Friday, March 02, 2007

Blimey, who'd have thought it, Metal Week has proved to be the most email-inciting topic since the heady days of Alt-Rock Slow Jams, Prog and find-a-name-for-me-postpunk-book-please. A lot of people out there turn out to have had a phase of metal-love in their backgrounds. (Quite a few of them rave/techno/dance types, intriguingly. Perhaps there is some connection there: the tribal undergroundism, the extremism, the fact that the musics aren't song-based so much as riff-based, the orientation towards sensation, sensory overload, volume, noise, the euphoric aggression/aggressive euphoria, the going mental, even the uniformity aspect of the style. Plus rave music like metal can be quite dark and apocalyptic. There is certainly a thread of comparisons with metal running through much of Energy Flash, starting with the title itself--made by a guy, joey beltram, who loved zep and sabs and when i met him in early 92 claimed there was talk of him producing the next metallica album!) As a result the mailbag's so bulging I've been forced to start my own equivalent to K-punk's guest worker program...


Bruce Adams (formerly of Kranky; now doing this remembers Gore very well:

"When it came out Mean Man's Dream was IT. I was working at a questionable distributor in the Chicago suburbs... when the Gore album was licensed for the U.S. I had it on LP and tape - 'cause I had to have it in the car, too. The album was heavy, it also had a rhythmic swing to it kinda like the Bad Brain's "I Against I". Fit nicely into what was happening then in the US with the afore-mentioned Bad Brains, Blind Idiot God and the first Helmet records. In Yurp Gore were aligned with Caspar Brotzmann Massaker (and Gore drummer Danny Arnold Lommen later joined CBM). A couple of years later I was working at Touch & Go and heard a little Gore in The Jesus Lizard (who toured with Caspar Brotzmann), and band members fessed up to being in possession of the record. It took forever for Wrede to follow MMD and it was a major disappointment. The economy and umph had been totally lost. Maybe Danny Lommen really was the heart of the band. I remember around then Gore FINALLY came to Chicago to play and the leader/bassist of the band was a real dink."


I was asking what the hell Soumi Metal was and Nichoals Katranis obliges:

"SOUMI is Finnish for FINLAND"


K-punk and I'll just have to agree to disagree re. KLF but Stephen Stamper did remind me that
KLF had their own metal moment:

"Lest we forget they recorded a version of "What Time Is Love" (retitled "America: What Time Is Love?") with the 'Voice of Rock' Glenn Hughes... AND there was their appearance at the Brit Awards with Extreme Noise Terror (and the notorious incident with the dead sheep afterwards)!"

And then later recalled an even more bizarre KLF/Sunn O))) connection, viz.

"....I just remembered late last night that Sunn O)))'s Stephen O'Malley recently performed a live electronic accompaniment to the K-Foundation's "Watch the K-Foundation Burn a Million Quid"! You can find details somewhere on his website:"

I’m sure Mark and Alex Williams and others who have suggested that Sunn O))) are deadly earnest about the robes are right, it's more my own in ability to suspend disbelief (a common problem with metal generally, and Goth too), such that i can't imagine how they could enter into ritual w/o some kind of self-consciousness about it

then again the fact that they named themselves after a make of amplifier Earth used (that's right isn't it?) seems quite... not exactly pomo, but the sort of thing Primal Scream or Stereolab would do. (And Earth themselves were named after the original name that Black Sabbath used, right).


Wallace Winfrey offered a bunch of suggestions:

1/ "be sure and check out Leviathan (aka Wrest). He contributed vocals on "It Took The Night To Believe" on Sunn-O's Black One and is the best of the"one-man-playing-all-instruments" black metal artists. He puts out pure guitar ambience albums ("Silouhette In Splinters" on Profound Lore), does oil paintingsfor his covers, and released like 20 demos in 4 years, and hardly any of them are shit. Start with the Verrater double-CD released on Tumult. He makes his living as a tattoo artist in San Francisco, and used to play in a "math rock" band called Gift Horse. He produced his first 10 or so demos/self-releases using only a Roland digital drumkit, a microphone, a guitar, a bass, a Line 6 Pod (one of those all-in-one amp modeler/FX/preamp deals) and a 4-track cassette tape. It's like Djay says in Hustle n Flow: "It aint just climbing Mt. Everest, it's climbing it with as few tools as possible." He doesn't have a web page, or a MySpace site. He is, as the black metallers say, TRVE GRIM KVLT. Keep in mind that obscurity is highly-regarded in the black metal scene. Here's his metal archives profile:"

2/ "Also worthy of note is Judas Iscariot, Wolves In The Throne Room (google for interviews with these guys -- not your standard black metal fare),Wolfmangler/Dead Ravens Choir, and of course, the almighty Ulver. "

(What's with all the Wolf names?! cf Wolfmother)

3/ "Also, there's some interesting metal stuff happening in the breakcore scene. Hecate's recent 'Brew Hideous' release is black metal IDM breakcore and Drumcorps' Grist is a very nice mutation of breakcore and death metal. I know some of those guys, and from what I hear, a lot of them are currently working on metal-influenced stuff.

4/ You might enjoy this article - "False Metal: The Financial And Farcical Return of Heavy Metal" It goes into a lot of detail about recent media interest in metal, and in particular, takes it's time to dismember the Sword.

5/ "check out the black metal zine Oaken Throne. One of the best zines I've read in a long time. Kind of hard to find, I order mine through Aquarius Records in SF. Nice reviews and a great overview of blackmetal+. Very, very nice looking too."

Oaken Throne!! Ah Aquarius -- Jon Dale said that he thought they had been the force behind turning the hipster massive onto metal these last several years.


Bruce Levenstein pinpoints the Goth/Metal overlap as key, elaborating further on the below at his blog

"is Goth the missing link between hauntology and hipster metal? ... When i hear Sunn O))) it reminds me of the dark ambient/goth experimentalism of Lustmord or maybe Hafler Trio. and then i was thinking about Sisters of Mercy, a band that began and ended with a very metal sound (Vision Thing is loaded with metal riffs). It seems like goth is planted right between metal and the dark ambient aesthetic that leads to hauntology."

Black metal obviously has a Gothic aspect but actually, it's the Goth influx of influence into NON-hipster metal that is equally striking: everything from Evanescence with their floaty Cocteaus/goth lite thing to Avenged Sevenfold with the Alien Sex Fiend fun-Goth aspect to AFI i think it was who covered the Cure's "Hanging garden" . That leakage of Goth imagery and guitar sounds too into metal adds another aspect to what I was arguing about how metal is where the ideals of postpunk live largest today, in so far as Goth is one branch of postpunk.


Cosmo Lee illustrates the metal/dance overlap/affinity--he is giving a talk on Berlin techno on the same dance music-dedicated EMP panel as me and Geeta this April, but he also runs a metal-dedicated Mp3 blog which looks to be a useful way of checking stuff out. He also does stuff c/o Metal Injection and c/o Stylus.


Ben Squires nominates Celtic Frost as

"the first hipster metal outfit as the term is currently being used. After three increasingly avant, but popular in underground terms LPs, they went totally crazy with 'Into the Pandemonium' with hip-hop instrumentals, a Wall of Voodoo cover, opera singers and other strange moves. Cries of sell-out from the underground and huge critical acclaim - then came their 'hair metal' LP - again quite popular with some critics - I even remember a comment about them being more intelligent than their fans in one review - but even more hated by the underground. May be I'm making this up because they are from the same country as the Young Gods. still they are back with a new LP and a slightly muted critic reaction - although as you know it was in the top 50 LPs of 2006 in The Wire. which may or may not prove my point."



i was talking about Lime Lizard/the Lizard's metal-love and actually trying to remember this band they always used to interview at enormous length, treating the singer like he was some kind of seer with amazing insights into the human condition. Well it came back to me:


Okay back to the mailbag...


Terence J. McGaughey informs of the activities of Karl Blake of Sabbath-rehabilating Shock Headed Peters:

"he's actually working on a project now called "blake sabbath"!!"

and reminds of the Blake side project for el records not long after shock head peters 'i blood brother be':

"there's an album he recorded as the Underneath called "lunatic dawn of the dismantler" (!!?), which is absolutely astonishing.... apparently mike alway wasn't keen on blake's cerebral-metal approach (or ashley wales' electro & hip-hop influences [that's ashley wales as in spring heel jack, i believe--ed.] so he would give karl all these odd projects to do until the peters 'became' a bit more of what he wanted (i.e. frivolous and contintental, judging by el records roster), which of course they never became. "

not to be confused, the Underneath, with Underneath What, a neo-raunch/glam band for which i floated the unfortunate rubric, "crotchquake". yeeeees ah weeell....


Dominic at Poetix has some more good stuff on Xasthur and ambient black metal, here

All his imagery of "toxic womb environments" and “an evil cradling” -- love it. I’m sure somewhere along the way I used a similar trope, to do with the dead womb, the oceanic rock impulse turned morbid and necrotic... about that Isolationist comp? or EAR?

Before we get carried away with the Xasthur love though original metalhead Francesco Brunetti notes wryly:

"speaking of lifeless music, well Xasthur itself would admit, since he covered them often, to be a not so really great copyist of the ultra obscure depressive metal of mid '90 Les Légions Noires
and Mutilation."


Woebot, talking about the inspiration and copious research (that geezer's a nutter i'm telling ya) behind his latest, terrific animated episode of Woebot TV, makes the distinction between hard rock (what his fictional rock monsters Methuselah are) and heavy metal--and a good distinction, saying that hard rock retains the connection to the blues (and i'd say black music in general--r&b, funk, etc). whereas metal proper starts to leave black music behind--from judas priest and iron maiden onwards, the groove starts to go. and when the groove goes, the sex goes, as subject matter for song and as a feel transmitted by the music. Was AC/DC the last "metal" band whose songs could play in a disco? Well, I suppose there was funk-metal, and then later nu-metal, but neither of these seem like organic development so much as contrived re-infusions to compensate for the blackness/grooveness that had been erased. Especially in the case of nu-metal, where you had a feel taken from a sampled/looped/programmed genre (hip hop) transplanted into a live/played band-based music. i.e. that lumpen House of Pain type pogo-funk that was picked up by limp bizkit. (Although i guess that
last big Korn single was quite groovy in feel-- you know the one with the rich cultural studies text of the video where the band are played by hip hop stars like Snoop, the video seemingly being Korn arguing that their music was in some sense black music.) Oh and then there was grunge too I suppose, although again that had to be a retro move, a Seventies flashback to boogie and to precisely the sort of hard rock/heavy rock Woebot's talking about (I remember a piece by Greg Tate in the Voice saying he loved grunge for exactly that reason, soundgarden and pearl jam, for flashing him back to being a child listening to the radio at a time when hard rock and black music had greater proximity, ie. James Gang "funk #49", aerosmith, Free etc etc .) But yeah I'd have to say I much prefer hard rock, as Woebot defines it, to metal.

* * * * * * * * * *

and that's just some of the emails!

so: how come all this interest in metal --- meaning the K-punk and Blissblog guest worker programmes and associated blog activity, but also the last two-three years of hipster uptake? Well there was something I pursued in an early version of the Pazz essay but had to leave out for space/straying off topic, but which has more than a grain of truth to it i think. It relates to the dubstep/noise/metal axis as representing uber-rockist values of danger/darkness/difficulty. And specifically to the third one, difficulty as a value, a desirable thing. Difficult to listen to, in the sense of presenting obstacles to instant enjoyment; difficult in the sense of being fields of music that are dense and highly differentiated and as such a challenge to master. The point I would extrapolate from this is that this makes them stimulating and alluring to a certain kind of person.

At the height of the pro-pop delirium a couple of years back one proponent declared that “popism is about eliminating barriers to pleasure” while another poptimist argued “importance and relevance is a scam and a trap. Don't bother with it…. Once you stop thinking about things in those terms, all of music and art becomes far more enjoyable.” The trouble with this quasi-virtuous elevation of pleasure/enjoyment to supreme value and sole criteria is that, for critics and the critically-minded (the bloggerati, “serious” fans) enjoyment in itself is not that interesting. It doesn't take you anywhere. Actually it's bloody hard to write about pleasure alone. Go on, try reviewing a record entirely in terms of its pleasurability. I guarantee by the middle of the second paragraph you’ll be reaching for some kind of measure of significance or relevance. So it makes sense that critics, whose job it is to generate thought-provoking words, are being drawn to the harder stuff. Extreme metal is not only a music that lends itself to intellectualisation by outsiders, it is a subculture that--strangely, given the reputation metal has generally had historically of being kinda moronic--prizes intellectualism and learning and profundity. Just look at the song-titles, so verbose they're often comically over-ripe with lofty words and laboured cadences. Just read the interviews, the groups typically grappling with the grandest questions of the human condition, the mystery and horror of death etc etc.

The real problem with the poptimistic notion of enjoyment as be all and end all is that it is too narrow a definition of “pleasure”. Having demands made on you is rewarding, can even be fun, and at the moment metal is one of the few musics around that offers a winning combination of visceral release/catharsis/sensory impact with the work ethic of the engaged listener, grappling with a music based around density of sonics, complex structures, and in some cases lyrics/concepts/authorial intent that require interpretive exertions.


well i'm feeling pretty metal-led out right now, maybe there's one more post in me left to catch up a few stray threads... and of course further missives from the massive are welcomed. to close for now, some light relief. Seeing as we're talking about ROCK here's a piece I "wrote" for a Geology magazine. For real. Actually what it is, my dad is journalist, he writes for a real wide array of places and for a while back there he was writing for this Geologist journal and had an idea for a whimsical piece on geology and rock music. He asked for some pointers and I emailed a whole bunch off-the-top-of-me-head. Next thing I hear he's gone and got it printed slighty rewritten but more or less intact in the mag, and under my name! It was only meant to be raw material for him to use. Anyway most of the groups are metal so it's kinda relevant.

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