Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Canonization and Events

What is a canonization and why should we want it? At first glance it seems like positing a single album, or a set of albums, as the definition of a certain style, would be a bad move, relegating all other albums to a sort of in-between status of imperfect imitations. It would be to say, so the objection goes, that these other albums were derivative and subpar, when really we should want a democracy of values arranged (of course) non-hierarchically.

I would suggest that, on the contrary, canonizations can at their best function as an index of events (I at least want to say this is true within the extreme metal world, I'm not sure about the specificities of other domains). In this way, being minimalist in our claims and having a macroscopic view of the domain as a whole, we can look back and say for certain with musical moments were eruptions of the new and which were created upon the implications of that newness. These other bands/albums/whatever would not be "derivative" in some typical sense, since they would be creating in fidelity to that earlier event, would be focused on expanding that event with an eye towards completion. Music created in the name of these events could of course be of varying qualities, but which of those pushes the genre along and which are content to stagnate - this is another important question. If the event opens a space of possibility (speaking somewhat loosely here), the postevental fidelities work through the possibilities and cannot be content to stop. Also, of course, a genre may become saturated, which requires a new event.

All this so far is what I understand from Badiou. I am of course applying it on a more micro-level than I have seen him do - I look not at "music" (his favorite example of a musical event is Schoenberg) but at "extreme metal" or even smaller subcategories like "black metal" and its niches. I think, however, that the theory applies on a multitude of levels, since clearly not all events are equally realized, equally "important" or "influential", equally "large", etc. But they are all events - I think this flexibility is what makes Badiou's theory so powerful, and once learning some of it I couldn't help but begin to see the same structure everywhere, but especially in extreme metal, based as it is on insane fidelity (I'm a metalhead myself, I should know!). Also: This is only my interpretation of Badiou, which I may end up deciding is incorrect after further reading.

In any case, proposing canonizations is harder for larger genres (of course). I may attempt some smaller genres: Blasphemy's Fallen Angel of Doom... (and the demo? These discrete outputs make it a little hard to say) for bestial black metal, Conqueror's War Cult Supremacy for war metal of course, maybe Suffocation's Effigy of the Forgotten for brutal death metal (but a case could also be made for including Disgorge's early albums), Devourment's Molesting the Decapitated for slam (though the style was purified and first presented in its slam-without-death-metal form by Cephalotripsy's Uterovaginal Insertion of Extirpated Anomalies).

This already presents a problematization of the claim that canonization tracks events - Devourment clearly opened the way for slam, but at that time it was only a possbility. Devourment as event was a newness - Cephalotripsy was the most utterly faithful to that possibility of newness that it cast aside all that was old in Devourment (namely, death metal). So what should a canonization provide? Perhaps both event and full fruition. Sometimes these are the same however - Deathspell Omega's trilogy, but especially Paracletus comes to mind, that masterpiece of an album. What are the results of Paracletus? Who has the courage to have faith in it? Dodecahedron, maybe. The point is simply this: there are a number of possibilities, and due to the complexity of modern music production the field is pretty messy.

Question: Has every style found its full expression? Maybe every nameable one has! Full expression seems oftentimes to coincide with nameability. New elements may yet exist in music being produced today which we cannot yet separate and form into a coherent style - this is just the nature of the event, an ephemerality undecidable from within.

A better question: why haven't more people been doing Badiouian music studies?

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Wormed, Progressive Metal, & Representations of Space

Here's a ramble drawing out themes of "progressive" metal and representations of space. All ideas in this post are in their absolute infancy at this point.

Wormed is absolutely fantastic. Both LPs just blow me away. The guitar tone is strange and massive, very heavy but has this weird clarity, especially on Exodromos. My two first true/full-fledged BDM bands were Defeated Sanity and Wormed (here I exclude borderline or early bands like Cryptopsy and Suffocation). I didn't like the production on DS's newest album, but need to probably revisit it to get a better feel before I can enjoy or criticize.

In any case, I really like the space vibe Wormed has going on. It's in the guitar tone, it's in the chord progressions (just slightly proggy), in the rhythms (heavy and off-kilter), in Phlegeton's vocals, and in the weird little guitar parts played on the higher strings. It's like a progressive BDM that was actually progressive and didn't just follow the sound of "progressive metal" or whatever. From what I know, prog rock was actually progressive, but when it came to prog metal, instead of actually being a descriptor ("this is progressive music") it became a genre cliche sort of thing ("this sounds like progressive metal, a particular sound and not a descriptor"). So Wormed are not "progressive BDM" in that sense, though I would certainly call the music progressive. Fits perfectly with the space vibe.

There are many different space vibes that are possible, actually. Wormed are one, a sort of... cyber future space replete with spectacular new forms of cosmic process (the birth of stars, wormholes, neutrinos and explosions, that kind of shit). We could contrast this to Darkspace, whose space is empty and pitch dark; the vast eternal expanse of nothingness, the outer void (this would apply in a slightly different way also to Trist's Hin-Fort, which is more about astral projection into that void). There's also U.M.A. by Progenie Terrestre Pura, which is a clean eco-future where everything is shiny chrome and highly efficient computers run everything. Or again on the more technical/proggy side of things there's an old favorite of mine, Direwolf's Beyond the Lands of Human Existence, which is sort of a sci-fi epic which reminds me most of something like Warhammer 40k, chaotic battles and moral ambiguity, sprawling planetary systems teeming with warfare. And there are so many others.

For some reason, space-themed metal seems to do best (in my opinion) when it's proggy/technical death metal (Wormed, Obscura a little, Origin too)  or ambient/atmospheric black metal (Darkspace, Trist, U.M.A., etc.). And then there's proggy/technical black metal (Direwolf, Spectral Lore). Not much else really captures the vibe. Why is that I wonder? And what is the significance of all these different representations of space?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Brutal Death Metal: Quantity into Quality?

There seems to be a common assumption (among those not familiar with the genres) that brutal death metal is just death metal with the "brutality" cranked up, death metal but somehow moreso. I think, however, that this is not the case. And BDM fans on music forums often criticize certain death metal bands being put forward as BDM, saying things like "This is about the style BDM, not about death metal that is (or that you think is) brutal". Similarly, those disparaging BDM will say things like "slams and pig squeals and stupid constant blasting - these things aren't brutal at all". So "brutal" as descriptor is not exactly the same (though quite similar) to the "brutal" in "brutal death metal". But what is this style? It is totally undertheorized, barely even written about to the point that even finding a description of the genre is difficult, coming mainly through forum posts as far as written material goes. Nothing official/academic, at any rate. Finding a history of the genre, for example, is very difficult.

Suffocation seem to be considered the founders - Effigy of the Forgotten came out as early as 1991! Sometimes early Cryptopsy is considered BDM, but I'm not so sure about that. The major early-mid 2000s BDM bands seem to be Disgorge (US) above all, and then (the following are bands I like from the period, since it's so damn hard to find anything about influence...) Disavowed, Pyaemia, and Deeds of Flesh. I would probably also consider Cannibal Corpse's Butchered At Birth a major influence. In all honesty, this style of BDM is probably exemplified by Disgorge's Consume the Forsaken (2002), but their two previous albums had all the basic elements there.

And there is a new style. While we might say the above bands are "old school BDM", there is also inevitably a "modern BDM" setting itself apart with different production, technical abilities, and of course influences both "inside" and "outside". If old school BDM was already an event, was there another with modern BDM? I don't think so, but there may be one with slam. Modern BDM (non-slam) is exemplified by (I want to say) Guttural Secrete, newer Deeds of Flesh (which I don't like), Benighted (considered paradigmatic), etc. Slam is of course exemplified by Cephalotripsy's Uterovaginal Insertion of Extirpated Anomalies, an album that (as metal-archives user MutantClannfear remarked, is not even death metal anymore; I'm inclined to agree). Abominable Putridity, Epicardiectomy, and (for the technical brand) 7 H. Target are other slammy BDM bands.

Slam and regular old BDM exist in a very weird relationship. I actually don't think they are the same at all except for that they seem to go pretty well side-by-side in a track, and they have the same superficial elements (production jobs, vocal styles, guitar tones and drum styles). Basically, what the hell is their relation? I would like to find this out.

And another thing: if I theorize war metal as really-damn-close to absolute negation in all its aspects, what is the relationship of BDM to negation? Slam is clearly negative in some aspects but has a more... disgustifying tendency since it utilizes catchy hip-hop rhythms in a disgusting abrasive manner. But non-slam BDM? They definitely don't negate everything, for example technical ability (as do war metal bands), but this is perhaps all the better to pulverize and negate things a hundred different and varied ways (war metal tracks seem to hit you a ton in one single way, over and over again). This relation must be better worked out.

So the final exploration of this post: BDM is a real qualitative shift from regular old death metal. The relation to rhythm and... just sheer sound is different. See Defeated Sanity's Chapters of Repugnance, where the instruments simply do not play notes. They are textures. (But compare this to Conqueror, the war metal band with the closest use of the guitar. The comparison would be fruitful). BDM is a sonic hammer - these weird pure relations (don't tell me BDM uses notes in the normal sense!) are combined and recombined and dashed against the listener. So many variations, yet the music can start to sound "same-y" after only a brief listen (especially to those uninitiated; veteran listeners can of course pick out many more subtleties). Extreme metal represented a break with rock/heavy metal music - maybe BDM represented a break with death metal of the same variety. Hence why death metal fans and BDM fans (and especially slam fans!) are often so at odds. It is a mistake to consider BDM a subspecies of death metal (even more so for slam).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

War Metal and Black Metal: Alternate Fidelities

Here's a thesis I'm working on: Second wave black metal (early-mid 1990s) and war metal (Blasphemy's debut was 1990) are two responses to the same event - first wave black metal. Two things follow: both are "true" to black metal in a certain sense (though I think at this point war metal's fidelity to black metal is unable to produce much newness while still remaining distinct as war metal); both are fairly separate lineages (war metal is not a simple subspecies of black metal, but an alternate history, black metal's alter-ego, a different response to, say, Bathory).

Seriously, listen to something like Blasphemy's Fallen Angel of Doom... Conqueror's War Cult Supremacy and then listen to any album in the second wave. Totally different, no joke. It's about melody and lack thereof, it's about aesthetic, it's about atmosphere, and most importantly (I think) it's about negation. Second wave black metal was negative, but still had room to grow. War metal is so damn negative it negates everything that's not itself, including its possible future growth, what it could become. War metal is ideologically and musically restricted by its fidelity to what it thinks is "true" black metal. This negativity is articulated on every level - imagery, musicianship, production values, even distinct instruments and notes. It attempts to negate everything about western music - black metal as the coming of the musical/ideological antichrist. These things always go together in war metal. It is one of the most ideologically and musically restricted microgenres I've ever heard.

This is not to say there isn't good war metal. I would not be so insane as to claim war metal was always saturated, that it was always the bad counterpart to the second wave's good. Actually, quite the contrary - I think I like Blasphemy, Conqueror, Revenge, and Archgoat more than most second wave bands. But in all honesty, I think most bands labeled war metal are bad imitations. Strictly speaking, there was one bestial black metal band, Blasphemy, and one or two war metal bands, Conqueror (definitely) and Revenge (most probably). If I had to canonize, to define the definer of these styles (which for now I'm holding apart), those would be the bands I'd pick.

New war metal? Yeah, it exists, with the above caveat about stylistic purity. War metal's (and bestial black metal's) fidelity to black metal is not likely to produce anything really new and interesting, since I think it is pretty saturated at this point, but that doesn't mean it can't be a minor influence. New war metal-inspired albums like Diocletian's Gesundrian and Truppensturm's Salute to the Iron Emperors are great albums, semi-interesting and totally enjoyable. But the image of black metal held by war metal makes these albums... not really war metal. Both are more black/death of the usual variety (Diocletian used to be more rigidly war metal, as on Doom Cult). Truppensturm's guitar lines are way too melodic to be war metal. They play very down-tuned diatonic scales with a heavy as shit guitar tone and war metal style vocals. They are just not chaotic and filthy enough to be war metal.

So why not do away with war metal altogether, using it as an influence but abandoning its distinct identity? Well, war metal is a continuing position, a microgenre rallying-point. I can accuse war metal of narrowness and then define bands as war metal or not using that very narrowness and there is not a contradiction. What I'm doing is arguing for a different understanding of black metal. It's the fidelity that matters, what it means to be "true" to black metal. War metal has one understanding and second wave black metal has another.

My Music Blog

I've decided to start a blog to post reviews of and musings on music, probably almost entirely extreme metal. What a time to be alive!