Archive for the ‘metal endorsements’ Category

Megadeth: Killing is My Business … and Business is Good!
This is a time machine of American heavy metal. No matter who and how old you are, by listening to this album, you will be delivered to LA in 1983. You will be sixteen and male. You will have long hair and tight jeans. You will be ready for the pit. This is not dark music. It is fast and loud. It is immature fun. The lyrics involve comic book heroes, Monty Python rabbits, and the sexual fantasies of a gas station attendant. Still, you get a hint of Megadeth’s potential. In particular, Dave Mustaine shows himself to be an undisciplined prodigy on the guitar. That discipline would come, but not yet. It’s 83. Enjoy yourself.

Iron Maiden: Seventh Son of a Seventh Son
Maiden offers a different version of heavy metal. For me, this album marked the end of their Golden Era, which includes four albums (this one, Somewhere in Time, Powerslave, and Piece of Mind). I’m almost certainly wrong about this, but I believe it’s the first fully-fledged metal concept album. It is the complete though not exactly flawless story of a doomed prophet and his doomed people. Where Megadeth offers low-end riffs, solos out of nowhere, and pure speed, Maiden offers harmonized guitars, operatic singing, and attention to detail. Each song is a composition, as is the album.

Ash Borer: Cold of Ages
These guys have a fraction of the track record of Maiden and Megadeth. They have a fraction of that fraction’s rep. They’ve put out a couple of albums and LPs, but they’re representative of the best of metal today. The songs are much longer and much darker. They offer no lyrics, just guttural screams. They depend upon a reverb/distortive quality that reminds me, really, of Sonic Youth. No guitar solos. They do not play mosh songs. They do not tell stories. I kind of wish I could still stay awake till two in the morning, alone with a quart of Mickey’s Ice, just to see what they sound like then. I mean, they just seem designed for lonely insomniacs. Still, I find Ash Borer interesting. They’re finding new sounds, new ways of being metal. Thank God. I don’t always want ’83.

*If you’re looking for more genre specific adjectives like “speed,” “thrash,” “black,” or “postapocalyptic-post-rock-avant-black-atmostpheric” heavy metal, you’ve found the wrong blog.

it’s moby dick’s birthday! that book has inspired so much of world culture, including patrick stewart and doom metal.

I have not heard of all the world’s fine bands, but Ahab is the finest band you’ve never heard of. Each of their albums reworks and retells literature of ocean adventure gone bad into the slowest, coolest doom metal. Their most recent work is “The Giant” based on a novel by Edgar Allen Poe.

You may wonder about doom metal. You’re right to do so. Metal may be the most fragmented of musical genres. But consider that all metal is the spawn of Black Sabbath. Doom metal takes the best elements of the slowest Black Sabbath songs. Note: this does not mean the softest of songs. We’re not doing “Changes” here. Think more of the first six minutes of the song “Black Sabbath” or “Wheels of Confusion” or “Lord of this World.” These songs feature some of Tony Iommi’s greatest low end slow riffs.

Many tracks on “The Giant” feature variations on those riffs, but they also have moments that remind me of “Planet Caravan,” low, bluesy acoustic guitars which build into those angry riffs. The movement from big, mean guitars to low and pleasant (even to The Wife) very much suggests the effects of loss and being lost on the ocean. These tracks are long and melodic and mean and kind, a kind of spiral of emotions, tossed and turned on the water.

The vocals offer even greater variety. Maybe “polarity” is a better word. Sometimes we hear mournful, bluesy singing and sometimes we get classic death metal Satan-yelling. But these polarities work especially well on this album. They’re set up by the album’s opening lyrics (from “Further South”):

“I’m Arthur Gordon Pym/Or is he me?” Bluesy man is one half of Pym, sensitive and uncertain. Satan is not particularly Satanic at all. He’s the “subconscious creator” of Pym’s misery and, simultaneously, questioning the need for his creations. He’s a real fallen god.

We follow Pym on his journey south where he has encounters with an Ancient Mariner-like ship of the dead, the vast emptiness of Antarctica, and, of course, a giant (which might be a great Antarctic whale). Pym’s great enemy, though, is time. Time slows about as close as it can to a stop, or feels as though it does. A stop would be a release. He could cease movement and cease wondering what he should do with himself. But time goes forward, miserably, slowly forward.

The music in some sense mirrors that slowness. For sure, this is some of the slowest metal you’ve ever heard. Some tracks are twelve minutes long. But they are beautiful, and they tell a fascinating tale.

ImageSlayer’s Decade of Aggression (Disc One) makes me remember parts of high school. The results are weird.

Hell Awaits—At 16, I was 5.2 feet tall and weighed 110 pounds with a loaded backpack. It was never loaded. White Jew midget in the heavy metal shirt, orange shorts, and Scotty’s Hardware cap, feeling something like Ellison’s Invisible Man. I wasn’t, of course. I suffered neither racism nor anti-Semitism.  No one wanted to be my mentor for purposes shady or otherwise. When I grew up, I wanted to be dead or a poet. The grinding riff and drum which opens this song made me feel like the baddest, meanest kid in school.

The Anti-Christ—So much of metal involved and involves Satan, though maybe 1% of metalheads have ever thought seriously about the worship of any Dark Lord. On occasion, they’ve dreamed of punching cool kids and bosses, but who hasn’t? We love dogs and rock. This song rocks.

War Ensemble—This song was released either right before or at the start of the First Gulf War. I remember absolutely no one giving even the tiniest shit, even a fartlet, about the prospect of a war, even though it was the first war named a war of our lives, and if it went on long and the country started a draft… Anyway, there was no draft and that was awhile ago. My point is that no one cared. It set the stage for a lot of the nonsense now. Anyway, the only musicians who took up the war subject were heavy metal bands and hardcore rappers. Among thrash metal war songs, this tune is tied with about a hundred other tunes for third place, behind Metallica’s For Whom the Bell Tolls and way behind Megadeth’s Holy Wars.

South of Heaven—If you’re a metal band of any stripe, you better get to the apocalyptic future song sooner or later. “South of Heaven” is Slayer’s best version. The phrase “South of Heaven” sounds obvious, but only after you hear it. Always interesting to hear these songs twenty-something years down the line. This particular described future hasn’t arrived, yet its retained the power to stun.

Raining Blood—Slayer’s most recognizable opening notes. Even people who haven’t heard much of Slayer beyond the name kind of know this song. I’m thinking we have a communal memory that works something like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon or whatever that game is. Anyway, we might know the song, but we know enough about the song. What else? This tune is quintessential Slayer: mean, speedy doom.

Altar of Sacrifice—In senior year, I took “Intro to Psychology” with a stoner named Mr. Edwards, who cared about teaching about as much as I care about Katy Perry. People basically talked to each other all period while I sat in the dead center of class listening to tunes on the Walkman as loud as I could. Two of my principle awful moments of high school occurred in that class. This fat kid who wanted to be cool reached over and turned down my Walkman and put his finger over his mouth, and I did nothing. Another legit cool kid who wore his Polo shirt tucked into his Garth Brooks tight jeans pressed “Stop” on my Walkman, and asked what was wrong with me, and I did nothing. Is it wrong to still kind of wish I could put them on an Altar of Sacrifice? I mean, I wouldn’t, but the visual is sometimes nice and pleasing psycho.

Jesus Saves—Another staple: the anti-Christian deal. Now that I’m older, this is probably the silliest of the staples. Also, this is my least favorite song on the disc. This is a good spot to say that, in retrospect, this was the last great American thrash metal album. Basically, ’91 was both the highpoint and end of this brand of music. Shortly afterward, Metallica would release the Black album, and its disease didn’t infect the other bands (no love song epidemic ensued), but it stunted their growth. That Black album was a signal, like the first sacking of Rome, that the game might go on, but it was basically up.

Dead Skin Mask—They really do hit all the staples. The song’s based on the career of Ed Gein. The title implies the particular weirdness of this serial killer. He used to lure kids into the basement and, well, you know. On the studio album, a girl’s talking to him, begging him to let her go. Pretty haunting tune.

Seasons in the Abyss—The slow opening’s got this Egyptian desert vibe going down. You know it’s going to get faster, way faster, but you don’t know how it’s going to get there. Then you get there and you say to yourself, I didn’t even know I was moving, but you were, obviously, and it’s kind of like growing up, and, yes, in this sentence the act of growing up has basically been compared to a song about sadistic torture, which is about the truest thing you and I have ever read.

Mandatory Suicide—Another war song, not as good as “War Ensemble,” but cool, especially at the end, when Tom Araya is ranting in rhymes over a nice thick riff and guitar-bomb effects. When I was 16, I had that entire rant memorized. I’ve only got this one scream left: “Bloodshed is everywheeeerrrreee!” Memory’s a tricky bitch: you can see the shape of the past, but as you approach, you realize it’s the shape of a fragment which you’ve mistaken for the whole.

Angel of Death—How often I wanted to be the angel of death, not Dr. Mengele as described in the song, but feared and powerful. What days, dusted over and replaced by a new wardrobe of fitting shorts and plain t’s. I used to air guitar this song, dreaming of a life onstage with thousands of people wanting to be like me, just as I wanted to be like Kerry King, making those guitars bomb. Those dreams and days are over, and I am still alive.

RE: Greek tragedy. Somewhere along the way you’ve heard terms like catharsis and deus ex machina. You know tears must come in buckets. You’ve read something about the roots of man-boy relations in ancient Greece and wondered about the secret roots of NAMBLA and how you’re going to react if something less than American happens on stage. Maybe these things come to mind when you imagine Greek tragedy. Or not. Maybe I’m just projecting my funky ignorant associations onto you.


Last Friday, the Wife took me to see a production of Euripides’s The Trojan Women. I didn’t expect any man-boy love, exactly, but I have recently read some Greek tragedies, including Euripedes’s The Bacchae, and what is clear is that although our culture owes a great deal to the ancient Greeks, we are at least as different from them as Jews like myself are from the ancient Israelites.

In Shakespearean tragedies, a basically likeable dude starts on high and ends bloody on the floor, the last of many bloody dead. We know how they’ll end, but they at least begin with hope. The tragedy is that hope is inevitably squashed under a patient mean thumb. Greek tragedies go from black to deeper black. Few of us are prepared for it. The Wife sure wasn’t. By the time Astyanax was sentenced to a splat from on high, she was chuckling to save her sanity, or she felt it was melodrama.

I think she felt what a lot of the audience felt: this was too much. By the end, when the Trojan women were marched to their separate ships and and lives of slavery far from Troy, they felt wrung dry.

You won’t be surprised to learn I felt differently. In fact, I walked out all smiles, and it wasn’t just because the Wife had taken me out for an evening of culture rare in Jacksonville. Some folks, a small set, are wired for the real darkness. Like, dig this.

Even though they chart black maps of awesome, Loss will never be popular, precisely because the maps are pure black. Most of us mostly want entertainment to be a sweet escape from these rough times. We are culturally programmed to want that, which explains every sorry shit band you and I love. Yeah, I include myself. You think I’ve escaped Poison and Whitesnake? I still listen to Whitesnake. I can see the awesomeness of Greek plays and Loss, but only in limited doses.

Listen: escape is not release.

We understand catharsis–in our brains. That’s not where the real thing is found.

*Despite what any or all of this post may suggest, I am happier now than I have ever been.

In 1991 Metallica put out the untitled album, the Black Album, you know the one. I want to talk briefly about this one song. You know the song. You should hate the song.

The song is not exactly bad in and of itself. As love songs go, and especially love songs of the time, well, okay. It hits all the points a love song needs to hit. Slow, sensitive. Acoustic guitars. Rock star dudes slowing down to tell you how they feel about you, baby. Commitment is stressed. Spiritual union is implied. The us-against-world mentality is outlined. That world’s inability to understand what we have is obvious. Absolute trust is not built: it exists. Okay,yeah, I’ve heard it before.

The song is special dreck because it was written by what, at the time, was the world’s preeminent thrash metal band. A lot of Metallica-bashers will deny this now. They will say they knew all along or that the band started sucking after Cliff Burton died or Dave Mustaine got kicked out, but, bullshit. Before this album they were top dogs. But with it, they travelled way outside the circle of what thrash bands are meant to do and ought to do. I will not accept apologists’ idea that they were trying something new. That’s bullshit too.

By circle, I mean this: thrash metal is built on aggression and is great because of aggression. It is an excellent vehicle for expressing aggression and related emotions (defiance, outrage, anger, etc.). When your thrash band stops their album to get tender, your thrash band’s gone outside the circle of what is possible for a thrash band to do and still be called a thrash band. If you’re going to write about relationships and still be thrash, you’ve got to do something like this. Stay in the circle.

I am not dissecting the demerits of a twenty-plus-year-old song for kicks. I am writing against the basic idea that if you’re going to be an artist, at some point you have to talk about love, and, if you’re a writer, at some point your novel has to include some kind of love interest. I write today not against all love interests, but against the necessity of a love interest.*

The love interest is sometimes necessary. Often, it is necessary, but for fuck’s sake it is not critical to all literature everywhere, like if I’m going to write a story I better make sure this protagonist is either falling in love or just got dumped or getting over the beloved’s death or whatever. Not all stories require love, especially if you don’t have much to say or do with love or you can’t make a good fucking love interest.

If you must have one, the love interest should be interesting above and beyond his/her role as a love interest. There must be something intrinsically interesting about this man or woman beyond the fact that you can’t live without her because you need somebody in your life because that’s how people feel sometimes and you’re trying to give us a person’s feeling. You end up with the literary equivalent of Metallica’s love subject above. It sells, but it sucks. The love interest, particularly the female love interest, should not be all sweetness and light. If she is batshit psycho, let her be batshit psycho for reasons other than sexual abuse. She should not write poetry. She should be obsessed with politics or something women aren’t noted for obsessing over, even though a percentage of women do obsess over that something. She should be interested in voting for Mitt Romney. There are in fact such women, and your protagonist could, weirdly, fall for her. Okay, I can live with that. You can tell your love interest sucks if the girl doesn’t say or do anything half as interesting as other supporting characters.

This brings me back to Adam Levin’s The Instructions. So I’m up to pg. 732. The book has much to recommend it. Has anyone ever dissected the politics of seventh grade in such beautiful detail? No. Has anyone ever drawn such lovely parallels between kids’ discussions of right and wrong and Talmudic debate? No. Has anyone broken down ADHD in such entertaining, precise detail? No. The possibilities of a ten-year-old potential messiah in Chicago are brilliant and beautiful. The novel’s ambition to cover the experience of that ten-year-old in all its detail is excellent.

Ambition can be pro and con, and if Levin overreached anywhere, it’s in the love department. Eliza June Watermark is supposed to be the last spark for Gurion. She supposedly sends him over the edge with her superhotness. After he meets her, people observe that he’s changed, become more dangerous. She helps on other plot points, like how Gurion and best friend Benji split over Israelite-goy issues (if you want to know why I don’t say “Jew,” read the book).

Homegirl has a definite function, but as a character, she stinks. Every time she comes in, action deflates. While other characters have cool stuff to contribute to conversations and action (Bam Slokum’s speech about being full of nothing, among other things, was a fairly awesome speech on the subject of building and maintaining popularity), June comes around and, meh. In her most recent appearance, she talks about her first kiss with Boystar and seems to reveal, oh, God, that she’s been sexually abused. She has the speech of a stoner trying for poetry: “”It’s so pretty when you’re red, with your black hair and eyes. You’re the end of death.” Earlier, we spent about 30 pages on their first kiss. Meh.

She could be deleted without wrecking the plot and without readers like me wondering about love. First, Gurion’s ten. He might be developed intellectually, but it might be legitimately interesting for him not to be interested in girls and to be puzzled by other kids’ attraction. Gurion could lose it over everything else in the novel and we’d never miss the June spark at all. Instead, the focus could remain on everything that does work in this book: the messianism, the scriptural interpretation, the grade school politics, the apparent superpowers, etc. We’d never miss it.

Really, it’s a matter of drawing the correct circle. I talked about thrash metal, but I stole the idea from Henry James. A writer cannot write about everything in the world in a single novel. He must only appear to do so. To make that appearance work, he must draw a circle around his subject. Don’t let in that extraneous stuff, even if it is part of normal human experience. And if, when you draw your circle, you don’t see any room for that love interest, chuck the love interest. You’ll probably make things easier for yourself. If you draw the correct circle and stay within the circle, your work will be awesome.

Note: The implied comparison of Metallica and Adam Levin is necessary but unfortunate. I will probably read more of Levin’s work. I will never again buy a Metallica album.

*It is true that I am getting married in ten days. I do love the fiancée. She is a necessity.

Me: the website’s about more than just selling a book. i talk french metal, etc.
Him: i prefer german metal.
Me: You like Kreator?
Him: Who?

Grandpa to the rescue.