overground scene


Propagandhi, intertextuality, and YouTube.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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



Awesome music in the year 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

28784218742. Metallica – Hardwired to Self-Destruct

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

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

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

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

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

a1231087888_104. Temisto – S/T

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

600x6005. Brujeria – Pocho Aztlan

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

1000x10006. Entombed A.D. – Dead Dawn

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

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

mercylesspatheticdivinitycd7. Mercyless – Pathetic Divinity

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

5505538. Brutality – Sea of Ignorance

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

Cauldron_In-Ruin9. Cauldron – In Ruin

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

64610. Dark Funeral – Where Shadows Forever Reign

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

2016 PLAYLIST



Guilty displeasures

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

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

emper1. Emperor – In the Nightside Eclipse (1994)

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

projector_album_cover1. Dark Tranquillity – Exposure (Projector)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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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Is this where I came from? #8 Manic Street Preachers and Cross Stitched Eyes

In this the 8th installment in the “Is this where I came from?” series of posts I claim that a song by Manic Street Preachers, from an album that is considered to be a landmark in the history of alternative rock, influenced the contemporary crust/punk band Cross Stitched Eyes to write one of the stand-out tracks off their debut album.

manic street preachers - quartetManic Street Preachers – Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart (1994)

This is the only album I have listened to from the Manics, as their devoted fans refer to them, and I can say that I do understand why someone can become obsessed with this band. First of all, judging by this album, this is a band that in spite of having enjoyed some widespread popularity (I distinctly remember being exposed to their music on popular music TV shows during the 1990s), it was not afraid to stray away from popular music conventions. Indeed, this album is chock full of musical ideas that can catch someone off guard. Each song requires from the listeners to be particularly attentive and active if they want to be part of the process of popular culture in which the band invites them. While listening to Nirvana or Smashing Pumpkins is undoubtedly a form of productive consumption, I would imagine that it is not as demanding as listening to the Manics. Based on my own musical background, I can relate to the Manics in different ways. This song starts with a jazzy riff that reminds of late 1980s Nomeansno. Shortly after that it moves on to a minimalist, dark, dissonant riff which repeats itself for several times and a beat that complements the dark vibe of the riff. The singer’s pitch, theatricality and use of vibrato are reminiscent of Jello Biafra. The song then goes through several other changes, including a happy bridge and chorus that anchor the song to more mainstream alternative rock music, before the band returns to the main dark and dissonant riff. This main riff is the one that influenced Cross Stitched Eyes. This album has definitely been influenced by Faith No More, and, in turn, has definitely influenced System Of A Down.

cseCross Stitched Eyes – End (2008)

I first listened to Cross Stitched Eyes back in 2008 when their debut album (Coranach) was released and I thought they were great. I didn’t think that they were particularly innovative, but it was obvious to me that they were music fans who had embodied their influences and craftily blended them in their own sound. These influences, I would imagine, include Amebix, The Cure, Motorhead, New Model Army,1980s crust music in general, and, as I suggest in this post, Manic Street Preachers. The song “End” which closes the album is one of the best songs in it and is driven by an awesome opening riff and drum beat, which are very similar to the arrangement around the main riff of “Ifwhiteamerica toldthetruth foroneday it’sworldwouldfallapart” (on the video that follows the song starts at 2:30).



Guilty pleasures #1

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

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

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

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

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

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