I can’t believe the news today
Oh, I can’t close my eyes
And make it go away
– U2, Sunday Bloody Sunday
The title is taken from a book by Jonathan Safran Foer about 9/11. A stunning account of what it could be told like. The title always felt so alien to me, though I remember rushing home to watch those events home and looking at the tv in unbelief. Yesterday in Paris felt exactly like the title suggests, it was so loud that I felt like all music died for a moment. It was so close that it hurt.
I suddenly realized how precious and fragile freedom can be, how easy it is to cause ruin and destruction. By estimates 87 people were killed in a rock club, for no other reason than them not being the other, not being whatever the group responsible believes they should be. I turned around on my chair to my girlfriend, who was looking as lost as I was and I asked her: “What has rock’n’roll ever done to these people?” It felt like a silly question, but it was all that I had in my head. That stupid question, that song that we still sing. Disbelief is a strange thing, it shuts down your brain and comprehension.
She said she was afraid. I said I wanted to fight.
And then I started to put words down. I wanted to write hate, but all I could think of was love. I believe music, like the music the people in that club in Paris were coming to enjoy, is love and not hate. No matter if its black metal, R&B, hardcore punk, techno or classical music, music is a good thing and I love those shared moments at live shows, where we come together regardles of who and what we are to just enjoy the music. All because of love and I love every person there at the concerts I visit. Why? Because I feel part of something, I feel we share the same thing and for a moment we are united.
And therefor I prefer not to say hate, war and fight. I’d prefer to say I love you. Everyone of you, because we all make up this beautiful society filled with all sorts and kinds. All in freedom, everyone free to be whoever you want to be, but united by music. I refuse to let that be shattered by fear. Next week I’ll be going to see bands again and I won’t be standing there in fear. I’ll stand there , we’ll stand there united for the music, because that is love.
The music died down, but this morning I want to play my favorites. I want to play it loud, because it should never be made silent. So should you.
A bit on the late side, but another installment of underground tunes that I checked out with Panopticon, Venom, Deathspell Omega and Joanna Newsom (shut up).
Panopticon – Autumn Eternal
As usual, I take records that I feel should be getting the attention. This one-man band from Kentucky is part of the movement described as ‘Cascadian black metal’. That requires some background, because Cascadia is a perceived bioregion in the west of the USA. Metal involved with this usually has some atavistic or ecological tendencies in their sound and ideology, making Cascadia more or less a concept in the way I perceive it. A band doesn’t need to be from this region to adhere to its views. The naturalistic elements in the sound of Panopticon definitely allow for this band to be included. The record follows up on the majestic ‘Roads To The North’ from 2014.
The result is a melancholic album, depicting the beauty and also the sorrow that is enveloped in the time of the year. Beautifull sunrays dancing on colourful leaves, but also blistering wind and rain, it’s all audible in the organic sound of Panopticon. The warm blanket sound of ‘Pale Ghosts’ in all its soothing and eerie beauty, but also the barrage of ‘Oaks Ablaze’, full of vitality and turmoil are part of that expression. The album is one that deserves the word beautifull, it’s a journey through a sonic landscape that is clean, stretched out and full of natural wonder. It’s an album that is surprisingly calming and pleasant to listen to. Check it out, you wont be sorry.
Venom – From The Very Depths
It’s f*cking Venom and they are back with a new album. Ok, let me just briefly touch upon the topic of ‘the real Venom’. Venom Inc includes two original members and a long running vocalist, Venom has Cronos and two other dudes… For me Venom Inc has a bit more credibility, but Cronos is producing songs that sound like Venom so I have no winner. Cronos and his croonies did this album in 2015 and it is absolutely awesome. Is it a progress from the original sound of Venom? No way, it’s really just as much Venom as their debut.
The whole album is really just balls to the wall rock’n’roll with a dark, angry overtone. Add to that a bit of gothic grim and the harsh bark of Cronos and you’ve already got enough elements to be the basic sound of black metal. Stand-out tracks are the self-deflating ‘The Death Of Rock N Roll’ and ‘Long Haired Punks’. Still, the band manages to impress with an unparalleled fuck you attitude and riffs that are solid like rock. The filth and fury was a term used for the wrong band back in the day, because nothing is as dirty and gritty as a Venom album and these guys have proven on their latest effort to be still as relevant as ever. PS. I do hear they suck live, still.
Deathspell Omega – Paracletus
So I totally forgot to pick up the latest album by Deathspell Omega. The French black metal giants, fronted by Finnish fetish porn prince and Clandestine Blaze musician Mikko Aspa, have been known to push the frontier on the genre ever outward and forward and they do so again on this frantic endeavour of progressive black metal. Ok, I know it has been out for a few years but I felt it was worthy to pick up the release on bandcamp, because it’s Deathspell Omega. Right?
Even now, five years further, the band is still pushing the envelope on this record, which reminds the listener of the likes of Nihill on their utter chaotic, gritty and mesmerizing last release. There’s a certain grandeur to the sound fo the band, but also a continuous barrage of intensity that will not go down easily. There is also a lot of beauty, of soundscapes that remind you of postrock bands with a heavy touch, samples an slow passages. A captivating album with a classical tone to it, a certain high class within the metal world I guess. Its a tangible thing throughout this continuous transforming record.
Venom – From the very depths
Joanna Newsome – Have One On Me
I’m a huge Joanna Newsom fan, so I think it was high time for me to throw it in here. Though this is also a slightly older album, I never really took the time for it. It opens with the angelic and overly sweet ‘Easy’. From there on you have not one, but basically three records in one to enjoy, because Joanna just does what she feels like it seems. The vocals have become much more polished over the years, moving away from the freakfolk roots to a more orchestrated, full sound. Where predecessor ‘Ys’, was very minimal and cozy, this does feel wider and more open.
The music of Joanna Newsom on this album is a bit too polished to sound like the appalachian folk tunes, it was once compared to. Still that is somewhere in it, in the telling of stories and conveying of clear feelings. There’s a simplicitiy to it, without trying to dumb things down. ‘Soft As Chalk’ has some of that typical singing and a feel of americana. The voice of Newsom is still something you might just not be into. It might sound more polished nowadays, compared to the pre-Ys recordings, but its hooks, jumps and hoots are never tamed. That and the unique playing style on the harp, an angelical instrument of bygone days, is still something that touches my heart for sure. With a new album coming soon, I still cherish the progress I enjoyed hearing from the debut and demo’s on. I’m not sure if I like ‘Walnut Whales’ the best as yet.
There are these heart songs that resonate with me more than others, that I can listen to endlessly. Therefor I will discuss the song by King Dude, titled ‘Lucifer’s The Light Of The World’ here. I don’t intend it to be a review, but an expression of thoughts.
Why does the occult so intrigue me? I had this profound experience the first time I listened to heavy metal, again when I listened to martial folk and then when black metal came around it came back to me again. I think a similar feeling occured with punkrock. There’s something special, something unique happeneing when that comes around. I thought it was for finding new extremes, but then this song kinda destroyed that theory. The musician behind it used to be in a black metal band Book of Black Earth, but now changed his course.
King Dude is more a blues musician than anything else. Sure, his themes are on the dark side, but blues has always been a genre with a shady past. Think of Robert Johnson, who made a deal with Old Nick to play the blues the way he did. If that is how things work, then the deal that TJ Cowgill made with Lucifer must have been a good one, because that is some dark and haunting blues the man makes. His last album, titled ‘Songs of Flesh & Blood – In The Key of Light’, was one I got to review that gave me chills and got me puzzled what to name the thing. There’s some Johnny Cash, some Nick Cave and definitely something that is not of this earth.
It was not a song of that album that totally captured me but this one:
Why is this song so overwhelming? Is it the jangling repetition, is it the slightly unnerving set of tones? Is it the confidence and relaxed vibe that Cowgill has when singing this song in a gentle and comforting matter? I feel the latter is very strongly part of that. The lyrics name Lucifer the light of the world, the great comfort, illumination and wisdom. It’s a comfort to bask in this unholy light, to let Lucifer into your heart and warm your bones.
There’s something soothing and warming to the voice of Cowgill, the lyrics make it all feel ok. We all love the light, right? The light is a good thing that will make you feel better. We are part of this world and if Lucifer is the world, then isn’t that alright? I can hardly put to words how warm and pleasant this song feels, even though it has a dark edge to it. You feel like closing your eyes and just bask in the warmth of the sun, it’s like a sunny day where you stand in front of the window and really feel that warm your bones like nothing else really ever does. Lucifer is there for you, making this a song that touches the heart (hence heart songs).
All blaspheming aside, it is a beautiful tune and actually refers to medieval dualism of Christian Gnosticism of the 11th century practiced by groups such as the Cathars or Bogomils. You can read the proper explanation by the man himself in the interview hartzine did. The song is a response to another old blues track by Son House. Regardles, I was a bit scared by this music at first since it enthralled me so easily. I guess there is still some Christian angst inside me somewhere. Its time for me to pick up my book on Gnosticism I guess.
The occult is a refuge for those like me, who seem to be looking for some spirituality that doesn’t clash with certain life views. I do not look for a spirituality that tells me I do wrong, I need one that empowers me and tells me I am right sometimes. Might that be it? Perhaps Lucifer is in fact the light of this world…
And we’re up to number 26 of Sounds of the Underground with Regarde Les Hommes Tomber, Draugurinn, Misþyrming and Gurthang. Check them out!
Regarde Les Hommes Tomber – EXILE Les Acteurs de l’ombre Productions
You only need to start listening to opener ‘L’Exil’ to get captivated by the soaring tremolo guitars and thundering rhythms, that crash like waves unto your eardrums. The Frenchies are back with a fenomenal record, casting a shadow over their self-titled debut, which I discussed in my very first review block. From the sludge/post-hardcore front the band was residing in before, there’s a definite movement here towards the black metal sound. Well, post-blackmetal is what we need to say I suppose.
The clanging cymbals in dischord with the blastbeat and crackling feedback offers a wealthy wall of sound. Connect that to the imposing vocals and sound and the record becomes an intense and bombastic experience. ‘Embrace the Flames’ is for example a full on black assault, with a harrowing guitar riff spiralling through it. There’s so much power to the music of this Nantes band, it’s a shame everyone keeps talking about the new deafheaven.
Misþyrming – Söngvar elds og óreiðu Fallen Empire Records & Terratur Possessions
Icelandic black metal, that surely has something special about it they must feel at the Roadburn office. So these guys are an integral part of the next edition of the festival. This album came out earlier in 2015 and only now I’ve discovered the intense, excruciating sound of a band whose name means something like maltreatment. Neck breaking ferocious guitar riffs are unrelenting in their sonic assault from the first moments of the album onwards.
It’s a tortured affair of eerie feedback, blustering music and howled vocals. There are no breaks on the wheels of Misþyrming when the y star turning. There’s a certain unique sound to the band that is intriguing. An industrial, desolate atmosphere maybe, but also a Darkthrone like punk vibe that brings a rawness to the band. The sound is explosive, erupting from the deeps and therefor truly overwhelming at times. This is always accompanied by a clear link to the oldschool sound.
Draugurinn – Ísavetur Nordvis
‘The Ghost’ in Icelandic, this project is the solo effort of Swedish artist Dísa, previously active in black metal bands Murmurs and Korpblod and currently also working on Turdus Merula. This lady has been making some really amazing stuff and Draugurinn takes it a bit more into the mystical region of aetherial ambient with a shamanistic feeling to it. The story is that of a world covered and obscured by volcanic ash and a drumming that melds together with your heartbeat, captivating the listener completely.
There is something intensely pagan and foreign to the music, it draws you into a natural and soothing environment of ritual and dreams. Soundscapes or eerie howls clash with the rhythmic drums that bring a trance with them. The cover appears like a drawing of Theodor Kittelsen, as popularized by early black metal acts like Burzum, but somehow fits better here. For me, this album awakens a thirst for that spiritual connection to nature, for the harmony I find in the work of Dísa, whose other bands I’ll definitely keep my eye on. PS, for Skyrim fans, now you now where the word Draugr comes from.
Gurthang – I will notserve Immortal Frost Productions
The Polish band has derived their name from Tolkien novels, where the sword Gurthang is wielded by hero Túrin Túrumbar. It’s name means ‘Steel of death’. The band has been around forever and their sound fits in with the Polish style of blackened death you can hear with Behemoth. Cold, stiff tones, majestic sounding and sharp thudding rhythms. The band has been around for a couple of years, but has a prolific catalogue of music already. This may be their best addition as yet.
There’s a cold fury to the sound of Gurthang, a controlled distribution of rage with a sound that in general leans more towards the melodic death metal, but with a much grimmer atmosphere. The Frosty guitar riffs soar over the rumbling drums, which demonstrates how the studio can really affect the sound of an album in this corner of the extreme metal genre. There is a certain lack of dynamics to the record, but it’s in a way like a piece of old fashioned armor: it is sturdy, frightning and cold. Good record, that is exciting enough to give a spin.
This is an interview conducted with Malthus from Vaalghul, originally published here on Echoes And Dust.
Metal is a many headed beast and mostly we hear about the bands that roam the western part of Europe or North-America. In the quest to find out what else is out there I stumbled onto the band Vaalghul from Macedonia. Now, just saying Macedonia causes bad blood, so usually the country is known as the Former Yugoslavic Republic Of Macedonia (FYROM). That depends on where you come from though.
I find that many people in my country don’t even know this place exists, which is quite interesting. It borders on Kosovo, which is another great unknown together with Albania. The main conflict concerning the countries name is with the southern neighbours, which is Greece. The country has bene heavily investing in its identity, even following a policy of antiquisation. Macedonian identity is a part of the music, Malthus readily admits, it seeps into things.
Vaalghul is a black metal band, which is currently unsigned. In 2014 the first EP was released and work is underway to fix the second release. Malthus answered them on e-mail and through the chat, because he’s currently residing in Australia.
Can you start with where the name comes from and how you started out with the band? Vaal is the name of a demon, ghul is just an addition to give it a better sound. Vaalghul is the ‘Tyrant Overlord’ (God of Terror). The vocalist got that name when we were wondering about a band name a couple of years ago. There were some other options but we felt this fits pretty well. Back in those days we weren’t entirely sure if we would be doing something serious. Not that it was a joke of course. We came with some good ideas and then recorded the first demo. The production was very raw and almost impossible, but some people liked it.
We recorded the demo in the classic way with one guitar amp, a shit soundcard and then this is the result you get. There are many ideas behind this project, but one of them was making something different in our country. We wanted to be unique in our country with some extreme music.
The lyrics were satanic initially, but the point of them was to provoke people. Shake them up from their regular ways of drinking coffee on Main Street and gossiping. They enter the church when they have to and that’s that. We did enjoy writing the lyrics. I guess the Satanism is mainly provocative, but it also is a tribute to those who want to live free and do what feels good.
You’re using the name Malthus, can you tell me why you chose that name?
In demonology Malthus is a prince of Hell and I liked the name. That’s why I took it.
Which are the bands that inspired you to get into heavy metal? I’m not sure I remember what I was listening to, but I’m sure I listened a lot of Death, King Diamond,Psychotic Waltz, Iced Earth, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Dio and Slayer.
I read that you used to have some band members, what made you continue on your own? Which bands inspired you? Yeah, I used to have some band members. We were three people in the band, but one of the members never had time to record, another had no time at all… It wouldn’t work out that way.
What made me continue was my passion for the music. I also had the time to write and record music. It’s not that I had big hopes, but I wanted to make everything more extreme and more provocative. I guess the biggest inspirations were Mayhem, 1349, Dark Fortress, Isegrim, Leviathan and Setherial for me.
How did you, living in Macedonia, get into metal music? Where there any local bands inspiring you? I happened to have really good friends who were listening to all kind of metal music, when I was in my youth. My best regards to them! Actualy local bands were my inspiration and drive to record something new and more serious. There are lot of good bands though, but most are not my style but still unique in their own way.
Are you playing live shows? Back in the early days we never had plans to play live. We did want to at some point, but we didn’t had a drummer who was up to the challenge. There are quite good shows in Macedonia though, even though most are hardcore shows. At least they’re very energetic.
I don’t think the hardcore scene is much bigger, but it’s just more acceptable to people. It’s hard to find a true black and death metal music fan…
I read you’re working on a new album. Can you tell a bit about the record, the artwork and the message you’re trying to convey? It will take some time before I actually finish this album, it was supposed to be out a few months ago. It’ll be out sooner or later though. The vocalist of Septuagint (kick-ass band from Greece) will perform the vocals on the album as a guest musician. The artwork is going to be done by Gediminas Kiaunė (Manum Diaboli Art) from Lithuania. He is a really passionate artist, who makes the perfect artwork. If you need some artwork, he is your man. He just popped up on Facebook, which got my interest. I checked his work out and was amazed, so I got in touch and we struck a deal. I check his work again for new stuff every week.
On the new release the lyrics will be more spiritual satanic, the message itself I’ll leave in the middle. Each can figure out their own from it.
What to you makes a band a black metal band? It’s hard to give an answer to this that feels right. It depends, it can be thrashy, mixed with doom or anything these days. Many bands have been taking black metal to whole different levels. Look at bands like Dark Fortress mixing music but still good kick ass and still black metal maybe not pure like raw one line but still black metal. If you listen to the records ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’ and then to ‘Ordo Ad Chao’, you hear two different worlds, but still both black metal. Both completely Mayhem. Uniqueness? I took these because of the good vocal range of the vocalists, Good “scream” “grim” cold evil vocals, good atmosphere in the music.
Can you tell a bit about the scene in Macedonia, its history and what bands are standing out according to you? Sure, back in the 80’s it got serious here with bands like Orion and in the early 90’s. They played thrash/death metal with some excellent riffs and solo’s. On their tail followed bands like Dismay and Sanatorium. Later band like Arhont and Hall Of Sins rose up in the 00’s. Those are the most important names I think.
I also think they represent the spirit of metal in Macedonia. There’re only a few extreme metal bands, but they have a good history behind them. The same goes for most of these bands. When you have the time, take a listen to each one carefully.
I noticed there are more bands than I thought in Macedonia, but I hadn’t found them due to the Cyrillic writing. What makes bands chose either? The Macedonian alphabet is in Cyrillic, so many bands just want to represent themselves in their own language, which is their choice. Personally, I prefer the English, because this way everyone can grasp your message, whatever the lyrics are. If you write in your mother tongue, it’s pretty hard for foreign listeners to get your lyrics and translating them is not really it I think. But what do I know, there are people who care nothing for the lyrics, so it doesn’t matter whatever language it is.
If I visit your country, what spots should I as a metal head definitely visit? There are many great locations in Macedonia to visit, especially in Bitola. The city has a history behind it, but as a metal head I think only summer is a good period to visit. Usually people (metal heads) are gathering in the park, drinking a beer. A lot of people do that anyways.
There used to be some good places to hang out, but not anymore. The new generation of metal heads is trying to change that and I think they are getting there. There are no real record stores you could go to, the only choice is to buy music online or go to Thessaloniki in Greece. That’s an option since my city is close to it. There are gigs though.
I understood there’s quite a rivalry between Greece and Macedonia, based on a name and cultural dispute. Is that in any way tangible in the metal scene? Yeah, a lot of people are curious and asking about that. For me, I have a lot of good friends in Greece here and there, these days not many people think the way about this as they did in the 90’s (when this was an actual political issue red.). Especially people involved in the metal scene and who don’t care or are against politics from both countries don’t care much for these issues. Governments are the problem I think, not the people.
Do you think anything of the Macedonian identity seeps into the music? Yes definitely.
What future plans do you have with the band? For now, it will be the new single that is going to be released. The album will be out later some time. Who know, for now when I think about the album release, I have no clue what’ll happen after.
Thanks everyone for reading my ‘Sounds of the Underground’. It’s much appreciated, so here’s #25 with Graveworm, Murg, Witchsorrow and Fluisteraars.
Graveworm – Ascending Hate
Things tend to get back to you in time and bite you in the face it seems. Graveworm is one of the first extreme metal bands I got to hear and genuinely scared me at the time. Their album covers fascinated me, specially in the early days. Now, the Italian band is back with a death/symphonic/blackened explosion titled ‘Ascending Hate’, which to me sounds most like Cradle of Filth having a car crash with Therion.
The album is very well produced, which helps bring forward the symphonic and melodic elements in the music, which has soaring guitars and ambience enhancing keys playing throughout the songs. The harsh, barked vocals offer a contrast of brutality, together with the death metal barrage of guitars, but the bands doesn’t shy away from using their softer side when they can, like ‘To The Empire Of Madness’. There’s a beauty to this album, that unfortunately not the whole world will appreciate.
Murg – Varg & Björn
Fuck yeah, black metal the way it used to be made, that’s what I want! This album brings back the fury of the original second wave in the hand of this Swedish company. Blistering guitar play and a dense, northern atmosphre make this a well worthy ride, full of frostbitten grimness. These are songs with blast beats the way you love and cherish them, in full furious swing and high on energy. There over you hear the tremolo guitar play, reaching up to this static buzzing sound.
It is rather hard to find info on the band, but there’s a good interview out there if you are interested. To the sound, though it can be murky and harrowing, there is also a certain beauty and melodic nature to the sound, hidden underneath tones that speak of decay and morbididty. Big, wavy guitar parts speak in no uncertain terms of a grandeur and power of nature, which is an influence clearly to be felt in the music of this mysterious duo. This record brings back the past, but a bit more in its grandeur and passion. A next album might come into being, so I’m rooting for that one.
Witchsorrow – No Light Only Fire
Brittish doom lords Witchsorrow have a new one, which looks rather good on first sight. The eye does not lie with this record, but it’s not just doom. Opening title track is a jagged, heavy stoner anthem with a break neck speed. The vocals are restrained, as if the full power of the band is waiting to be unleashed as yet on this record, which happens on the thrudging ‘The Martyr’. The celebration of their 10 year anniversary is definitely one this three piece does by showing the full scale of their skills.
The slow and heavy part is definitely in order with these guys, who manage to combine that element with a certain hardcore vibe. All the sound is crisp, clear and filled with a certain venom. This is however, without ever sounding like anything that isn’t doom. Witchsorrow is one of those bands that reinvigorate the genre with a catchy and open sound. It is not without reason that album immediately resonates with me and I sincerely recommend it to anyone who bears love for the genre as a testament to its enduring longevity.
Fluisteraars – Luwte
There’s this new wave of black metal in the Netherlands, which seems to rely strongly on a certain poetic aesthetic. I think of Laster and Terzij De Horde, but Fluisteraars also puts on a particular brand of sweeping majesty into the sound they paint. In their bio, the band speaks of windswept black metal and that sort of makes sense when you listen to the organic, wavering sound of the band. The Gelderland collective is definitely taking the listener on a journey with their specific sound.
Continuously surging guitar parts drag you along in a sonic river of grief, remorse and sadness, where now and then an echo of hope seems to be woven into the sound. The band manages to lift that sound up to etheral hights. Without any hesitation the sound then twists and turns around again, like a u-turn into a shouty cacophony on ‘Angstvrees’. The track then resumes the stream. The record takes an epic approach to the black metal genre, which is truly captivating.
I wrote a blogpost about the hipster metal thing and Deafheaven. Unfortunately, not everyone got the point. I was not trying to defend Deafheaven by saying they are TRUE and KVLT. I was defending the necessity and value of progressing as a genre. You can read that bit here.
It was also pointed out to me that there are bands doing great stuff and that is ofcourse an absolute fact. I named some myself in that blogpost. I was confronted with names like Ghost and Nihill for example, as true progressive acts in the genre. Now, for Nihill I can only agree that their intense blend of black metal and an almost noise-like soundscapism and industrial barrage is going onwards down the path where I guess Dodheimsgard, Mysticum, Aborym and recently Blacklodge have been travelling. Ghost is a whole different story, and a good way to get into another thing I wanted to write about: the heavy metal gimmick.
Do I need to say more than Okilly Dokilly, Babymetal and even that weird death metal band paying tribute to Breaking Bad?
Disclaimer, if someone actually reads those
I’m not saying that any band is a gimmick, but I’m going to point out a tendency that is rather worrying next to the elitism, mentioned in my previous post. I’m trying to make a point about a tendency that is very visible and slightly worrying, regarding the future of the music genre and the shape its taking.
Gimmick Gimmick Gimmick… I need some more
A gimmick is, according to google ‘a trick or device intended to attract attention, publicity, or trade.‘ Now, a gimmick in itself is therefor necessary. There are other words in use for it, but it’s kinda like your party trick, the thing that makes people look at you or your band. Gimmicks in metal are as old as the genre, from Black Sabbaths obsession with crosses to He-Man outfits for Manowar or the make-up and lingerie of the glamrock scene. It’s an element of the showmanship and hedonistic character of metal, even when it comes to the most conservative elements of the genre.
Some genres have managed to become gimmicks in themselves or make the gimmick part of its general identity. Black metal is one of those, which is why breaking with that identity is such a major crime (deafheaven again). Hardcore is not much better, specially the beatdown/tough guy side of things, which is a look you can practically mailorder from Impericon or whatever. But why am I making a big deal out of it?
Mainliner, Headliner, Headline
Magazines always have headlines and for years those names where those of the great bands that we still know and love. Slipknot seems to be one of the last in line for that, a band that becomes bigger than their next release and big enough to survive it. According to many metalheads, Metallica has not released anything decent since the black album (and there are those who hate the black album as well), but they’ll still buy a ticket to the show (sure, ‘Lulu’ was really pushing the patience of the fans). Same goes for a bunch of names, some slightly smaller, others bigger.
The headlines of a magazine like Metal Hammer have in recent years not featured the names of new bands that are up and coming for their progressive and spirited music. It’s always been that way that the industry can be massively wrong. Who remembers certain bands from the eighties and nineties that were hailed as the next big thing? Hell, who remembers the likes of Mudvayne and Ill Nino as bands that actually where significant to the genre? A shift has taken place to the circus act, the fantastic and weird and in a sense the gimmick in metal.
Recent favorites of the metal press include: Steel Panther, Ghost and … Babymetal. Next to those, you’ll find bands whose greatness was built atleast 10 years ago. Ok, and the rare Feed The Rhino or Upon A Burning Body, which is really just for the kids (or is it?).
The Power of the Press
Do I think lesser of these bands? No, I actually believe all three of them are great at what they do and in the case of Babymetal, it’s giving metal that odd edge and different thing it probably needs. This is not why the band gets attention, they get it because of the gimmick, the circus act. Same goes for Steel Panther, who are an overdone blast from the past act (in a way then a postmodern full circle it seems). Articles and reviews are not so much concerned when it comes to these bands with the music, but with everything around it. That is really worrying for a genre. This is ofcourse the curse black metal carries, the sensational overtook the musical.
It’s all about clickbait, being funny and getting some likes and that is a general problem with the press, both online as offline. Everything has to be insta-awesome, there is no time for records that take time. Metal has always been partly about being big and imposing, sensational and shocking, but also about music and that side keeps losing ground.
The question is, where do we go from here?
Ghost has just lived up to their name with the latest album, featuring my personal favorite ‘He Is’, connecting the band to Selim Lemouchi. It is an interesting fact how this song keeps the band attached to the undeground, atleast for one more record. Instead of going for the big hit sound, amplifying the gimmick, the band has with this move created credibility. Is that selling them short? Maybe, the album is totally great but isn’t it rather far removed from the metal sound (and does that even matter)? Should they drop the masks on next album maybe, or would the Kiss effect happen? It’s hard to say, but right now they are flagbearers for the genre with an album that sounds remarkably little like metal.
The Babymetal hype has died down and I think that Steel Panther had its moment of glory too. Ghost might be heading down the path of Slipknot, taking a gimmick all the way to the top. Who knows? But where is the purism?
What was the last band that made it on music alone? Whose merit was just that they knew how to write a great tune without some over the top sensationalist antics on stage or crazy outfits? Volbeat managed to walk the line in a way. Mastodon relied little on their artwork in the eventual sound and bands like Bullet For My Valentine and Avenged Sevenfold can hardly be considered names that made the genre move any step forward. Still, these are bands we liked for the music, not the arty things around them.
The problem is that the metal scene seems to be way to crazy about its gimmicks and is in danger of becoming the novelty itself. If metal doesn’t put the music first again (this goes for the metal music press even more so), the beloved genre will become a bastion for has-beens, hipster post-metal kids and odd Wayne’s World references in films. Perhaps Ghost has a part to play in that, perhaps your band does?
Metal has always been rich with gimmick bands. Look at GWAR, Kiss or anything fromt he eighties. Look at the whole folk-metal genre and Austrian Death Machine. Even a project like Nekrogoblikon is hilarious but based on the gimmick. It is awesome though and we should not be without it. We just need some balance now.
I read some game books from Warcraft written by Christie Golden, Greg Keyes’ Elder scrolls novel and another one of Dayal Pattersons black metal histories.
Christie Golden – Arthas: Rise of the Lich King
Sure, you’re not getting high literature with the Warcraft books, definitely not if they are supposed to clean up a bit of the past and connect a previous game to the World of Warcraft ‘Wrath of the Lich King’ storyline. If you did not play Warcraft III, this book adds to your experience. If you did, this is the plaster in the wall for you and I can’t deny truly enjoying the gaps filling up and in fact replaying the Arthas storyline in Warcraft III at the same time. What a great game…
What is true is that the author really takes the time for the gaps and therefor leaves little room for describing the in-game events, specially towards the end. It feels like a sudden sprint to the Frozen Throne (you know what I’m talking about) through Ahzjol-Nerub in just a few pages. Remember that first target reader, for that reader this is very bad reading material, because sense it makes none. There’s also a symbolic element in the story, that never really comes to fruition. Christie Golden is a great writer, but even though this was highly succesful, I believe she could have done better. Still, well worth reading and almost required for the lore-lovers.
Gregory Keyes – Lord of Souls
Since the Elder Scrolls book I read the other time was part one, I guess it only makes sense that I continued with part II. I think it was dragging out the adventure a bit too long, because I go very dishearthened at some point and reading it didn’t seem as much fun anymore. Still, I did continue it and sadly the end of this was also not what I expected.
I normally try to say quite a bit about a book, but in this part the story just continues. You’d expect to find a good reason why the story is split into two books, but that never really seems to make sense. There’s not more depth to the key players, no new additions to speak of and basically just a long stretch of wrapping up the story in a rather clumsy way. I guess my fanboyism is not great enough for this.
Christie Golden – The Shattering: Prelude To Cataclysm
Since I quit playing WoW during the great years of Wrath of the Lich King, I never got to experience the Cataclysm content in its prime. I in fact skipped this whole part in favor of playing other things, doing other things and working. That being said, I know that Cata was an expansion with a lot of lore invested in it. This book by Christie Golden is part of that build-up, reading it in hindsight might be a bit disappointing, but still worth it.
I always lack the same things in the novels by Golden, I miss a certain amount of action and character depth. There’s a lot of expressions and inner monologues, but it always stays on the surface. Even the blossoming romance between Thrall (Go’el) and Agra is in a way never going deeper (only through ceremony a sort of spiritual expansion is mastered). That being said, the book offers an intriguing build-up to what was about to happen in game, which could also be found in Night of the Dragon. Is it a real addition? Not really and it bums me that the death of one main character becomes such a footnote in the history of Warcraft.
Dayal Patterson – Prelude to the Cult
Though this is not a real big read, I felt it was worth mentioning. In his histories of black metal Dayal Patterson found room to gather up some of his nicest interviews for an appendix piece of those. It’s a really cool read and still rather recent material. It gives some more depth to elements in the books and allows the artists to share some words themselves. This is a well worth addition for anyone rading the stories about this nocturnal cult.
If you are keen on this, please visit their website and buy your copy straight from the makers. Support this awesome project. Thanks.
I got in touch with Turkish metal band Seal of Solomon. The band hails from Istanbul, which is often described as the ultimate bridge between Europe and Asia. Geert Mak described the city as a metaphor for exactly that in his book ‘The Bridge: A Journey between the Orient and Occident’.
This is also found in the band name. Solomon is not only a biblical figure, but also a prominent feature in the Qu’ran. Something I was quite unaware of in fact. The seal of Solomon is also known as the star of David in modern use. It does sound a lot more brutal when you regard it as a means to control demons through this very seal. Stripping away the religious components, what remains is the story of a king that is totally metal.
Answering questions are the three main members of the five piece, Can Berk Öcalır (vocals), Ozan Murat Özfen (rhythm guitar) and Önder Dülger. We conducted the interview over a period of time over e-mail
How did you guys come together as a band? Have you played in other bands before?
Önder: We’re all active members of the Turkish metal scene. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we were able to get together in the first place. I met Ozan during a Undertakers gig. We were both in the audience back then. After I started playing with Undertakers, I started to see more of Ozan. We even fought together in the Turkish resistance Occupy Gezi Movement. After the resistance he invited me to join the Seal of Solomon project.
Ozan: Me and Can Berk (we are cousins by the way) wanted to work on a joint project for a long time. One day we decided to form a band. Other members as drummer and guitarists are people we used to or still work with on other projects, so it was not hard to gather a band. I played in plenty of bands (Nefas Lacus, Blaspheron, Razor, Yabgu, Furtherial) in the past and I still play in another band called Magilum.
Can Berk: We were in a band called Aggregate Pain, which played blackened death metal. Most of the current members of Seal of Solomon played together in that band until 2010, when it split up. While we played together, I established a band named Unfurling, which became Seal of Solomon. It was formed with the current members, except for one guitarist.
Can you tell me a bit more about this Occupy Gezi movement and what it meant?
Önder: Occupy Gezi actually started with 50 peacefully protesting environmentalists, trying to stop the demolition of one of the last green areas in our hometown Istanbul. That 50 people got brutally attacked by the cops (their tents were burned while they were sleeping in them) Ozan and I went there the next day to protest with maybe another a few thousand people.
And the riot force cops came to kill that day… We were stuck in the park with all 3 sides barricaded by the Special Forces aiming our heads with teargas grenade guns, shooting to kill. How we made out of there alive is a whole other long long, LONG story.
In May 31st, MILLIONS (literally) of people came out to the streets to avenge our asses. And to this day, I still feel like they’ve all came to save MY ass. We took over the Taksim Square with them and fought for almost a whole month to keep the cops out.
So I feel responsible for all 11 deaths and more than 8000 injuries caused by the fight we started there that day. Some were tortured, some are still missing. It’s not something you can forget or not be inspired by, when people you don’t even know stands up to guns with bare hands, ready to die, just because they think what was done to YOU was wrong. I don’t have the words to describe the terror we’ve been through together with those brave people for the whole month. I can say that i lived the best days of my life in that period. (Especially June 2nd).
I saw for the first time that I was not alone in what i’m standing for here in Turkey. Nietzsche said that, “Weak people won the fight when they made us feel ashamed of our power”. Ignorant people won it when they’ve made us feel ashamed of our knowledge. But the Gezi Park protests were the explosion of the anger of every silent fed up intellectual in Turkey. It was the beginning of the days we begin to finally win. And we were able to made it with the help of our foreign friends and fans we we know, with our instagram, facebook etc. pages, while our own media was ignoring the terror we were facing on a daily basis.
Where does the name ‘Seal of Solomon’ originate from? The concept has complex roots and connotations that can be found in various religions.
Ozan: Metaphysics and demonology are some of my personal interests. King Solomon is one of my idols in a way, who I feel envious of. I’m sure that people who share these interests will understand where this comes from, but the reason for choosing this name has nothing to do with religions.
We have all grown up with tales and stories of demons and djinns, which are a huge part of our culture and religion (for some of us). For the concept of our band, we didn’t need to do too much research, because we were raised with this.
Can Berk: The Seal of Solomon was the enchanted ring of Prophet Solomon. One day Ozan came up with the concept for this band and the name Seal of Solomon with it. The name was about the magical rituals, performed by the prophet Solomon, where he made demons his servants. We liked this idea and decided to keep it as a band name. When we reflect on the ideas about Solomon, we are not trying to use the religions that implement this figure in their stories. Still, the religions are part of the world, but we try to keep our own perspectives.
What inspires Seal of Solomons music? What themes do you put into your sound?
Can Berk: The concept is growing day by day, and includes things like the magical rituals and demons. We compose our music over a certain time, to evoke the right feelings. The notes must feel like complex algorithms in our minds.
Önder: We all have our own instincts to what we serve up musically. Speaking for myself, I was in a dark period of my life during our pre-production and recording sessions, which led me to contribute a bit aggressively I guess. One of the songs I wrote was “A Leader’s Indignation”, which helped me a lot to express myself lyrically at the time. “Leader” translates literally to my name “Onder” in Turkish, and all my inspiration came from the indignation I felt during that time.
Other than that, I worked on the pretty much completed guitar parts and lyrics, mostly written by Can Berk. He told me to feel free to change and even re-write parts as I saw fit. I tried to stay true to the blackened death metal roots of the band, while representing my own hardcore-based playing style.
The most signature sound of the album I think is what I called “Hell’s armies”.
Which is an octaved, ethnic slow guitar groove on a palmed hardcore guitar riff. Literally sounds like armies of hell are marching in. It can be found in songs like “Providence” and “I The King v2”.
You’ve released your album ‘I the King’ in 2014. Can you tell us more about the contents and story of this record? Did it grow from your EP, which contains some of the songs on it?
Önder: The idea of writing a tribute LP album to King Solomon was always an idea Ozan and Can had in mind. It has all the songs in the previous EP and much more new ones. I believe the album speaks well for itself.I feel like, it is a solid “Fuck You!” on both personal and general levels.
Can Berk: We released this full length with some doubts at first, but after a short time the comments and reviews came in and were quite amazing. I think this is only a taste of what’s to come. Our new single and second full length are on their way and I think they completely convey the idea behind our music. You’ll know what’s going on behind the curtains in our lives and the place where we live. We will all put something from there in the music.
What was the writing and recording process like?
Önder: It was therapeutic, for me at least. It helped me to cool down and channel my anger into more productive things. It gave me a routine to follow. Wake up, get to the studio, start writing, and start playing. Play again, again, again and again. And since the recording studio was our own, we’ve played and hung out there for hours and hours a day.
Ozan: Can Berk recorded the guitar demos, then we get together with Önder and retouch the sounds and shape the songs into some final demo recordings. After that, they are shared with the other band members, who then write their own instrumental parts. Can Berk and Önder do most of the work on the lyrics. When all this is done, we get to the studio and record our parts.
Can Berk: It’s not complex, but a little complicated to explain. Önder writes the lyrics together with me, but the music is composed by everyone together. I establish the general structure of the songs, but everyone adds a bit of themselves to them. We have the luxury of recording in our own recording studio, so there’s no hassle with time and money when it comes to recording.
Musically, what are your biggest inspirations as ‘Seal of Solomon’?
Ozan: As you probably can hear in our music, the texture of the sound contains a lot of Turkish folk music. In Metal I think Behemoth is out biggest inspiration, because Behemoth brought, as you heard, texture of our sound contains a lot of Turkish folk music. In metal, Behemoth is out biggest Inspiration. Behemoth is one of the most successful bands which brought oriental music and metal together.
Can Berk: Behemoth and Dark Funeral are our biggest metal inspirations, but the local music is the most important. Our country has a wide range of oriental music with a long history and profound culture. We build every note on that cultural heritage.
What is the perception of extreme metal music in Turkey? Is there any censorship you have to deal with?
Ozan: I don’t think the scene is as big as it is in Western and Northern Europe, but it’s also not as small as in in Asian countries. The late 2000’s were probably the golden years for metal in Turkey. We had plenty of festivals, even Sonisphere was organised in Istanbul twice. It would be better if Erdogan was not ruling the country, but the metal community is getting stronger. It may take a bit of time. We’re still flexing with 1KG dumbbells, but at least it’s better than none at all.
If you don’t have Turkish lyrics or a bizarre stage show, you don’t have to worry about censorship. The majority of society won’t understand the lyrics.
Önder: Television and radio are mostly scared of anything that comes from the heart in Turkey as well as anywhere in the world. I think that we’re all okay with that. I don’t think any of us would want to play to a daytime TV crowd. I’ve played in pop music festivals or contests with my other metal bands a few years ago and it’s not really a good scene when your audience looks at you like a dog that’s just been shown a card trick (lovingly stolen from Bill Hicks).
Most people who would want to censor our lyrics in Turkey are ignorant scum, who don’t know shit about English. So we didn’t really have any problems with that in Turkey.
Can Berk: The metal scene is still very underground, so there’s no real control mechanism dealing with extreme metal in Turkey. It’s relatively unknown this far, so we try to be friendly and accomodating, so extreme metal can have its place in Turkey.
Can you tell a bit about the general metal scene in Turkey and what the key bands or places are for its development?
Önder: There are a few metal bars and venues to follow, like Dorock Bar, Rasputin Live etc. that only put on metal bands and supports them. University gigs like Ege Rock Fest and Uludağ Music Festival are also about as good as it gets for a metal band, in terms of stage and crowd quality.
Ozan: Metal came up in the nineties here and got itself a bad name. A few people called themselves Satanists and in 1999 a girl was raped and killed by this group. This really put the focus on this subculture and the following years were hard for metalheads. We were harrassed throughout the country.
In the middle of the 2000’s, some alternative rock bands popped up on Turkish TV and people got more familiar with rockers and metal heads. We have one or two metal fests happening during summer and plenty of rock bars in Istanbul, though only few have a stage. Dorock bar in Istanbul is probably the best known rock bar of Turkey. It’s still hard for local bands to get on the stage. There are however the spring festivals at universities that offer a great opportunity for local bands, even if they only get to play in front of 20 people there.
The heart of the metal scene is Istanbul, smaller cities have very little. I can mention a band like Pentagram as a key player in the Turkish metal scene. There is also this one guy, who is not a metalhead, but really important for Turkish metal music. His name is Hayko Cepkin, who is one of the mainstream rockers that makes a living with his music. He is also the first person with screamed vocals, so even a peasant in the small villages of rural Turkey has heard this weird kind of singing.
Can Berk: There are some main places to play live, but they are limited. We are trying for a metal revolution in Turkey in the close future.
Many extreme metal bands in Western Europe have in some way or another opposed religious establishment. Is that something you let enter in Seal of Solomon too?
Ozan: Not really.
Can Berk: We are not especially opposed to any of the religious views but Seal Of Solomon always will have its own perspectives, which will be more clear on future albums. We’re not opposing religion, but we do oppose religious pressure and brutal religious ideas. In our band some of us believe in God and some do not. The conclusion is that this is not a problem, while it does feed and affect our concept and musical sound.
What intrigues me is that the name of your band takes a figure from Biblical/Abrahamic religions as the name. For a band from a country that is 96% Muslim, that strikes me as peculiar. Can you say something about that?
Önder: First of, I’m glad to say that this 96% is an overstatement by the government. A recent study of the Presidency of Religious Affairs of Turkey showed that 20% of a test group of 22.000 people have never even touched a Qu’ran and 60% of them haven’t read it in Arabic (they don’t know the language). Even if 80% still considers themselves Muslim, they hardly know the texts well enough to either like or dislike Solomon as a figure. The same goes for any other character.
King Solomon, as you know, is kind of a unique character in history. He’s also largely mentioned in Qu’ran too. Everything about him sounds quite dark. The band choose to tell a post-biblical, fictional story about this king, losing faith in humanity and gathering an army of djinn to fight them.
Can Berk: That 96% is indeed not a measurement that corresponds with the actual views of every person. Also, if you think you’re a real Muslim, you shouldn’t close your eyes and mind to other ideas from the world.
Today’s problem is that people don’t think about where the borders are for what the holy books contain. Whether you are a religious person or an atheist, you’re free to think about things and have your own way of figuring things out. Solomon is a historical figure you can make up your own pros and cons about. Ideas can be held against other ideas, just uttering bad words makes no sense.
Ozan: Can Berk and Önder said enough about that percentage. About the main question, I can say this: Muslims accept all prophets of the four holy books, so Solomon is as much our prophet as Jesus, Moses and David. According to my own view, we are all playing in the same man’s garden.
What bands from Turkey should people really be checking out and why?
Önder: I’d say Furtherial is one to watch, along with TEC and Seth Ect.
Ozan: Pentagram (a.k.a Mezarkabul), Raven Woods, Furtherial, Baht, Soul Sacrifice, UCK Grind, Pagan, Infected, Mekanik, Thrown To The Sun.
Why? Because I like their sound hehe.
What future plans do you guys have as a band?
Can Berk: We hope to get more well-known in the future and make sure people have heard of us. At least everyone who likes extreme metal. We’re trying to get more support from local communities and hope to play around the world or at least Europe. I also see it as one of our main tasks to kick off the metal revolution in our own country.
Any things you’d like to add?
Ozan: Thank you for the interview and thanks to everyone who is reading it.
Can Berk: This was a great interview. Wish to talk again.
On behalf of the band: Check out our new album when it comes out in the late summer or early autumn of 2015. We’ll release a single before the EP, follow us for any news on our website and facebook page.
This time from that deep underground, I’ve got Turnstile, Forgotten Tomb, Moloch and Anfinnsaas for you to indulge in. Enjoy listening to some cool music.
Turnstile – Nonstop Feeling
Oh shit! Did I just get pulled back into listening to hardcore with a cool nineties vibe, remniscent of Shelter and Cro-Mags both. There’s also a tinge of some of the groove metal stuff going on in the day, but surprisingly, this band is super young. In fact this is their debut. The Baltimorians (is that the word?) have been around since 2010 and now delivered an awesome debut record. The album is out on Reaper Records, known for acts like Terror and Trapped Under Ice.
Turnstile has no problem putting back some emo in the core, without becoming whiney. There’s less of the tough guy bullshit, which is too often part of the New York sound they embrace. That gives way more freedom for music, since the songs don’t need to be laced with breakdowns and circle pit frenzy. There’s a lot of that going on, creating that catchy vibe of the more ideological laden hardcore bands of the nineties, specially with the vocals feeling a lot like those of Ray Cappo. Some effects, like on ‘Can’t Deny It’ empasize this fact. Looking forward to seeing these guys play in my town.
Anfinnsaas – Anfinnsaas
There are records, that you put on and just gradually enter your consciousnes. They fit the patterns you expect to hear and just kinda mellow into your hearing. This is not one of those records. This record is a hectic, frantic, noisy and chaotic amalgation of different styles and genres into a product that feels loose and uncontrolled. That would be quite far from the truth though, this band seems to absolutely know what they are doing on this debut. The group exists since 2013 and the name is funnily enough a combination of the last names of both members; Knut Finsaas and Geir Anfinn Halland Johansen.
The record is out on Autumnsong Records and it has six songs on it. These are strongly percussionist songs, even the strings appear to be hammered in some songs, which brings a bit of a djent feeling forwards. No, it’s not like that. The loose sound makes sure that there’s a continuous flurry of twanging and clanging guitar strings, making this feel like an overdriven machine. It’s quite an atmospheric and enjoyable record with a lot of exciting elements to it. Just not for easy listening.
Forgotten Tomb – Hurt Yourself And The Ones You Love
Forgotten Tomb is one of the bands pioneering the genre of DSBM. Often controversial, always provoking and in a way brilliant, this is their latest album which immediately betrays some interesting influences in the arwork, atleas the music seems to take a bit more of an industrial/heavy metal approach. Not that the group around Ferdinando Marchisio (Herr Morbid) ever relents in their misanthropic views, but the sound is more accesible.
Tracks like ‘King of Undesirables’ carry a certain Satyricon-like groove and rhythm, which could be a crowd pleaser live. Take that with a big pill of Celtic Frost heavy and slow, and you’ve got yourself a winner. The theme remains very far removed from that greater audience, expressing a true disdain for humanity and life itself. Specially the title track expresses these feelings without any symbolism. The production is done very smoothly by Brad Boatright (known from Nails, Beastmilk and such), which works with the sound of this band. It is probably not their most extreme record, but it sounds pretty awesome.
Moloch – Abstrakter Wald
The idea of recording your album in the Carpathian mountains with an open tape is kind of bespelling, specially considering it was done in a winter night by the Ukranian project Moloch. So imagine that, in the forest and in a part where myth and reality are not that far apart. Where the night holds terrors that have no names. This is very much what sound you can expect from this black metal project. True, there is little metla going on, but that is not diminishing the atmosphere of the recordings one bit.
Eerie, slow rising synth sounds are reverberating gentle in the air. There’s a sense of peacefulnes to the sound, but always there is also a threat. A gentle drone is constantly there, humming, growling but just out of reach. I used black metal project earlier, since its in the description of the band on bandcamp. Obviously, this recording is much closer leaning to ambient and experimental music, even taking a bit of postrock into it. The titles are all the same, except for numbering. That’s why ‘In Dem Gewaltigen Wald Wo Das Echo Sich Selbst Verlier’ stands out, also due to its cold synths and fuller, more open sound, leaving the drone a bit behind for a short moment. A bemused experience, this record is all that.