overground scene


Heavy metal musicians and objectification

The heavy metal subculture is famous for its gendered and exclusionary to women character (see Weinstein, 1991). Since its crystallisation as a genre in the late 1970s – early 1980s, a phenomenon fueled by the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal, women tended to be thin on the ground. That is not to say that there were no women in metal. Girlschool was one of the seminal English metal bands and their influence can be seen on bands like Metallica (check out how similar Girlschool’s “Not for sale“, themselves influenced by Motorhead, is to Metallica’s “Seek and destroy“).

Women in heavy metal who became famous, like Doro and Lita Ford, were objectified in accordance with the objectification to which women have been subjected in mainstream culture. Through images at record covers and inner sleeves on which their bodies were exposed and would assume sexually suggestive poses, women in metal were reduced to only one aspect of their personality, their bodies. These bodies were meant to be gazed at by what was perceived to be the main occupier of the heavy metal fandom, the heterosexual male.

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Lita Ford was one of the most successful women in Metal

 

Looking at media representations of women in heavy metal, toughness as well as the particular subcultural attire would be the only two elements of their performance which would distinguish them from women in mainstream culture. The ostensible tough performance women would put on represented only a minor diversion from mainstream representations of female sexuality. Toughness, at the same time, would grant them subcultural legitimacy. The stereotyped metalhead, as a vehicular unit (Goffman, 1971), involves a specific dress code and a specific body language. The dress code includes denim, leather, dark colors, and chains; the specific body language involves toughness. Thus, in heavy metal culture, women might hope to be accepted as equals as long as they espouse these subcultural norms. Insofar as toughness is a signifier of hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Connell, 2005), then women have to conform to this hegemonic masculinity in the heavy metal subculture. In that sense, women in metal might appear to liberate themselves from the shackles of a dominant femininity that wants them docile and fragile, but might find themselves subjugated to the binary opposite. This, combined with the likelihood of continuing being sexually objectified as in mainstream culture, precludes any emancipatory potential through subcultural membership in heavy metal.

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Doro as the singer of Warlock

 

However, sexual objectification in metal, one could argue, has not necessarily been limited to women. Male performers like Manowar or even the much more “underground” Bathory would also expose their bodies to the “camera’s gaze” (Mulvey, 1992). Of course, like in mainstream culture, the meanings ascribed to male objectification were different to those coded into the female body. While in the case of women, objectification conveyed – apart from eroticism – vulnerability, often hidden behind a veil of toughness, in the case of men it signified indisputable strength. It could be said that in the case of male performers, objectification played a central role in the broader narrative of their music. Both Manowar’s and Bathory’s music was about warriors, and their revealing attire (fittingly supplemented by swords) was meant to be a warrior’s attire. Their “bodily hexis” (Bourdieu, 1977) as well, was quite different to the one of their female peers; men confidently stood their ground with arms spread and flexed, while women were in awkward positions (see Lita Ford pictured above) that insinuated vulnerability (Doro on the Warlock cover above might appear strong, but she is barefoot and threateningly enveloped by a man). Having said that, it does not mean that the audience would necessarily decode the male bodily rhetoric (Foucault, 1977) in terms of “strength”. The heterosexual female receiver or the homosexual male receiver, or potentially anyone, could read these pictures in terms of eroticism.

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The hilarious artwork of Manowar’s sophomore album.

 

Moreover, glam metal bands in the 1980s, like Poison, Motley Crue and Ratt, were prime examples of male sexual objectification. These bands were products of the music industry primarily marketed to the (heterosexual) female gaze. Also, from a psychoanalytical perspective, these examples of male sexual objectification do not preclude the possibility of narcissistic identification by heterosexual men.

Throughout the years, there have been women, predominantly in the less commercial sub-genres of metal, like Death Metal, that resisted the more blatant sexual objectification that is observed in mainstream culture and the more commercial strands of subcultures. Jo Bench from Bolt Thrower, Lori Bravo from Nuclear Death and Rachel Van Maastrigt-Heyzer of Sinister are three good examples of women who were not objectified, self- or otherwise (although they might have conformed to hegemonic masculinity). This further supports the hypothesis that in patriarchal capitalism sexual objectification is positively associated with commercialism. When the art world becomes colonised by the logic of the business world, the former’s practices reflect the imperative of profit. To the extent that profit depends on sales and that the heavy metal audience is a predominantly male chauvinist one, sexual objectification of women becomes a strategy for companies to maximise profit and a tactic for women heavy metal performers to succeed. The body becomes a resource used to compete and improve a woman’s position in the record industry.

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Jo Bench at a concert.

 

Having said that, I do not imply that Jo Bench or Lori Bravo simply were not subjected to the record industry’s pressures to be sexualised (or more precisely, embedded in the industry’s logic), because of the underground character of the death metal sub-genre. Indeed there is a chance that they were unlikely to have situated themselves in commercial metal to begin with. Maybe due to a more emancipated habitus they might have felt more at home within this specific sub-genre where the logic of the market would not apply its pressure on them. It is also likely that they would have resisted sexual objectification anyway, regardless of the logic of the sub-genre. At the same time, the logic of the sub-genre at any given time is expected to reflect the business model characterising the sub-genre, so in death metal (a genre that thought of itself as counter-cultural) it is likely that mainstream femininity would be looked down upon.

Some small changes have occurred in the metal landscape over the last two decades. In particular there’s a new tendency which can even be interpreted as a relative victory of dominant femininity in the heavy metal subculture. While in the 1980s we would see women in mainstream metal being subjected to the same sexual objectification as in other genres of mainstream culture and, additionally, having to adapt to the subcultural norms of hegemonic masculinity, today we see an acceptance of some of the attributes of dominant femininity in mainstream metal. In particular, we see women being dressed in typical feminine clothes (dresses, skirts, etc.) and singing in forms traditionally reserved by women (e.g. soprano). However, the issue of sexual objectification confronts women in heavy metal in pretty much the same way. As one can notice in Metalholic’s Top 25 women in metal list, women continue to perform the role of the sex object common in hegemonic culture, which involves exposure of their bodies and ridiculous poses that denote subjugation to the mainstream media logic of commercialisation.

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Metalcore band “Haste the Day”

Moreover, contemporary commercial heavy metal is not very different to mainstream pop boy-bands and girl-bands, both in terms of composition and in terms of “look”. This is indicative of heavy metal’s increasing embeddedness into the mainstream, with old subcultural boundaries increasingly becoming blurred. This tendency is exemplified in the metalcore sub-genre or bands like Baby Metal, where sexual objectification concerns all genders. Again, it would be inaccurate to view this as a totally new development. As explained earlier, today’s metalcore and mainstream heavy metal are the equivalent of glam metal in the 1980s; both of them are commercialised sub-genres that coexist with less/non commercialised sub-genres.

Defunct boy-band “One Call”

The implications for this increasing mainstreaming of heavy metal music include on the one hand objectification becoming even more common (as now commercial pressures on the genre are even stronger), but also creating metal sub-genres for audiences that are more susceptible to consumerism and, therefore, more likely to spend loads of money on merchandise (compared to the traditional working class base of Heavy metal). The latter serves the interests of the metal music industry and I would expect that even minor record labels that proclaim to be “true” have opened up to metalcore.

To conclude, sexual objectification of all genders has always been prominent in the more mainstream segments of heavy metal. It is both reflective of the colonisation of song production by the market logic and of the comodification of bodies (itself a reflection of the infiltration of market logic in all aspects of human life). The logic of each music industry sub-genre structures the choices available to the performers that are situated therein. The more the sub-genre fits the characteristics of mass culture, the more likely is for performers to have limited choices on how to present themselves. Moreover, the meanings attached to the objectification of women and men are different and dependent on the social construction of femininity and masculinity.

 …

References

Bourdieu, P. (1977) Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Connell, R. W. and Connell, R. (2005) Masculinities. University of California Press.

Foucault, M. (1977) Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Pantheon.

Goffman, E. (1971) Relations in public: microstudies of the public order. London: Allen Lane.

Mulvey, L. (1992) “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema”, in The Sexual Subject: A Screen Reader in Sexuality, pp. 22–34. New York and London: Routledge.

Weinstein, D. (1991) Heavy metal: a cultural sociology. New York: Lexington Books.

 



Morbus Chron’s Sweven

I’d been meaning to wait until the end of the year to talk about Morbus Chron‘s new album in the customary post where I evaluate each year’s music offerings. However, as with other albums that blew my mind in the past, I decided to dedicate an entire post to the miracle titled “Sweven”. I seriously doubt that some new album between now and the end of the year will manage to knock “Sweven” off its position as my favorite album of 2014.

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Morbus Chron is a Death Metal band from Sweden. Their first album, “Sleepers in the rift” is a Death masterpiece. Truth be told, it would be impossible to hear this album without thinking of “Severed survival”, “Mental funeral”, “Acts of the unspeakable”, “Leprosy” or “Scream bloody gore”. There are riffs in “Sleepers…” that have been almost MORBUS-CHRON-Sleepers-in-the-Riftdirectly lift off Autopsy songs. But that doesn’t make the album any less brilliant. The way these influences have been woven into Morbus Chron’s compositional style, with the excellent performance by the band and clever humorous lyrics, make up a record that can stand proudly next to all the old school brutal masterpieces, such as the aforementioned Autopsy and Death albums. Deformation of the dark matter, the last song off “Sleepers…”, considerably more dissonant and “progressive” than the rest of the songs, anticipates the direction Morbus Chron would take in the future. The follow-up e.p. “A saunter through the shroud” takes further the “progressive” elements that Morbus Chron flirted with on that song. Accordingly, their most recent offering, “Sweven”, doesn’t come as a surprise.

MorbusChron-Sweven-Cover“Sweven” is a unique musical experience. I think it’s the first time I actually think that, finally, there is a band that is a worthy successor of early Dismember, Entombed, Afflicted and At the Gates. “Sweven” is a concept album about life and death. However, existence is presented here in its bare, primordial form, stripped of the ornaments of culture and the fantasies of materiality (the same cannot be said regarding the band’s fantasy of immateriality though). Existence is being disclosed as a continuum of life and death. This is symbolically presented in the manner in which the album begins and ends. The album both starts and ends with the same backmasked clean guitar melody. The resulting incomprehensible melody could signify the elusive state between life and death. Robert’s shouting vocals give a sense of alertness and urgency throughout the album, perhaps signifying that every existential moment is sacred and should be attended to and experienced to the fullest. Edvin has contributed one song on this album (just like in the first album where he wrote the brilliant Red hook horror), the most straightforwardly death metal song titled Aurora in the offing. This song is the closest any band has ever gotten to achieving the magic of Entombed‘s “Clandestine”. All the other songs were composed by Robert. There is great variety in the songwriting. Most songs have long instrumental sections during which melodies are developed and different meanings and emotions are conveyed. While the atmosphere of the album could be described as “dark”, this darkness connotes the need for exploration, rather than desperation. This exploration usually results in things that are revealing and comforting. There is not as much fast tremolo-picking and palm-muting as one would expect from a Swedish death band; there is a wide use of arpeggiated chords, harmonies and some clean guitars. The main melody of Towards a dark sky, realised through a high-pitched tremolo-picked riff, flirts with Black Metal aesthetics. Beyond life’s sealed abode is probably my favorite song. The build-up leading up to the first verse, the melody when the singing starts, as well as the harmony that concludes the first verse verse and contributes in bringing out the vocal interpretation is pure genius. This moment is just one among several simply breathtaking moments on this album; just note the awesome tension conveyed by Robert’s delivery when he sings “to nurse me through birth and adolescence, with my controls set for the heart of the sun”, on Ripening life, and certain melodies, such as one in the middle of The perennial link and the final one in Terminus that concludes the album.

The art that compliments the songs on this album, both cover art and the individual illustrations that accompany each song in the booklet, deserves special mention. Each song is represented visually through a series of magnificent illustrations by Raul Gonzalez. All in all, this album is an absolute masterpiece to the very last detail. With each one of their releases, Morbus Chron keep setting the standards for what extreme music should aim for.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 



An imagined open letter from Trey Azagthoth

I understand that I do not represent the average Metal music-fan because such a thing does not exist. This is a statement whose truth would be challenged by most people on online fora such as Blabbermouth, who talk with authority as if music taste is the most objective thing on earth. And with this certainty comes the conviction that we Metal music fans value the same things and generally should know what is good and what not. And that extends to other types of music too.

The average metal music fan does not exist because each person builds their own reality. This reality is shaped by our various subjective experiences and it helps us make sense of the world. For too long, and with great persistence, the image of Death Metal that I formed was associated with notions such as freedom, innovativeness, art and resistance. The notions of commercialism, conformity and work could not exist on the same page as Death Metal.

One of the unfortunate results of the internet is the opportunity to look into artists’ lives. That has led to the slow crumbling of the noble idea of death metal (and metal) I used to have. Through the internet the rock star attitudes and the petty views of musicians are exposed. I will use this post first and foremost to say what death metal means to me and, secondly, to once again defend Morbid Angel‘s latest work. This is what I would want Trey Azagthoth to say to all those saying that they sold out, that they don’t play death metal, that they released the worst death metal album of all time, etc. I have no idea if any of the following are real, but I would sure like them to be.

“Dear people who had something to say about the new album and Morbid Angel,

I would like to start by saying that I am an artist. This means that I use the means available to me, such as my music skills, to express what I feel inside me. This is my motivation. To take parts of my reality and translate them into music. I appreciate that throughout all these years some of you have appreciated this personal journey that I set out to make and supported me. However, I did not do it for you. You just happened to like it for one reason or the other. I may have not put too much thought on how the music industry may appropriate this journey to make money because I am mainly interested in art. Of course, my involvement in the music industry has allowed me to live a decent life through playng music. Rather than wasting my money, like the Rock stars whose attitude I opposed all these years since I started my journey, I used them with prudence. So today I am in the pleasant position to continue creating what I like without caring what others think.

I understand that you feel disappointed with our current choices of artistic expression, some of you would not even call art. However, there is nothing I can do about it. I would certainly not consider doing anything that is against my artistic vision just to please someone else. Also, some of you argue that if I want to stop playing pure death metal I should do it under a different name, not Morbid Angel. Again this is an unreasonable request. Morbid Angel represents my artistic vision and one’s artistic vision is by definition dynamic. Your vision may be one thing one day and something completely different the next one because you see things differently every day. So, the idea that a band name should be associated with a specific recipee is wrong to begin with and should be discarded.

Finally, if the new record sets the foundations for our fan-base to become smaller or to be reconfigured, I will welcome this change. Death metal was never meant to be a music for the masses, because the masses are too alienated. Today’s death metal is for the masses and I would prefer not to be a part of it. The fact that death metal is successful today says something about the state of this type of music.”



Death Metal and unsuccessful mimicking in the creative process

I recently purchased the book “Choosing Death: the improbable history of Death Metal and Grindcore” writen by Albert Mudrian in 2004 and I quickly devoured its contents as soon as I got it in my hands. It is a pretty cool book basically structured around quotes from superstars of the international death metal and grind scene. The author conducted a huge number of interviews with practically everyone responsible for these extreme metal and punk movements. It was really interesting to read insights from Kam Lee on the beginings of Death and Massacre, the relationship between Chuck (Death) and Scott Carlson (Repulsion) and about the work ethos of Morbid Angel. Chuck’s and Morbid Angel’s stories were, I think, two of the most revealing ones in the sense that the most successful bands are after all the ones who put the most effort into it and manifest extreme levels of determination. However, the present post is not about bands’ histories. It is about the creative process itself.

The song “Evil Dead” from Death’s debut album is inspired by the famous horror movie of the same name. The initial riff however, I am pretty sure that it was inspired by the soundtrack of the movie Zombi 2 by Lucio Fulci. The minimalistic and particularly hooky music typical for horror films of that era has indeed been very popular with young death metalers. Great examples are of course the monumental ending of Entombed’s  “Left hand Path“, which is borrowed from the film Phantasm and the introduction of “The Exorcist”  from Possessed which comes from the movie of the same name. In one of the interviews on this book, Michael Amott (Carnage, Arch Enemy) explains that a lot of the now considered typical Swedish death melodies came from ripping off melodies from horror film music (p. 102). The interesting part with regard to the creative process is that these musicians were getting the melodies wrong, so the end result did not sound exactly the same as the original. I think that the importance of unsuccessful mimicking is downplayed when it comes to composition. From my personal experience, I have often come up with riffs just by trying to figure out what some of my favourite bands were doing! Once I tried to figure out how the main riff of “Purgatory” by Iron Maiden went and I ended up with a riff that had nothing to do with the Maiden song but was pretty cool too. Testimonies such as this one by Amott are important because they contribute to the demolition of established myths around composition, such as that musicians are extraordinarily gifted people who imagine melodies on their heads and they materialise them on paper… Alex Webster of Cannibal Corpse also confesses, on their Centuries of Torment DVD, that many of their trademark characteristics are the result of wrong interpretation of their favourite bands.  Which also points towards innovative music (such as early death metal) being the result of experimentation, accidents and unsuccessful mimicking.



Autopsy and Morbid Angel: Intolerance and conformity in the metal community

Early Summer is the time for new releases and this year these include releases from two bands that constitute cornerstones of Death Metal; I am talking of course about the new Autopsy and Morbid Angel albums.

Autopsy – Macabre Eternal

This album marks the return of one of Death Metal’s finest and most inspirational bands. However, this is hardly the truth. The spirit of Autopsy has always been burning bright after the demise of the band in 1995, through the involvement of Chis Reifert and Danny Coralles in Abscess. Although Abscess’s sound, especially in “Seminal vampires…”, is quite different from the classic Autopsy sound, it also has similarities with Autopsy’s two last albums, “Acts…” and “Shitfun”. And after ” Tormented” Abscess started sounding increasingly like the classic Autopsy. So, although Abscess were different, probably more so due to the involvement of Clint Bower who contributed amazing compositions and vocals, the philosophy is pretty much the same. Now, regarding the reformation of Autopsy… The songs written by Reifert, Coralles and Joe Trevisano on this album sound more like Abscess than traditional Autopsy. Which means that they are awesome. Danny’s song (the eponymous one) is an amazing classic Abscess bluesy/death metal song. Joe once again contributed only one song (Sewn into one) but, as in “Dawn of inhumanity”, it is one of the best songs in the album. The lyrics are inspired by the movie The human centipede and the first verse reminds me a lot of “Greenflies” by Nuclear Death! Chris’s songs are also great, as usual, although I sense a bit of repetition, thing which did not seem to be present during the Abscess years. The song “Bridge of Bones” sounds too familiar… Now about Eric Cutler. Eric wrote a few songs all by himself and some others in which Chris wrote the lyrics. On the ones Eric wrote the lyrics he also sings. These songs I cannot listen to. It is not that I don’t like his voice. I indeed dislike it and sounds nothing like 20 years ago on “Slaughterday”, but the real problem is the content of the lyrics. They give me the impression that they have been written by a five-year old person with serious psychological problems. The lyrics are plain mean. He obviously has an issue with women which he should seek expert help for. However, I have to admit that his other songs (seeds of the doomed, deliver me from sanity) with Chris’s lyrics are probably the best on the album. The music these songs have is as haunting and inspiring as those two first Autopsy albums. Cutler definitely has some amazing things to offer. Chris’s vocals are once again unique and flawless and his performance simply awesome. In conclusion, the new Autopsy album sounds to me pretty much like the average Abscess album (not the phenomenal “Through the cracks of death” though) with some nice touches of old Autopsy and some songs that I find distasteful. I am afraid that people who never gave a chance to Abscess will rally around the reformed Autopsy for the wrong reasons, which are image, reputation and conformity. Which takes me to my second review.

Morbid Angel – Illud Divinum Insanus

There is a war waged against Morbid Angel and their current musical direction by fans and critics alike. Morbid Angel are, of course, a death metal institution and there is not one contemporary death metal band that has not copied their sound, either directly (by listening to Morbid Angel) or indirectly (by listening to other bands that have copied them). Morbid Angel did not only affect bands in their own genre but their influence has crossed to other genres. Satyricon (post Rebel Extravaganza) were influenced by them and Immortal (post Blizzard beasts) too. Bands such as Vader that we now consider to be cult, have been hugely affected by Morbid Angel. Anyway, the scope of this post is not to praise Morbid Angel. Nevertheless, Illud Divinum Insanus is to my ears brilliant. The first listen of the album made me think that it was pretty good. But subsequent hearings made my skin crawl and when I started being drawn into the atmosphere of the album I even reached the point late one night to think that it is one of the best albums ever made. But it was late at night and people tend to become very emotional during these hours… I think that with this album Morbid Angel perfected what they have been trying to do for many years. All these short instrumental passages on Blessed are the sick, Covenant and Domination and later albums now fall into place and, to my ears, make a perfect impression. This album has the production and overall sound of a different era, both Ancient and Future one. But first things first… I consider Vincent’s return a very good thing for Morbid Angel. I like Vincent’s voice way better than Tucker’s, I like Vincent’s songwriting better than Tucker’s and I like his bass-playing more than Tucker’s. I find Tucker’s vocals very monotonous and hence I did not think that they fitted with Morbid Angel’s flexible and atmospheric music. Vincent on the other hand is extremely versatile and powerful. He sings with a different voice in each song, and he comes up with amazing vocal patterns. Instead of simply growling he sings properly. I still can’t get over the amazing things he did in Domination on songs like “This means war” (Tis time for reparations, tis time to settle scores…). Also he sounds like he is enjoying himself! On this new album, his brutal vocals are more varied than ever and they are a sensation. This fact alone makes the new album great. As far as the songwriting goes, there has been much debate both by the band and the fans. Some of the songs have many elements of electronic music (techno, hardcore, gabba, etc.), fact which has divided traditional death metal fans. Morbid Angel talk about innovation and about not sticking to formulas and so on. I most certainly agree with them they don’t play it safe. They do what they like even if it proves to be a career suicide. From Youtube comments and online music forums, it appears that the majority of people hate this new direction and some of the go as far as to declare it the worst metal album of all times. What most people don’t realise, however, is the difficulty to overcome established music norms and conventions. What is even more difficult is to understand a different music genre once you are unfamiliar with its subculture and the norms and conventions that come with it. Of course, Morbid Angel did not do something completely innovative. The pop (or at least traditional metal) structure of ” I am morbid” has been attempted in the past by extreme bands such as Satyricon (listen to Fuel for Hatred) and many others. Mixing extreme techno music with extreme metal music has also been perfectly done by Dodheimsgard! And of course, there are loads of industrial metal bands. Still Morbid Angel are different because they have their own unique type of sound on which these new sounds build. In the case of songs like “Too extreme” or “Mea culpa”, the infrastructure is techno and so is some of the material used for the execution, but there is the morbid angel element also creeping in the background. In the case of the brilliant “I am morbid“, the foundation is traditional/commercial Rock music, but the orchestration is Death metal. I am not reluctant to say that I am totally chuffed to listen to songs that stick in my head and make me want to sing along and at the same time make my skin crawl through Trey’s creepy riffs and insane solos. The same goes for “Radicult”. It is clearly a commercial sounding song which could be played in a club, but the music behind it is creepy and insane, and Vincent is just genius! With regard to the more straightforward death metal songs there is not much to say really. The new addition to the Band (Destructhor) has risen up to the challenge and he became a worthy replacement for Erik Rutan. The songs he wrote for the new album (Blades for Baal, Ten more dead) are magnificent. The fact that Vincent gives some of his best performances ever helps too. I cannot stop listening to these songs. The main riff of Nevermore and the way the drums come in is pure genius. Only Morbid Angel could come up with something like that. It is important to say that it is finally the combination of factors that make a song excellent. It is a very good production, an amazing drummer, a great guitarist, a great song and a great vocalist. Most new death metal bands are lacking the latter two. But Trey’s guitar playing brings tears to my eyes and Vincent sounds like a Lovecraftian god. The solo on “Blades for Ball” must be one of the best ever written.  Finally, many people didn’t like the fact that Pete Sandoval did not play (although he did write some of) the drums on this album. Initially, I did not like that either. When I heard the news a few months ago I was disappointed. Pete is undisputedly the greatest of all death metal drummers. Gene Hoglan is better than him, but he is more traditional. Pete is the definition of death metal (alongside with players such as Mike Smith of Suffocation) drummer. However, I did not like the choices he made in the last couple Morbid Angel albums regarding the sound of his drums. Furthermore, one of the reasons why I don’t like the latest Terrorizer album is his performance. Therefore, I don’t really mind that he is not present in this album. And Tim Yeung does an amazing job replicating his playing anyway. In conclusion, I consider this album a masterpiece of contemporary death metal, better and more interesting than any other band. Plus the artwork is captivating.

You come to us in torment
And we make your bodies heave
Our sounds invoke your demon
Together too Extreme!



The greatest guitar solos to air-guitar to

Having just watched the amazing French movie “The first day of your life” I feel many different things among which is to write a post about guitar solos. I never really cared much about guitar solos. I have always been more interested in compositions, melodies and riffs rather than leads. However, there have always been certain guitar solos that brought me to my knees and albums where the absence of good solos bothered me. But as long as the music was of superior quality I didn’t really mind. For example, while I loved the early Gamma Ray (first four albums) I always thought that their solos were horrible. But when they got that new guitar player (around 1997) who could play solos I stopped finding the compositions interesting, so good solos didn’t really save the situation. Anyway, there is no such thing as “the greatest guitar solo of all times” but I can try to think of solos that have marked my soul. Of course, there are different types of solos, like the kind that are more improvised and instinctive and those that are more thought-through and structured, fast solos and slow solos, etc. My heroes in the first category are without a shadow of a doubt Tony Iommi (Black Sabbath), Dave Murray (Iron Maiden) and Criss Oliva (Savatage) and in the second one Andre Olbrich (Blind Guardian) and Greg Mackintosh (Paradise Lost). Now to quote Sir Daniel Fortesque “get on with it!”

1. Tommy – Sometimes they come back (Album “Above the light”) at 4:42-5:53

I first heard Sadist’s first album circa 1997. It was on a cassette tape I had borrowed from a friend. “Above the light” was on side A and “Symbolic” by Death on side B. For the first couple of months that I had that tape, I believe that I was listening to the Sadist side 3-4 times per day. I remember going to school and listening to Sadist and having my finger on the rewind button for every time a solo was on. While listening to this particular song and this particular solo I used to get goosebamps. More accurately, I felt like all the blood was drained out of my body or that my soul was leaving my body. At times I felt my knees getting weak, which is what you’d expect from someone whose blood had just left their body :). A very classic minor heavy metal solo but very imaginately developed and amazingly played with feeling. I am aware that on the final part of the solo, the extra keys which accompany add to the magnificent atmosphere, but I don’t think this is against the rules.

2. Tony Iommi – Neon Knights (Album “Heaven and Hell”) at 1:59-2:44

Tony Iommi may be the master of riffs, some of which have basicaly constituted the foundations upon which british and swedish death metal were built, but is also the master of soloing. His soloing abilities are more prominent in the post-Ozzy Black Sabbath, especially in the albums he did with Dio. The feeling present in Iommi’s solos is something I personally never found in another metal band. The reason for this is, I think, that after a certain point the Malmsteen style of playing dominated the metal world. Most of Iommi’s solos are phenomenal but there is something about this solo that I cannot get over. The conversation from 2:07 until 2:22 is just phenomenal.

3. Andre Olbrich – Imaginations from the other side (Album “Imaginations from the other side”) at 4:39-5:15

Andre Olbrich is a god and Blind Guardian are probably the best metal band of the 90s (along with Rage). All of his solos are thought-through and could stand on their own. His solos are not simply scales but have complex rythms and patterns, which usually bring them closer to being melodies and integral parts of the songs’ structure. This specific solo is a representative example of his art, although most solos on this album and the rest BG albums are equally amazing and inspired.

4. Anders Bjorler – Cold (Album “Slaughter of the soul”) at 1:55-2:16

The first three At the Gates albums are among the most challenging and unique albums of contemporary music. Slaughter of the soul is briliant but in a much more conventional and mainstream way. Here song structures are simple and straightforward with clean solos and everything. One of the solos that have always made my skin crawl is this one. Clean guitars firstly calm the listener and subsequently build up, slowly preparing the listener for a downpour of intense emotions reflected in the soulfull first notes of the solo. The seven distorted notes on 2:00 take the solo to a whole new level…

5. Greg Mackintosh – Forever Failure (Album “Draconian Times”) at 3:28-4:36

One of the best songs ever writen in the history of the universe. Every single moment of this song overflows with beauty and inspiration. The solo right after the sample is the icing on the (melancholic) cake. I don’t think I can describe why this solo is so good. Find out for yourselves.

6. David Blomqvist – Dreaming in Red (Album “Indecent and Obscene”) at 0:51-1:28

That’s how Dave Murray of Iron Maiden would have sounded if he was sad and had downtuned his guitar. Another example of art that leaves me speechless. Great ideas and execution. David achieved the perfect tone on this album. I don’t think I ‘ve ever heard a better sound on a guitar solo. His entire work is monumental but I think this one stands out as a cult moment.

7. Criss Oliva –Hounds (Album “Gutter Ballet”) at 2:45-3:45

Criss is a solos-master and on this haunting song his genius shines through. He sounds like Randy Rhoads on cocaine. Abbrassive, emotional and sophisticated, all in one.

8. Tony Iommi – Falling off the edge of the world (Album “mob rules”) at 3:33-4:06

A song that I could not leave out of this list. Sheer power and intensity in a solo that can bring on the Amaggedon. Every time I listen to this solo I want to jump out of my body. When you think that there’s nowhere else he can go he keeps going! And the way he packs everything up in the end is just ridiculous!

9. Dan Rock and Brian McAlpin – Into the everflow (Album “Into the everflow”) at 6:20-7:47

What happens when you put together Black Sabbath with Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull? This song! The solo is just phenomenal, there are so many things going on, so many dimensions that there are really no words to describe…

10. Deniz Tek – Descend into the Maelstrom (Album “Radios Appear”) Entire song

Deniz Tek is god and motivation for people to grab a guitar and learn to play it.

11. Al Pitreli –This is the time (Album “Dead winter dead”) Entire song

The entire album is a treasure of solos. Al pitreli definitely steped in and did justice to the legacy of Criss Oliva. Extremely emotive album and Al is one of the major reasons why.

12. Kerry King and Jeff Hanneman – Psychopathy Red (Album “World Painted blood”) at 1:17-1:53

I would never expect a band like Slayer to be in a list like this one. But their incredible last album has a  little something for everyone. When it comes to solos, you either love or hate Slayer. If you are unable to understand that they are not interested in producing proper solos, or that their approach to soloing is exactly what fits their music then you haven’t figured what Slayer are about. Anyway, this specific solo is genius. The part where Kerry leaves it for Jeff to pick it up at 1:33 is hallucinogenic! And the crazy stuff Jeff is doing around 1:47 are just awesome!

13. Dave Murray and Dennis Straton (Adrian Smith on video)-Phantom of the opera (Album “Iron Maiden”) Entire song

Dave Murray is an institution, with a unique style and unbelievable feel when he is playing and when he is composing. Probably the sweetest sound I’ve ever heard. Now this song is without a doubt monumental. But every single time in his career that Murray goes down that neck, my skin crawls.

14. Chuck Schuldiner-1000 Eyes (Album “Symbolic”) 2:14-2:39

A masterpiece of an album filled with excellent, inventive and emotional solos. The specific solo however is one of my all time favorites. It comes in after a series of rhetoric questions and tragic realisations to seal the tragedy. A trully amazing phrase that sticks with you and resounds the final line; “we are enslaved now”.

15. Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine-Hangar 18 (Album “Rust in Peace”) at 3:50-5:07

Such a classic song with such an amazing riff which conciliates punk attitude, eeriness and kindness. The solos throughout the song are amazing. Marty provides sophisticated ideas with arpegios and so on and Dave provides chaos. The interplay of solos after 3:50 is just insane. Perfect to air-guitar to!