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Posts Tagged ‘Axioma Ethica Odini’

In which a few thoughts are occasioned by the monumental new Enslaved album, Axioma Ethica Odini (which, if you’ve yet to hear it, is absolutely tremendous.  Mountains quake, the skies weep, the soul straight-up yearns.).
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In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was metal.

Which is to say, for myself, and perhaps for many of you out there, during the initial stages of my exploration of the multifarious wonders of heavy metal, the word ‘metal’ itself was all I required to feel a sense of, if not community, then at least identity.  ‘Metal’ was a strident enough signifier to set this new world apart from previous musical interests (punk, hardcore, jazz, mainstream rock, and whatever else).  No matter the variation between the usual ‘gateway’ suspects (Metallica, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Judas Priest, Pantera, &c.), all that mattered then was their common genesis as metal.

I suspect that most metal fans out there have long since recognized the strength that inheres in feeling yourself part of heavy metal’s community.  No matter if that engagement is a primarily solitary endeavor, one still feels a sense of empowerment by festooning one’s ears with this vast and revelatory music with the zeal of a novitiate.

Clocks spin, years pass, times change.  It’s a natural inclination, the further one gets into exploring the minutiae of heavy metal genres, to begin the unending work of segregation, classification, ghettoization.  These bands go over here, while those bands stay over here.  The world of metal becomes a splintered landscape of conflicting and sometimes feuding tribes.  What was once the unsurpassed breadth of the Roman Empire becomes the fiercely independent fiefdoms of 17th century Europe during the Wars of Religion.  Any subsequent musical Peace of Westphalia would only solidify control over barriers to entry, reproducing in musical terms the political origins of modern state sovereignty.  A Concert of Europe, indeed.

The entire impetus for these here rambling thoughts is nothing more fanciful than my increasing disdain for my own practice of genre labeling in iTunes.  Which is to say, although there was no such thing as iTunes or mp3s when I started listening to metal, I feel confident that had I been importing those Metallica, Sabbath, Priest and Maiden records into iTunes those several years ago, they would have all comfortably been tagged ‘Metal’.  Simple.  Done.

Over time, though, words proliferate.  Adjectives, qualifiers, slashes and hyphens.  More detailed descriptions of musical genres are taken as proof of greater attentiveness, greater sophistication on the part of the o! so cultured listener.  The pure, simple narrative of heavy metal jogs, tangles, snarls.  Roots, branches, impurities.

This is just as much a critique of my own obsessive tendencies as it is of heavy metal in general.  Still, I think the type of personality that is drawn to metal in the first place, and then further drawn to obsess over the micro-fractures between genres and subgenres, is an understandable beast.  Where we move from more or less natural OCD-ism to manufactured opinion and a loss of communal feeling is when record labels, the metal ‘press’ (such as it is), and all manner of scene-policing malcontents buy into these perfectly real and legitimate musical differences not as a matter of the diversity of artistic expression, but as a marketable tool.  Again, this is but an inevitable consequence of the imperatives of capitalism, but it still hurts.

To bring it back to my original inspiration: Enslaved’s new album is a massively impressive monument to the apparently illimitable wells of creativity drawn upon by these Norwegian gentlefolk.  It is equal parts driving and aggressive, nimble and progressive, dense and spacious.  In short, it will kick your ass twelve ways to Sunday.  More to the point, though, rarely in recent times has an album compelled me so absolutely – so maniacally – to dispense altogether with genre classification.

I have other Enslaved albums labeled in iTunes in several combinations of “Viking/prog/psych/black metal.”  Now, I ask you: What in the hell is accomplished by belching into the world such an ugly mouthful of nonsense?  (Alternately, am I really doing myself any favors by labeling various Ulver records everything from ‘Black/Folk’ to ‘Avant-Garde’ to ‘Norwegian Folk’ to ‘Dark Electronica/Avant-Garde’?  Have I ever, in recent memory, been compelled to sort my iTunes library by the urge to listen to nothing but ‘Dark Electronica/Avant-Garde’?  Clearly, no.)  Sure, each of those descriptions has some limited utility in describing various components of Enslaved’s sound, but FUCK.  This new album is just pure metal.  No need to qualify, or hesitate, or second-guess: this music demands only obedience to its mastery.  To be held in its elemental thrall.

More generally, I think the best heavy metal is often that which essentially grabs me by the face, slaps me about and yells, “Hey, asshole, nobody gives a shit about all these words.  This right here is heavy metal, and it is happening NOW.  So shut the fuck up and LISTEN.”

Of course, the irony of only being able to express these ideas about music through words upon desperate words is not lost on me.  But enough words: time for action.  I’m off to blast the new Enslaved record for about the tenth time this week, and maybe go about the business of some serious genre-pruning.  Let’s get out of these ghettos and step back out onto wide plains warmed by the churning, molten sun of heavy metal.

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Hello, friends.  Things are a bit slow ’round here at Spinal Tapdance HQ this Friday, though the merciful drop in temperature is much appreciated, primarily because the greater Chicago area no longer feels like one giant humid ass.

Thanks a lot, global warming, for making this...

...feel like this.

A few points to toss out there before we all enjoy our long Labor Day weekend shenanigans:

1)  Kylesa.  I know I’ve been rambling on about this insanely rad band for a while now (it was just two days ago that I fell all over myself to the opening track from their upcoming album, Spiral Shadow).  Poking around the metallic nether-regions of the internet recently, however, I’ve come across some rather peculiar criticisms of Kylesa.  Now, I don’t particularly care if you don’t dig the same music I do, and I don’t even care if you engage in the most ruthlessly shame-faced ad hominem attacks to express those opinions.

After all, that’s why the internet was created.  I mean, sure, the DoD will tell you it was to protect vital infrastructure in the event of nuclear war, but for real, it was just so some guy at the DoD could spam everyone he knew about how Maggie Thatcher was such a great lay and that Nikita Kruschev had a penchant for intimacy with rodeo clowns.  I mean, frig it, DARPA probably actually stands for Douchebags And Really Pissy Assholes.

I’ve gotten off topic.  Ah, yes.  The criticism of Kylesa that I just cannot countenance is the argument that their two drummers should be doing more off-the-wall stuff.  (I’ve come across this opinion several times, but one of the more notable recent entrants to the field is this column from MetalSucks.)  I think this opinion is wrong-headed for two reasons:

– a.  First, it’s just wrong.  Take a listen to Kylesa, would you?  More specifically, take a listen to Kylesa in the following way: Give a listen to last year’s Static Tensions in your favorite pair of (non-shitty) headphones.  I find it a great pleasure to follow the mixing of the drums across stereo channels.  But fine, maybe this line of criticism has a point, in that Kylesa’s two drummers aren’t typically doing anything psychotic like trying to match a 4/4 rhythm on one kit with a 3/4 waltz beat on the second kit.

For my money, though, that’s not the point.  Instead, the fact that Kylesa have got two drummers is a crucial component of their overall SOUND.  These complaints, on the other hand, seem mostly directed against their SONGWRITING.  The fact that these two guys are usually mirroring one another on the drums, or maybe trading fills, is absolutely essential to the way Kylesa’s music sounds.  (I’ll be a music douche and throw ‘timbre’ out there.)  Sure, if they only had one drummer, the songs would be written in much the same way, but the execution would be noticeably different.

You see, having two drummers gives them that unique attribute of sounding both raw and polished, thick and somewhat brittle all at once.  Because when you have two drummers playing in a band, even if you ask them to play the exact same thing, there are ineffable human differences in the way those precise rhythms will be played that cannot (and, I am arguing, absolutely SHOULD NOT) be ironed out by technology.  The ear hears the same rhythm, but also hears that rhythm’s simultaneous echo.

– b.  Second, I’m fairly certain that if Kylesa’s two drummers WERE to bust out some insanely complicated polyrhythms, or if one of them were to spend an entire song doing NOTHING BUT TOM FILLS, the only complaint one would hear would be, “Ah, that two drummer thing is such a fucking gimmick.  They’re just playing an ol’ crazy shit they can think of; couldn’t they just play TOGETHER for once?”

Well, fuck that.  And fuck you, too (maybe).  We ARE on the internet, after all.

2)  Enslaved have posted the lead track from their upcoming album Axioma Ethica Odini on their MySpace page.  In my book, everything these Norwegians have done thus far has been stellar, but after hearing this track, I’m even more pumped for the upcoming album.  It’s a pretty epic track, but maintains a discernible structure and a chorus which, at first listen, seems quite catchy, but has some really bizarre melodic and chord progressions as is befitting a band of Enslaved’s recently-psychedelic ilk.  My favorite part is the supremely tasty guitar lead toward the end of the track, which is reminiscent of the searing leads in one of my all-time favorite Enslaved tunes, “As Fire Swept Clean the Earth,” from 2003’s Below the Lights.  Check it out, and get excited for the September 28th (American) release on Nuclear Blast.

3)  I hadn’t really seen any word of this kicking around online until I was randomly browsing Crucial Blast’s webstore the other day, but Gnaw Their Tongues has just put out a new album on that label.  It’s called L’Arrivée De La Terne Mort Triomphante, and it’s officially out September 7th, but it’s up for purchase at Crucial Blast now.  I’ve just ordered my copy, and am thus eagerly awaiting another chance to defile my eardrums/soul with this latest missive of blackened, noisy filth from Mories.

Dude is another one of those probably-too-prolific-for-his-music’s-own-good kind of guys (Striborg, Hellveto, Xasthur, I’m looking at you, guys – don’t even get me started on that French dude whose ‘band’ name starts with a Z and looks like onomatopoeia for vomit), but the last two full-lengths have been mesmerizing in their single-minded pursuit of musical depravity.

Your grandmother would love it!

4)  Last, it’s Labor Day this Monday, which for most Americans means an extra day off work, one last chance to get shit-faced at the beach before winter (“Gather ye Hefeweizens while ye may,” goes the old poem), and an orgy of last-minute consumer spending on school supplies for the wee bastard children.  Thing is, Labor Day used to be, well, a celebration of the political aspirations and achievements (many still embryonic) of the American labor movement.  None of you out there will be unaware of the sorry state of the American (and, indeed, global) economy currently, but what we should also remember is that in times of economic crisis, it is often the forces of labor which are “asked” to sacrifice more for the health of capital.

I don’t have anything particularly more profound to add to that, other than to suggest that you take some time this Labor Day to appreciate the achievements of decades upon decades of labor struggles.

To that end, and as a sort of addendum to the column I did a little while back on Heavy Metal Cocktails, I offer this quick, simple recipe for the Worker’s Shandy:

Ingredients:
– 1 can or bottle of the lager of your choice.  Beautiful thing about this shandy is, it basically doesn’t matter how shitty the beer is, but you can also do it up fancy with any sort of $12 imported beer you like.
– 1/2 lemon
– Dash of salt
– Optional: A few dashes Angostura or Peychaud’s bitters, or a dash of Worcestershire sauce.

Directions:
Pour the fresh-squeezed juice of half a lemon into a pint glass.  Pour the beer into the pint glass.  Throw a dash of salt atop the beer.  The salt represents the sweat on the worker’s brow; the lemon, the bittersweet sense of labor’s achievement’s and subsequent retrenchments.  The beer, well, the beer’s just beer, which is scrumptious.  If this basic (and not particularly sweetened) shandy needs a bit more spice for your taste, give it a try with a few dashes of bitters of your choice, or even, if you’re feeling especially crushed by the relentless grind of the wheels of industry, a dash of Worcestershire sauce.  These additions can, if you like, symbolize the blood of the workers of the world, still waiting to unite.

Drink well-chilled, and at your own damn pace.  Don’t let anyone give you any shit.

Happy Labor Day.

d/Spinal Tapdance

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