For longtime readers, repeated features on some of OurStage’s best metal bands will come as no surprise–if an OurStage band keeps doing awesome things, I’ll keep featuring them. Well, that time as come again as we’re approaching the release of Saille‘s new album, Ritu, set to release in early 2013. For those new to Saille, they’re a black metal band from Belgium who began their journey in 2008. As of now they have release one full-length album, Irreversible Decay and have played a number of shows in their home country.
Ritu appears to pick up stylistically right where Irreversible Decay left the band. Falling dead-on with the classic orchestral black metal of legends like Emperor’s early material or along the lines of Satyricon/s catalog. Catastropic, noisy guitars, grand orchestral crescendos, prototypical rasping vocals and blast beats for days can all be found throughout Ritu in standard black metal style. Saille don’t often appear to be looking to break the mold on Ritu, but the odd moments when they find themselves a bit out of the black metal character are also quite enjoyable“such as the bridge of “Haunter of the Dark” where there’s a dreamy passage filled with piano that leads directly into another black metal march. (more…)
They say third time’s a charm, right? Well, I’d like to think that both my first and second podcasts were also pretty charming, but I’ll leave that decision up to you. This is the time of the year when most bands are embarking on a huge fall tour, gearing up to release a new album or just taking a well-deserved break. What this means is this: there isn’t a lot of newsworthy stuff to report since the last podcast. So, this week’s topic will be a bit different. While I’ve heard most of the albums of interest from 2012, I was thinking about the early stages of my “best of metal” tally for the year and comparing it to my list from last year to see how the lineup held up. Let’s revisit some of my opinions from last year this week. Don’t worry, though, I’ve still got some tasty tunes in this week’s podcast for you (because I don’t want to disappoint).
Many years ago in a galaxy known as metal, some stuff happened that would change the course of the genre forever (but you probably knew that already). We’re here to ponder things like what if that never happened in regard to some of metal’s most momentous events and happenings”What might the metal world be like today?
Most people seem to know that there were a string of church burnings attributed to some members of Norway’s black metal scene in the early nineties (and if you’re reading this you probably have already seen my article that mentioned it from a few weeks prior). As you also likely know, the incidents were sort of a big deal for a lot of reasons. But, what if Varg and company had never gotten the itch to watch some churches burn?
The metal world, historically, has been known mostly as an insiders-only club. People on the outside don’t usually get metal, and people on the inside can rarely communicate what exactly it is about metal that is so compelling. As Sam Dunn says in Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey, “Ever since I was twelve years old I had to defend my love for heavy metal against those who say it’s a less valid form of music. My answer now is that you either feel it or you don’t. If metal doesn’t give that overwhelming surge of power that make the hair stand up at the back of your neck, you might never get it, and you know what? That’s okay, because judging by the 40,000 metalheads around me we’re doing just fine without you.”
Just because you don’t “feel it,” though, doesn’t mean that you have to go on misunderstanding things about the genre, the people who make metal music or the people who enjoy it. I’m here to dispel some pretty common rumors and misconceptions around the metal world. Perhaps you’re someone who might think some of these sentiments are true, or maybe you know someone who does; whatever the case, it’s time to learn a thing or two.
You know those bands that aren’t really metal but are always lumped into the metal genre? You know, groups like Primus, Tool, AC/DC, Kiss, etc. Well, I think we can add another band to this list: Alcest. In the band’s early days, they were quite clearly a metal band (their first release was a pure black metal demo). Since then, they’ve progressed away from the genre, now playing almost exclusively shoegaze music. Their latest effort, Les Voyages de l’í‚me (translates to The Journeys of the Soul in English), was released between January 6th and January 31st worldwide (staggering release dates).
For some time in the metal community, there has been a divide between those who do things traditionally and those who work outside of the box. Historically, there aren’t a lot of bands that bridge this gap (at least not immediately). Wolves In The Throne Room are the exception. While they technically play black metal, they don’t share much else in common with that genre, style or culture. As they’ve addressed in numerous interviews over the last few years, they don’t really believe in the black metal imagery, and they choose not to participate in many activities deemed as “the norm” for the metal community, including moshing at shows.
Stating that Celestial Lineage is a big departure from WITTR’s previous material would be a bit lofty, but there are certainly noticeable differences from what had become typical for the band over the course of three records. Previously, the band had played somewhat straightforward atmospheric black metal. Lots of thick textures over the top of buzzing, tremolo-picked guitar lines, hardened by unrelenting blast beats and machine-like drumming. These sounds are still present on Celestial Lineage, but the band adds even more to the mix. The most striking addition can be heard in the very first section of music on the album where choir vocalist Jessika Kenney makes her chilling entrance, which provides an absolutely haunting vocal performance alongside a sparse atmospheric intro.
Sixties pop, melodic indie rock, contemporary jazz, Brazilian psych-folk, singer-songwriter”these labels don’t quite do justice to the ground that Norwegian musician Sondre Lerche has covered in his ten-year career. Which is why it’s amazing that, at age twenty-eight, the Bergen native just released an album that marks several firsts. It’s the first album he’s recorded in New York since moving there in 2005 and”despite being his sixth studio recording”it’s his only self-titled work, which is fitting given that the new processes he employed and themes he explored on the record have helped forge some of his most personal, honest work to date. We sat down with Lerche to talk about how his new methods impacted the album, compare the musical cultures of his two homes and learn what he would sound like if he put out a black metal record.
OS: You’ve drawn from influences that range from garage rock to jazz over the course of your career. What sort of influences will we hear peeking through on the new album?
SL: The thing with this record that was new to me was that it wasn’t so much a genre thing. The songs felt really candid to me in a way, both musically and especially lyrically. When I started thinking about making a record out of it, I thought it would be weird to dress these songs up too much and make them these experimental, stylistic exercises. I immediately knew I wanted to see how much I could get out of pure elements. So it was more a matter of stripping things down and really enhancing the atmosphere of the song and the narrative, the underlying dramatic movements… The songs also are much more concerned with reality and how things really are, and in the past I’ve had a bunch of songs”not all of them, but a lot of them”have been much more concerned with how I would want things to be. They’ve been about this idealized vision, which to me is really truthful and comes from a place of honesty. But these songs just demanded a different treatment because they’re much more here and now and dealing with things as they are. Or trying to figure out how things actually are.
OS: Do you think that new process was a result of this being the first album you recorded in New York?
SL: Maybe it was. It’s always hard to sort of trace what influences what, and what makes you do what you do. But I definitely felt the need to make a record where I live, and I’ve lived in New York the last six years but I’ve traveled almost everywhere else to make records. It was important to me to find a studio in the neighborhood¦ here in Williamsburg”ideally, I wanted to be within walking distance. That was what I was hoping for. And I found this studio, Rare Book Room, where a lot of my favorite records of the last couple years have been made: Dirty Projectors, Spoon made a lot of their last album there, Animal Collective, Deerhunter. Nicholas, he’s worked with a bunch of my favorite bands, so we hit it off pretty quickly and I thought the pairing of him with my old buddy Kato [í…dland]”who I’ve worked with ten years”the pairing of those two characters would be really stimulating and exciting. The two of them hadn’t ever met until our first day in the studio, so it was pretty exciting to see how it would go. And I wanted limitations, also. I didn’t want to get lost, I didn’t want to lose focus. I wanted to serve intuition, in a way. And instinct. So we had three weeks to record and mix the album. And also, it was a great opportunity to work with a lot of new friends from New York who are really great players but who I really hadn’t worked with in the studio. I had a bunch of people I wanted to bring in. So we’ve got McKenzie from Midlake playing drums, and Dave Heilman who’s a really great drummer also plays on a lot of the record. And he’s in my live group now, so he’ll be going on tour with me the next month.
SL: Well, I’ve never been a fan of self-titled albums as a concept. There’s a lot of self-titled albums that I like musically [Laughs] but I felt like a self-titled album would be a missed opportunity in a way, because you could find a really great title for it. I thought it was sort of giving up. And in a way, it was. I was chasing the title for this record, and usually I know pretty early on what the title is going to be, but for this one I didn’t really have a clear title. I became really obsessed with the idea of finding the perfect title, and I couldn’t really find it. I started having these dreams where titles came to me, and I woke up from one of them and had the feeling of having found the title. But I couldn’t remember what it was. So I just decided, All right, I’m going to leave it open, in a way, and I’ll fill in the title if I remember it later. It’s self-titled, it just says my name, but hopefully that’s all you need to know. And in a way, it’s also because it’s a bit more stripped-down, it’s a bit more introspective. It makes sense.
OS: But despite not being a fan of self-titled albums, your album artwork has always been just a picture of you.
SL: It’s strange. I feel in a way that I’m sort of old school. When I go through some of my older, favorite albums with singer-songwriter types or solo artists, it just seems sort of classic when you have a picture of [the artist] on there. I wouldn’t mind mixing it up and doing a cover without my face on it, but I haven’t really found a piece of artwork that I feel represents the music more. And because I perform solo a lot of the time… it just seems like a classic format, in a way. I actually just received the album from the printer today, and I noticed, wow, it’s a close-up, this one.[Laughs] But yeah, I’ve yet to find a piece of art that would make sense, and that would feel specific to the music. It’s the same with the title”I can think of a lot of nice words, and there’s stuff from the sentences and lyrics that I could use, but it would have to really click with me and really feel specific.
SL: I’m not very technical, so I’m not one to say that one is always better than the other. A lot of my albums we’ve just done digitally, with Pro Tools or whatever. We’ve taken advantage of the accessibility of technology that makes recording possible for us. And I’ve done home recordings that have turned into songs and albums. I definitely think that’s a great thing, but for this record we had access to a tape recorder and we didn’t want to do too much with the songs”we wanted to leave them pretty raw. When you record on tape you can’t really edit, and you don’t have the advantages that you have digitally when you can always second-guess and go back and change. When you record on tape, it’s final, and I like that sort of commitment. You have to really commit to, Okay, we’re gonna use this take. There’s a little mess up on the third verse, but I don’t care. I love the overall vibe of it. So you commit more to an atmosphere. That felt much more right for this kind of album.
OS: So after spending a few years in New York and completing your album there, how does the city’s music scene compare to that in Norway?
SL: In a way, Williamsburg feels a little bit similar to the music scene in Bergen, where I’m from in Norway. Bergen is sort of the indie rock or indie pop city of Norway, and there’s a lot of great bands. In addition to that, it’s also the black metal center of the universe. So there’s definitely a varied scene, because Norwegian black metal bands are pioneers in their field. Bergen is an amazing music town, and I think that’s why I’ve kept going back there to record. I’ve been very attached to musicians and studios there. And living in Williamsburg, it feels like it has the same size. It’s like a little village. Bergen is not a city, it’s a little village. A little town. There’s a lot of collaboration and side projects. People start their own labels, and their own companies, and put out their music and their friends music. So in a way, the vibe is a bit similar between Bergen and Williamsburg.
OS: That’s pretty funny. I’m trying to figure out what it would have sounded like if you got into black metal instead of pop.
SL: Well, that’s the thing! I’ve spent a couple of records trying to see how far I could push going into different directions and still sound like myself. I’ve worked really hard to test the limits of this, and I feel like I could do almost everything and I’d still sound like Sondre Lerche. But I would like to test that”maybe I should work with some black metal people and see how that would turn out. Would it still be me?
Check out Sondre’s latest single “Private Caller” below, then head on over to AOL Music and stream the full album!
In the two weeks since it’s been posted, Vegan Black Metal Chef: Episode 1 Pad Thai has been viewed over one million times. Ostensibly a parody of cooking culture today, the viral video surprisingly doesn’t play out like much of a punch line. It’s unclear how many of the one million viewings have lasted the duration of the fourteen-minute long video, but for those who do make it past nine minutes of shtick, it’s easy to forget, for example, when Black Metal Chef slices a tomato with a dagger. And that’s precisely the point”the vid isn’t intended to be received as just a comedy sketch, but as the first in an ongoing series. According to the Why Vegan? section of the Vegan Black Metal Chef Web site, Veganism is perhaps the most beneficial non spiritual (and sometimes spiritual) thing you can do. At the end of the Web site mission statement are three embedded PETA vids, one about KFC’s main ingredient (cruelty) narrated by a suitably somber-for-the-occasion Pamela Anderson.
If you allow me to digress for a moment: With so much lip flapping about organic, bio-tech, locally-grown, cholesterol-lowering, cancer-inducing foods, our popular culturehas (not surprisingly) become very serious about food. It’s a strange turn since just a generation ago food seemed like a funny thing. Think of the pie that Soupy Sales used to throw into the faces of the unsuspecting guest or John Belushi yelling food fight! in Animal House. Food, for one reason or another, was shorthand for the mundane, the lowbrow. And yes, that extended to the culture’s popular music. Going back to the cover of Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass Band’s Whipped Cream And Other Delights (A&M, 1965) with its cream-covered model to Iggy Pop’s 1977 track Dog Food (1977) to REO Speedwagon’s You Can Tune a Piano, But You Can’t Tuna Fish (Epic/Legacy, 1978), food signifiers functioned to make it clear when a musician wasn’t taking his work too seriously. The everyday nature of food was a counter-weight to anyone attributing lofty (nay, artistic) intentions to a music-maker.
The trend continued through the ’80s, perhaps reaching its crescendo with Weird Al Yankovic’s The Food Album (Rock ˜n Roll, 1993), a compilation of ten previously released songs about sustenance. There was My Bologna (a parody of My Sharona), Addicted to Spuds (Addicted to Love) and, of course, the song that might have been the first to put him on the map, Eat It (Beat It), which began with the refrain: How come you’re always such a fussy young man?/Don’t want no Cap’n’ Crunch/ Don’t want no Raisin Bran/ Don’t you know that other kids are starving in Japan?/So eat it, just eat it!
What all of this music had in common was the way it positioned food as part of larger cultural jokes, and in the case of Yankovic, as a tried and true punchline. But today, amidst the serious business of raising food consciousness, food’s role in popular music has changed. Reflecting what’s gone on in the larger society, its invocations feel much weightier.
Just a small sample serving illustrates the point. Think of R. Kelly’s The Chocolate Factory (Jive, 2003), which invoked food to riff dangerously close to the singer’s alleged sexual propensities and, perhaps in a nod to Dahl’s masterpiece, to reference childhood fantasies (the singer was eventually acquitted in a child pornography case that lasted six years). Or Matthew Herbert’s Plat Du Jour (Accidental, 2005), a veritable sonic Fast Food Nation, which samples real-life nature snippets like chickens being prepared for slaughter and weaves them into songs.
Meanwhile, indie rockers are taking the food movement as seriously in the twenty-first century as their predecessors took the Civil Rights Movement in the twentieth. TakeKara Zuaro’s 2007 cookbook I Like Food, Food Tastes Good: In the Kitchen With Your Favorite Bands or Kay Bozich Owens and Lynn Owens’ 2008 Lost in the Supermarket: An Indie Rock Cookbook (Soft Skull). If that’s not enough Steve Albini, member of iconic acts Big Black and Rapeman and producer of such legendary acts as Nirvana, the Pixies and PJ Harvey, has just launched his own food blog.
Vegan Black Metal Chef could only come about in a culture that takes food as seriously as ours. Watch the video yourself and you will undoubtedly find yourself chuckling aloud when the demonically-clad chef inadvertently drops too much tamarind into his serving bowl and snarls, I hate it when that happens, but the context couldn’t be more serious. In the words of VBMC, Most animals raised for food live in what I would consider a darker hell than one even I could ever imagine¦. I could go on and on with this, but I will just post some videos instead. The message couldn’t be clearer: even in the world of a dark, rubber-clad vegan offering up cooking tips, food is no laughing matter.
Norwegian Black Metal is an often explored sub-genre and culture of music, but usually looked under intense media scrutiny. On very few occasions has the Norwegian Black Metal scene been explored from the inside out, free of media pressures. The book True Norwegian Black Metal is a photo book that spawned from the VICE Magazine 2007 documentary of the same name. Peter Beste, the photographer, helped put the VICE documentary together and while doing so became inspired to compile a book of his black metal expeditions. While the documentary is criticized for not being entirely factual, the book garners no such criticism”unlike the film, only bits of text in the entire book are quotes from famous people (both in and out of the scene)”and includes an introduction by Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen, creator of the first and most influential fanzine in black metal (Slayer Magazine).
Short and to the point, True Norwegian Black Metal starts off with black pages using minimal amounts of white text then immediately grabs the reader’s attention with an incredibly stark spread juxtaposing a black metaller breathing fire into the air with the Latin text “in girum imus nocte et consumimur igni” (translation: “we enter the circle in the night and are consumed with fire”) in medieval English typeface. The first section of photos feature characters prototypical of what many think when you say “black metal””corpse paint, leather jackets, long hair, the works. It isn’t until after the introductions that you get a look into the real Norway and members of the black metal scene.
In terms of photo selection, there is no censorship among the photos. The reader sees all of the gory details, including more real and behind-the-scenes photos. Media depictions and dress associated with a black metal live show are all hyped and presented as the way that things are normally”True Norwegian Black Metal shows that there is more to the scene than aesthetics alone. There are sections that show the beautiful, and sometimes bleak, Norwegian countryside and sections that show the everyday life of black metallers around Norway. Quotes from the likes of E.M. Cioran, Gaahl (of Gorgoroth), Frost (of 1349/Satyricon), Fenriz (of Darkthrone), Abbath (of Immortal), H.P. Lovecraft, Albert Camus, etc. add a surprising amount of insight to the book as they speak volumes about the scene, the mindset of the people involved, how their world is perceived and why it is the way it is.
Undeniably the most moving part of the book is the introduction, an incredibly personal first-hand look at black metal written by Metalion. His writing it completely different than that of journalists and other media personalities”it’s devoid of judgment, and details how the scene all came to be. This includes the infamous Helvete record store as well as the strife between the bands Burzum and Mayhem”the suicide of vocalist Dead and the murder of guitarist Euronymous by Vark Vikernes”which shook Norway’s black metal scene to it’s core.
True Norwegian Black Metal is a must-have for anyone who has a serious fascination with music genres, those who want to learn something about black metal from a new perspective or just want to have a collection of fantastic pictures from the black metal scene in Norway. Cumulatively, this photo book gives much more insight to the real happenings involving the Norwegian black metal scene”much more than any text or spoken words could. True Norwegian Black Metal can be found any many book retailers such as Barnes and Noble, and can also be found at Newbury Comics. It can also be purchased from many retailers via Amazon. If you’d like to see the documentary, it can be found on VBS.tv.
With each passing year metal subgenres develop their own unique style, most noticeable through vocal differences. Growls, grunts, screams, yells, moans, groans ” you name it. While most metal genre tap their lung power, each put their own spin on vocals to develop a trademark primal scream.
Metal pioneers like Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath are purveyors of the moaning/wailing vocal style. The best example of this vocal style in its early stages is the song “N.I.B.” from Black Sabbath’s self-titled debut release, where the catch of the song is Ozzy’s “OH YEAH” at the end of the main riff in the song. Moaning and wailing is also prevalent among many Doom and Sludge metal bands such as Type O Negative and Candlemass (the best modern example being Candlemass‘s song “Samarithan” (that Messiah Marcolin is one creepy dude). Power metal and the new wave of British heavy metal used a similar approach, albeit with more power (see: Rob Halford and Bruce Dickinson)
Taking cues from punk bands and the new wave of British heavy metal, thrash metal emerged on the scene with its extreme screaming, yelling, and shouting. The quintessential thrash metal vocal style can be heard in any of the early Slayer and Metallica records. This change in vocal style is almost exclusively responsible for all non-clean metal vocals styles to come. Trash metal really cultivated the “pissed off” sound the genre is known for (particulary in songs about social issues sung in the vein of their punk predecessors).
A direct offshoot of thrash metal, black metal (you know, those evil satanists with the funny face paint and freaky clothes) emerged with a dry, raspy vocal style. The pioneering black metal band, Venom (followed soon by Bathory, Hellhammer, and Celtic Frost), were the first to the raspy sound that became synonymous with black metal (most obvious with their album and song “Black Metal”). These gruff black metal vocals eventually evolved, became less raspy and spilled over into what we know as death metal growls. Death metal growls are, more or less, mid tone screaming (something akin to heavier Slayer vocals). Then, in the early 1990s, the inception of “brutal death metal” and the guttural “cookie monster” vocals became the mainstay for death metal (the obvious example here is Cannibal Corpse, being the most well known brutal death metal band in the history of bands).
The pig squeal, a technique in which the vocal “bree bree” mimick the sounds of a dying pig, is another extreme vocal styles from the 80s that was used by underground brutal death and grindcore bands. This technique only recently became popular with the rise of the deathcore genre and bands such as Despised Icon and Job For A Cowboy who used pig squeals on their early releases but have since migrated away from th technique.
Since the major vocal style developments of 80s and 90s, only a few other genres have built upon the styles from previous subgenres. Melodic death metal of the early to mid 90s featured the standard death metal growl, but varied the range in terms of the vocal register. Metalcore, the less intense cousin of deathcore, normally employs both clean, melodic vocals and a range of screaming but primarily features the mid-to-high register.
While vocal style are possibly the most key element in identifying what style of metal you are listening to, vocal technique is what ensures a singer’s ability to shriek, howl or groan for years to come. Though few will believe it, there is proper technique to screaming and growling that prevents vocal chords from being torn to shreds (protecting your voice may not sound very “metal” but being able to perform night after night is pretty important). Melissa Cross can fill you in on all of that, considering that she (and not me) is the expert.
Over the last decade, extreme of metal vocals have become less and less intelligible. Supposed lyrics give way to an abundance of indecipherable pig squeals (as in Despised Icon’s early music). On The Black Dahlia Murder‘s latest DVD, Majesty, band members jokingly discuss the future of metal vocals, and mention that it would eventually revert to “people making fart noises with their mouths” “ I, for one, would laugh hysterically if this prediction came true but, for metal’s sake, let’s hope that it doesn’t.
Now that you know all about different vocal styles, put yourself to the test. Try to figure out what styles are used in these rad OurStage metal songs (hint, some use fusion styles):