overground scene

Shaping the discourse on the EMU crisis
July 15, 2015, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Greece | Tags: , , , , , ,

The Greek government failed, following an anti-austerity stance that was widely supported by the broader populace as well, to resist and push back the neoliberal forces of the European Union. The result of the negotiations with the EU is a new bailout package accompanied by harsh measures that are expected to weigh more heavily on the weaker and weakened parts of the population.

The until recently anti-austerity stance of the Greek government was inspiring and a beacon of hope in an increasingly dehumanising world. The outcome that Syriza and the Greek people hoped to be achieved, however, was a long-shot. Greece is a small member-state embedded in European and global capitalism, with a government whose ideology opposes the hegemonic one, and its bargaining position is weak. An important reason underlying this weakness, in my opinion, is that the Greek and European Left had already lost an important battle in the war against neoliberalism. That battle is the shaping of the discourse on the crisis.

The crisis has been constructed mainly as a Greek one, rather than a European one. Although this is an assertion based on anecdotal evidence (I have not done a critical discourse analysis of the crisis), it has come to my attention that I rarely read about the crisis as a European one. I almost never read about what the implications of all the different scenarios are for the EMU. Is it not possible that contagion, even if European banks have gotten rid of “unhealthy” Greek assets, still poses a problem under the scenario of Greek bankruptcy? What about the infamous Grexit? Why is it being widely offered as an unambiguously positive outcome by EU leaders and Schäuble? Why almost nobody mentions the illegality of a country’s expulsion from the EMU? While in the Treaty of Lisbon there is a clause, for the first time, according to which a member-state can negotiate its withdrawal from the EU, there is no clause regulating a withdrawal or expulsion from the EMU. Also, why there is no discussion of the potential long-term negative implications that an expulsion from the EMU would have for the EMU? I don’t think that EU leaders would want a “revolving-door” EMU whereby anyone can go in and out whenever they feel like it. Also, why is there no discussion on the implications of reforming the European treaties? Member-states would have to enter negotiations to include a break-away clause for EMU, some of them would be in favour, others not. The latter will ask for other things in exchange for their approval and, even then, the Treaty might not be ratified at the national level. Moreover, why hasn’t the Greek Left offered a credible alternative scenario? What would bankruptcy mean? What would the Greek central bank have to do for funding and to re-gain credibility in world markets? Finally, why is there not any talk of EU officials’ accountability, or the Greek government at the time, in making the mistake of including Greece in the EMU (since Greece would probably not pass the optimum currency area criteria)?

The questions that I pose above would be the basis for contributing to the discourse on the crisis. These questions would potentially change the discourse from one whereby all the burden and blame falls on Greece, to one whereby the problem is systemic. Within the latter discourse, both European publics and European politicians would be aware that Greece’s exclusion from the EMU is not a panacea for the EMU, both due to the political/institutional and economic implications. Greece’s bankruptcy would also not be something that EU leaders would want. A more balanced discourse would mean that Greece’s bargaining position would be improved.

Making an educated guess, I would imagine that behind this exclusion of counter-voices is a pattern of media ownership whereby mainstream media are both over-concentrated and over-dependent on economic elites. Interestingly, after the latest bailout agreement there are voices both from Greece and elsewhere, such as the ThisIsACoup hashtag and numerous (social media) groups, that organise in favour of rejecting the bailout package. These actors claim that Greece would be better off bankrupt and out of the EMU. While my opinion is that most of these people don’t have a clue what the implications of a bankruptcy/Grexit would be, I think that their presence contributes to the discourse of the crisis the notion that “we don’t believe EU officials who tell us that austerity is the only way and that a Grexit equals catastrophe”. In that sense, if this counter-movement in Greece gains momentum (and assuming that the Greek Left will not be irrevocably divided) making separation a popular choice, the political elites of the EU might have to rethink what bankruptcy and Grexit would imply and reconsider their strategy regarding the Greek debt.


In support of “NO”: the Greek case against austerity
July 3, 2015, 4:49 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I decided to write this post after having come across quite a bit of misinformation and idle talk on the issue of the Greek crisis and its adventures with the European Union and international financial institutions such as the IMF. My aim is not to address the way in which different actors and media frame the crisis. What I want to do with this post is to clarify some points regarding the character of the EU, the role of Greece within the EU and the EMU, and, finally, to express my support for the campaign against austerity measures in Greece and explain why I think that the Greek government should continue resisting.

Some background information on the European Union, the Economic and Monetary Union and their ideology

I want to start this account with a brief discussion on keywords of the crisis which are being used in everyday parlance in a catachrestic way, and, by doing so, provide some basic information on the way that Greece is implicated in the European Union and the Euro Area. Starting with the very basics, the European Union and the Euro Area (Economic and Monetary Union) are not one and the same. The European Union (EU henceforth) is a peculiar organisation which combines intergovernmental and supranational elements. While it is being constituted by nation states through the signing of international treaties (intergovernmental element), those same states transfer part of their sovereignty to the EU, giving it power over its constituent parts (supranational element). In simple words, the EU has been invested with powers that in ever-expanding areas are superior to national laws.

The EU evolved over more than half a century into what it looks like today. Important treaties in the history of the EU include the Treaty of Rome in 1957, the Single European Act in 1986, the Treaty of Maastricht in 1992, the Amsterdam Treaty in 1997, the Treaty of Nice in 2000 and the Treaty of Lisbon in 2007. During these 50 years what we call today the EU evolved from a simple trade union that allowed the tariff-free movement of goods among European countries, to a much more complex organisation comprising a common market and endowed with significant political and judicial powers. The Economic and Monetary Union (EMU henceforth) represents one stage of EU’s evolution. This stage, however, is a stage in which not all countries that belong to the EU participate. The EU member-states that participate in the EMU are characterised by an integration of institutions not only as far as their economic policies are concerned, but also includes their monetary policy.

There is a wealth of debate on the driving forces behind European economic and political integration, namely the EU. Many scholars make sure to emphasise that the EU was a project whose primary aim was to secure peace among European nation-states. The way these political elites envisioned peace was through interdependence. The idea was that if the prosperity of nation-states depends on one another then there would be no war. This rationale reveals a lot about how these political elites perceived the world. It is a rationale underlain by a realist approach to international relations, whereby nation-states are selfish actors within an anarchic system. But it is also a rationale underlain by the belief that economic liberalisation is the key to growth and prosperity; a belief that by removing economic barriers across nation-states everyone would benefit. That would happen, according to orthodox economics, either through each country specialising in the industries in which it has a comparative advantage (so one country would produce food, another country would produce cars, etc.) or even specialising in goods that are complementary (one country would have the expertise in producing cars, but it would import the raw materials from other countries). In any case, each economically liberalised country would end up with sectors in which it has a comparative advantage whilst all countries would be organically glued together because they need each other, hence prosperity and interdependence. The EMU represents one of the final stages of this plan, a stage where even monetary barriers are abolished.

The problem with this master plan, to begin with, is that economies are not rational entities. As Karl Polanyi would say, economies are formed by people and other factors of production such as the earth and weather that are irrational. The even bigger problem, in my opinion, is that this plan has always been a capitalist one. When the EU political elites think of prosperity they think of the prosperity of their class and of the classes that own them, that is, the economic elites. Never in the European dream there has been the desire to abolish exploitation, alienation and human suffering. The political and economic elites, of course, would once again resort to economics and argue that when industry thrives then conditions of labour improve. Again, even if we ignore false consciousness or the existence of ideological state apparatuses controlled by elites which stifle any prospect of resistance, and even if labour conditions are improved, nobody ever suggested that prosperity would be equally distributed among the people. The European dream has always been the capitalist dream of the political and economic elites.

Accordingly, the EMU is part of this capitalist dream. It is the dream of those who possess economic capital to further capitalise on a strong currency, the dream of bankers for whom increased competition with fewer rules implies the endless creation of new financial products, the dream of politicians whose friends (the economic elites) are satisfied, and the dream of service providers and manufacturers to capitalise on ever-expanding mindless consumerist masses carefully produced discursively over centuries of ideological control.

The EMU and Greece

In order for the EMU to succeed in making the political and economic elites even richer and the masses even more docile and destitute, it had to be created very carefully. The question that European technocrats had to answer was, “How do we create a strong currency that has credibility?”. When the EMU was designed in the Treaty of Maastricht it included considerations regarding monetary prudence of member-states. Later on in the Treaty of Amsterdam the Stability and Growth Pact was introduced and has been reformed over the years. According to this, member-states should keep their government deficit and debt low and in check (3% and 60% of GDP respectively). These conditions mirrored the belief in European political and technocratic elites that a prudent macroeconomic policy was the bedrock of a strong currency.

In order for member-states to be able to abide by the guidelines of the Stability and Growth Pact they should fulfill certain conditions. The debate on this issue has been brilliantly summarised by Nikos Koutsiaras (2005) in his textbook Understanding Economic and Monetary Union. At the heart of this debate is the need to avoid asymmetric shocks within a single currency area like the EMU. Some scholars emphasised the importance of mobile labour, so that if one country’s economy is declining and there’s surplus labour this labour could move to another country whose economy is contracting (migration). This is how cynically people’s lives are viewed by economists and technocrats. Other scholars emphasised that a single currency union should be formed only by countries who have similar business cycles. Other scholars mentioned the desirability of a centralised fiscal authority that would distribute wealth among countries. Finally, some argued that the more countries engage in economic relations the more their economies adapt to one another, rendering asymmetric shocks less likely.

In other words, if there is free mobility of labour among countries who want to form a monetary union, if there is a centralised fiscal authority, or if the economies among countries are similar, or there’s evidence that over time different economies start to converge, then the conditions for an optimum currency area exist. The reason why these conditions should be fulfilled is that problems in one part of the monetary union can infect the entire union, hence the credibility of the euro which threatens the profits of European big corporations and those political elites that support them.

Greece, as well as other European economies such as Spain and Portugal, represent these asymmetric shocks. Greece is an economy in trouble that despite being peripheral can compromise the entire Euro area. A big government debt creates difficult dilemmas for the European Central Bank. To begin with, EMU members should not owe much to markets because then it creates simultaneously the need for a the Central bank to print more money in order to reduce the debt, increasing inflation and hence the value of money over time, reducing the incentive for investments (and increasing incentive for consumption). At the same time, the intervention of the European Central Bank in the Greek economy creates what has been termed as “moral hazard”. This refers to the idea that other EMU members will think that if one country’s politicians can be non-prudent with their spending so can they (since they want to increase their votes), because the European Central Bank will eventually step in and save the day. At the same time, if the ECB does not intervene it gives the impression of instability, scaring away investors and harms the credibility of the euro.

EU’s defeat as a blow to the neoliberal doxa

In the present case, however, if the EU gives in to the requests of the Greek government is risks something even bigger. If Greece gets away with resisting austerity it means that it succeeds in pushing back the boundaries of the neoliberal doxa. If the Greek people support with their “NO” the Greek government’s efforts to alleviate suffering by spending money on the unprivileged and taking money from the economic elites, they resist an ideology which glorifies extreme inequality and the extermination of the masses. The EU’S political and economic elites cannot allow this to happen. They refuse to allow a dissenting voice, such as this of the Greek government, to shape the discourse on capitalism. What is at stake is the neoliberal doxa. Syriza is a radical party only within the context of extreme neoliberalism. Syriza is not against capitalism. It just wants a different capitalism, one with a more humane fac(ad)e, endowed with all those characteristics which give the impression of fairness. Still, within the present context Syriza’s efforts are noble. If Greece wins this small battle the power configuration changes. More people and political parties around Europe might be inspired. The more supporters this movement gathers the more dissenting voices will start contributing to the discourse on neoliberalism and social and economic inequality. Voting “NO” to austerity is not a panacea and the long-term effects are unknown, but it is a form of resistance which is necessary. Voting “YES” to austerity means acquiescence in the enslavement of the non-privileged, it is complicity in the further establishment of a system whereby the economic and political elites cause the pain, suffering and destruction of the lives of millions.


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.





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.



How to turn 500.000 fascists into human beings in a month
May 8, 2012, 12:14 am
Filed under: Greece, people, social theory | Tags: , , , ,

I do not know whether the fiscal situation of greece was so severe that called for extreme measures. Apparently other european countries have similarly bad fiscal record yet they have not been directly blamed for compromising the stability of the euro, or at least as much as it happened in the case of greece.

I do not know whether greece’s situation and misery are simply a ploy by european elites trying to establish some kind of germanic neo-liberal order, so asymmetric and regionally diversified, in which the imperatives of monetary prudence and capitalist accumulation of a small chosen elite in the powerful european capitals will justify the pauperisation and exploitation of the disadvantaged masses.

I do not know whether greece’s socioeconomic organisation and culture are inherently antithetic to capitalist culture either. It sounds possible but it remains an assertion.

What I do know is that the greek people are being brought to their knees. What I also know is that decades of capitalism resulted not in better living standards and enlightenment but in consumerism and dumbing down. For how else can one explain the fact that almost half a million people voted for the greek fascist party?

Of course, an even more appropriate question would be “how can still be fascist parties”. Unfortunately, fascism still exists and so do its little siblings, namely racism, sexism and other negative -isms.  And I am afraid I am a little bit fascist, racist, sexist and homophobic. And how can I not be? Didn’t I grow up in a capitalist economy? Isn’t capitalism The bearer of all those -isms? Wasn’t it based on the premise that white people are better than others? Didn’t it help establish race as a basic organising principle of social life? Didn’t western white europeans on that premise subjugate, exploit, annihilate people of different cultures? Didn’t they juxtapose western european culture to theirs and assumed european as the high culture? Didn’t capitalism always praise the social construction of masculinity, as the fearless, wise, ruthless and violent?

They did. So why do we question the fact that 500.000 mis-educated beings who grew up in a racist, sexist, homophobic system turn to the party that represents the ideals that are already inculcated in them? Why didn’t they do so in the past? Because in the past there was no severe economic crisis so there was no reason to blame the immigrants. At the same time the foreign enemy that the EU or the IMF represent, are used to reinforce feelings of national identity, as the thing that ultimately binds all greeks together. But if racism, sexism, nationalism is more or less part of all of us, why didn’t more people vote for the fascist party? The answer is that thankfully most of us are aware of social inequality, injustice and human suffering and we try to challenge our stupidity. Now what about those 500.000?

Greece will probably have a month until the next round of elections to solve this problem. Can we hope that those voters will restore their lost humanity? I am afraid that if we hoped so we would mistakenly privilege agency over structure. Social action is situated in social relations, which means that if these people’s actions are encouraged by their social environment they are only likely to change if their social environment changes. Unfortunately, these things do not change overnight. An extensive social campaign aimed at devaluing violence and racism would be a super-ambitious and long-term plan too. Organising a cruise for the fascist party’s voters on the election day in order to keep them away from the ballot box is more realistic.  Of course, we could always hope that the poison dripping from the mouths of their leaders will eventually choke them.

Dismember – in memoriam

Dismember has been my all time favorite band since the mid 90s. I discovered death metal through the sounds of Dismember and other great Swedish bands such as Unleashed, At the gates and Grave. The  first record I heard was the back then newly released Massive Killing Capacity. The impact of this album is probably much bigger than I can perceive. I remember getting a  guitar on my hands in order to learn to play the opening riff of “Collection by blood”. It further increased my already significant obsession with learning as much trivia as possible about bands. Categories started forming in my head about each individual member’s composing style. Within a few years and when a new album was coming out I could tell with certainty who had writen which song without even looking at the inner sleeve or booklet.

I passionately defended Dismember among my peers when I was hearing criticisms such as that they sounded like Entombed. I hated reviewers in music zines because they would come up with ridiculous reasons to compare them to Entombed. I remember asking the late Nikos Tagalos (of Sadistic Noise ) in the old Rock City (also RIP) whether Pieces was any good:

Tagalos: “what have you heard of them?”

Me: “Like an ever flowing and Massive killing”

Tagalos: “more brutal than both of them”.

One day in the summer of 1997 I spent all day in Metal Era with Jim (ex-Rotting Christ bass player) and his friends while waiting for the very first vinyl copies of Death Metal to arrive. I remember the day I listened to the promo-cd of Hate Campaign and I run home to tell my friends about it. The freezing day I streamed the song “where ironcrosses grow” before the release of the album (it was Sunday and it had snowed).

I got to see Dismember live in the summer of 2005, with a ticket my friend Joan gave me as a present for my birthday. I had the honour of meeting Matti, David and Fred on that day. I was super excited for meeting my heroes, them for seeing a fan with a Dismember tattoo on his arm. The concert was like a dream that came true. They even played Reborn in Blasphemy!

After the departure of Fred, I knew that the future of the band would be uncertain. Fred was the motivator, an important composer and the producer. Of course, one of the things I always liked about and respected Dismember for, was that it was not an one-man band. Every album was a collective effort. And before Fred left, I was equally bummed out about the departures of Robert and Rickard, both of whom are amazing composers.

Then I saw the band again in 2007 in Thessaloniki during a one-day trip.  I ended up spending the night sleeping at the entrance of a building because I spent all my money on records. The show was again amazing and I got to meet Tobias and again Matti and David. I also saw David around 12 o clock at night wandering around the streets of Thessaloniki looking for his hotel. I explained to him that he was going the wrong way and suggested he should get a taxi. He asked me how much it would cost because he was worried that the taxi driver would rip him off, and he had a point…

Dismember seemed to me like a band which had a very laid back work ethic, which is something I respect greatly. It was also a very humble band and having met them I can say that they were not taking themselves very seriously and their primary goal was to have fun and play music they enjoyed. They survived a period very difficult for extreme music (mid- to late-90s) and they did so with dignity. Ok they got a bit more melodic as time went by… but one can see those melodic elements even in their early works. They had always been more into melody than their contemporaries.

In a period of 20 years they offered the world some of the most beautiful music ever created, some phenomenal lyrics and some of the most powerful and extreme executions. They certainly co-defined what swedish death metal means. They consistently released flawless albums, a feat that only a handful of bands have managed to pull off. A week ago they anounced that they will call it quits. This post is an opportunity for me to thank them for being such an inspiring part of my childhood and adult life.

The death metal subculture in the mid-90s Greece

In the mid-nineties in Greece internet had not yet proliferated everyday life. There were only a few homes with access to internet and, in any case, the internet was still a baby. Tape trading was still the dominant mechanism for the sharing of music. However, me and my close friends did not really want to be a part of the (death) metal sub-culture. We considered most metalheads stupid and that they were listening to the wrong kind of music. We had built our own counter-culture in which we found th devil-horns sign silly, we did not like some of the more established metal bands, especially the ones that were more established in Greece, and we refused to take part in some of the metal rituals, such as hanging out in metal clubs. Partially that was happening because we prefered to spend our limited allowances on records than coffee or beer. So our small musical network back then was comprised of 4-5 kids from school. Part of this network were the older brother of one of my friends, the older cousin of another friend and 2 kids from another town (Volos) that were friends with one from our group.

This was a particularly small network, even if you account for the fact that the two kids from Volos had more connections that were indirectly connected with us. However, that allowed us to experiment with buying records that were more obscure and more importantly, it allowed us to really appreciate and cherish the few albums that were going around.

Of course, the social construction of what constitutes Death Metal did not take place exclusively within the confines of our small group. One early guide to death metal came from the greek metal hammer magazine. In 1996 the greek metal hammer published a list of what the editors considered the 15 best death metal albums of all time. That list guided me and my friends on our first explorations of the death metal scene. Although we were already listening to some death metal like Benediction, Dismember, Unleashed, At the gates, Sarcofago and Death our knowledge beyond these bands was very limited. That list was therefore particularly helpful, since it shaped to a large extent our ideas about what death metal is and how it should sound like.

The albums on that list included: Altars of Madness (Morbid Angel), Transcend the Rubicon (Benediction), Indecent and Obscene (Dismember), Clandestine (Entombed), Heartwork (Carcass), Maleus Maleficarum (Pestilence), Last one on Earth (Asphyx), For Victory (Bolt Thrower), From Beyond (Massacre), Cause of Death (Obituary), Harmony Corruption (Napalm Death), Across the Open Sea (Unleashed), The Ten Commandments (Malevolent Creation), Leprosy (Death), Deicide (Deicide).  I have this strange feeling that either Onward to Golgotha, Dawn of Possession or the Bleeding were also  included but I cannot be sure since I have unfortunatelly lost this issue. Anyway, this list reflected the subjective tastes of the magazine’s editors, I am guessing Taggalos and Efkarpidis were among them. Although later on I came to hate Metal Hammer and all attempts on evaluating music according to personal criteria that assume are universal, I cannot deny the fact that this list was a beginners’ guide and introduction to a very time-and-place-specific death metal sub-culture.

I remember buying some of these albums on cassette because they were cheap and we did not fully trust metal hammer. Back then Happening, one of Athens’ largest record stores, was still around but the undisputed metal record stores were the two Rock City stores, particularly the underground one on Akadimias street. The symbolic elements that made this store so loved, like the fact that it was in a basement, the dark walls, suffocating atmosphere and the metalic black cd -racks were all lost after the store moved further down the street and was refurbished to look fancy and new. From the underground store, I bought some of the cassettes I saw on that list, such as Maleus Malleficarum and Last one on earth for 950 drachmas (around 2 quid). The cassette series was an invitation to further experimentation with bands like Gorefest, Paradox, Tiamat, Gorguts and others.

Almost 15 years and hundreds of albums have passed since and I still think that this is a pretty damn good list. It contains important representatives from different schools (Swedish death metal, american death metal, british death metal and European death metal). This list also reflects the values of death metal fans in greece at that period. Among the albums there is only one that would fall under the technical death metal categroy, Heartwork by Carcass. Altars of Madness is also technical for sure, but what sticks out is the brutallity. Most other albums on that list are extremely crude, dark and brutal. Furthermore, one can find albums that would never make it in a similar list today! I doubt it that today’s death metal fans would appreciate any albums by bands like Asphyx, Bolt Thrower or, especially, Benediction.  Now I’ll get back to listening to Last one on Earth and be amazed by the heaviness and phenomenal lyrics of Martin Van Drunen.