Destroy the Scene, Dub Trio, El Rio, Light Will Remain, The Atomic Bomb Audition

New review of "Light Will Remain"

Read it below or visit speed, glue and music to check it out all pretty-like there.

“My co-writer here at Speed, Glue and Music tells me that there are people in San Francisco that actually read this blog!! Is this true? Feel free to leave some comments or share your blogs with us! Anyway since San Francisco is showing us some love, I thought I would review a SF an Oakland band that as far as I know hasn’t really received much exposure yet (I could surf the internet to verify whether or not this is true, but I’m lazy). This is a band that Mr. Destroy the Scene and I randomly saw 3-4 years ago, by accident. We had left our luxurious apartment at the intersection of Mission and Precita and ducked into El Rio for a few drinks, and this band was playing. And we were blown away! Never before had I accidentally ended up watching a band I liked so much. And then… I didn’t hear anything about them for years. Not, in fact, until I was board-operating an interview with Dub Trio at KUSF, and they mentioned that Atomic Bomb Audition were opening for them at the Hemlock. Did I know anything about this band, they inquired? Yeah! I said, suddenly remembering the band I unintentionally saw years back. What do they sound like, the dude from Dub Trio asked. “They sound like umm…. really heavy…. you know but also, like…. textured…. sort of shoegazey but also….. heavy” I said, and the dude from Dub Trio nodded solemnly, secretly amazed and envious at the breadth of my knowledge of music and the more technical terms pertaining to it. Anyway, I wasn’t able to go to that show, and then next I heard of them is when I came across this album, Light Will Remain. Apparently this is their second album, and I’m curious to hear what their first album sounds like, because by this release they already have a very full and well-developed sound. Much like contemporary Deftones (yeah I said Deftones), Atomic Bomb Audition incorporate a lot of 90’s indie, shoegaze and emo into their sound, but much, much louder and heavier. Except the Deftones ended up in their heavy-shoegaze incarnation coming from nu-metal, whereas this band seems much more natural in their melodic sensibilities. They also incorporate a lot of post-rock and prog into their sound, and the result is long, complex songs that alternate between lush melodies and heavy riffing (I just barfed a little as I wrote “lush melodies”). At various times, this band reminds me of Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr (in particular the vocal melodies at the end of “Copernicus: Perigee”), Mogwai, Isis, Amesoeurs, The Angelic Process (who RULE and I will definitely write about soon) and Explosions in the Sky. Yet at no point do they sound derivative of any of those acts- they have a really interesting and unique sound, and I’m eager to see what they do next.”


Prologue to a story in progress.

{this story began circa 2005-6, perhaps. finished just the other day (July 2009)}


Two men met in the hallway of their work and shook hands. Speaking to each other in slow cigarette-burned morning voices, they exchanged pleasantries.

“Pleasure to meet you. Name’s Jim.”
“Howdy…George. George Welles.”
“Taverner. Jim Taverner. It’s good to meet you.”
“Good to meet you.”
This is the interior of Silver. It is configured out of steel and blue, illuminated by white light. The place was designed in such a way that you would forget where you were particularly upon entering; it’s a queasy big breath of lightheadedness that smacked on one’s brain such that you felt as though this were your grandma’s basement when you were seven years old just as easily as it was the office where you work now that you are forty-two. It is damp, thick and gray outside for it is the end of summer and thunderstorms are prominent in this part of the South.
We are in Atlanta, Georgia. Traversing the virtually infinite hallway that separated the West and East wings of the building, George and Jim proceeded silently side-by-side.
“What do you think we’re doing today, George?”
“Watching a training film.”
“Alright, then.”
Jim was a little older but was built like a skinny young runner, which he was about three decades ago. He kept his light brown hair slicked-back and his cookie-duster mustache coifed and bushy. His face wore every one of his forty-seven years in a groove on his skin. George’s burly torso and thin, dark pate combined with his sloping shoulders got him the name Bull since he was in high school. They proceeded to the stone-walled archive in the basement. Jim and George were independent contractors finishing eighteen-months-long stints at Silver which required their particular expertise in the interpretation of topographic maps. Their analysis kept them focused on one particular strata, rock and dirt forging sub-harmonic coalescence whose contours can only be signified by their complements in adjacent strata which information they are forbidden to avail themselves of. As is planned for no one in their project division is made privy to integrations of the elements. It was not at all necessary that they know and probably merciful that they did not. That is why everyone at Silver has an awareness of their subdivision like they were seeing one inch ahead of their nose. How could anyone keep a life as life is known if made aware of Silver’s doings? There’s no answer to give. It’s not a possibility.
“You seen the message then?”
“That’s right. You come from the farther end.”
“Well, today I do. I ain’t never been in these corridors before now.”
“Me neither. I haven’t seen the film.”
“I haven’t seen it either. I have no idea.”
“It’s a silent film. It’s not pre-sound but it’s likely that it will be…silent.”
“That right?”
There were 154 bookcases, each 25 shelves high, for every row of which there were 14 total in the archive. Along the length of each shelf sat a good dozen boxes. They picked one of these and opened it.
“The filing catalog is 47G-1E9-I25O. That’s strata 47 sub G, family 1 paired E group 9 and cell I body 25 route O.” He opens the box, removes the tan leather case within and presents a reel of film. He stares at it as though he will trance it out of existence. “This must be it.”
“I’m not familiar with that at all. We confine our research to strata 13-16.”
“So this is technically against your protocol?”
“Yes, but this overlap is completely sanctioned. You know this strata but you ain’t never been down here, is that so?”
“If the notes hadn’t been so specific…I wouldn’t have known where to look. I thought this was an old storage floor. But if this is active data everything on this floor far exceeds our clearance. We shouldn’t be allowed down here.”
“If I’m not mistaken there was a coffee machine at that last corner.”
“I think I need some.”
“Alright now, that is a plan.”
He returned with two steaming cups of coffee and set them down in the main conference room at the foot of a four-foot tall tripod hoisting a great film projector with two great spools atop one end of the massive pill-shaped conference desk (which seats each of eighty-three men and women as comfortably as a handicapped restroom stall) that dominated the only available space in the archive that did not stock media.
They sat and drank nervous, large gulps of rich brown coffee. For some reason, that machine churned out the best coffee around – prepared with hefty amounts of roasted beans and just enough clean, pure water to thin the sludge. Sitting on either side of the projector, swallowing warm doses of caffeine, cream and sugar they felt the sheets of a heavy calming descend from the humming chassis that loomed above.
The projector was a huge gray steel assembly of antiquated mechanism, fourteen feet tall, over a quarter-century old and utterly pristine and functional as though it had emerged from a long suspension. Jim loaded the reel onto the spools and George flicked the great silver switch to start the projector, twisting the fine focus knobs until the shadows emerged sharp. Heavy machinery whirring behind images of clouds descended upon a verdant field punctuated by high slopes of the sort that one rolls down as a child. They were like great green dunes surrounded by a perimeter of thick forest and beyond that only a grey-white sky punctuated by the bright spots where sun emerged.
Almost immediately, the great white frame came into relief as did the two hammock swing structures that held end to end from the opposing horizontal bars that ran the width of this 4-story-tall structure. The two hammock swings were made of thick white rope and each held a man laying flat suited in the garb of a ninja with his face concealed, arm extended at an angle holding a sword at the ready pointed at the other – essentially these looked like great fish nets each holding a man inside. The two men at the zero position of their respective pendulum lay fifteen to twenty feet apart from one another, both focusing on the sky with a kind of serene awareness. And though their blades were drawn they held in abeyance – the way a dancer holds for her partner in a moment. Yet this moment has been magnified from a tumbling sand grain to the stride of a great continental landmass as through an electron microscope of the gods fueled by the clap of one thousand bursting stars. A wind blows and the hammocks sway but the men do not move. And so the two men waited, intent as poised triggers – just utterly still as some interminable interval passed.
This stillness generated a tension that amassed as a giant blue sphere between them which was visible only in the mind’s eye of an implied monk that hovered over the proceedings, detecting the flurry of activity that the still air hid. It is a kind of awakened mind director’s cut that he watches with his eyes closed.
The two brothers pictured here are powerful opposites, each the ambassador of a subtle dimension residing far below movement or breath. That they will battle one another is inevitable – they are simply the most recent representatives of a line of warriors that meets here…
These two dormant energies exist in opposition to one another, each seemingly tranquil in the face of its reflection. Both recognize themselves as necessarily generated aspects of a trans-dimensional moon – a locus of mutual energies breathed in by one and breathed out by the other. And the two brothers assembled here – harnessed in their swings and armed all through – are the North and South fronts of an indivisible atomic locus; balancing aspects whose emergent is a crystalline city that exists in the mind of anyone quiet enough to see it there when both brothers are present.
And so they begin to fight, legs dangling down from the net to get a running start along the dead grass like two brothers rising up to meet each other on opposing swing sets in the playground but who now have a much different notion of what’s to be done once at the apex and they meet instead in a gleaming silver flurry of blade spars.
Only a momentum just beyond what is easily generated is required in order to reach the physical proximity necessary for contact. Each strike unfolds a condensation of movements, angles of the blade reconfigure rapidly leaving a slime trail of previous motions, subverting the strictures of time to manifest four-dimensional shapes, geometric impossibilities whose structures will remain as imprints on the mind suspended in memory as the true extant artifacts of what took place here on this day.
Thus the one named Arashi-kage pitched the heft of his sword far back over his head to strike with the broad face of the blade but met air and a shave of cloth off the sleeve of his brother, Hebi-mei. Swiping from the side, Hebi-mei aimed at the kneecaps though Arashi-kage managed to remain several steps ahead jumping atop the face of the blade, kicking up the edge off which he leapt to snappily execute a standing three-hundred and sixty degree flip whose return momentum would send his blade into Hebi-mei’s belly. Hebi-mei, however had an imaginative speed only compromised by his relative lack of strength – he clasped the sword on either side between his palms. Rather than attempt to halt him, he took Arashi-kage’s momentum and swung backward toward the swing set, grasped the railing in two spots before every other one of his limbs grasped on and held, reabsorbing his diffuse energies, engaging his breath and heartbeat until they returned to the calm point where his faculties were under his control again.
Here there was a pause in the visible kinetics, followed by a wide light that broke across the clouds just resting on the horizon. The light was a panoramic sliver of amber and the sky looked to be on fire behind the blue cotton candy puffs that hid it. And yet above this, the sky revealed by degrees toward the horizon where before an eternal span of cloud now began to break into chunks and then wisps and this grand expanse of newborn baby’s eyes couldn’t possibly share the space with this row of fire but it did. And for some reason that row of sun that was ready to recede behind the lowest line of trees that an eye could see from the spot where the two brothers prepare their next strike (though Arashi-kage is bleeding really bad right now), that row of sun took too much of the scene from the boundless sky above, for what the eyes see is not what is there but only the shape of the eye as lit from without. The admixture of whatever carries light to the eye with whatever does not creates the photograph and when you wake from each successive daydream you animate movements from stillness and lighten shadows where before there was an unacknowledged blackness. Your mothers and fathers walk with you as ghosts even in sleep. There is a single photograph that develops in the mind and reveals itself through the return of memory; so in this way does the construction of reality reach completion through a slow comprehension. And if you were to breach the perimeter of this photograph, there is not a single thing in this world that can keep you from knowing the inner workings of Silver: why it’s there, how it’s run and—the matter of paramount importance—where to find the keys. And that is a fact, yet that has nothing to do with anything.
And it is getting so late right about now, shafts of light are fading. Arashi-kage is turning paler from all the blood he’s losing and there is a very thin interval of his consciousness that assesses the situation before him to determine that he can win this battle within three more strikes – a cut behind the knee, a cut in the crook of the arm and from that point along the arm toward the wrist. And it’s over. He is not far off the mark but while that is entirely possible in the realm of his skill, he can’t really appreciate the fact that he’s dying.
Hebi-mei can see Arashi-kage taking heaving breaths across the way and as well he can see the way the moon lights up the admixture of blood and rainwater collecting in a pool atop the tall blades of green grass directly below his net. It is difficult for him to understand why his innards shudder like he’s free-falling from thirty stories up in a gondola whose cables have just been cut, at that sudden point of recognition that something can be done if it was at all possible but those options are on another moon and this space we find our two brave warriors in is light years away from our limited conception of the celestial scope.
Space is bent from other angles. On a large evergreen overlooking the horrifying scene before us, three birds sit perched watching two clumped spider webs with prey inside swaying away and toward one another. These two brothers’ battle to the death does nothing to interrupt this silent evening. On a branch just ten yards above, removed from sight, they are causing about as much commotion as photosynthesis. The three birds twitter to one another, poking beaks beneath wings and wiggling their skulls as a breeze floods the tree, every branch swaying delicately as anchored to the earth by extension from the trunk. Twigs snap and fall to the ground when they age and petrify, their ability to handle the changes suddenly just.
Falling to their deaths, men compose whole tomes, complete in form, thorough in arc, surgical in execution, some having never committed a word to paper. To what higher clime do these evaporated thoughts arise? Two brothers lay bleeding on the grass, the warm night air perfuming crimson hues on dry flaxen blades.
Their coffee cups were long since empty with moist grinds collected at the base. The two men turned to look at each other directly in the eyes for the first time since they met this morning.
“Was this his dream?”
George removed his glasses.
“How did you know that?”
“How did you know that?”
“Are you playing games with me? Did the advisors give you an upper hand on this?”
“Of course not. I could ask you the same thing, y’know.”
“We would never know, of course. And what good would it do to know anyway? That tells us nothing.”
“We could sit here speculating about the content of the alien strata until we up and die.”
“You said it, my friend.”
“So what now, then?”
The two men stood and extended their hands to shake and moved in to hug as well. George spoke to Jim.
“Dreams reveal nothing but themselves.”
“All brotherhoods are eternal and entire despite manifestation.”
“Manifestation is a by-product. A symptom. Not an illusion but not reality either.”
“Unity is eternal.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Thank you.”
They left Silver, entered their respective luxury American cars, and drove into the warm night. Clouds loomed overhead and fireflies speckled orange and amber on the deep green fields. Thick air mingled with exhaust rose up to the sky like a vapor soon to be drowned by the falling rain.


H.P. Lovecraft, Jim O'Rourke, Morbid Angel, Necronimicon, The Metal Apologist, Trey Azagthoth, Trey Spruance, Van Halen

The Metal Apologist (Part V: Morbid Angel)

{from December 17, 2007}

Trey Azagthoth used to scare the shit out of me. As a young boy of 15, I came across an interview with Morbid Angel’s guitarist and sonic visionary in one of the many guitar magazines I was inhaling at the time. He described with complete candor and lucidity his belief in the Ancient Ones, the metaphysical entities that made up a polytheistic universe for the Ancient Sumerians. I still don’t know much about them (their ranks include Chthulu who’s probably gotten the most pop culture ink out of all them) but a cursory read of the Necronimicon and H.P. Lovecraft’s story of the same name will bring you relatively up to speed. Without going into too much detail, they will freak out any straight-laced, yet malleable, suburban kid from the Valley and shake his tenuous religious beliefs in the omnipresence of a God who will make everything OK if you just attend Sunday School. Of course, I speak of myself…

I was never one of those kids who could say something wasn’t real and then just believe that it wasn’t going to make me lie awake at night in horror. Whether it was The Ancient Ones, U.F.O.s, or Freddy Kruger, I was always pretty good at enabling these apparitions into being and allowing the thought of them to creep me out. Anyway, Mr. Azagthoth divulged that he finds great inspiration in these entities, and took copious amounts of drugs to commune with them through his music. These days he has developed a more complex, personal, and somehow universal philosophy of being that I’m sure doesn’t discard at least the basic tenets of his reverence to The Ancients but also manages to include self-help gurus, Deepak Chopra and Tony Robbins (I shit you not). Add to that his remarkably enthusiastic admiration of Eddie Van Halen (specifically I, II, Diver Down, and Fair Warning – the Ted Templeman sessions…anyone working on that box set?), Mozart (in hindsight, that’s not that weird – the dovetailing between death metal and classical…the bombast, the tonal/atonal balance, the harmonies…sorely overlooked), and, much later on, first-person online shooters like Quake and Doom, mystical texts such as the Qabalah…and here was a perplexing figure.

I read all this about Trey before I ever heard his music. And anyone who has ever done that knows how gargantuan their imagination can make the unheard music. When you finally hear the music in question, it tends to disappoint (Jim O’Rourke, in the liner notes to AMMusic, describes how let down he was by hearing KISS after reading so much of their hyperbolic press – was there any other kind of press for that band?) Well I imagined the most intense swarms of blue-gold airborne madness, guitars swirling around your head like Victorian vampire banshees over brutal machine gun drumming. And FUCK if that’s not exactly what it sounded like. “Blessed Are The Sick” made my jaw drop when I was 15. I wasn’t even sure if I liked it yet. It was overwhelming and weird and kinda horrifying. And yet all these years later, few metal albums sound as fresh and complex and utterly mad, mostly thanks to the guitar work of Trey Azagthoth. Despite his considerable technical prowess, it’s really his compositional vision for the guitar – which is virtually limitless and truly without peer in the death metal world – that offers a lens into his achievements. His work is more akin to filmmaking; many of his riff movements are set up like sequences in a Fellini film. Ecstatic, otherworldly, synaesthetic sound-images that evoke a multiverse with their own physics, logic, and gods.

It was only after years of cultivating my own approach to making music which included further processing the work of my forebears that I began to appreciate the intention of Trey Azagthoth’s statements from all those years ago. His philosophy is and has always been based on inspiration. And inspiration is very real. It is an animating presence inside the body that serves as the raw materials for manifestation – creative work, that is. Working with this feeling the artist situates themselves thusly: “While the tyrant was busy conjuring sweet wine from sour grapes, we were auto-cannibalizing raw angel flesh to resurrect long dead pagan gods who were forcefully obliged to brutally BUTTFUCK this man of the world into bloody remission” (poorly paraphrased from another Trey, Spruance of Secret Chiefs 3, in the liner notes to Second Grand Constitution and Bylaws). How can you create some serious fucking music without creating your own cosmology? I don’t even know anymore. I just thank Mr. Azagthoth for being a light and offering a way towards finding solace in the clarity and peace of your own way rather than being intimidated by the audacity of creating that idea in this world.


Carcass, Crass, Earache Records, Godflesh, Jerry Goldsmith, Meshuggah, Mr. Bungle, Napalm Death, The Metal Apologist

The Metal Apologist (Part IV: Carcass)

{from August 23, 2007}

Well, being bored and wired at work are, I think, optimal conditions for posting a new Apologist. Today we harken back to the late 1980s, to England, to the famed seminal death metal label, Earache Records, and to arguably their flagship band, Carcass.

What a band were Carcass. Representing a significant evolutionary step in metal, they were by rights amongst the first proper death metal bands as well as contributing heavily to the development of grindcore. Hmm…this is as good a time as any to clarify a few things about metal nomenclature. So let’s say metal is at least loud distorted guitars, which are generally leading the proceedings and enhanced by powerful drumming and usually subservient basswork. Vocals vary wildly from singing to screaming to growling. Well then death metal is particular for a lot of really fast picking on the guitar, and a preponderance of double kick drums. The actual tempo of a death metal song is NOT NECESSARILY THAT FAST!!! Speed metal, although ostensibly less extreme of a subgenre, is as one would expect from the name, the characteristically fast one. But listen to any Morbid Angel tune after 1995 and the rapid double kick backdrop is typically offset by a rather midtempo beat. Yeah…and also it gets really fast of course. Further characteristics include (but are not limited to): blast beats (exactly what it sounds like –a sudden blast of rapid drumming that typically animates the song for a moment. It’s auditory smelling salts) growling or shreiked vocals (usually really high or really low in range) atonal or middle eastern melodies in guitar riffs (I am NOT a purist but as long as we’re being specific, if it gets too traditionally melodic and harmonic, it’s becoming not death metal. That’s not to say that it never gets melodic or harmonic in a death metal song. NO WAY! It’s just not continuous or consistent within a piece; a hummable riff or melody needs to be an abberation in the song for it work and be properly brutal. Interestingly, Trey Spruance once considered Mr. Bungle to be a death metal band at heart, basically replacing riff changes with full-on aesthetic sea changes.) and/or odd time signatures (this is actually a necessity come to think of it; if a death metal tune rolls along in 4/4 for too long, it loses that off-putting sea-sick quality that really makes it well…DEATH metal. It didn’t get that name because it was so appealing…)

So what the fuck is grindcore? Being as how this isn’t animal taxonomy, I will just posit my un-Wiki’d definition of grindcore which is death metal crossbred with hardcore punk. Taking everything we know about death metal and just making it less anal and exacting, more dirty and fucked and impassioned and imprecise; a little more “homeless guy ranting on the corner.” Now, the Brits (specifically Napalm Death, Godflesh, and–that’s right–Carcass) were mad into hardcore punk (esp. the deeply influential British collective Crass) and even had a radical political bent to their music. I hear a bunch of dumbasses crying bullshit about music where you can’t make out the vocals marked as radical or revolutionary in some way. Well, the thing about that is that they’re musicians and they evolve the music that they play. Their radicalism lies in synthesizing exclusive styles in music that otherwise would not get to mingle otherwise (punks and heshers are notorious for having little overlap; why? No one ACTUALLY knows. Punk might be more working class and Metal might be more middle-class. Punks might be more informed and heshers might more beer swilling. Whatever. Anybody who’s met someone beholden to a genre of music for their friendships and opinions and general sense of the world knows that as a class of people they are rather fucking mediocre…) and facilitating an aesthetic overhaul of what music was thought to be; advancing our perceptions and creating things that just didn’t exist yet. And making that work…

I haven’t even said anything about Carcass yet…

For the purposes of this blog, I will focus on the album that bridged their grindcore years with their leap into what became the wildly popular subgenre of “melodic death metal.” That would be Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious. You will never meet anyone as opinionated as a metal fan, so when I say that this is “widely considered to be their masterpiece,” take it with a grain of salt. It IS, however, an unquestionably special death metal album and a milestone in the genre. Really epic songs, spot-on production, an attention to theme, variation, and development that would make Jerry Goldsmith proud, odd times that would make Meshuggah and many metal bands to follow inspired, and the real tear-jerker? TWO singers–one for growling and one for sounding like an anthropomorphized snake. Twisted riff after twisted riff, it’s like they had multiple generations-worth of frequent flyer miles saved up to the first class section of the Virgin Atlantic airliner of riffs. Let me say something about riffs here: they are the bread and butter of a metal musician’s life. A great riff is something truly religious and communicates something intangible to you–it compresses everything you have learned and known about life up to that point into an elegant series of sonic orbs, angles, twists, and turns. It’s like your favorite inside joke crossed with kissing your darling crossed with a moment of spiritual clarity. How gay is that? OK, replace any of those with “crossed with heaving a broadsword dozens of yards at a great beast breathing fire upon you and generally trying to fucking kill you and marveling as it lands squarely into his heart.” Listen to Dopesmoker (a.k.a. Jerusalem) by Sleep for a fucking exegesis on the holy magnitude of the riff.

I almost forgot; death metal songs often can and do start with samples; from movies, typically ones you have seen or can see. That’s the idea–to reference something. Well, there’s something weird about this Carcass album because NO ONE KNOWS what the really great and unnerving samples (most of which sound like they are from medical symposiums) are originally from. Take this one:

“That’s why I find it so amusing that the latter-day saints of this institution, one, attributed to me motives that just weren’t there and accused me of corrupting morality which I wish I had the power to.

Prepare to die…”

It’s unsettling and righteous at the same time, followed by a fantastically rapid machine gun of a riff. There is something so abstractly satisfying about this record whose lyrical content is largely based on strange gory narratives riddled with willfully obtuse medical school terminology (stories, by the way, range from the gastral consequences of LSD intake to the practicality of using humans as manure–the members of Carcass are vegetarian). From beginning to end this album just owns and speaks volumes about regarding an album as a whole in the process of writing. While not by any stretch of the imagination a crossover record, this is a really dynamically and ambitiously sequenced record, one of the rare metal records that you can and ought to listen to in one sitting (longer too at about 48′). This album just really threw down the gauntlet for the music makers who came across it; those who were thoroughly enthused by metal but who also at times questioned the ambitions of those who created it and were appalled at the reactionary attitudes of its supposed fans. Here was an album that seemed to say, “Metal can and will evolve and crossbreed and progress and do so without compromising or acceding to the whims of the ignorant and static of mind. It is simply assimilating itself into the vast pool of what we know to be music and sound. We understand that and want to convey that to you through the most fucking epic songs we can muster!” At long last, this is a truly progressive piece of music.

So there you have it…Volume 4…hope you enjoyed it. Good day to all!


James Brown, Meshuggah, Philip K. Dick, The Metal Apologist, Tomas Haake

The Metal Apologist (Part III: Meshuggah)

{from June 14, 2007}

What do mathematics, the slow complex psychic evolution of humankind, and James Brown have in common? They find a nexus point in Sweden with the arcane metal band Meshuggah. Meshuggah are a REALLY good band. And most people in the metal world know this. But I’m not quite sure to what extent they realize it. Because Meshuggah are equal parts sophisticated and straight-up kick-ass. There’s folks who don’t give a fuck beyond kick-ass. And since metal is such a ghettoized format (only metal types of people tend to buy metal records; not many other genres find themselves quite so exclusively holed up). Of course, it’s not as bad now as it was in the 80s (like I remember the 80s) but from what I understand, metal was SERIOUSLY hated stuff. This was the era that birthed the accusation of Judas Priest as driving a kid to murder. Nowadays, your mom buys the new Mastodon record before you do and the cast of “Friends” raises metal horns (Not really on either counts but you get what I mean). Anyway, my point is that I feel that for all their popularity not enough people get the brilliance of this band. And nothing deters the narrow mind like the tag of metal. So it’s their loss but still…something needs to be said for this…

Meshuggah’s ostensible quest is to relate dense psychic states through their lyrics and, through a significant refinement of the metal mores, through their music. For example, they never charge or stampede the ear. This is usually a state most bands seek through the sync of drums and guitar in complete cutthroat concert. Meshuggah on the other hand orchestrate elaborate polyrhythms: guitars create complex odd-numbered rhythmic figures that sound not unlike a large spacecraft crashing down to the ground in slow-motion while the drums groove, nay, bump to beats that are big, funky, even reminiscent of Motown. What?! Why, you might wonder? Well, it’s hard to explain unless you’re actually listening to it but Tomas Haake (their drummer) demonstrates that there’s a deceptively easy charm and movement to finding the lowest multiple of 4 divisible by 19. Pretty remarkable.

Again this is unmistakably metal and as such there is a prominent manifestation of lead guitar in their music. But these aren’t the kind of solos you’re used to. They sound altered, austere, and alien. They don’t virtuosic at least not in a demonstrative egotistical way (although make no mistake they are composed with not a little bit of tedious care and craft). They are somewhat melodic but not at all lyrical; something like if the ship in Event Horizon made its own sound like the UFO from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Sinister and mechanical in execution, yet conveying emotions; just not ones that you’re used to.

Lyrically, Meshuggah inhabit the mind space of broken-poet schizophrenic cyborgs from 8 Philip K. Dick novels simultaneously. The may be the most obtuse metaphor I’ve ever come up with but just check it out. From the song “New Millenium Cyanide Christ”:

I’m A Carnal, Organic Anagram.
Human Flesh Instead Of Written Letters.
I Rearrange My Pathetic Tissue.
I Incise.
I Replace.
I’m Reformed.
I Eradicate The Fake Pre-Present Me.
Elevate Me To A Higher Human Form.
The Characters I Am,
Made Into A Word Complete,
Then I’ll Be The New Norm.

Self Inflicted Fractures.
I Replace My Bones With Bars;
Aluminum Bleeding Oxide;
The Drug Of Gods Into My Pounding Veins

(A Human Puzzle For All To Scorn.
No Face.
No Back.
My Scarred Edition I’ll Display;
The Organic Word For Nothingness)

My Receiving Eyes Exchanged With Fuses;
Blindness Induced To Prevent Destruction.
Ceramic Blades Implanted Past My Ribs To Save Me From The Dues Of Inhalation.
I Tear My Worldly Useless Skin.
Staples To Pin It Over My Ears.
Non-Receptive Of Ungodly Sounds –
I Disable The Audio-Generators Of Fear.

Hexagonal Bolts To Fill My Mouth,
Sharpened To Deplete The Creator Of All Violence;
Without Speech There Will Be No Deceit

(My Feet I Crush. The Flesh I Cut Away,
So As To Not Produce The Sound Of Their Presence On Rotten Ground)

Baptized In Vitriolic Acid.
A Final Touch.
A Smoothing Of Features.
Completion Of The Greatest Art;
To Cast The Godly Creatures.
Humans, Once Astray;
Made Divine.
Stripped Of Congenital Flaws.
We’re Incandescent Revelations In A World Of Darkened Forms.

(Confide In My New Age Dogma.
Swallow The Indoctrination.
You’ll Come To Love It Here,
The Suicidal Atmosphere.
Let Me Into Your Common Mind.
I’ll Plant My Thoughts Into Its Soil.
Walk Among Us Self-Made Gods,
Deified Through The Pains Of Self Torture)

Come Join With Me To Save A Failed Humanity.
Follow The God Of Cyanide Into The New Eternity.
Behold; A Sacrificial Rase A Cleansing Worshipping Of Pain.
The New Millenium Christ Here To Redeem All From Lies

(I’ve Come To Save You All. I’ve Come To Light Your Way)

Wow, something about the redeemer of the future, today! I didn’t know where to begin with this one and I don’t know where to end but holy shit, Meshuggah are a REALLY good band.


Breeders, Kim Deal, Pantera, Socialism, The Metal Apologist, West Memphis 3

The Metal Apologist (Part II: Pantera)

{from February 8, 2007}

It seems like I’ll be focusing on understanding the depth of lyrical content in otherwise dismissed bands. And I’m not alone in the case of this song. Before me, Kim Deal of the Breeders covered “Fucking Hostile” by Pantera for a compilation to free the “West Memphis 3” (I’m not an authority on this case but these are the kids who under very dubious circumstances were arrested for a murder and the fact that they listened to metal was an attributing factor in the case). This is one of the underlying endeavors of the Metal Apologist; to highlight the aspects of depth that are glossed over in this music and that is exactly what Kim Deal does doing a straight read of the Pantera tune with clearer vocals.

Almost every day
I see the same face
On broken picture tube
It fits the attitude
If you could see yourself
You put you on a shelf
Your verbal masturbate
Promise to nauseate
Today I’ll play the part of non-parent
Not make a hundred rules
For you to know about yourself
Not lie and make you believe
What’s evil is making love
And making friends
And meeting God your own way
The right way

We stand alone

The truth in right and wrong
The boundaries of the law
You seem to miss the point
Arrested for a joint?
You seem to wonder why
Hundreds of people die
You’re writing tickets man
My mom got jumped — they ran!
Now I’ll play a public servant
To serve and protect
By the law and the state
I’d bust the punks
That rape steal and murder
And leave you be
If you crossed me
I’d shake your hand like a man
Not a god

Come meet your maker, boy
Some things you can’t enjoy
Because of heaven/hell
A fucking wives tale
They put it in your head
Then put you in your bed
He’s watching say your prayers
Cause God is everywhere
Now I’ll play a man learning priesthood
Whos about to take the ultimate test in life
I’d question things because I am human
And call no one my father who’s no closer than a stranger

I wont listen

To see
To bleed
Cannot be taught
In turn
You’re making us
Fucking hostile

So what we have hear is a guy who is trying to thoughtfully reassess the roles of specific authority figures and doing so with remarkably poignant results. Of course, Pantera’s read of this song is propulsive and without respite. As such, it took Kim Deal’s reading to unpack the emotional resonance of these lyrics and reveal that they are as radical and affecting as any great Minor Threat song for their willingness to challenge heirarchical institutions but do so with brilliance and consideration rather than an easily dismissable “youthful” antagony (“Yes, ‘Fuck it!’ That’s your answer for everything!”). Some real gems here for sure: “I’d shake your hand like a man not a god”? Damn! Take that Socialist revivalism! Marxists everywhere reeling at the powers of populist song…

Phil and co. were not embodiments of social revolution that much is true. But the work is the thing and personally, I find this to be a hearty challenge, a toss of a hefty diamond-encrusted gauntlet, to the standard binary of “happy/sad” music. Check your head indeed…

I believe that’s all. Don’t be quick to dismiss or dis; In light of this, you might be amiss…

See you,

Black Sabbath, Geezer Butler, Ozzy Osbourne, The Metal Apologist

The Metal Apologist (Part I: Black Sabbath)

{My first task here will be to archive select old writings. Here’s the first installment of “The Metal Apologist,” which is exactly what it sounds like, from January 13, 2007}

So I’ve unofficially decided to be the biggest fucking dork ever and put up a (semi-)regular series of posts pertinent to exalting the best Metal that I’ve encountered and defending it from the disparaging falsehoods and misconceptions with which it is too often saddled.

It started with a listen to Black Sabbath’s “A National Acrobat”. A brilliant song that kinda chokes me up by how lyrically amazing it is. A much younger Ozzy is powerful and unstrained singing these lyrics (penned by Sabbath’s unsung genius of a bassist, Geezer Butler):

“I am the world that hides
The universal secret of all time
Destruction of the empty spaces
Is my one and only crime
Ive lived a thousand times
I found out what it means to be believed
The thoughts and images
The unborn child that never was conceived

When little worlds collide
Im trapped inside my embryonic cell
And flashing memories
Are cast into the never ending well
The name that scorns the face
The child that never sees the cause of man
The deathly darkness that
Belies the fate of those who never ran

Well I know its hard for you
To know the reason why
And I know youll understand
More when its time to die
Dont believe the life you have
Will be the only one
You have to let your body sleep
To let your soul live on
Love has given life to you
And now its your concern
Unseen eyes of inner life
Will make your soul return
Still I look but not to touch
The seeds of life are sown
Curtain of the future falls
The secret stays unknown

Just remember love is life
And hate is living death
Treat your life for what its worth
And live for every breath
Looking back Ive lived and learned
But now Im wondering
Here I wait and only guess
What this next life will bring”

Yeah, Sabbath were basically big hippies but with a little more gravity, grounded in the reality of facing the uglier parts of the universe. But beneath it all there’s a profound message of rebirth and understanding the breadth of existence beyond your current form. Heavy stuff. Not dumb. Lest we forget riffs that are still among the most innovative the entire genre has yet seen. Very little has advanced since these guys, Motorhead and, to some extent, Led Zeppelin. Anyway, to address the usual arguments, you can understand what the singer’s saying, it’s not about Satan and killing, and uh…go listen to some fucking Sabbath!

Yours in metal,