Sunday, October 24, 2010

Anacrusis - Manic Impressions

Metal blade, 1991

Kenn Nardi - Vocals, guitars
Kevin Heidbreder - Guitars
John Emery - Bass
Chad Smith - Drums

Here's a dividing line between Heavy Metal and extreme music in general: the former is a tribute to beauty. Metal music is loud and abrasive and the subject matter is sometimes horrifying but the internal aspiration of the musicians that toil in their bedrooms to construct those baroque riff structures is that of reverence towards beauty. Effort is required, but is not indicative of beauty. A grindcore band might have to work very hard to get to the point where they are fast enough to play their material, or tight enough as a unit to make it cohere, but that effort doesn't necessarily contribute towards the pursue of beauty; I may be the fastest guitarist alive but if all I find in myself to play are chromatic power chord variations on the first four frets, then I'm metaphorically drawing one of Pollock's action paintings, let's say.

There isn't only one beauty, much the opposite. But there is, and can be detected in the work of many artists, the personal intent to reach ones vision of beauty, or ones vision of ugliness. The art world has been concerned with this divide for the last fifty years. Post-modern theory applied to the visual arts for example, dictated that the pursue for beauty in the modern world is best left to illustrators and marketers that shall employ their skills to make pretty shit to dress ugly shit to sell to consumers. Real artists, was the modern decree, should look beyond surface beauty and invariably, to inner ugliness. On this command, if you'd care to visit an art gallery you'll see much modern & strikingly ugly monument to strikingly ugly & modern living.

A recent semi-movement towards a return to beauty has been brewing in art scenes around the world. They argue that the pursuit of natural beauty - and the skills to achieve their representation - are not throwaway and shouldn't be defaulted as commercial by use of marketers. They want to get pictures of beautiful people, landscapes and scenes back in the art galleries. The merit of both sides of the argument is debatable, I only bring it up to make a parallel with Heavy Metal's history.

Metal music has been straddling the middle space between modern art and ancient art since its inception. As a cultural movement it is resolutely modern and could not have happened in any other climate. Just the concept of young disaffected youth picking up costly electric musical instruments, recording in high-tech studios to put out vinyl that is to be distributed around the world, it is easy to see why this is a modern thing. However the high intent for the art produced was and is - as is the thesis of this website - mostly romantic, looking towards beauty and tragedy. Romance is anti-modern. Its concerns are not phased by the solipsism of knowlessness that has afflicted us of late, indeed it is sometimes something of a cure to it. Blood and death, passion and lust are a lexicon of a primal language, for whom do they not resonate?

So we have then the curious case of 'cyber cave men'. Expressing something ancient and eternal with the tools and methods of a future that not only has no use for instinctual imperative, primordial lust and romance, but resolutely pretends that these things do not exist, they never existed. Internal tensions, combustion, self-destruction. The curators of modernity mock the earnestness with which metalheads reach, ill-equipped as they are, for the grace of god, yet at the same time they're intrigued by their fervor.

A lot of confusion between listeners of metal music comes then, by their focus on either the modernist or the romanticist aspects of it. Many listeners are taken with the high concept of metal and approach its modern guise as a necessary evil. These people usually do not care for their metal to be super-well produced and cutting edge, they like idiosyncrasy and a bit of rustic autism in the sound design. They're interested in the ancient feeling inside the riff structures, the entity that is summoned.

However other metalheads prefer their metal-product to betray its modern world trappings primarily and consider its romanticist conceit as a vestigial leftover. "Metal bands sing about dragons, whatever. But check out that double bass!". This latter type of listener is interested in metal foremost because of its sonic impact, the gut level physiological reaction to audio battery. The pain, they figure, is similar. The ugliness is similar. They've known it before. They listen to a lot of metal as they listen to a lot of extreme music, because that is the sound of the modern world and it taps into something ugly inside, an undeniable reaction to the ugly outside.

Though I fall mostly in the former archetype as I grow older, I do remember, and can appreciate the latter type of fascination with ugly, harsh sound. I do not condemn the Other for being false, I seek to merely highlight the lexicon through which we may come to communication and understanding over our differences. Metal music, as I've said before, belongs to everyone. However Heavy Metal is in my heart and I wish to communicate its many graces with the outside world, I wish to entertain existence through effect.

The ugly in metal music has always come from punk rock. The influence of that on metal is undeniable and deep. The modern structures that spread the New Wave of British Heavy Metal far and wide are rooted on the do-it-yourself punk ethos. Without the punk renaissance, Heavy Metal would have been a dalliance of rock acts that would have ended in the late '70's. But with the impulse to get your friends and cut a gnarly seven-inch validated by the punk experiment, comes the baggage of ugliness. Cheap and commodified is the modern world, and so shall be its art. Contrast this "four ugly dudes cut a gnarly seven-inch" process with the fantasy of the high art wizard, carefully structuring his art in his ivory tower, investors and patrons knocking on his door constantly, begging, imploring the art wizard to choose them as his financial backing. They promise the world for the beauty the wizard is privately concocting. Heavy metal has this progressive rock fantasy of how art works in its mind, but at the same time is impatient, it's going to cut that seven-inch right now and the investors will come later, right? Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. The young wizards now older and cynical, retreat to the underground. They still speak of beauty but they remember the ugliness too. History married with modernity. The past marred by the future.

Thrash metal was one of America's interpretations of this gruff & pimpled, young & old, New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Power/speed metal was the other, and hair metal was another yet. A country of shallow history, with ties to the old world that it feels ambivalent about, is excited and inspired to make their own beautiful and ugly metal. Much is made in underground circles of the US Power/Speed metal sound. Some of my favorite albums come from this substrand of American metal, certainly. In listening to them through the lens presented by this article, it is easy to see what the appeal of it is. As an American reinterpretation of something European, it is a 'trash culture' take on romance. If Black Sabbath sounded baroque and horrifying, if Rainbow sounded arch and lush, then Jag Panzer sound pulpy sci-fi, hysterical, bi-polar, savant geniuses. American metalheads, shameful for their lack of deep history chose to amp up metal in a different way, play more riffs, make more complicated songs, throw in more extravagant solos, sing higher than ever before. The lyrical material takes a back seat. Sure it's still fantasy, but where Dio sings of wizards and their fantastical towers, Jag Panzer shall sing of post apocalyptic gangs clashing for street dominance. Feel the spikes in my baseball bat. Ugliness found a back door to metal and through clandestine passages, comes to the forefront.

US Power/Speed metal is fascinating for its combustible mixture of ancient romance and American consumer culture ugliness. Slauter Xstroyes sing of their 'need to survive' yet wear quasi-kabuki face paint and road warrior shoulder pads on stage. Thrash metal, US Power and Speed's younger cousin, has a slightly different mixture of the same. Eschewing romance almost completely (only approaching it through second-degree pulp novel affections) it instead hones in on a critique of modern living much like American punk rock did, though unlike it, from the vantage of the lone individual. Hardcore Punk approached Marxist ideology and communality mostly as a shocking mechanism for middle America, but metal music was shocking enough without the great red ghost, so it did without.

The trajectory of thrash metal can be seen on the rise of Metallica. On their first record "Kill 'em All", Metallica sing of metalheads, partying, bringing the metal to you, phantom lords, leather and chains, banging your head against the stage 'till metal takes its place. Then they start to see success and the world is looking at them. On their second record, Metallica sing of capital punishment, of ensuing nuclear holocaust, of feeling dejected and on the fringe of culture. Modernism and humanism have entered metal in full force. Write us an essay, Heavy Metal, tell us about world hunger.

Everyone would take a page from Metallica after their success. So many thrash metal bands concerned with real-life topics and with a very punk rock 'street cred' pretension to their image would spring up. It's tempting to call this material metal only in sound design and punk in thematics, but the truth is more complicated. And here let's talk about Anacrusis, and their 1991 release, 'Manic Impressions'.

Anacrusis formed late in 1986 and they went through the usual trajectory of 'Judas Priest is awesome!... oh wait, what the hell is this Metallica band doing?' that typifies the thrash boom, only in fast-forward. By 1988 they had their debut, 'Suffering Hour' which is an extremely competent thrash record. But by 1988, thrash metal was already played out, its strength diluted by the many Metallica followers that latched on the formula. As the underground was concocting its new, death metal sound, many thrash metal bands - now inspired by Metallica inspired by Watchtower - went in the far edge of modernism, making their sound less visceral and headbangable and more cerebral, cold and intellectual. Techno-thrash came into brief prominence. Anacrusis made their jump towards this vague sub-category of metal with their second album, aptly titled "Reason", and perfected their take on their third, and subject of this examination, "Manic Impressions".

The sound of Anacrusis here is fascinating. The rhythm guitars have their middle frequencies scooped extensively, and the distortion tone is very jagged and sharp. This sound identity makes the guitar melodies distinctive, but overall low in the mix. Drums and bass dominate and offer propulsion with the usual thrash graces of polka beats and Slayeresque sixteenth tom rolls. The vocals alternate between a reverberated moan, perhaps reminiscent of goth punk outfits of the time, and a serrated, inhuman scream that cuts through the mix. The complete thing sounds sterile and curiously - for a thrash record - empty. Anacrusis main man Kenn Nardi would later seek to amend this by remixing the record in his privacy in 2006. What he did was raise the guitar levels some, re-equalize them and apply a lot of signal compression on the whole mix. I theorize he thought this is a better sound for the record as it fits the modern metal archetype. However his new mix is very destructive in its compression and contributes to nothing but ear fatigue for the listener that is very familiar with the material from its original pressing. As such, whereas I will not disregard the impulse for the remix (in fact, I consider it very important and telling, as I'll explain below), I will be drawing from my experience with the original mix.

The material here is mostly fast paced, with lots of choppy stop-starts, changes of theme and harmonic derivations. Anacrusis retain their raging thrash edge from their earlier approach, but increasingly a melancholic aspect is brought to the front by the use of chorused and reverberated clean guitars. The juxtaposition is very relevant to the lyrical themes at hand. Anacrusis here deal almost exclusively with feelings of despondency, guilt, the burden of existence, the search of something real. These thematics are the full truth of modern ugliness. If there ever was a type of metal that captures modernism, techno-thrash is certainly it.

Modern extreme music listeners, especially coming from a hardcore punk or metalcore background, are probably very familiar with the idea of a band playing raging extreme music, their singer screaming his lungs off about lyrical matter that is very oblique, inexact, personal, existential and morose. Anacrusis were at the forefront of what only retroactively can be seen as an improvised movement that introduced this type of approach to thrash metal in the start of the 90's. The fascinating thing here is that - unlike a lot of metalcore - the end mixture of sterile thrash, melancholic interludes with moaned and screamed vocals over tremendous teenage guilt achieves a synergy that is very potent. The difference is one of class and subtlety.

Anacrusis have captured on this record, the sound of teenage rebellion, self-doubt and indeed, the irony of early resignation, young men feeling like they're two hundred years old. There isn't much hope to be found in the lyrics of this record. Even in the follow-up to this, "Screams and Whispers", the only hopeful note on the whole thing is the question mark that serves as its bookend. Yet, there is something here that is hidden, something that redeems the angst and pain.

This must have been a difficult album to make in 1991, where metal was still concerned either with appearing tough and macho to outsiders to alienate them, or scrambling for something high-brow to say to appear intelligent for them. Here's a band that had shown considerable capacity for metalhead-pleasing savagery on their debut, putting aside that approach for bearing their personal baggage. This might be old hat in extreme music today but I'm sure the response to Anacrusis at the time was not encouraging. I believe it is exactly because of those embarrassing memories that Anacrusis would choose to remix this record to make it sound tougher for today's climate. I am thinking of a young Kurt Cobain at the brink of world-wide success, still trying to get his close friend to score steroids for him so as to improve his weakling frame. That feeling never goes away. Taking my volume knob away from my won't make it go away either.

This record should sound exactly as it sounds. Spacious as a young empty soul, a void of paranoia, let down by religion, by institution and society. The story here is in the riffs. These riffs, composed so meticulously, harmonized in discordant parallels that mock traditional orchestration, alternated between compact muted linears and delicate vertical arpeggios, here is the cure to the ills of Anacrusis, in full display, can you see it? Heavy metal, even the most punk-infused versions of it like thrash metal, still retains its romantic heart in how riffs and structures are meticulously constructed to point to something higher. Anacrusis here have no words of hope for us, but they have music. Towering monuments, metallic scaffolding that pushes through the modern atmosphere and onto weightlessness and void. Where one is left alone, where there is nowhere to go but inside. There are no answers, but at least now there is a space, an insulated space in which to work it out, completely alone. This is the most fascinating thing about Anacrusis, that they summon not an entity with answers and ideology, but a space in which the useless nothing of modern society, the introverted teenager, is allowed to stretch a wingspan they didn't know they had. To be given back what one always possessed, that is what Heavy Metal is. Romance is a language, but even in lack of language, the broken, battered, beating heart of Heavy Metal beats the same. In the machinery, the clash of deterministic gears with free-willed steel. Look at the blood-red sparks, here is your beauty.

Let's listen to one of the tracks on this album closely. The aesthetic choices here are rife with ambiguous space on which to assign personal meaning. This interaction makes this record intimate, pushing aside the jagged shards of personality that inspired it. I chose the song "Still Black" because it speaks to me the most but the morphological notes here apply to the whole of the album. There is no filler.

0:00 - 0:11 : Tuned a fret low, Anacrusis introduce the main theme of the song, which is chromatic. Sixth, Augmented fifth, perfect fifth, diminished fifth, this is the sound of direction-less anxiety. There is no third to paint this sad or hopeful, there is no movement forwards or backwards. The by then customary thrash frill of punctuating the start of each bar before coming in in unison is upset on bar two, the phrase left to stand on its own. Doesn't it sound weak, almost comical with the hollow sound design, on some level? Now think of when you were a teenager, locked in an argument with figures of authority, how shrill and powerless you sounded.

0:20 - This is that voice, coupled with the second guitar harmonizing the stacked diminished fifths, the sound has more power but sounds askew. Combustion, propulsion, impulse, but no certainty, where will this take us?

0:21 - Stop-start, a heartbeat's worth of breath, and the lyric comes:

"My touch means nothing
It's just a sympathetic mock embrace
This pity for you leaves nothing
But a bitter taste
Persistent lies, nothing
But useless words of waste

Your voice seems harmless through
These softened tones of grey

But grey is still black"

Remember when you were young and compromise, middle-ground and half-measures seemed so alien and confusing? How 'good enough' was still bad? The way 'grey is still black' is voiced by Anacrusis here rings true to me, every time.

On the second verse, as irritation rises, the last word of each line is screamed, voice cracking.

"Your face is nothing
But a transparent fixture
Perception is nothing
But a distorted picture
Expectations are taking in
The deceptive mixture

Your substance is nothing
But a lightened shade of grey

But grey is still black "

Here is the guilt. Perception is nothing, nobody is right, we all hope but we all fear, and it doesn't stop hurting.

1:21 Note how melancholic it sounds, the verse of

"A carousel of vanity
Apparently persuading me
Still all the while evading me
Accepting all, believing none
Always pretending we are one
So meaningless"

Being played on top of thrash metal gallops and palm-muted riffs. The theater of metal is falling apart, the gleam of virtual armor is betraying the human flesh inside. Note how the vocal comes in and out of the mix - no doubt due to bad recording at the time, but how apt it is. This isn't something to fix in a remaster.

1:39 As 'so meaningless' is called - and here is the startling beauty of it all - the most refined and complex theme of the song is introduced, it unfolds like a flower and in

2:03 the form dissipates into the liquid arpeggio of the mangled power chord that is the spine of the song. Polka beat harshly punctuates. Listen to how little there is left to the song at this point, beautiful fragility. Of course Anacrusis are glorifying emotional distress here, but this is at least, turning pain into a tool, using it to put oneself back together.

"Intentions mean nothing,
It's only for the one inside
Regression prevented,
Carried on the truthless tide
Cold breath, mistaken,
Whispers with a senseless pride

Your front is nothing,
Nothing but misted cloud of grey

But grey is still black "

Note how at the labored vocalization of 'grey' that marks the beginning of the chorus, stop-starts are employed with a degree of triumph, as if the argument is coming to a head and at least the argument is dynamic, vital, it arrives to an emotional externalization. This point is made again and again on this record, when the right words are finally let out, the music stops to commemorate.

4:09 Note the wonderful switch-up under the melody. The polka beat went from snare first to kick first, propelling the return of the fragile theme towards a subtly different emotional end. I tend to feel snare first polka beat as battery, violence, a series of body strikes, whereas kick first feels for me like someone moving - away or towards - something. Something positive has come from this argument after all. Hidden beauty, hidden hope.

I am not advocating that Kenn Nardi and the rest of Anacrusis composed this piece of music with these clear conscious signifiers in mind. I think instead that a lot of great art is understood in the analysis of the subconsciousness of the artist, as betrayed in the art object. It is not imperative for these aesthetic intuitions I present to be validated by the artist or by the public at large. That they are inspired, that the music makes me feel and think and try to put these two things together, is enough.

And after all this a guitar lead is allowed to comment on the main themes of the song. It is melancholic but active, searching for different accents and punctuations to the arguments at hand. It holds a high note for its exit, an idea that lingers, the original idea restated in a final verse and chorus repeat, vocals more savage than ever, words are fading, only the emotion remains.

On 5:42 - a moaned, distended scream. Gray is still black.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

True metal, false metal and no metal at all.

Reader Lumines brings up an interesting issue in the comments of the previous post.

It is often remarked by purists that there is 'trve' 'kvlt' Black Metal and that anything that doesn't fall under these classifications is poseur metal garbage. This is not exclusive to the Black Metal culture, it can also be observed in many others subgenres. Death Metal, for instance, can be rejected on the basis of lack of acceptable brutality or technicality. Progressive Metal can be derided for regressing into less complex song structures, and so on and so forth. Essentially, when the subgenre fails to meet perceived intersubjective expectations, say due to experimentation of sound, genre hopping or hybridization, or drastic change of thematic direction, those that have invested temporal, emotional, and financial capital into the genre can feel betrayed, hurt, and deceived by something that they had concluded was static, consistent, unchanging, predictable, or something along those lines. It would seem that this ties into the psychological hypothesis of Heavy Metal as a father figure. Any thoughts?


I generally do not feel very hurt or upset when a metal band I like produces something I don't. There is some disappointment, but it doesn't devalue what of their past contributions I still enjoy. You'll notice in my master list, very rarely is a band featured for more than once. This isn't because I listen to only one record by each of these bands, but because generally, "it only takes one" to go to the pantheon. They can record twenty albums' worth of absolute tripe after that for all I care. Essentialism is a valid concern in a cultural climate where consumerism seems to be the raison d'etre of most. However, my current feelings weren't always so.

As a teen growing up with Heavy Metal as father, I had thoughts on the 'future of the genre', the viability of it, the social ramification of it and the place of myself in its sub-culture, and the place of the sub-culture within larger counterculture -- metal music was largely ignored by the mainstream in the mid-90's where I jumped on board, so thoughts of metal's relevance for society at large were never a priority. I found Omen's '80s singing "We are tomorrow's warriors / Marching in the streets" with complete earnestness, very baffling. But I recognized metal music as being a smaller stream amongst many in loud musics that competed for the attention of the youth around me.

It was within that mindset that I was most concerned with what 'the next step for Heavy Metal' would be. I remember listening to Pelican's album 'Australasia' when it came out, specially the riff-salad instrumental composition 'Drought' and thinking - with complete seriousness and if I recall, some elation - 'so that is the next step for metal!'. A step out of the dark ages of the late 90's. As if there was a problem waiting to be solved. There were many that felt the same way then.

I think the issue is one of transience. Proponents of transient (that is, pop, current, vital, relevant, all these awful buzzwords) culture self-identify as such as long as the type of art they follow is also such. Yet the very definition of vitality, of life, is that it is fleeting. Swallowed by death and oblivion. The concern of scenesters is that they do not become yesterday's news because that would bring to the rise their own inherent doubts about the merit of what they're engaged in. If it can just be forgotten tomorrow, then how strong is it, really? This pushes the scenester to two very disparate directions.

On one hand the conservationist path seeks to shield the art by defining it and tying that definition with something enduringly true in one's own psyche (Heavy Metal as romantic art that speaks in ancient language, has these merits). This path eventually leads out of transience and in a historical appreciation of the genre. This is how I personally found my way out of the self-doubt that would make me look for 'the next step in metal'.

On the other, how to evolve the form so it remains relevant not only to the inner primordial core, but the surface modernist facade as well. Heavy Metal is not music very suited to such conceit, though at one time or another almost every listener of this music felt otherwise. Can't move at two directions at once unless you rip apart. And metal, and metal listeners, did. They only kept being part of the same 'metal' in name only.

These movements I believe echo internal and external existential concerns of the growing teen. It is very easy to mock the primordial human life concerns, where passion and angst lays. You will notice that almost any art that taps into that sort of atavism is ridiculed by many eager commentators for being juvenile and base. Therefore a veil of modernist seriousness, of communal and social function is sought for and tied to the form. You can see this with the rise of the very popular thrash metal movement in the mid-80's. The sociopolitical modernist thematics of that era - borrowed as it where from hardcore punk - is Heavy Metal noticing that the outside world is looking in on it and scrambling to come up with something 'grownup' to say.

On the matter of truth then, and the cries of falseness. Teenage metalheads enjoy being victimized and victimizing, it's a violent dynamic that suits the psychological, individualist unrest that fuels such art, and fuels back into the common teen neuroses that most people are familiar with. Indeed Heavy Metal self-defines in the early '80s during the NWOBHM movement by a direct contrast. Holocaust sing "Rock n' Roll... much too slow" and give birth to Heavy Metal Mania. Posers, wimps, disco-listeners and such were comfortable targets well through onto the '90s. But as that generation grew it realized that this humble dialectic didn't cut it. It became curious about the self-victimization that is in the core of metal culture's social conceit, and it experimented around it. It drew in influences from all these 'poser' and 'false' sources and the result was the widening of the genre tree that occurred from 1990 to 1995. Many metal musicians felt liberated through this because - adults now - empty antithesis no longer resonated. What they thought was Heavy Metal, wasn't anymore. Progressive metal attempted to marry metal sonics to complicated social and modern concern. Atmospheric metal blurred the distinction between popular and extreme music and rediscovered hedonism. All these strange concoctions of sound, even 'funk metal' was attempted. People were modding the machinery of metal.

But the next generation, - very teenaged and burning with antithesis - decided, as it wants to do, all this was wrong. Enraged by the 'trendy metal' of their elders, they devised a return to Romance, and there you have black metal. That this sort of music took off so furiously is no wonder given what the rest of the old metal guard were doing. The notion of 'true versus false' returned with a vengeance and it fuelled metal like never before. A new generation of teenagers found a reason to exist.

The volatile dynamics of this lead to murders and arsons. These teenagers overstated their decree of 'truth' and their hatred of 'falseness' to compete in their social circles. Where water runs once same water cannot run again, and this wasn't the naive '80s any longer. What people unconcerned with 'trueness' were achieving could be seen directly in parallel to their efforts. When faced with this schizophrenia, one can either relent and reassess, or push until logic breaks into complete non-sense. Some black metal people relented and infused their 'true' black metal with various shades of falseness and gave birth to even more subgenres and cultural artifacts of variable interest. The rest unfortunately increasingly in the public eye, demented in their quest for senseless closure upped the ante and played their killing hand.

The events concerning those particular Norwegian black metal kids had a startling existential effect. Finally, every listener of Heavy Metal could see results of where being true to the inner romance would lead: to death. There is no escaping this finality. All those that morbidly group around Norway's scene still are looking for something real in their lives, and nothing is more real than death to them.

Naturally however biology kicked in and after those events, nobody else of note martyred themselves for that cause, but the ripples of what had happened could, they realized, be their ticket to relevance and existential teliosis for a long time to come. You don't have to die for your cause if someone else dies for it instead. Just like Jesus validates those that follow him, the Norwegian events of the mid-90's validate the cause of metal music for many. As long as these events are remembered - and they are indeed, endlessly eulogized by almost anyone that has sat down to write a word on black metal - the issue of 'true versus false' in metal music will burn incandescent.

'True death metal' is a hilarious concept in this light. As death metal gave rise to the objections of the Norwegian kids that resurrected the 'true versus false' metal ghost in the first place. But that is the point of my long-winded argument: after the death of Euronymous, every metal genre became retroactively concerned with 'true'ness again. We have 'true doom metal' now, and doom metal is a bastardized genre if there ever was one, true death, an intellectually bankrupt notion. And the crowning achievement: National Socialist black metal is the Truest true black metal, for when teenage satanism no longer cuts it, what brings the dreaded stench of death about more aptly then gaping crematoriums? "We like the holocaust. It is grimm." Anti-human, anti-life, anti-sense, anti-self: death.

(There is a useful note to make at this juncture. Which subcultures of metal are most concerned with true-ness? I posit that in the future, the more extreme the type of metal, the more concerned it will be with its perceived 'trueness' in lieu of actual emotional and ontological content to be judged on relative merit. Progressive metal, unlike what you remark above, is very rarely seen as 'false' for not being complex enough. It simply stops being progressive, metal, or both. There never was a more eager to jump ship type of metal than this.)

What is at the core of it? The realization that Romanticism is an unworkable belief system and that the only way one can traverse it with pride and honor is to die and kill for it. But metalheads are weak and the siren call of romance, for all its awe and inspiration, will not suffice for them to reach their final destination. Living is too much... biologically ingrained in the organism. This results to self-loathing. Self-loathing creatures project their feelings on others, because they are not 'true' to their romantic desire for self-destruction, they berate externalities (proponents of their scene, band members, organizers, writers, whatever) for not being true either. At least this way they divert attention from their own failings. It can become so time-consuming to spot & stamp out corruption in the midst that - hopefully - they won't have to look inside any time soon.

I think there is a way to navigate through this minefield between intent and failure, and it's a broader concern on the merit of ideology. Taking philosophical concepts and thinking them binding, internalizing them and making them part of ones belief system. Any ideology is unbearable in this respect, people become neurotic in their inability to traject according to their moral vector. Heavy Metal is no better or worse an ideology than most in this respect, that is to say, they're all a pathway to failure-induced neurosis. What I try to do with romance is neither to deny its call nor to embrace it as an ideology. Ideas are something small, but human beings are infinitely profound. Those that seek to become ideas seek to become something smaller than they are, something that will confine them to their breaking point.

So I do not take romance as my master. I come to conversation with it (this blog, and my own art) and I open myself to be inspired by it. I explore ambiguous spaces and entertain many notions, but I do not take them for truth. I find hope in Heavy Metal, not certainty. There is no room in life's complexity for certainty. It is too blunt and simple a tool to unravel anything but the basest of mysteries.

It is in that way that the matter of 'truth versus falseness' in metal has become irrelevant to me. Those that cry over this hate their own inability to be true to their convictions, and I do not have any binding convictions, I instead entertain thoughts and follow inspirations. I am open to the possibility that tomorrow I will feel compelled to never listen to Heavy Metal again and this doesn't upset me. So as far as the capacity of music to be Heavy Metal instead of merely 'metal', it is always a quantum state of uncertainty. Until I peek in and assess, it is and it isn't. And if I change my mind, I changed my mind!

All that said, I do find the common arena over truth and falseness to be interesting and try to keep up with the cultural climate that explains why a band seemingly stops being what it used to be, or when an outsider band decides 'we're metal now' and enters the paradigm. I do this not out of any 'metal watchdog, sound the alarm!' impulse, but mostly because I am well-versed in metal culture and since I have this knowledge, I use it to abstract broader social information from it.

It is in that mode (the dispassionate, sociological one) that I see a different shade of 'true versus false' worth differentiating from the self-loathing symptom described above. When people tell me to listen to this or that band for it is good metal, it is a shock not so much if it is good or bad, but often that it is so far removed from the expected forms of metal I am used to. The good-willing person would entertain the surface notion, Helm is out of touch with modern metal. That may be the case, but I think there's a socio-lingual issue there as well. People are discussing music that isn't metal as if it is metal because they feel more comfortable with that tag than any other. That's fascinating and worth examining. Why are so many hardcore punk bands masquerading as metal now? What are they getting from it and what are the listeners getting from it as well? Why are so many affectated indie rock/britpop/shoegaze -inspired bands content to be some sort of metal, where a scarce half a decade ago they broke out in hives at the mere mention of it?

I am interested in the phenomenology of this and I have theories. I am not upset over it nor do I want to defend Heavy Metal from the barbarians. Heavy Metal has nothing to fear, it is forever. And if I'm wrong and it will be forgotten, then so much the better that it is! But why are people trying to slum it metal-style now? In the '80s, the manufactured idea of the 'poser' was hilarious in its simplemindedness. You could tell it was a poser by how they dressed. If it wasn't long hairs and denim and leather, it was an outsider. The 'posers' reportedly detested metal all the same and all was tidy in the mind-space of the teenager metalhead. However now, punks and indies are complementing metal, they're stroking it, they're playing metal sounds and those upset over it cannot tell them apart from themselves. They wear the same clothes, have the same hairstyles and play the same distorted power chords and double-bass. They are them. It's fascinating!

Though it's worth a post of its own, I think the reason outsiders are now honestly and actually co-opting metal music tropes is an increasing fear of post-modern senselessness. People are feeling less and less like themselves and information overload leads to an even more wounded personality. Social networks are becoming so paramount that the young person is starting to feel as if they're not a singular entity anymore, and don't like it. Life stops having a story in it and instead it's all about how many people are following you on twitter and how many friends you have on facebook. Yet they cannot be something else than what they are, so they can only return to forms of art that have a romantic conceit, simpler semiotics and basic ontologies, by approximation and simulation. Metal music fits the bill and if it's too hard to be properly metal, you can always go half-way. We may be living in the first decade where metal music is actually looked upon from the outside with a degree of reverence, simply for being a thing. A basic, primal thing. Yet at the same time these reverent masses fail at actually becoming Heavy Metal exactly because the underestimate it in their simulation, because they cannot stop being products of an overcosumerist world bent on an information overload that threatens to make everything meaningless by this constant near-approximation-is-good-enough.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Heavy Metal as a Father Figure

If you've ever come across metal music aficionados and perhaps had a conversation or two with them, you might have noticed two major types of attitude relevant to the extreme music subculture. On one hand there are those whose affection for metal comes with a host of related juvenile infatuations, like role playing games or perhaps professional wrestling, whose enthusiasm is matched by an earnestness that borders on obliviousness. On the other hand there are those whose interest in metal is coated in a thick veneer of irony and who resist intellectualizing or even contextualizing of their musical tastes with assorted cries of 'it's just music'. The former type tends to consume a broad scope of loud music vigorously and with a great appetite for discussion over the cultural minutiae of the form, i.e. what genre this record belongs to, latest gossip over this or that 'metal icon' and just how much they hate this particular record by Metallica, but at the same time is uninterested in a critical examination of their taste of this music on the whole. The latter type tends to consume just as wide a selection of loud music though they wouldn't be caught dead endorsing much of it publicly, taken as they are with their identification as taste makers, they fashion their statements on the culture with a cynical edge. That type actively resists music criticism as if the music itself is beneath it, yet still laps up amazing quantities of it. Neither archetype is able or willing to coherently explain their enduring fascination with metal music.

I have met very few people who belong to this subculture and do not fall into either of these categories. In the scarce cases where their interest is more complicated than that, they seem to be metal musicians more often than not. Here I will attempt to examine both stereotypes and exceptions with a mind to their psychological profiles.

If an empirical observation is allowed: the majority of people who still listen to metal music in their late twenties or early thirties (and especially further on than that), no matter their current demeanor on it, got exposed to it in their early teenage years. I simply have not met many people for whom the attraction to metal music started at a later age and stuck with it. Furthermore I've noticed that for people of mature age, even if one is successful in describing the appeal of Heavy Metal to them - successful insofar that they seem to appreciate intellectually what is being described - they very rarely, if ever, have more than a subsequent brief stint with the form as a result. Heavy Metal then, seems to gel with some aspect of teenage mentality.

To examine why that is, we'll have to look at the profile of the typical metal teenager, and also identify the aspects of metal music that appeal to them. Here I am drawing from a wealth of empirical knowledge since I myself was once a metal teenager and I've known many dozens of them too. I appreciate however how there are exceptions to any theory I might entertain. The point of this argument is not to be the last word on metal and teenager attraction, but to make a foundation and encourage discussion on this frankly overlooked aspect of this culture.

So, the teenager that encounters metal music, does so at a very precarious age. Teenage reality is often characterized by a shifting of values. On one hand, it is at this age that one starts to realize that the traditional authority figures in their life (parents, school administration, grownups in society at large) are not only fallible but often downright ignorant or malevolent. This results in doubt and reexamination of the inherited ethical prototype that is shoved down young people's throat since they can remember being sentient. On the other hand, this is the onset of hormonal arousal and the awakening of the libido. With thoughts of sex (often aggregated with shame, as negative value judgments on sexuality are impressed upon young teens relentlessly) comes repression and thoughts of death as well. The two grand mysteries of existence (birth and death) are those that are seemingly, in the modern world, the ones less allowed to be described, discussed and scrutinized in a honest and brave fashion. Teenagers turn to esoteric pursuits that promise enlightenment.

It is at this age where old symbols gradually crack, then crumble. Teenagers are estranged from their parents, they turn to their peers for support and ill-fitting guidance and they begin to lash out at authority figures with a plethora of dabbling in various 'wrong' things. Metal music is just one of many such, nearly everything our parents might have told us is bad for us, in light of the startling realization that they're not infallible, is explored. Violent entertainment, sexual experimentation, sub-cultural cliques, illicit substances, so on. The more daring are usually those that destroy or enlighten themselves the quickest, but what of the shy introverts, nerds and obsessives, who feel the parental figure rejection but do not have the genes for self-destruction? They get into computer games, fantasy role-playing games and esoteric literature, metal music and other such dorky pursuits.

Those avenues have variant characteristics but common core appeal: they allow for fantastical exercise and ethical experimentation. This is a big part of teenagerdom, the gradual breaking down of the early borrowed belief system and its replacement with a hodgepodge of new influences, meant to steel and shield the teenage psyche from oncoming realizations about the nature of the internal and external world. Metal music is one of many weapons taken up then, to battle the sometimes explosive sense of unreality that comes with puberty. What my parents told me isn't working, I feel so strongly about things I do not understand, how can I cope as an individual with what now seems like a world that misunderstands and is against me.

This teenage look on life is famously lampooned as some passing phase of paranoia, where the world isn't really against anyone and they eventually come to realize that and join the ranks of adults. However it seems to me that the inconvenient truth is that by and large, any mass of people is always against any individually minded person by default, be them child, teen or adult. Indifference is a gift of non-proximity, at best. And that magical adulthood revelation that leads to social integration and harmony is not only an invention of wishful thinking, it also camouflages what's truly going on: well-functioning adults are just teenagers whom have fought the world and were wounded for it and have created defense mechanisms that obfuscate and shield their tender teenage heart. Adulthood is merely the semblance of cynicism, a smoke-screen underneath which the existential angst of the teenager always lies. We seek - like all - with intimacy to assuage those sanguine wounds, but intimacy is risky, isn't it?

Metal music, then, is one of many partial replacements to the once-stabilizing parental figure, a method through which some benefits of intimacy (time-structuring, belonging, stability) are achieved in lieu of actual intimacy and its risks. It has inside it specific ontology and moral code and what makes it so attractive is that it is not force-fed to the teenager listener, it is instead resistant to initial scrutiny and only gradually does it cohere and integrate within the belief system of the teenager. One has to fight for it (unlike intimacy, for which one has to be soft and welcoming) and the resultant ethics system seems misleadingly self-inspired as a result. Its dictum is as simple as it is impossible: the call towards willpower, shaping the world according to one's desire and at the same time, complete individuality and self-control, self-definition (where intimacy is no longer needed). These are very attractive notions to teenage introverts, whom are all to eager to give up on the external world and focusing on sharping their internal world.

However - and here we are returning to the broadly painted initial archetypes - this high Romantic call of Heavy Metal, as emotionally potent as it is, is practically impossible. It is perhaps ironic that the people drawn to such pursuits are the ones least likely to have the willpower to achieve them, self-define, burn brightly, achieve control and purpose. It is introverts looking for the path of least resistance to some form of quasi-intimate enlightenment that stumble on this sort of music. Shy teenagers with lots of free time and disposable income at that. They give themselves enthusiastically to the collection and absorption of many metal records and they gradually come out of this process changed.

On one hand for those that are still eagerly lapping up sometimes hundreds of records each month, the initial attraction to high Heavy Metal ideals is seamlessly replaced by collector mania and the tell-tale traits of overconsumption: they retain data related to this music like a sponge but they're unable to coherently discuss what the music means for them and how it affects them. They have achieved some parts of intimacy (time-structuring, belonging to a group) and they stopped there. For those people, metal music was a gateway out of teenager doubt, and their teenager mind-state is made inaccessible and hidden by their consumption habits. If they were to remember how it felt to be a teenager, thinking as they do how they're over all that, they'd rapidly break down in realizing they haven't taken many steps out of that mind-space at all. Their heart has been put in a little box, cushioned by layers of many hundreds of carefully wrapped and categorized Heavy Metal lps. They have genre tastes like any music snob, but the act of collecting quantities of metal, shifting through them and discussing their genealogy is a sort of zen-state for them. It doesn't promote any enlightenment, it is just stress relief. Heavy metal is drugging them and yet they cannot turn away.

On the other hand, those that still listen to metal music and follow its modern happenings but yet do not compulsively collect and categorize it are those who entertained at some point the possibility of trusting metal music, and it wounded them. They bought in the 'evil' of it, or the high command of bravery and individuality in it and they thought these musicians to be Gods, or more aptly, fathers. It is especially cruel when this happens because metal music puts forth an aura of infallibility indeed and it is easy to confuse what is effectively, small humans praying to higher entities through their metal music, for small humans becoming higher entities through it. These are the types of listener who at a late age are still burned over how King Diamond 'wasn't a real occultist' and how Glenn Benton didn't kill himself at age 33 like he said he would. The common complaints against a father they felt intimacy for. They often strike back at what they consider was a betrayal by making fun of metal music and with the conceit of ironic appreciation of its cheesier aspects. Yet they still listen to, and indulge in the sub-culture of metal. Heavy metal is hurting them and yet they cannot turn away.

There is a magnetic quality to Heavy Metal. That I can write so many words on it should clue you in: those that came close to its chaos core are altered forever. However the mutation is not inherently to the better or worse. What one takes from metal music can be examined only insofar as how harmoniously it is integrated in their psyche. Self-loathing is a telling signal this has not occurred. Just as father figures fall from grace, so do transgressive ethical systems such as political ideologies or indeed, metal music, eventually cave in. The holes are there for anyone willing to see them, yet most, in their quest for some benefits-of-intimacy-sans-actual-intimacy, disregard them. No idea-space concept can stand the test of application because flesh is weak and faltering and the way through conflict is dim with the blood-mist of carnage. People must adapt, and the Heavy Metal inside them has to be fashioned into a spear, not as a shovel to haul inside the gaping maw vast quantities of surface entertainment. It is telling then, that the people I've met whose affection for Heavy Metal seems to help their psychological evolution the most, are those who engage with it pro-actively. Musicians and writers have turned a pass-time into an active pursuit. The interest psychological parallel of what I've been working towards is that then, this is taking the dictum of a higher, parent-like entity, and pursuing it in first person. In doing this, misconceptions as to the potency of romanticism are put to the endurance test and what is left is almost always a leaner and more streamlined, yet curiously more ambiguous and liquid thing.

This is not an ode to the metal musician, however. A great number of them are frauds and intellectual midgets hiding behind the big scary Heavy Metal ghost. Indeed those musicians who come to contribute to the medium with the stereotypical mindset of the metal music collector or the extreme metal cynical taste-maker often put out rubbish music themselves. However it seems to be that those that stand a chance of personalizing the Heavy Metal dictum, making it their own, turning it from a father figure into an internalized force, stand to do so via proactive methods. Making it, scrutinizing it and being savage with it, testing out what they love to the point of hate. Very few things can withstand such bravery, but when they do, the complexes of authority and control inherent in ideal can be divorced with the positive aspects of its individual philosophy and creativity.

It is worth keeping the complexes of post-puberty in mind when looking at metal music listeners. If they seem to be avid over-consumers, keep in mind they're yet to test out the ethics of metal music. If they're cynical hip taste-makers, they probably did and it didn't work out for them and the result is self-loathing. If they're hanging around metal communities without contributing pro-actively to the form then they stopped at time-structuring and belonging, and so on. If they are musicians or other pro-active proponents, worth keeping in mind how their demeanor aligns with their metal-related output. Usually those that talk the biggest talk are those who make bad metal, yet those who don't talk any talk often make even worse. Beware of cliches, as in any aspect of communication, cliches are there to discourage intimacy. They are a communal hymen which the prodding individual member always fails to penetrate. The resulting feeling of castration is powerfully used against the individual. When you hear cliche talk about metal, the people talking are trying to discourage intimacy, exposure, risk. When you find one of the few individuals whose speak is from the heart, then their metal art is probably potent as well. But even beyond the base scouting I suggest here, the real question to take from the construct I've presented above is "how do you relate to your metal music as a figure of authority?" and by answering that question, many things are inspired. Not always pretty and not always safe, but useful and brave.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Agnes Vein - Of Chaos & Law

Self-released in 2004

Foivos - Drums
Erikos Negros - Bass
Sakis Kioses - Guitar, Vocals

"Elric, sorcerer and swordsman
Slayer of kin
Despoiler of his homeland
white-faced albino

Last of his line"

In the writings of Michael Moorcock there is a foundational notion of eternal strife between the forces of Chaos and those of Law. The former seeking to destabilize the fabric of common reality with their horrid beauty and constant spider motion, the latter standing for stoic staticism, stalwart celibate champions of a world that makes sense, coheres, follows causal premises, is ended. Evolution and entropy, birth and death, the inner and the outer, mirror fragments fall into the mirror pool, how darkly they reflect.

This duality is one that has had more than a surface appeal to the Heavy Metal artists that were inspired by Moorcock and many of his peers. The parallel is simple and so I'll illustrate it as Moorcock did, with his tales of the Melnibonéan prince. His sickly flesh, deficit genes and languid lifestyle in the ancient palaces of his bloodline could not withhold his lust for exploration and adventure. And unlike the barbarian Conan whose journey was an outer one carved on the flesh of many, the depths that Elric of Melniboné plunged were inner: his questioning of the very basis of his existence was the gravitational pull that sent him on wild trajectories throughout the young kingdoms of man and beast.

For the teenager reading fantasy pulp, there were many strong-willed heroes that plundered the earth with great abandon to idolize. And for Conan the conqueror, given as he was to his famous bouts of depression, it was still the rippling tendon and muscle that crushed the world with iron will that characterized him.

Elric instead, of frail flesh and dwindling spirit, seeks refuge in alchemy to not even prosper but merely survive. Concoctions eldritch, potions fashioned to lend a mockery of atavistic vitality. A perversion of the natural ways, where the strong survive by crushing the weak. Elric drew from the countless centuries of tradition of his cruel homeland, his artificial willpower. He was after all borne of high class and had ample opportunity to study sorcery and metaphysics. In the end he meets his counterpart in the black sword, Stormbringer and needs the lesser drugs no more for the infernal black sword swallows the souls of those it slays and lends the wielder their occulted will. It slays the outer and gives birth in the inner. What does it tell us for those that at an early age were ensnared by the tales of its onyx light?

Heavy Metal is romantic art, and as such, has in its core a tall order. The quintessential tall order, as it were: live forever, destroy death, purge the world and give birth to it anew. Omniscience and End. Those that are inspired by art that has these ridiculous measuring points often feel tremendous guilt at their own incapacity to materialize in the real world even a semblance of such tenets. There is a certain kind of pain, unlike the common physical one or even the mental anguish of psychological withholding and social deprivation that many dreamers share: the pain of being unable to achieve what dreams inspire. This pain is private. If it can be explained to others it is not easily and not without risk lest one enjoys constant low-brow mockery by self-appointed 'realists'.

It is two-fold our embarrassment that most of us come from a comfortable middle-class background and haven't wanted for anything too terribly in life. Heavy Metal was not borne of this middle-class ennui but it was certainly adopted heavily by its sufferers. Much like Elric, metal fans do not have the willpower that characterizes the savage will to kill to survive. They instead are decrepit and morose, they have everything they need but they're not happy for it. They turn to the fantastic alchemy of the heavy metals for they need a tool of strength to open up their weak hearts.

So then Moorcock, with his tales of Elric and his black drug-sword created a potent alternative to the cruel feedback loop of romanticism, where the Fates look down on the weaklings who like the songs of splendor but can only achieve dour daily nothings in their name. He instead restates the ancient premise that the fantastical hero that survives many perils and prolonged Odysseys is but a vehicle for Fate itself and his own powers are limited, nay, augmented by an Aristotelian Organon: a killing tool that yet gives life. As Elric loathes and loves his black sword, so the listeners of Heavy Metal may through that see the way to accept not just their incandescent love for the high art that inspires them, but also the hidden loathing for own aspirations not achieved.

Heavy Metal is a black sword whose power is only lent and will in the end assist suicide, ablation for what gifts it has bestowed. For the time one has it in their hands, they have to choose to what polarity they will turn its moon-carved blade. Will it be to praise elder god Apollo, bringer of light and cruel law, his white-cast eyes bearing judgment and science on all earthly things, or will it be to glorify mega Dionysus, cradled in grapeseed and maniacal with frenzied laughter? Either season though it appears never-ending, does gradually, with the passing of the storms and cold sleep, give way to the other.

A human life seems to me to be an unlimited thing, experientially. I will not know death because when they say I have died, I will not be there to live death. Therefore, although evidence of death is plentiful around me, it is with a certain arrogance that I secretly believe I will never have to leave here. 'Here' will leave with me, instead. Isn't that a comforting thought?

Death is then, for society to function, substituted with something that I, as all, have experienced: suffering and loss. Others plead you not to give them death with this explanation of external loss and pain. It is the constant fear of suffering and loss that humans have christened death in its wake. Death is useless.

But suffering and loss is an internalization of an outer experience, it is something the outside inflicts on the individual, it does not equip them in the least for any ingressive quest. It could be said instead that the constant pain that the outer world inflicts on the individual retards their potential for the self-discovery of what death could mean, inside, what it could be to not exist, to never have existed.

What is chaos, then but the end that came before the beginning. It means that what 'they' say exists, doesn't. It never did. Chaos is motion, eternal motion, undefinable and unlawful in the purest sense. Law, in ancient Greek, also described the etymology of physics, the description of causal relationships. When everything is in ever-constant mutation and motion, such relationships are impossible to define. Then and only then, when the pain of a static world inflicted on what is fundamentally a jubilant reason-less inner existence has been halted, can the lone traveler ponder what it could mean to exist, and what it could mean not to.

Agnes Vein are a Greek band that plays epic doom metal. Their demo "Of Chaos & Law" is very evocative of the qualities of Moorcock's work (though not his style of writing). They employ a pulse that flows from the ponderous and glacial to a frenzied and war-like gallop. There is a lot of antithesis in their songs, yet the compositions, though simple, are elegant and cohesive.

The aspects of the whole here are very foundational: the most advanced technique on display is seen on the '90s metal informed drums. This means they're quite busy and heavy on the double-bass, with the rolls following the cadences of the riffs. This is an artifice devised by thrash metal bands and since then employed generally on the whole field of extreme music. Agnes Vein are dated to 2004 purely on this level. The songs on display otherwise could have belonged to many great Heavy Metal records from 1986 and onwards.

There are rhythm guitars that play the structures of the songs in power chords. Saturated middles put meat on the bones and there is no excess fat, no technical flourish and needless belaboring the point. The riffs here are specific and refreshed sparingly. The mode is muscular and therefore masculine, direction is conveyed by repetition and simple ABCABC structures. The songs go in very specific places though what is to be found there is left to the imagination.

The bass guitar is uncharacteristically prominent for modern metal perhaps, but this is more common on the doom metal sub-genres where 'heaviness' is often equated literally with the low frequency stack. They play fluid lines that often counterpoint with the more choppy rhythm guitars. The classicist beauty of this record is found in this interplay and I would hesitate to call it ample. There is however something very enticing about a band that plays on very primordial themes yet sparingly embellishes on them with gentle elaboration between no more than two or three voices. I think that a lot of metal music and its widespread appeal can be summed in this effect: something simple and direct, yet with a layer of subtle grace.

On top of the mix lie watery guitar leads, drenched in curious reverb and distance, along with the vocals. There is a certain suspicion that Agnes Vein felt their singer ill-equipped to stand front and center in the mix so they instead buried him in echo chambers and thought nobody would notice his faults. This - perhaps - unfounded assumption arrives to a winning idiosyncratic sound. The singer is adequately tuneful and his vocal lines are splendid, his Greek accent is very clear. The reverb downplays the importance of the individual lyric (scarce lines may be caught but no more than that). For those familiar with the works of Michael Moorcock, every signifier offered here is strong with his archetypes.

There have been other great Heavy Metal bands inspired by the tales of Elric (Cirith Ungol first and foremost) but what attracts me to this take by Agnes Vein the most is that it is not a literary approximation of the source material, it is an aural one. I read the Elric stories many years before I ever knew of the Greek band, but when I finally did listen to them, their aesthetic simply clicked with the weight of many invented memories of a fantastic place. I cannot imagine one without the other now, and it is very significant when such a thing happens to art that is separated not only by disparate mediums but also decades of social change. The individuals in Agnes Vein did not live through the sixties nor were they British neither, I would expect, have they taken copious amounts of psychoactive substances, all of which contributed very directly and clearly to the work of the fantasy author. Yet somehow, from London to Thessaloniki and from hippie communes to conservative middle-class ennui, a silver string connects. The lumbering crack of shifting earth and storm, defiance to the outer Law and glorification of the inner chaos.

What is there to take from this approach, considering that one is gathering lessons to apply to their own Heavy Metal, is that it is perhaps a balsam to the wound of romance to acknowledge Fate as a contributing force, and not just will and absence of. And that even if one's footing is found - after the veil of decades of passing seasons has been lifted - to amount to no clear stride in any direction, this is no failure. It is however, drama, motion and force and perhaps it is that, that the Heavy Metal musician should focus to express. Not just the Gods of Law & Chaos with their frowning, grinning faces, but also the man, the plaything of fate whom so often fails them and disappoints and then eventually realizes what it means to not exist, to never have existed. Perhaps there is a song for him as well to sing. A song of hope as well as laughter in the face of unsurmountable desire.