of “out”, versus sustaining peace in the region, workers’ rights, and controls over the corrupt British political system for those in favour of “in”. Believing that by voting in this referendum anyone has control over any of those issues, is just as big a fantasy as believing that the referendum is about democracy. The UK has been a part of the European project for almost half a century now. Did this stop the exploitation and alienation of the masses, injustice, or the emergence of a few actors with sickening wealth? No, it did not. Will exit from the EU stop plans to exploit the environment, workers, or mean that state resources will suddenly be allocated to the poorer strata of society? No, it will not. If you vote for exit hoping for less immigrants “stealing your jobs” or “ruining your culture” you’re in for a surprise. Similarly, in or out of the EU, workers’ rights might improve or deteriorate depending on what the ruling classes want. If the latter decide that better conditions of work might attract better workers or increase productivity (allowing for expropriation of more surplus value) then, in or out of the EU, workers will be presented with better conditions (I’m not even entering the discussion about what “better conditions” means and what role ideology plays in concealing the “real” conditions of existence).

Having said that, I don’t want to imply that the ruling class has absolute control or that it operates under conditions of “perfect information”, whereby it can plan an optimum strategy. Moreover, the way the political system works at a national level or the EU level is also extremely complex and full of uncertainty. The ruling class will also have to play it by ear, as its been doing anyway, that is why trying to outguess what the outcome of the referendum will mean for us is an exercise in futility. The less privileged will just have to make do with the new strategy presented to them when the time comes. Relative positions will not change significantly. If you occupy a relatively privileged position you should expect something similar regardless of the outcome. If you are fucked now you will continue being fucked regardless of the outcome.

To sum up, the choice between in and out of the EU is being caught between a rock and a hard place. It is an illusion of choice. And it is a legitimation of the process of a minor re-distribution of wealth between powerful groups in society. People will participate in the different discourses that the powerful produce and will vote based on their perceived interest on the basis of these discourses. I am not very familiar with UK party politics, but if the UK has historically constructed the EU as a scapegoat for everything that “goes wrong”, then I would expect a victory for Brexit.



Triarchy of the lost lovers: 20 years on

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I find it hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the release of Rotting Christ‘s masterpiece Triarchy of the lost lovers (1996). Reminiscing upon the release of this album, my initial engagement with it, and the different ways in which it has been implicated in my life, the vast polysemic position that this album occupies in my biography is revealed. In this post I share some personal stories around what I personally consider one of the most beautiful albums of all time.

1198Rotting Christ occupy a prolific position in my personal biography as a fan of extreme metal. The very first album that induced me to the more underground facets of metal was a compilation cassette tape by Unisound Records, a Greek metal label. The title of this cassette tape was Into the catacthonium (released in 1994 if I remember correctly). I distinctly remember my friend Nick bringing the cassette tape to my house. Through this tape I was exposed for the first time to extreme metal, through the song “Primordial” by Mortuary Drape. I cannot remember for sure if that was the compilation’s opening song, but that was the one that I first listened to. While both of us thought that the singer’s screams sounded funny, I think it irrevocably infected us with the extreme metal virus. Two were the songs that I remember listening to from that tape; one was “Primordial” and the other “Saturn unlock Avey’s son” by Rotting Christ, off the album Non serviam (1994). Similarly, the initial contact with Rotting Christ was not one of unabridged enthusiasm and unconditional surrender. The music was indeed captivating, but the singer’s voice combined with his accent, especially the way he pronounced ‘volcanic explosion’, were hilarious.

Nevertheless, a big change had definitely taken place. Extreme metal did not go down very well with us, but it had our attention. The fact that Rotting Christ was a Greek band was also part of the excitement. Back then I was totally unaware of other Greek metal bands, so the idea that an extreme band was local, so to speak, was exciting. In hindsight, that was an illusion and an excellent example of how national identity works. The excitement that I would feel back in those days reflected a nationalist sentiment, the fantasy that there is a bond between me and a group of people who I would probably never meet and with whom I had very little in common.

The very little I did end up having in common with Rotting Christ would be taste in music. Of course, metal fandom is itself a whole different “imagined community”. Indeed, over the years I have come to realise that the majority of “metal fans” I have met throughout my life have completely different tastes than me, and relate to music differently than I do. In any case, to return to my previous point, even though “greekness” was in the realm of fantasy, I did share with Rotting Christ love for their music (assuming they were fans of their own music). My friend Mark bought “Triarchy of the lost lovers” in 1996, a few months after it came out. He brought the CD to our English lesson and we used my portable CD player to listen to it. If I remember correctly, he must have instructed me to skip the first couple of songs and listen to “Archon” straight away, the fastest cut from this album. By that time we were already listening to death metal and we were primarily intrigued by speed and intensity. I was instantly hooked and soon afterwards I too bought the CD.

1199Triarchy of the lost lovers is one of those rare albums completely devoid of mediocre moments. Every song is an instant classic. In contrast to most extreme metal, which is loquacious and dense, Triarchy is laconic. It has big openings that give the listener room to breathe and reflect on what they experience. Each musical sentence is a clearly articulated statement and it stands out. I would not use the term “riff” to describe this music; that would be reductionist. Only rarely Sakis (the composer) resorts to the short single-layered patterns that we often identify as riffs in metal music. Although laconic, his musical rhetoric is fascinating; each pattern consists of several layers that involve harmonisations, and a dialogue between primary and secondary melodies. The guitar solos are not ephemeral improvisations either; far from it, they are thought-through compositions in their own right (listen to the solo of “A dynasty from the ice“). Jim’s poems about mythical themes, epic tragedies, and uncanny horror stories, were an essential ingredient in Rotting Christ’s unique style of songwriting.

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From left to right: Sakis, Jim, and Themis circa 1996

Back in the mid-1990s one of the best metal record stores in Athens was Metal Era, a shop owned by Jim “Mutilator” Patsouris, original bassist of Rotting Christ. Anyone into metal that grew up in Athens in the mid 1990s knew who the owner of Metal Era was. Over the years I saw many metalheads swarm around him, usually kids who saw him as a rock star. Back then me and my friends often wondered whether some of those fanboys were actually working in the shop for free. In any case, I was not far from being a fanboy myself, because in all honesty I did look up to Jim; he was part of an important chapter of extreme metal history. I too often used to hang out in the shop pestering him to play new releases. Some of the fresh releases or promo versions of albums I listened there over the years include Hypocrisy‘s Final chapter (1997) and Hypocrisy (1999), Hate Eternal‘s Conquering the throne (1999), Broken Hope‘s Loathing (1997), and Dismember‘s Hate campaign (2000). At some point in the late 1990s, after he had quit the band, we ended up talking about Rotting Christ and I told him that Triarchy was my favourite album by them and one of my all-time favourite albums overall. I remember that he was surprised, in a very humble way, and told me that it was his favourite Rotting Christ album too.

But the significance of this album goes beyond simple fascination with the songs. This album is the primary material of many fond memories over the years, one including my younger brother. For a brief period around ’96-97 my brother became interested in the music that his older brother (me) was listening to. One of the songs he used to love was “Snowing still” off Triarchy. Near the end of that song there is an atmospheric passage during which the singer narrates in Greek. This part of the lyrics was omitted from the lyrics in the booklet, and the even more annoying thing was that neither me nor my friends could make out what was being said. My brother wanted to know the lyrics, as it was one of his favourite songs, so I asked Jim to jot down the lyrics on a piece of paper and write a dedication to my brother. Jim was very gracious and indeed wrote down the lyrics in a piece of paper that I’ve kept inside the booklet since.

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“Black swans bring tears over his dead body – by dawn they’ll be lying dead together” – Dedicated to our friend Anthony (Jim Mutilator)

Triarchy is undisputedly an extreme metal album, yet it is very difficult to classify it. I personally think that it singularly occupies its own category. Over the summer holidays of 1997, I decided that this album stands out as one of the very few albums where each single second is characterised by sheer perfection. I used to think back then that any band would kill to have even one of the “riffs” on that album. Its melodic dimension anchors it to traditional metal, which was my great love, but also to other styles, such as popular and folk Greek music, that resonated with my habitus. Twenty years have passed since I first listened to it, and today I simply confirm what I had already thought 10 or 15 years ago: Triarchy of the lost lovers is a timeless masterpiece whose significance will only increase with time. Every day that goes by is and will be a reminder that what this band achieved in terms of aesthetic expression and inventiveness cannot be repeated, so this unique example will be admired and treasured.