Monday, March 31, 2008
First, some full disclosure. My friend Christian (Telephantitis) and I are the Vermont-approved co-fathers of the wikipedia article on deathcore. How it looks now is the result of 6 months of arduous deflection of attacks and claims that the subgenre is imaginary or from people who think The Black Dahlia Murder and Ion Dissonance are deathcore. Though we didn't create it, we are the dickheads responsible for its incredibly well-cited and concise nature. This isn't because we particularly like deathcore (or 00's death metal in general, actually), but because we noticed the trend from a mile away something like a year and a half to two years ago vis a vis myspace and felt this ridiculous endpoint of all things metalcore/hardcore needed proper documentation and someone to care for the cloacal shaman-beast it is.
Also, I do love me some metalcore. I mean good metalcore. I still go to bat for Killswitch Engage's The End of Heartache as a solid record and love Bleeding Through's This Is Love, This Is Murderous. I also still think Martyr AD, Unearth, Zao and As I Lay Dying are pretty fucking exemplary for their individual sounds and consistency. But, as a companion piece to my genre study, I must admit, tons of metalcore (in the two forms I'll define later) sucked. There's a lot of mathcore and post-hardcore and emo and etc that, now that old-style metalcore of 2000-2005 is dead as fuck (and did so as soon I hit college, thankfully), will forever be pidgeonholed but wasn't ever metalcore. Simply put, it comes in two varieties: Various failings or succeeding to emulate melodic metal (not just melodeath, as usually erroneously discussed, but a lot of hardcore bands have clearly caught up on NWOBHM or at least thinks natural minor trills and harmonies are "br00tal") mixed with the bizarre and fascinating mutations of hardcore that came about after shit went underground further and lost any steam as a pop music commodity (Re: Converge, Botch, Fugazi, Earth Crisis, Neurosis, etc.). So, you get some kid with a $400 ESp LTD guitar and dead swan hair looking pseudo-goth at the Warped Tour playing fingertapped harmonic minor runs in drop-C punctuated by a breakdown EVERY SONG.
The other form of metalcore that emerged as the opposite of the In FlamesXcore that caught the ears of many a useless white teenager's ears (Because, really, whiny over-distorted melodic hardcore/metal does sound much better at night on your suburban Long Island lawn) was of the spazzy/effeminate variety, which could really span anywhere from screamo to mathcore. This encapsulates all of the output of bands like The Locust or Ion Dissonance or Fear Before the March of Flames. And since garish hipster aesthetic has become the norm, the day-glo/Napolean Dynamite man-childishnessness of this fist int he air, shouty, angular metalcore survived where orthodox metalcore floundered. Badly. And in the end, this was always the more creative and interesting variant because, let's face it, the downfall of metalcore was that everything was stock, natural minor scales trilled without thought aren't impressive, white kids have no problems or things of note to say, and, just maybe, less people in this world should make music. Just because you can play double bass doesn't mean you should.
I personally became aware the metalcore in early 2003/late 2002. Before they brought back Headbanger's Ball (has it been 5 years of this shit already? Yeesh), which I was really psyched for back when I found metal as a whole cool and mysterious and edgy, there was this thing on MTV2 (my most reliable source of music at that time) called Extreme Rock or something to that affect that was an hour long block of metal videos, plus some back goth/hardcore clips. It's here I first encountered Hatebreed and Down and Mortiis and Poison the Well. But most importantly, it was where I developed a man-crush on Mastodon and High on Fire. I guess in response to positive feedback, they played the show ad nauseum at night and mid-afternoon, which probably gave the greenlight to bring back "The 'Ball". At the time, Headbanger's Ball was pretty fascinating to watch, especially since the metalcore trend and ensuing backlash had yet to occur. I could dig into Nevermore, followed by Killswitch Engage, and into Converge and As I Lay Dying. That variety to the videos and quality completely disappeared by the end of 2005, but there were important moments, those "Oh Shit" moments that have thinned out for me as I've gotten older as things more often than not are good, but not that interesting and bands I loved (Interpol, Mastodon, High on Fire) start putting out crap albums.
Several of those moments that would shape my 2004 as a, honestly, burgeoning scene kid was the quadruple-threat of As I Lay Dying, Every Time I Die, Atreyu and Eighteen Visions. The video for "Concubine/Fault and Fracture" proceeded all of these bands on the telecast, but those four transitioned me of the goth-phile aesthetic I was into in 2003.
As I embed these videos, I'm catching bits of them on youtube and getting pretty goddamn verclempt. It's both a mark of how old I am (4 years ago!?) and how important this scene (though I didn't go to metalcore shows until I was 17) and these bands were in the transition into the person I am now. Of this group, only Every Time I Die and As I Lay Dying were any good. The other two, as happens way too frequently with metal bands, had one or two good singles and awful albums. But, from learning "Ebolarama" and playing it every day as well as the Lamb of God, Mastodon, and Atreyu songs I had learned from ear, I was pretty into the whole thing. I wasn't at a point where I could digest death metal or take black metal seriously (It took me two years to get Reign in Blood since I was only used to hearing dissonance in nu-metal back in 2002), so this was the nice little gateway. In a way, I thought of it being like skills in an RPG, taste in genre. In terms of metal, I was a n00b, but I was heavy into Peaches, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Clinic, Public Image LTD., MOTH, and Pavement around that time, which made my pre-iPod flash mp3 player playlist look really weird.
In 2004, I was a sucker. The base gun to head, black nail polish, psuedo-glam-goth straightXedge look was incredibly appealing to my 16-year-old eyes, and I only had a 56K connection, so I had no way of checking out more of the bands and more albums and realizing how much crap was being made, xeroxed, and badly imitated. It wasn't until I got into The Black Dahlia Murder that I started making the distinction and weaning off of metalcore as the genre was clearly becoming way too over-saturated by kids with embarrassing pretensions or pretentious attempts to be working class about making music. One huge pet peeve of mine is bands not A) Being horrible beyond excuse and clearly being in it for fame or money and/or B)Not admitting it. Metalcore careerism came hard and fast, and left a trail of faded Chuck Taylor's and faded girl jeans in its wake.
Awwwwwww shit, once the stoner technical deathgrind band starts shitting on your subculture, its clearly time to clean house. So, two things happened as of 2006. All of the crappy orthodox metalcore bands had their careers destroyed by everyone's impatience with the glut of shitty music being pumped out and the predictability of it all.
So, like what has started with hipsters last year, everyone's had enough except the scene kids themselves, who, being dumb surburban teenagers, really won't get it for a few years anyway. Hot Topic just changes the band shirts on sale and the world moves on. Except now Atreyu aren't selling records. Avenged Sevenfold resort to trying to be Guns'n'Maiden. Eighteen Visions continue to try and be a mix of Throwdown and Stone Temple Pilots. Jada Pinkett makes a better Otep record than Otep. And then, summarily, all the attention shifts to the non-orthodox metalcore bands whose musical foundation was always more eclectic and willfully weird and eschewed the very notion of trying to emulate As I Lay Dying emulating In Flames (I, in accordance to not being a dickhead, refuse to drop the "Metalcore=At The Gates" comment. That shit is played out, B, and At The Gates kind of suck, anyway). Whatever golden-era of metalcore bands remained invariably either pathetically tried to become pseudo-hard rock (in perhaps an ironic twist, the only thing these assholes had in common with actual hardcore from the 80's was devolving into hair metal/cockrock) or tried to become legitamate melodeath bands. Unfortunately, only one of those bands succeeded in the latter, The mu'fucking Black Dahlia Murder
Which leads me, in the two years since Gothenburg-core fully decayed, to deathcore. Unbeknownst to anyone that doesn't fap to breakdowns and thinks, correctly, that Devourment and modern death metal sucks, in the southwest, the metalcore bands were getting heavier, implementing blast beats, and using pig squeals. Our wikipedia article on deathcore gives the gist, including a detailed list of the notable bands at the moment, but the logical progression of people who can't write decent music but have a knack for emulation was to mutate this duck-faced mongrel of a sound, slap some sophmoric pornogrind lyrics/hipster irony on it and overuse a graffiti-interpretation of br00tal death metal fonts to give metalcore one last (definitely the last, unless they get the blackmetalcore thing to work musically) breath of fresh air.
Now, I have no qualms with throwing death metal to the dogs. Who cares, really? Shit is old hat. The issue has become that these bands refer to themselves, in all seriousness as evidenced by their multitudes of myspaces, as "grindcore". Problem. Not only does metalcore and all Xcore elements of this decade have nothing to do with punk, but grindcore is pretty much the only musically relevant offshoot of punk around. But Terrorizer these kids ain't. But once again, its the issue of critic vs. populous. Blast beats and misogynistic lyrics don't make something grind, but try telling that to a Whitechapel or Arsonists Get All The Girls fans. Deathcore fans are my number one reference for the fact that there is a talent in listening to music that's attached to taste. When I got older, my ability to discern things like dissonance and difficult songwriting got better, whereas I'm sure half these kids really do think Cannibal Corpse and Job For A Cowboy sound exactly the same (well, they do in a way. They're both horrible.) Heavy, hardcore-influenced dissonance is what they hear, and that's all they want, which is pretty much the same as the nu-metal mentality of the late 90's. Also damning behind the ignorance and the persistence in writing off criticism with it willfully is the lack of respect for older metalcore. The inability to even know the history of your own scene, lest adopt something as alien as grind into your hairspray vernacular is this disgusting humanist sense of entitlement that only comes with privilege. Much like hipsters deeming what they want as "acceptable" metal and hip-hop, their younger forms, scene kids, try, and fail hard at redefining finite concepts to their narrow world-view. No acknowledgment for The Red Chord or Glass Casket? Ugh.
If its not in br00tal graffiti font, then its for faggots, amirite?
I laugh, or cackle aimlessly, at night knowing that not only will the deathcore wikipedia article, this infallible document, will subversively inform kids everywhere (I wish I could find out how many hits its gotten) but it only solidifies the subgenre's ascension. Naysayers be damnned, deathcore is real, and it sucks. These kids are all being snatched up by Metal Blade and Century Media, and if they have any sense, they'll cash out, get real jobs, and learn to read.
Deathcore Post Video Mixtape!
Actual Grind, For Reference:
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
For a few years I've had this theory about the innate life cycle of musical genres. First of all, its sort of standard practice by the tons of people who are nostalgic for the past, those who are enamored by the past and need a facsimile to live through, and those who profit from both those groups to deny that genres die in the first place. Or, at least, the ones that still make money. You can openly discuss how jazz and Motown are dead, but its an uphill battle to bring up the decaying corpses of country, rock, and hip-hop with people, since they're still huge cash-cows despite their perpetually diminishing musical returns album-wise and lack of anything but rehashing and watering down past sounds.
But that is exactly the thing. Like any organism, art movements inevitably expire, rot, and are prodded with long sticks by 17-year-old kids searching for an identity of obscure aesthetic to lord over their trendier friends (Hello crust punk, folk revival, house, thrash and 65th generation ska). There is a morbidity to the death a genre, as we all become grave robbers, with the soup-y remains of things like disco and no wave being recycled, giving the effect of a bile-ridden torso in neat Amazon.com gift wrap. Anytime you listen to Municipal Waste, you are being a musical necrophiliac.
But, really, only two things happen after a genre dies. The truly talented people who get it will continue you without pressure from popularity of major-label interest, and/or it will stop being music and become a cultural niche item to be misappropriated and silk-screened onto American Apparel shirts.
Knowing this, you can chart the inevitable life cycle of art into four distinct phases. For this, I'll use death metal as an example.
Phase I: The Progenitors
Punk has The Stooges and NY Dolls, and death metal has Hellhammer, Possessed, Sarcofogo, tons of hardcore punk and thrash, and with a degree of argument, Sepultura and Slayer. Since death metal started as a sub-genre, the influences for the later first-wave bands would come from the oddities of the day, all the bands a few years prior to the scene developing that were popular of influential, in this case through extensive tape trading and hours sitting with LP's of the weird, sloppy, discordant shit no one else cared about. Tastes are developed, aesthetics created, and entire ways of playing and writing music changed just because there was , say, one song on some lame speed metal album from the early 80's that employed flat fifths with key changes and created one of the first death metal riffs. That one weird riff on a crappy album by an anonymous band can drive the 15-year old Florida thrash fan crazy, inspiring him to emulate and write exclusively using those intervals and that rhythm. That tiny obscure oddity just created an entire movement.
Phase II: The First Wave
Those kids influenced by that riff can be anywhere from down the street from each other to on different continents, especially with tape trading and zines. Either way, it creates a hive mind effect, as guys like Chuck Shuldiner from Death, Trey Azagthoth from Morbid Angel, Obituary (then Xecutioner), and Kam Lee from Massacre end up having the timing and spark to lay the foundation of the genre and scene. With heavier underground bands like Celtic Frost and Possessed already thickening the sound and thrash giving the punk-influenced template, they're free to be the pioneers, tuning down their guitars, deepening and twisting the already ragged and evolving growl style of throat in underground heavy metal and various forms of hardcore. There aren't any rules about meter, structure, arrangements as they're being made up as everyone goes along. But soon enough, maybe after about a year or two, the demos are recorded, and soon also are each band's first albums. In terms of the first wave, Florida soon becomes the mecca of the new sound, inspiring bad jokes about old people and heavy metal for years.
Phase III: The Second Wave
At this point in the life of a genre, the sound that was pioneered and molded by the first wave bands, being in this case all of the Florida bands, is again spread through tape trading and zines and word of mouth and inspires peers in the same age group and younger. They all form bands, and proceed to both imitate the original sound and aesthetic of death metal, as well as expand upon it with their particular takes or gimmicks. Its at this point you get Deicide, Cannibal Corpse, Carcass, Entombed, Darkthrone, Dismember, Autopsy, Pestilence, Obituary, Atheist, and etc. Each with their own takes, whether faster, slower, more doom influenced, more punk influenced, more technical and proggy, etc. Each band is so distinct as to be able to successfully break death metal away from the perception of being "extreme thrash", while still retaining some of thrash metal's influence. There's even a Motown-sound ina sense, as Morrisound studios in Florida and Scott Burns production style becomes the standard. With classic and inspired albums, touring packages and compilations are put out, genre-specific labels are created, and international touring is now possible, leading to the inevitable.
Phase IV: The Third Wave
The number of bands in the genre increased dramatically from first to second waves, but, luckily for all the bands and for fans of the new sound, they all had their own act and you could say things like, "I hate Deicide, but Pestilence and Death are really fucking cool. Man, Glen Benton is a fucking tool!"
Problem! Now everyone knows about the genre. A bunch of small write-ups about the second wave and uninformed, confused blurbs about first wave, some label attention, and several thousand albums sold, there's now hundreds of death metal bands. Having over-saturation is always a problem, but its exacerbated by the fact that few of the new bands bring anything new to the table, and the phrase "generic death metal" becomes a permanent part of the lexicon. This death metal documentary sums up what happened between 1990 and 1996 best:
The law of diminishing returns is now in effect. The first and second wave bands are on their second and third albums. They're widely recognized (or in some cases, unfairly overlooked) as figureheads, some might have even gotten signed to major labels, as happened with many Earache bands. Headbangers Ball is playing your videos, self-proclaimed "progressive" music types with no interest in death metal are hyping Death and Morbid Angel, Guitar World and Spin want to cover you, and everyone not digging Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth is listening to your band. But, outside of the international areas that were late to the party and produces bands that expand the genre like Gorguts and Demilich, the party is over. None of the new bands are different or inspired, pumping more generic retreads into the marketplace to a public that, honestly doesn't know or care whether or not these bands are original or opportunistic knock-offs. Aesthetics, cover art, lyrical content, everything becomes cliche and almost self-parody, even the bands trying to be funny on purpose. Bands even, to the chagrin of many of the bands and fans, flocked in droves to Morrisound studios and just demanded that "Scott Burns sound", creating an endless march of indistinguishable, muddy generic albums.
Just like hip-hop, too many people are interested, and the structure crumbles under its own weight. Everyone has their own reasons for making a death metal band between 1990 and 1996, and there are now several niches for you to fit under. Grind was developing in parallel, so Carcass, Assuck, Brutal Truth and Napalm Death were already mixing the two sounds (although Napalm Death proceeded to suck really badly at both) and you could now be a grind-influenced death metal band or vice versa. Morbid Angel proceeded in twisting and warping every aspect of the genre into a discordant black hole, Autopsy and Obituary had paved the way to have sludgy, doom metal-esque aspects in your sound, while Death, Atheist and Pestilence strived for near-surgical technicality. New York death metal became a formed and the measure of how heavy death metal can be, with drastically tuned down guitars and bass-heavy, mid-scooped sonics. There were sects that represented whatever you may have inherently liked about the first wave bands, and they proceeded to mutate until brutal death metal and the sludge of Autopsy became polar opposites within the same sound.
Like Sunni and Shiite, the majority faction off. By 1994 and 1995, the combination of Carcass's Heart Work, In Flames, and At The Gates create a scene of easy-listening death metal (To be fair, more the latter bands. Carcass did no wrong and actually managed not to suck) with the same mechanics of Swedish death metal, but a heavy reliance of foppish, pseudo power metal songwriting and abuse of the natural minor scale. Essentially, with death metal for people who hate death metal now available, the popularity of the genre in the mainstream clearly a dying fad, and too many bands doing the same thing even in different sub-genres, its kind of bleak looking. And then, this band from Quebec like, totally fucked it all up:
Cryptopsy comes in and, moreso than other brutal death metal acts, create a template for new school death metal that would proceed to destroy any chance of the genre to return to its creative heydey. Not only was None So Vile actually good and a breath of fresh air, it set a bar of sonic flogging that would just be dumbly referred to as "br00tal" to this day. Every band had to either be brutal, or sound like At The Gates to sell. The fad of more "brutal", faster, and more technically ridiculous bands never slowed down, and despite the occasional ray of light within death/thrash, death/grind, and goregrind, few albums of note would be released following. Bands that had released classics in the past, as is the norm in metal, completely failed to do anything decent for the rest of their careers, and the postmortem fetishizing of first and second wave death metal end up being interesting and fun (like some Razorback bands or Impaled or Norway's Obliteration) but not that good. Everyone either moves on to something else, makes a shitty brutal/technical death metal band, or retreads the past like the post-modern necrophiliacs we are in this decade. Or bitches about the lack of good songwriting, mystery, or humor in modern death. Or, as in the case of deathcore, morph into a unholy shit sandwich of convolution:
Depending on cultural factors and sometimes just time, only the oldheads who were around for the heyday will complain about this and agree the genre is dead, while everyone else is satisfied with their Decapitations and Psycroptics and Suicide Silences, making it years until the death of the genre is deemed canonical. This template is practically what happened and still does, all the time. Even metalcore, if I can show my age for a second, went through this from 1995-2006 and with deathcore's rapid usurping of the spotlight of "music for annoying teenage kids to dress like space hookers and start fights to". Time will tell when dead-swan hair and violent ninja gangs will rove into N.E.R.D. shows.
Great Death Metal Albums
Morbid Angel-Altars of Madness, Blessed Are The Sick
Obituary- Slowly We Rot
Cannibal Corpse- Eaten Back To Life
Suffocation- Effigy of the Forgotten
Pestilence- Consuming Impulse, Testimony of the Ancients
Entombed-Left Hand Path, Clandestine
Dismember- Like An Ever-Flowing Stream
Bolt Thrower- War Master, Realm of Chaos
Atheist- Piece of Time, Unquestionable Prescence
Autopsy- Mental Funeral, Severed Survival
Carcass- Symphonies of Sickness, Necroticism: Descanting the Insalubrious
Cryptopsy- None So Vile
Incantation- Diabolical Conquest
Cephalic Carnage- Anomalies, Lucid Interval
Arsis- A Celebration of Guilt
Just about anything on Razorback records
*Albums that are more grind than death are omitted
Yeeeeesh, I've been sucking on the updates. There's been a huge lag since last winter, mainly because I'm actually a full-time student again and in a very boring adult manner, taking on a lot of things at once, so I can't seem to capture the same vibe in my dorm that I got lying back in my room at home with my dell on my sternum and a pair of cheap Sony earbuds blasting whatever I was going to write about that night.
The good thing about the lack of updates is it gave me enough time to step back and see the difference between old posts and say my last decent post (and definite final mention of, ever) on indie rock a while ago. Half the reason I blog, besides the standard reasons of ego and not really seeing anywhere my views on music are published outside of the blogs I actually read, all on my links, is to get back into writing and get better at it. The fact that I already cringe at some of last fall's posts suggests I probably have, so hopefully I can focus and at least get back to a two-post a week schedule.
Anyway, here is the epic post on death metal I promised like 3 months ago.