Thursday, July 23, 2015

Blind Guardian - Beyond the Red Mirror ALBUM REVIEW

Well, it looks like the year is half over and I haven’t written a single review. To get back on track reviewing my favorites (and least favorites) of the year so far I’ll start with an album from a very special band for me: Blind Guardian.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

My Thoughts on Nazism and Racism in Black Metal

In April, the black metal duo Inquisition came under fire due to some damning evidence of their supposed neo-Nazi past which includes posing with a Nazi flag and the existence of many racist forum posts allegedly made by the band’s frontman Jason “Dagon” Weirbach. Perhaps most troubling (for me at least) was the fact the Weirbach was involved with a side-band called 88MM which released a track titled “14 Showerheads, 1 Gas Tight Door” released on a compilation with the delightful title Declaration of Anti-Semitic Terror, not to mention the fact that “88” is often used by neo-Nazis as an abbreviation for “Heil Hitler” since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. None of this was remotely helped by the very lukewarm apology made by Weirbach amidst these accusations. The band is playing this year’s Knotfest metal festival and the inclusion of such a band with this kind of controversy surrounding them could be a messy situation and could be bad publicity for the festival and its promoters, as this Metalsucks article explains. 

When I was in middle school and high school I was sometimes accused of being a racist because I was a metal fan. Where did this come from? Does the fact that most young metal kids in our schools happen to be white cause people to believe that the metal subculture excludes and is against blacks? This is a possibility, but I don't think there's any good reason to label heavy metal fans as racist because of a lack of African Americans in the American metal scene, as I believe that the low number of AfAm metalheads in this country is mainly due to personal choice in music more than anything else. But the rather alarming frequency of racist and neo-Nazi ideologies in black metal specifically is very troubling to me, especially since black metal is my favorite subgenre of metal. Black metal musicians like Rob Darken and Varg Vikernes (and many others) express opinions that surpass mere disagreement for me, but ideas I find totally reprehensible and intolerable, not to mention idiotic due to their Nazi beliefs being entirely based on white nationalism, heterosexism, racial separatism, and anti-Semitism. I have never once held any of these neo-Nazi sympathies in my life and I can say that with complete honesty.

Some of you might be thinking, “Well, Anthony, it’s obvious why your old school mates assumed you were racist for being a metal fan. It’s because of all this far-right racism within the black metal you love so much which you just admitted was within the scene with ‘alarming frequency.’” I’d have to completely disagree with that. I’m 100% certain that all the people who ever accused me of being racist based on the fact that I listen to metal have never heard of black metal in their lives, let alone know any of these band’s names or their ideologies. The people accusing me of racism were almost always young men and women who mainly listen to hip-hop and r&b and who’ve probably never heard a legitimate metal song in their lives, their only exposure to “metal” being something like Linkin Park or whatever else is played on the radio, as well as various snippets of screamo (which isn’t metal) and metalcore songs they overhear being played on their “rocker” classmate’s iPhones. If any of these people explained to me that they’ve actually heard all about Varg Vikernes and/or the eastern-European National Socialist Black Metal movement and that’s why they suspect me of being a racist then I would understand where they were coming from and I would correct them. But that’s never happened once, not even close. The accusations of racism that have been lobbed against me over the years have always come from positions of utter and complete ignorance, never a position of knowledge and understanding of the metal subculture. So no, the presence of racism in a genre of metal that none of my accusers have ever heard of is not the reason why I have ever been accused of racism, nor have any overtly racist actions I have ever done been the cause either since I’ve never been guilty of such actions. It’s completely unfair to generalize the entire worldwide heavy metal community based on a relatively small percentage of black metal and less than 1% of all metal that has ever existed.

With that out of the way, why would I even tolerate music that is about or made by people who support Nazism? Is it morally alright to do so? Is the listener in active support of Nazism when they listen to, say, a Graveland record? It’s all about making a kind of separation between your enjoyment of the art and its content. An album, in my view, is a piece of art and a work of artistic expression and should be judged as such. The content of the art could depict things that can be loving or hateful, pleasant or disgusting, good or evil. But it’s a piece of art and it’s about experiencing the artist’s point of view, the artist's views and how they particularly align with your personal views are irrelevant. If anyone’s ideal is to only expose themselves to media (books, music, movies, etc) that’s only about everything they already believe in then that is a very unfortunate ideal to strive for. Exposing yourself to other views, no matter how much you disagree with them, is how individuals increase their understanding of the world they live in, and coming to an understanding of the bad is just as important as taking in pleasure from the good. Because of the valuable perspective and understanding gained from various artistic expressions, taking in the full spectrum of expressions is crucial to becoming a more informed and enlightened member of society while coming to a better understanding of your fellow man.

It also must be stated that an album is mainly a form of entertainment despite whatever messages are contained within the lyrics. If morality is what you’re after, pick up a copy of Plato or Aristotle. If you’re looking for a profound message then listen to a speech by Martin Luther King or the Dali Lama, but if you want entertainment, pick up an album. While there’s a vast array of music that has a defined message – sometimes a bad message in the case of neo-Nazi black metal – music can be pleasing to the ear no matter how much you disagree with its lyrical content. Music is so much more than what its lyrics are about; musical value comes from instrumentation, musicianship, structure, songwriting prowess, production values, etc. So while Nokturnal Mortum’s album Goat Horns expresses some white nationalist sentiments in its lyrics, the album’s 16 bit video game music combined with melodic black metal is so pleasing to my ears that I can’t help but label it as one of my favorite black metal records of all time.

As much as I find neo-Nazi ideology to be horrible and filled with hate, I don’t believe it is morally wrong to enjoy black metal that expresses these beliefs and it is completely wrong to label the heavy metal community as a racist subculture because of these bands. Whether we like it or not, Nazism is part of world history and the beliefs that stem from it are still alive and well. The worst way to deal with an ugly past is to deny that it ever happened, and when it comes to these neo-Nazi black metal albums, I do not believe that an effective strategy in fighting these deplorable beliefs is to pretend that these recordings don't exist. While the dust around the Inquisition controversy is still settling it still shows that even 20 years after the National Socialist Black Metal movement started these ignorant views are still being held by members of the black metal scene. As much as a few of these albums are enjoyable to my ears the lyrical content should not be condoned on a personal level, but it’s a piece of art nonetheless and appreciating art for its aesthetic or sonic appeal is not the same as agreeing with its message.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden ALBUM REVIEW

Pallbearer’s debut full-length, Sorrow and Extinction, impressed many upon its release with its utterly sincere take on traditional doom metal. It combined the core elements of Black Sabbath with the drama of Candlemass and the snail-paced crawl of funeral doom such as Evoken. It resulted in a very likable and worthwhile release that had many metalheads, young and old, raising their horns in approval, rocking out to the album’s wall of guitar sludge and soaring lead lines. Foundations of Burden, their latest offering, was met with even more acclaim from fans and critics than its predecessor, with Decibel in particular calling it a “goddamn masterpiece” and naming it Album of the Year. However, The Needle Drop criticized it for its lack of contrast and gave it a mere 5 out of 10.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Opeth: Pale Communion ALBUM REVIEW

Opeth’s transition from a progressive death metal juggernaut into a metal-free progressive rock group (rife with vintage keyboards and nods to King Crimson and Genesis) should have come to the surprise of no one, with the possible exception of infants or people who only heard Orchid in the mid ‘90s then promptly forgot about the band until 2011 when Heritage was released.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Dino Brown: I Dream of Dino ALBUM REVIEW

Dino Brown is a San Diego MC who’s just starting out in the rap game, and he already seems to have an ear for great production and catchy hooks to craft his ‘90s inspired sound and vision. He also possesses a deliciously smooth, deep voice to augment his already solid approach on the mic and his tight, aggressive flow, giving off the impression of someone who not only has confidence, but has his eyes set on something bigger for himself. His debut mixtape has just been released on datpiff, and since he already shows great promise (and since I also grew up with the guy) I think he earns a review here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Sadboys/Gravity Boys Playlist

As you all know from reading this blog, I love Yung Lean and Sadboys with a passion. Here is my current playlist of my favorite songs by Sadboys and Gravity Boys (the other, closely affiliated Swedish rap group. [Indicated in brackets] ) as of 2014. This playlist features 27 songs and is over 80 minutes long and it features material from all three main Yung Lean albums plus the Neal Yung 2003 unofficial mixtape, as well as various singles and material from the GTBSG compilation and Bladee's Gluee mixtape as well. This will only get longer as the two groups release more material. I'm pretty satisfied with how these songs flow together, so here they are with the names of their respective albums in parentheses.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Nachtmystium: The World We Left Behind ALBUM REVIEW

When not shamelessly ripping off fans and bandmates with impunity (according to former collaborator Neill Jameson and many disgruntled fans) by selling merchandise that didn’t exist or selling the rights to albums he didn’t own to make money to buy drugs, Blake Judd was more commonly known to be the “mastermind” behind Chicago black metal squad Nachtmystium. Whether he was truly the mastermind behind the long-running project has been brought into question (Jameson alluded in a lengthy article written about Blake that the majority of his music was written by others, not him.) no one can deny that the end results of many of the band’s recording endeavors have been stellar, even milestones of the black metal genre. The experimentation that started with Instinct: Decay and continued with the groundbreaking “Black Meddle” series show that someone, Blake or not, was thinking about what could be achieved within the black metal genre on a higher level. And although their previous album Silencing Machine did not expand upon the experimentation of the two Black Meddle installments, it was still a satisfyingly grim and aggressive record that had just enough electronic flourishes to distinguish itself from straight-ahead black metal. Hyped as the final Nachtmystium album, The World We Left Behind should have been a farewell as equally ambitious and exciting as anything else in their recent output. But when presented with the final product, that sadly doesn’t describe it.