Tuesday, 11 December 2012

5. The Sword - Apocryphon

I dig The Sword. I never really understood the cries of "sell-outs" and "posers" from their detractors. These Austin, Texas hombres dig the riff and play it for the world.

Ooh! I like this cover version, much better than the proper one.

Over the years the frequency of solos has increased and the mesh between vocals and guitar melodies has thickened.

I would go so far as to say in a currently Pepper Keenan-less Corrosion of Conformity world, The Sword are about the closest we get to fully formed songs with rad riffs, harmonised leads, boogie and slightly melancholic vocals through a Black Sabbath filter.

On Apocryphon, the lads pull out all stops including some thematic updates connecting them with the real world and some analog synth blasting them off of it.

Friday, 7 December 2012

6. Here they come, bury your head it is the A-Kyus

Why the appearance of lists under single entries? Kind of unfair to both the bands mentioned and the principle of a top ten, is it not? Nevertheless, in spite of my unashamed zurui-ness here is the list of A-kyu tech-death for 2012.

2012 will prove to be an excellent vintage for tech death. Great bands released amazing albums and continued to push metal in astounding new directions playing with timing and rhythm without engaging the djent manifesto and incorporating sophisticated, yet tempered, never-overly baroque approaches to melody and harmony. Decompressing after these albums takes time. Indeed, enjoying them takes considerable effort since they are so dense with ideas. But do not let difficulty turn you away.

Spawn of Possession bring it with Incurso. You know when people talk about Iron Maiden and duelling guitars? This is a whole album of that, set to death. From the lead lines to the bread and butter riffs, every single thing is analysed, harmonised and off the wall yet there is a forward moving coherence that keeps you anchored throughout the musical adventure.

Gorod's A Perfect Abosolution is in someway more straight ahead heavy in the Suffocation style brutal stakes but where Spawn of Possession bring highly complex rhythmical arrangements, Gorod allow more breathing room and dare to swing and groove. This is not Pantera "power groove" (though long time readers know I have no problem with that) in fact it is at points reminiscent of Atheist with a bossa feel. The soloing here also tends to be more classically metal-oriented making it and easier access point to the thech death novice.

Inhereted Repression by Tasmania's Psycroptic sounds like every other Psycroptic record: tight-ass guitars with tight-ass drums and every 16th and 32nd note used within a millisecond of its life. The difference this time around is that the band must have been drinking at the same bar as Meshuggah. Do not be fooled, there is nary a moment of djent here, just twin ten ton balls of swinging groovy steel. This is the Psycroptic album that grooves.

Though I am not sure they belong here, they are tech enough for me. Arkaik released Metamorphignition, a tech album which to my mind focuses on the "heavy" rather than the technical. This is a perfect distillation of classic death metal brutality updated to the twentieth century. It is smart and dumb at the same time, the band have a knack for being able to push into very heavy terrain. Technicality tends to be used as a punctuating device.

Autotheism, third album by post-Necrophagist inspired youngster(s) The Faceless is The Faceless gone 70s prog. Less rhythmically and harmonically extreme yet more conscious of song structure, melody and concept. Perhaps not what people were expecting, at times reminiscent of Devin Townsend, Mike Patton and Opeth.

Sophicide's Perdition of the Sublime dared to argue that we no longer need a Necrophagist album in the twentieth century. He might be right!

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Portal: A scheduled break in programming

Currently listening to Portal's [SEEPIA].

Recording style flattens and obscures dynamics. This is ferocious. It sits somewhere between the suffocating atmosphere of occult oriented suicidal black metal and brutal death metal. The sonic mush forces the listener away at the same time drawing her in.

I want to hear this! She screams.

This is like Krallice but without the catharsis. What the fuck is this?

Opaque, cryptic, mysterious, I don't need to understand this to get its vibe, the grime, the horror, the filth. I love that it does not proclaim, I love that it writhes like some kind of dying Lovecraftian abortion, sick, dangerous but just out of reach.

Horror music offers what horror movies do not: an abundance of interpretive space. It forces our attention, commitment and imagination.

Step through the Portal.

Check out some videos over at Heavy Blog is Heavy who are in the middle of an Avant-Garde metal special week long feature.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

1. Meshuggah - Koloss

Yeah, breaking with the space time continuum, stay tuned for six through nine.

Just been reading MetalSucks' various contributors' Top 15s. Both Rosenberg and Neilstein traveled to the future, read my review, re-wrote it into two better versions. So I copy and paste here. All credit to the original authors.


Meshuggah are to the Hulk as djent is to Loki. Djent talks a big game, but in the end, Meshuggah can just pick it up by the ankle and slam it back and forth on the floor like a dish rag. Koloss has groove more elastic than a rubberband and so cavernous that the record needle actually disappears into the wax. And those are its most pleasant qualities. Because mostly what it sounds like is a fucking giant walking into a room full of people he doesn’t like, and then just pummeling those dudes, breaking every bone in their bodies, getting them to a point where they’re begging for death… and then just pummeling them some more. Rarely has an album’s title been so apt.


They did it. They really did. A LOT happened in the four years since Meshuggah release ObZen, namely the rise of an entire sub-genre built upon the groove-based, downtuned metal template they created. But Meshuggah somehow managed to rise above it all, writing an album that kept the basic idea the same but changed up the formula just enough (slower tempos, more guitar solos) to firmly stick their feet in the sand and say, “FUCK ALL YOU POSERS! WE ARE STILL THE BEST AT THIS.”

***All artwork pilfered from the supremely rad artist luminokaya.

Hawkeye 2012

And now for a deviation from the top ten...

The new series of Hawkeye from Marvel Comics is likely one of the best new comic series of the year. It easily the best new Marvel title in years.

Very cool minimalist artwork, washed out 4 colour palette, tight writing, dark humour all about the lamest Avenger when he is not an Avenger. The writing is Fraction at his best. Scratch that, this is Fraction's best writing. Smart, meta and very cool. How long can it stay like this?

7. Royal Thunder - CVI

Sometimes, with the weight of mysoginy and homophobia stacked against them, the girls not only get it right but they do it better. Especially in the world of stoner and doom

Jex Thoth, Soma's Kim Pack and now Royal Thunder's Miny Parsonz are all examples of this. Parsonz channels Stevie Nicks and Janice Joplin and runs them through a doomy Ozzy Osbourne and restrained Dio filter. Her overdubbed harmonies are lush but not overly sweet - she sounds tough without trying to "sound like a dude".

Add into all this a band who can lay down some pretty rad down tempo doom and make vibes in the spirit of resurrected doom via Witchcraft and Graveyard and just a whiff of Rise Above Records catalog of the occult and you have a solid, unquestionable 2012 top ten entry.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

8.Attack of the B-kyus

2012 was the year I got more deeply acquainted with technical death metal. The seed was in a random purchase of Decrepit Birth's Polarity. After seeing the rad dreads and sandblasted face of singer, Bill Robinson singing over Morbid Angel lurching groove in the video for "The Resonance", I was sucked in. I did my research and got sucked in.

Somewhere in this top ten, I will feature the A-kyus, but for now at number eight I want to focus on the second stringers, the second line. Sure they are following up the rear in terms of fame and prestige but they all have potential, original voices and more than a smattering of dope tunes.

First is Fallujah. I have written about them before. I like that they adopt a blackened, Euro-Death, death-core and djent peppered jack of all trades vibe. There is perhaps little distinction between their compositions but if they can harness their talents in a more focused direction they could end up giant killers. Plus their Decrepit Birth-isms (melancholy harmonised leads) and Cynic-isms (reverberating jazz solos) are a fun listen.

Next is Over Your Threshold's Facticity. Daft name but slick rhythm section. Influences are showing through a bit still but once they find their own voice...

Here come the bastards, the much maligned Rings of Saturn. I love Dingir. It is artificial, scientific and a huge step forward from their last album. With focu they bring diversity. Now if only they can do a better job on production.

Which brings me to Abiotic's Symbiotic. Cool name, great concept, no focus. Too young, too much, too soon. Some great ideas, pity the internet has sped up time and flattened trenches.

Last of the killer B-kyus is End of All Reason. Again, like their peers they seem to have a problem with focus. A lot of pots on the boil here but what makes them a worthy inclusion is their bravery in traversing genres. From black metal, to death metal, power metal and tech somehow they just get it right. Again, a more explicit direction and help from  a solid producer could turn these guys into A-kyus in a minute. There is talent there.

Any other B-kyus I missed? Let me know in the comments.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

9. Gortuts VS Cryptopsy

It is likely that I will face charges of cheating. Perhaps even accusations of laziness. Frankly, y'all can go get nicked. These are two re-issues I bought (and there are several others I want, sigh) which were re-issued on vinyl in 2012. So they count, alright?

First up Gorguts. Obscura is a harrowing listen. It is unrelenting and its emotional dial is set on frantic psychosis for the duration. It is exhausting, impenetrable, opaque and convoluted. Yet for some reason, time and again I am drawn to this album, drawn into it. Obscura is one of the most original, genre defining and genre defying albums in the history of death metal. The guitar tones are relatively clear, crystalline at times, reminiscent of jazz or noise rock, the arrangements are circular, with song like structures spiraling into themselves, challenging the listener down awkward rabbit holes...

Two pieces of information helped me finally get this album. The first was a random internet opinion that argued for an underpinning Assyrian/Egyptian tonality. Apprehended in this way, Obscura sounds like a related yet distinct peer to Nile. The second tidbit was that guitarist Steeve Hurdle suffered from dysthymia, a type of debilitating depression. This latter fact puts a new spin on the approach to vocals and the psychological spaces opened up by the convoluted internal structural aesthetics. This is not about voyeurism and watching a man go mad, rather it is the sound of a man wrestling with his mind, and constructing the world from a unique place.

Obscura is easily one of the most important extreme metal albums of the twentieth century. Get it before the print run sells out. Before this last one, CD copies used to go for $US60. On vinyl for $CND12 you really have no excuse.

Now to Cryptopsy. None So Vile is to brutal tech-death what water is to plants. The rhythmic density of the drumming is intense, the vocals horrifying and the bass is just plain rad. However, what elevates this album above its many competitors is, swing. This baby swings. Contemporary tech-death relies on high frequency meter and tempo changes. Songs progress rapidly rarely giving the listener a chance to find her/his feet.

None So Vile dares to groove, dares to be listenable and in this way is more dangerous than its competitors. Much tech death requires a kind of musicological aesthetic fluency but this album plain rocks. Do not be mistaken, it is heavy and no doubt exhausting to the novice listener. Nevertheless, pleasure is taken to a new level by the historical and musicological literate listener.

What makes this album so innovative for its time and so exciting even in the present is Flo Mounier's drumming. Cryptopsy are one of the few metal groups led by the drums. Listen to the lyrical ways in which he punctuates blast beats, flying off on a hyper brief effortless tangent, a kiss or a wink to the savvy listener, to the inner drummer in us all. Indeed, None So Vile could likely be stripped of everything but the drums and still sound thrilling. What makes Mounier's performance especially outstanding is that the album was recorded in 1992 before the advent of micro-midi-management of triggered and replaced drums. This is wholly human percussive intensity.

Re-issues of both albums made 2012 a better more historically informed year. Thanks War on Music. And thanks, Canada. What is in your drinking water?

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

10. A Life Once Lost - Ecstatic Trance (2012)

Let the Top Ten begin!

Post-Obzen, post-Myspace and post-got-djent the cerebral world of math metal has attained a visibility and legitimacy that its pioneers could not have predicted. In 2012, Meshuggah came to roost amid a sea of extended range slinging, f-sharp toting, Axe-FX II wielding, DAW mastering, self-promoting contenders. The stylistic preference of these latter day adopters is prog-metal complexity punctuated by contrived variances on prime numbers and odd against even meters. Frequently the result is a busy swirl of digital mayhem cut and pasted to perfection. Meshuggah went the other way. So did A Life Once Lost.

Ecstatic Trance is the sound of a ‘core band gone ‘Shuggah. Trance sees the band putting three and five and six against four, looping and droning with conviction and groove. It is that latter element which to me makes the band ready to take on the world as an ally of the superb Swedes, these guys dare to groove in a way which is both primitive and intellectual. In fact, this makes sense as vocalist Bob Meadows has said here:

It’s been forever since we’ve put a record out, and we have a broader influence through our path. Whether it’s been the kraut-progressive music scene of Europe, Germany, and England, or the tribal, rhythmic funk that comes out of Africa, or the dark, psychedelic stoner drone that comes out of Japan…  Whatever music we got into, you’re going to hear a bit of it on this record. But we could be shooting ourselves in the foot, too.

And here:

This next record is just us evolving even more so, just growing up and getting older, allowing the influences of different bands and musicians to influence stuff that we’ve done, whether it was bands from the ‘60s and ‘70s to the Afrobeat scene from Africa. It was our way to pay homage to them through what we do metal-wise.

What makes Trance so engaging is the guitarists tendency toward employing the influences listed above instead of traveling down the now worn road of Holdsworth aping. The melodic counterpoints drone, chime and writhe over the muscular, grooving maelstrom underneath. Easily one of the grooviest metal albums of the year.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Rings of Saturn Controversy: Constructedness, Authenticity and Metal.

Recently while in Japan I read via Metal Sucks of a flash in a pan controversy that brought quite a lot of social media attention to Rings of Saturn’s new album Dingir. The eye of the storm was around whether or not the band played at half speed and then sped up the slow tempo recordings to match the desired BPM of the overall composition. This had metal purists raging: “If you can’t play it live…” and “Pro-tools/DAWs are such a crutch”. In my opinion the band’s response to this controversy was somewhat less than optimum, they played the internet chat room yell back in a loud voice and show outrage card. This for most of us who have been on the net for a while equates to an admission of guilt. To me, the truth of the controversy is less important than the questions it raises around constructedness and authenticity in a post-album, post-label age of musical consumption.

First of all, let me take you back to this post. Here I talked about metal made by people who are not metal heads. That is, outsiders looking in. The brief version is that metal created from outside positions runs a serious authenticity risk: metal heads know their metal and they know if you are faking it. Sometimes however, when the ingredients are just right, as is the case with some of the aging djentlemen (Tesseract, Textures Vildhjarta), these products are no longer a foreign form sounding similar to metal but rather a sophisticated hybridisation which forces the genre into forms and directions previously unknown and unimaginable. The linchpin of this experimentation is technology. We can do now what was impossible. The same is true for what we see and hear. It makes sense then that there is very much a possibility of post-performance metal.

I use the term “post-performance” to refer a burgeoning trend in which artists are rejecting the “play-you-ass-off-to-earn-peanuts-but-be-on-a-major-label” paradigm. Ask any metal band these days how they make their money and the answer will be “shows and merchandise”. The problem with this setup is that without booking experience or a savvy agent, setting up a profitable run of shows can be very difficult. Then there are unexpected disasters from the mild (fuel prices go up, tour bus breaks down) to the wild (road accident, theft) which can in a single event sink an operation running close to the break-even mark.

Post-performance metal meanwhile adopts a different logic. I came across this ideas after reading an interview with Dawnbringer’s Chris Black on Invisible Oranges. Black articulated an opinion quite at odds with the tour/merch trap outlined above. Due to circumstances in his own life and personal preference, he chooses to eschew touring and focus entirely on creating a memorable, high quality product. 

As a child, music was to me something that you experienced by radio, albums, or playing it yourself on an instrument. And that usually meant experiencing it alone, so again, that’s just normal to me.

This is a man who literally is doing it all by himself. He has created a fair relationship with the excellent ProfoundLore label and retains full control over his product.  

Naturally there are exceptions such as Rise Above Records who work hard to generate mystique primarily through performance. They create supply and demand bottlenecks and have developed their brand to such an extent that a new release is equivalent to a vinyl purchase.

So what does all of this have to do with Rings of Saturn?

ROS, in spite of their youth, seem to be stuck in a rather outdated metal mindset in which constructedness is a wholly negative value and authenticity based on live performance (underground credibility) is positive. Kind of like when straight dudes are called “gay” and go about proving their hetero authenticity through displays of hyper masculinity (if only they knew, huh?). ROS could have avoided this whole Metal Archives/ANUS trip by taking a page from the djentleman’s textbook: DIY = constructedness and attention to detail, a highly constructed end product holds value especially if it has riffs, leads and ideas that shred. By refusing to position themselves within the crippling discourse of pre-Twenty-first century metal authenticity they would be able to exceed expectations and concentrate energies on perfecting their sound and bringing innovation to metal from unexpected directions.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Abiotic VS Rings of Saturn


I have written elsewhere about the evolution of metal post-social networking. My thesis can be summed: the increasing speed of dissemination is having a profound influence on the number and types of musicological elements contained in any single composition (let alone genre). Another way of putting this is to say that metal's stylistic memes move more quickly and across a wider range of genre landscapes than previously possible. Sometimes the sheer velocity of information is so great that the listener may quite reasonably be unable to relate musicological elements to each other or indeed to the broader concept of metal as a whole. This raises an interesting question: are we seeing a perfect post-postmodern articulation of infinite competing discourses (knowledges, informations, personal narratives fixed through informational text technologies) competing infinitely thus rendering the weight of history insignificant?

Since metal as an aesthetic is evolving quickly and as new stylistic tropes are stacked on top of, underneath and against each other as a banal occurrence, it is becoming clear that historical roots are relegated to irrelevancy. Metal, like jazz, has always been jealous of its heroes, its obscurity, inaccessibility and independence. In the present, however, a first page google search and a few wikipedia pages can in no time produce an armchair expert. The dark edge to this is that even while the information is available it is in competition, a type of competition so fierce and unfairly stacked against the past. The vertical weight of respect and relevnace previously tipped toward the past has shifted toward an ever emerging future being created amid a multimedia textual maelstrom.

But "so what?", right? You know as well as I that a gnarly riff is just that, regardless of its genre classification or stylistic association. And here is where the truly complicating factor arises, the trajectory that remains obscure to yours truly. Even in an informationally obese society where so much is consumed through the eyes and mind and via myriad distractions the relevance of music can only be apprehended aurally: it must be listened to for it to have value. Where information can be assimilated in seconds, music as an act takes time, after all is that not what rhythm is? Space between events?

Meanwhile, what are we metal heads to make of the environment of consumption in the present. There is more music and more diversity than ever before and paths through this landscape are undoubtedly more individualised and complex than in the past. The so-called filters of the big record labels hardly apply anymore as relevance coalesces around apparently quantitative measures such as “like” buttons, re-tweets and obscure search algorithms based on links and recommendations. Labels will continue to exist but not as big business, more like patrons to the arts, a final expression of fidelity to the cause an ethical, critical and aesthetic gesture to art.

Which leads me to my latest review:

Head to Head:
Abiotic versus Rings of Saturn.


Abiotic while supported by a major (metal) label have made some questionable decisions relating to production and/or clear songwriting. There are definitely stand-out elements on "Symbiosis" and indeed some brilliant ideas, however for the most part it remains unfocused. This is not the controlled chaos of grind, or grind/death crossover such as Brain Drill. This is a band with formidable talent yet not enough experience to know quite when to rein in the ideas.

As for the production, for some reason the vocals are incredibly dominant, leaving the rhythm guitars sounding somewhat hollow. This makes sense since the focus is on the dueling lead lines, but the sonic real estate inhabited by the vocals does not always allow the instrumental ideas to be fully articulated in the mix. As a bass player, I dig what is going on but again, where the bass in this listener's opinion would have been better serviced by an Obscura/Jeroen Thesseling slippery, fretless fatness or a Steve DiGiorgio era Death dirty fretless grind, Abiotic instead opt for a scooped mids, smiley face clank and rattle.

Rings of Saturn

Rings of Saturn have on Dirgnir transformed themselves from an immature death metal parallel to deathcore band with a gimmick (chip tune sounding leadwork) to a focused and muscular beast. They still sound as though from another planet but their new gig incorporates more explicitly metal elements from prog to Swedish melo-death while remaining firmly unified in their overall vision. again, my only criticism here is with production and some ideas.

I normally reserve my opinion when it comes to the production of drums because I know just how hard it is to get them right. However, consistent with some of the average riffing, the drum lines tend towards the vanilla which makes them stand out, especially during fast sections. I like mechanical drums, Fear Factory's Demanufacture remains one of my favourite all time albums. However, it is a sound that should serve the cause and on Dignir, I am not always sure that it does. The sound is poor, one dimensional and very fake.

Conclusion: Both albums are flawed yet fucking rad articulations of modern metal by young bands and deserve more than a distracted cell phone speaker/ear bud listen. Stay tuned for another article on the Rings of Saturn production/performance scandal later in the week.

Extremity in metal: a Buddhist's perspective

One thing I have come to comprehend over the years is the extent of the historical, cultural and geographical depth of the Anglosphere colonial project and the way it has shaped concepts of modernity that persist into the present. I wrote elsewhere in a reflection on traveling in the American Pacific that indulgence and excess are key defining principles underlying contemporary Western culture. Currently, I wish to go further and unpack extremity.

Extremity is a complex concept frequently associated with negativity even as it does not necessarily require nor proscribe it. This conflation requires some attention.

As with most concepts and indeed most things in nature, extremity is neither inherently good nor evil. It is rather merely one of the ways in which we as humans come to make sense of events consisting of significant emotional, intellectual and physical intensity. Physical intensity might be the result of pleasure or pain to such a degree that it exceeds the mundane thresholds. Love, hate, passion, drugs and sex frequently inspire us, move us to extremes.

Similarly, intellectual constructs from religion to cultural customs, concepts of people and nation similarly encourage us to move beyond our limits of dedication and fidelity.

To me, if there is a problem with extremity, it is due to an absence of reflection. Unreflexive extremity is essentially a form of violence, a string of actions with accelerating intensity occurring regardless of the context (people, environment, society) which it is situated. Pain and conflict borne are by the acting self and ripple outward - naturally intense actions tend to elicit intense responses, reactions. As is the case familiar to any physicist, large expressions of energy and force have similarly large effects on space and time.

A warm tea cup takes a few minutes to cool. Heated iron somewhat longer and fissile material on the verge of combustion necessitates great expenditure of energy to reverse the build up of energy. Human relations are the same.

Meanwhile, I would say that reflection is the coolant to extremity, it is the complex and versatile agent allowing us to manage intensity with dignity and grace, to scale our responses proportionately. A cool head equally lets us pick our battles, practice kindness and know when to quit.

Thus tandem with reflection, extremity remains a useful concept in human life. Throughout history events of great intensity such as natural disaster, war, insistent discrimination and other suffering require the mobilisation of efforts, energies far in excess of the norm. Without the capacity for extremity it may be the case that the acts of greatest compassion and generosity are impossible.

 But what does this have to do with metal?

1. The gross video

 One of the frequently unquestioned assumptions of metal is the juncture of conceptual and musicological extremity. I have addressed this in part when writing about the concept of "brutality". Indeed the terms “extreme” and “brutal” are often used interchangeably. But where does this conceptual extremity come from? My own thesis is that it is a necessary outcome of extreme conditions. After all, metal's ancestors are blues and jazz, products resulting from the response of the dispossessed, the raped, the murdered and the exploited, from slaves in front of and in spite of their masters. Later on extremity is articulated through rock and roll in terms of youthful rebellion against contemporary conservative cultural mores. We see a reconfiguration of extremity again through punk and for that matter, metal.

In its earliest stages, metal takes the extremity of rebellion further than either rock or punk and weds it to the grotesque, the bizarre and the violent. Metal is not content with a two fingered salute it frequently seeks to alienate, indeed it seeks coherence in alienation. Naturally exceptions and coercions exist, I speak only from my individual perspective on this matter and am reflexive enough to acknowledge that the boundaries I have drawn up for metal are likely different to those of other metal heads and metal scholars.

Conceptual extremity allows metal to achieve alienation. It may be argued that grotesquerieis merely used for shock value. However, if we dig into the concept of shock, we have to ask, what is the purpose? Why are we shocking? Who? Is there an aim? Is it merely an unquestioned assumption, an unfair conflation with what is labeled adolescent? Or does it serve some other purpose? More importantly, how can it be read in a different, more reflexive way.

One of the frequently unquestioned assumptions of metal is the juncture of conceptual and musicological extremity. I have addressed this in part when writing about the concept of "brutality". Indeed the terms “extreme” and “brutal” are often used interchangeably. But where does this conceptual extremity come from? My own thesis is that it is a necessary outcome of extreme conditions. After all, metal's ancestors are blues and jazz, products resulting from the response of the dispossessed, the raped, the murdered and the exploited, from slaves in front of and in spite of their masters. Later on extremity is articulated through rock and roll in terms of youthful rebellion against contemporary conservative cultural mores. We see a reconfiguration of extremity again through punk and for that matter, metal.

In its earliest stages, metal takes the extremity of rebellion further than either rock or punk and weds it to the grotesque, the bizarre and the violent. Metal is not content with a two fingered salute it frequently seeks to alienate, indeed it seeks coherence in alienation. Naturally exceptions and coercions exist, I speak only from my individual perspective on this matter and am reflexive enough to acknowledge that the boundaries I have drawn up for metal are likely different to those of other metal heads and metal scholars.

Conceptual extremity allows metal to achieve alienation. It may be argued that grotesquerieis merely used for shock value. However, if we dig into the concept of shock, we have to ask, what is the purpose? Why are we shocking? Who? Is there an aim? Is it merely an unquestioned assumption, an unfair conflation with what is labeled adolescent? Or does it serve some other purpose? More importantly, how can it be read in a different, more reflexive way.

Recent videos by Cattle Decapitation and Rwake as well as not so recent videos by Cephalic Carnage feature intensely graphic, visceral violence that a number of metal commentators have noted, is not necessarily focused or related to musical content. The consensus seems to coalesce around the purpose being as to shock.

I will admit, I found the Cattle Decapitation video disturbing but not particularly because of its depictions of violence. Certainly the violence was extreme and gory and I make no claims as to being desensitized or immune to this sort of explicit shock even if it is all clever editing. The narrative implications and editing sequences are definitely disgusting in the sort of way that is satisfying to the horror/gore buff.

Rather what disturbs me is the lack of conceptual extremity. Travis Ryan, who basically is Cattle Decapitation is also a vegan and activist and strikes me as a rather thoughtful, critically engaged metal head. Indeed, where there lies room for interpretation in Cattle Decapitation's lyrics, there seems to me very little space in the video for contemplation. Everything is explicitly represented, so much so that the meaning of the video is unambiguous: it is a grotesque, metal representation of the song title, "Forced gender reassignment".

I have touched on sexuality, gender and misogyny in metal in the past and want to return to it briefly here. However, before doing so I want to address one further concern I have with the Cattle Decapitation video. As a metal head I possess a healthy skepticism of religion. Indeed, I am acutely aware of the effects religion has had in the service of colonisation and the ongoing war against diversity. But I am also a skeptic when it comes to extremity in any position and admit to a human requirement for spirituality. In other words, I do not see it as productive to paint all people with the same brush.

The Cattle Decapitation video depicts a stereotyped sadomasochistic, implied homosexual committing performing/inflicting the forced gender reassignment (more on that title later) to two Christians. While the extremity of anger here can be understood there remain a number of problematics which merely reinforce rather than transcend or properly critique sexual stereotypes. Forcing a woman to become a man and vice versa through violently removing and reattaching genitals suggests that gender is merely biological, which we all know by now, it is not. Sex is considered biological, however, the increasing number of intersexual, hermaphrodite and transsexual voices suggest that even a biological definition is not fully certain.

To me, true shock, true extremity should deeply unseat more than an individual's taste or stomach. In fact, I would argue that it is not necessary for extremity or shock to be negative. Why was it not possible for the creators of the video to create a beautiful version of forced gender reassignment among consenting peers? What about representing fluidity, transformation and possibility as key shock tactics: homosexuality remains as taboo in metal as it does conservative Christianity. In other words, why just shock Christians? Surely they are just an easy target. And if this is the case the extremity of this video becomes rather one dimensional and somewhat ordinary. In fact, I would go so far as to argue that it has become mediocre.

Shock remains an expression of intensity consonant with the concept of extremity outlined heretofore. However, for a text to be truly shocking it needs to exceed discursive limits and the only way to achieve this is though reflexivity. As creators, we have to be brave enough to question our own cognitive and imaginative limitations, have the courage to dig deep and confront what is truly shocking: I am the other and we are in this together.

2. Musicological "safe word".

The word extreme functions as a synonym for brutal. Its intended meanings as specific to the body making the utterance as they are a vague catch all. Qualitatively it, I would argue that “extreme”, in terms of musicological discourse, can be demarcated along the lines of: extremely fast/slow tempos and changes between them, as well as an irregularly high number of time signature changes; deliberate use of assonance, dissonance and atonality juxtaposed against traditional concepts of melody; as well as vocal techniques which reinforce the previous and timbres usually considered unpleasant on a pop music or classical context.

What is interesting to me is the way these extreme elements can be quite easily normalised and cognised in a way quite often antithetical to their creators' intentions. As a musician and producer I love listening to the ways in which my fellow metal heads play with creating dissonance at low frequencies and have come to identify some of the willfully painful harmonisations such as flatted fifths as quite pleasurable. This is not about masochism or self harm as might be argued by those from outside of the genre but rather understanding techniques as a creator, as an artist. The metal heads creating these sounds at their most successful are going right out in distant tangents to produce wholly new soundscapes. At worst, mere reiterations.

To a novice listener, all of this may be heard as impenetrable noise and because it occurs in a musical context so deliberately contrastive with everyday notions of musicological thought, it 
is painful. But again, reflection brings illumination. Extremity refigured as sonic, conceptual and performative intensity, allows us new palettes with which to paint the world and new angles from which to view it. In safety.