Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Best Music You've Never Heard - Nine-Headed Cactus Demon

"The hallucinogenic drugs such as psilocybin, mescaline, and peyote are not rude per se. But it can be difficult to observe all the niceties of etiquette when you're being chased down the street by a nine-headed cactus demon." - PJ O'Rourke from "Modern Manners: An Ettiquite Book For Rude People"

Okay, so I know what you're thinking: "Nine-Headed Cactus Demon? Sounds like some obscure black metal band, or maybe some obscure 60's psychadelic or acid rock band."  You'd be wrong on both counts, however.  Nine-Headed Cactus Demon (NHCD, as they shall be heretofore known) was a short-lived alternative/indie "college band" in the literal sense, in that they were a group of students at the prestigious MIT university in the early-mid 1990's.  NHCD is particularly of interest to me because of guitarist/vocalist/songwriter David Penner.  He is originally from my hometown of Aurora, Nebraska, and his younger sister was in my class in school, though I didn't get the opportunity to know her very well.  You see, her parents worked in some government-related discipline, so this classmate spent most of her time in Pakistan at the US Embassy.  Quite the swanky gig, and quite an eye-opening experience for a young girl in a country dominated by Islam, where women and females in general aren't well regarded.  So while I knew her by her brief attendance during my 5th grade year and occasional visits back to the US through Junior High, I can't say I actually knew her.

Fast-forward from 5th grade to the end of my Junior year of high school, approximately April of 1995.  I was riding high on having a car again (after totalling my first car within a month and a half of purchasing it), and my friends and I were working toward our ACT tests, and were preparing to take those.  Having only a cassette deck at that point, I of course had the wonderful tape adapter that would plug into the headphone jack of my portable CD player (an early model with some limited "skip protection".  It was this device that fueled much of my early CD purchases, as having the ability to "crank up" these tunes in the car was a real treat.  I had borrowed this underground CD from a friend (earning me cool factor points in nerd-land), and had spun it a few times, but other than casually enjoying what I heard, it hadn't quite "clicked" with me fully yet.  The morning we were to take our ACT tests I got up WAY too early, and went out driving to go pick up friends.  Turns out, they weren't planning on me picking them up until a few minutes before we were supposed to leave to drive the 30 minutes to the large regional high school where we'd be taking the test.  So in the meantime, because I was wide awake, couldn't go back home and go to sleep, and needed to de-stress from the thoughts of ACT test failure looming in my head, I just drove around in the dark and played some new tunes.  Among those was the Megadeth odds-and-ends CD "Hidden Treasures", which still has a couple favorites for me from the band.

After jamming out to some metal, I decided to change things up and played the NHCD disc.  Though I had listened to it before and enjoyed it, the full realization of how awesome it was had failed to capture me - until that morning.  As the sun was rising and I played that 6-song EP through, it dawned on me (see what I did there?) what I had been missing thus far.  The CD had its own sound, its own vibe, its own unique feel.  Not only that, but while the band was far from the over-produced "alternative" music we were being fed on the radio, they still sounded professional and like they weren't just some fly-by-night band making a CD because it sounded like a fun thing to do.  This band was more truly "alternative" than most of what my generation was being told was actually so.  Suffice to say, I ended up liking the CD so much that I just conveniently forgot to return it to my friend...

What makes NHCD more special is the variety in songwriting and performances.  They mix a laid-back guitar pop/rock sound (though not jangly) with some jazz influences, as well as a bit of neo-folk, funk, light grunge, and adult contemporary (don't let that tag scare you, this isn't Michael Buble) to forge a relatively broad, open-ended sound that has a lot going for it.  In terms of songwriting, these 6 nuggets represent a very strong batch of material that David and his bandmates composed, and the diversity of material is more of a strength to the EP than it is a weakness, like it often is for bands that have trouble finding their identity.  Instead, NCHD's identity is in the loose feel and leisurely pacing of the material, coupled at once with the precision of their performance.  It is this balance that has made "Gone" such a consistent player in my car or van, and on my iPhone.  I keep coming back to it time after time, and 15 years after it's release, it still sounds great, and still represents a real "alternative" to most of the rock and pop on the radio at that time.

Sadly, NHCD seemed destined to be a shortlived project, as many "college bands" tend to be.  A guy who was a year ahead of me in high school went on to MIT and supposedly joined NHCD (on bass) for a time.  When he was back in our hometown visiting his family, we struck up a conversation with him, asking if the band was going to make any more CDs, and he said they were (then) currently working on new songs and recording.  I don't know if anything came of those times or not, because "Gone" is the only evidence I have that they released recorded material.  This upperclass guy also said he would bring some more copies of "Gone" back with him on his next visit because they still had a box of them sitting around unsold, but that also never transpired.  If anyone has any other NHCD demos, EPs, or albums that I am unaware of, I would love to get copies.  I would also love to get another copy or two of "Gone", preferably in mint condition, as I've played the heck out of my copy and it's seen better days.  Copies of "Gone" are few and far between, and there's very little out there on the internet about NHCD, though Amazon has a couple copies of it (as of this writing) that are priced higher than I'd like to pay for a replacement copy.

After the demise of NHCD, David Penner went on to join (or possibly form) the techno-dance outfit Andain, which was poised (according to the press release, anyway) to take the dance/house world by storm.  As it stands, however, they only made one CD single (with numerous remixes) that has since gone on to have some level of internet fame, in part due to the music video with a rather attractive woman writing around amidst colored laser lights and such.  It's a great danceable synthpop tune, and would have been a good direction for David if he'd have stuck with it.  I suspect he chose the professional route, however, as his MIT degree likely would have been wasted on such things as pop music.  Andain fizzled out prior to an official release of their album, but have reformed as a duo (sans David) and have new music, so at least part of that legacy lives on.  But my fondest memories of David's music will always be the little 6-song EP he and his college buddies recorded, because it's such a raw expression of what real musical talent unencumbered by record company politics can truly be, while maintaining an excellent sense of melody, songwriting, and professionalism through it all.  Bravo to you, David.

Oh, and, sorry Matt - you can't have the CD back!

As a side note, since it's 15 years now since the release of the CD and there's virtually no chance that it's ever going to be re-issued, I have decided to take the chance of uploading the disc in variable-rate MP3 format, so others can hear the music and experience what I've been enjoying all these years.  If any of the band members decide they want the link taken down I will certainly oblige, but my guess is, they probably won't mind having the music out there for others to hear.  Either way, be my guest and download what is probably one of the most unique and interesting indie releases to come out of the "alternative" era.

Download here

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Skid Row - Subhuman Race

Before anyone reads the words before them, I have a sneaking suspicion that some might think my timing for this review is somewhat dubious.  This is due, in part, to the fact that just days before I am composing this review, That Metal Show featured Skid Row guitarist Snake Sabo, and host Eddie Trunk went on and on about "Subhuman Race" and it became a running joke throughout the show.  So much so, in fact, that it's probably the most TV coverage the album has possibly ever had.  That's a shame, really, because this is quite possibly Skid Row's finest hour.  And I don't say that as a TMS fanboy or someone who has recently discovered this gem.  No, I've known this for years and have made it known to all I know who are even remotely fans of Skid Row that this was the best thing they ever did.  I've been spinning this monster album for some 12 or 13 years, and it's the one I go back to most often.

When most people think of Skid Row, they either hear the familiar chords and words of "I Remember You" or "18 and Life" running through their head.  Maybe they remember the video of the latter and it's (at the time) strong imagery.  Or perhaps they remember being wowed by how much heavier and more aggressive "Slave to the Grind" was compared to the band's eponymous debut.  If they though that was a jump, wait until they hear the oft-forgotten followup.  This album is absolutely teeming with aggression, power, riffs galore, impassioned vocals by the one and only Baz, and a sound so tight that it reeks of professionalism, despite some songs almost soundling like the band is about to come apart at the seems.  And indeed, after this record, it did.

From the roaring opening riff of "Enemy" it's clear this record will come out all guns blazing, and it doesn't disappoint.  All but one of the initial tracks pummel the listener into submission with heavy riffing, heavy grooves, and Sebastian Bach's screaming vocals.  While some may be initially put off by his increased use of screams, they shouldn't lose heart, because there's still tons of melody and it's plenty accessible, despite the harder exterior.  In the wake of the grunge movement, many hard rock and commercial metal bands either got heavier, wimped out and went full-on glam, or succumbed to the grunge sound, adopting that and attempting to "keep with the times", much like Candlebox did (though rather unsuccessfully).  Skid Row wisely avoids that pitfall, adopting only a bit of the "dirtiness" of the grunge sound, but keeping their identity in tact with heavy riffing and vocals that didn't reflect the quasi-dour and angsty vibe that many of the grunge bands put forth.  Rather, Baz sounds truly pissed-off here much of the time, as he rails against everyone and everything for any reason or no reason at all.  He glides seemlessly between smooth crooning and gritty, throaty vocals that sound like he's gargling driveway gravel and can belt out screams with the best of them and come right back down into a clean vocal again when the song requires.  When he double-tracks over himself it produced great results in many situations, like in the chorus of "Medicine Jar" (which could easily have been a rock radio single).

Snake and Scotti are at their most aggressive here on guitars, but they are no less tuneful than they are anywhere else.  In fact, on songs like "Eileen" and "Into Another" the band is as melodic and tasteful as they are in bigger hits, just with a slightly different approach.  But monster riffs in songs like "Empty", "Frozen", "Beat Yourself Blind", and "Face Against My Soul" are just some of the treats you'll hear in this outing.  This CD also has plenty of varied solo work, from the tasteful to the tasty - there are licks aplenty here.  The twin guitar attack in "Medicine Jar" is a nice treat.  Rachel Bolan thumps away on bass in the background keeping time with everyhitn well and never straying too far from the path, but the good production values on this disc allow you to actually hear what he's doing, and he sounds good underneath the heavier vibe Scotti and Snake lay down.  Rob Affuso beats the drums as skillfully as always, and has a good sense of dynamics here that allows him to pound the tar out of them when need be, but he takes the time to keep things low-key and quiet when it serves the song.  The extra use of double-bass is a nice touch in some songs, and Rob adds different flourishes here and there for effect, but his strength here is in really going after the pounding rhythms and accenting them slightly to give the songs additional weight.

While the album may have its fair share of lyrical clumsiness at times, no Skid Row album with Baz at the vocal/lyrical helm is without that minor issue.  There are moments where you feel like he's trying to hard to make a clever quip, but he misses the Steven Tyler mark sometimes, though what he ultimately comes up with fits contextually with the subject of the song.  Most of the time, however, he hits the mark, coming up with a variety of subjects he expresses well, from self-deprecating humor to social unrest and outcry, to more inward and personal topics.  While the album contains no "Quicksand Jesus" per se, it doesn't really need one because there's enough material here to stand up on its own.  As it sits, "Into Another" is probably the album's biggest contender for the single that missed, as this song should have performed nicely on hard rock radio, much like Motley Crue's "Misunderstood" the previous year.  And with massive grooves like those in "Enemy" and "Frozen", and "Ironwill", the album is stronger despite the lack of radio singles.  Oh, and yes, you can ignore the faux-industrial thing a couple minutes after "Ironwill" ends - it's a typical throwaway "hidden" ditty.

So what we end up with here is a highly listenable piece of work by a band that had more than their 15 minutes of fame, but should have had a few more to encompass this brilliant slab of molten hard rock and heavy metal.  Nothing this band put out before or since matches the heaviness, power, or raw emotion of "Subhuman Race", and I suspect that unless something lights a fire under Snake and the boys, nothing will.  I can't recommend this album enough to fans of hard rock, heavy metal, and Skid Row.  Fans who were disappointed that Guns 'n Roses' "Use Your Illusion" albums weren't as hard hitting as "Appetite For Destruction" will find plenty to love here, and this may be the fix they'd been looking for 8 years after that masterpiece's release.  I certainly did.  Highly recommended.


The Gamut - tonight's playlist!!!

Great music in the show tonight, with a few bands that don't get played in The Gamut nearly as often, plus a couple personal favorites!  Tune in at 9 PM EST via to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Soul Embraced - Everything Reminds Me Of You (Metalcore)
Stricken - Heavy Laden (Groove Metal)
Divinefire - United as One (Power Metal)
Selfmindead - Progress (Hardcore)
The Chariot - Phil Cospy (Before There Was Atlanta, There Was Douglasville) (Chaotic Metalcore)
Goodnight Star - Are You Hurting? (Synthpop)
Monotheist - Blood For Blood (Progressive Death Metal)
Royal - Glitter (Female-fronted Indie Rock)
Elgibbor - Epidemic of Death Part I (Black Metal)
Deliverance - Contempt (Thrash/Groove Metal)
Take It Back! - Hollow Eyes (Hardcore)
Stavesacre - St. Eriksplan (Modern Heavy Rock)
Wish For Eden - Ocean (Grunge)
Seven Angels - Unseen Truth (Female-fronted Power Metal)
Sacrament - Mortal Agony (Thrash Metal)
Soul-Junk - (resh) solar mist (Indie Pop)
Under Midnight - Dream Baby (Industrial)
Mad At The World - No More Innocence (Synthpop)
Tourniquet - A Dog's Breakfast (Progressive Thrash Metal)
Slam Cat - Commitment (Groove Metal)
Joy Electric - Rickety Trickery (Synthpop)
The Constellation Branch - The False Awakening Pt II: The Carnival (Indie Rock)
Northern Ash - Messianic Oversight (Black/Death/Thrash hybrid)
Undercover - Three Nails (80's Rock/Punk)
Hguols - ...of Sovereign Toccatas (Instrumental Black Metal)
Resurrection Band - Paint a Picture (Classic Rock)
Left Out - When We Are Together (Punk)
7days - We Cry No More (Progressive Metal)
Eternal Mystery - Blind Eyes See No Truth (Grindcore)
Krig - Narcissistic Mechanism (Death Metal)
Vigilance - Revelation of the Damned (Classic Metal)
Immortal Souls - Nightfrost (Melodic Death Metal)
Crossforce - Tomorrow Will Come (Classic Metal)
Deitiphobia - Soldier Soul (Industrial)
Once Nothign - Waves (Southern Metalcore)
Vector - Spontaneous Reaction (Them Boys Is Funky remix) (New Wave/Alternative)
Xinr - Don't Tell Me No Lies (Classic Metal)
Kekal - The Vampire Song (Avant-Garde Post-Metal)
Lo-Ruhamah - What Lines Reveal (Progressive Black Metal)
Bloodgood - Awake! (Classic Metal)
Morella's Forest - Gentle Go the Hours (Female-fronted Alternative Rock)
War of Ages - Through the Flames (Metalcore)

Check out the Untombed website @ !  You can tune in easily via the web-based player on the front page, link to the stream via your regular audio player, read album reviews, get music news, and link up to other great resources, including Divine Metal Distro, your one-stop source for all things Christian rock and metal!  Don't forget, station chat has moved to at the bottom of the site, so make sure you sign up or use a Facebook or Twitter
account to sign in and chat w/ me and other listeners during the show!

Alternate links to listen to the stream in a separate player (Winamp recommended, though Real Player, VLC, iTunes and others work as well):

Here's the link for Windows Media Player:

Also our stream can now be heard on Nintendo Wii! If you have a Wii, here is what you do:

1.go on the net via your Wii console
2. type "" into your browser address box
3. type "" into the Search box
4. Click the play arrow

It can take 5-10 seconds to load up & buffer, so please be patient when using this feature :)

You can also stream the station via on your PSP, PS3, Wii, iPhone, or even your TiVo!  Plus you can stream the show via your Windows Mobile phone with the free GSPlayer application!  Listen in from your Android device via the "A Online Radio" or StreamFurious applications, as well as the new beta version of Winamp for the Android platform!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Gamut - all-request tonight!

Tonight is all-request on The Gamut - post your song requests here! Keep in mind, the show is governed by RIAA restrictions, but otherwise go nuts!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Tale of Two Netflix

So, you'd just about have to live under a rock to have not heard about the Netflix price hike.  The media has had a bit of a field day with this, and a fair amount of customers have decried the move, claiming they plan to jump ship and go with Blockbuster's service or use their local RedBox for DVD rental, or possibly the new Amazon service.  My question is, what is everone so up in arms about?  This is a non-essential service provided for strictly entertainment.  Not only that, but as has been mentioned by a Netflix exec, increasing prices and making the streaming and DVD plans divergent means that they can provide better service.  I only just joined in February of this year, so while I understand I feel the impact of this FAR less than someone who has been a member for years, I still don't quite understand the huge backlash that has happened.

I will wholeheartedly agree with the majority of Americans who think gas prices are too high, or property taxes are too high, or taxes in general are too high.  I will wave my flag of support behind initiatives to shrink the size of government and end corruption in politics.  I cannot fault anyone who says that products and services are becoming too expensive in general to truly budget for everything families want and need, because though costs go up, wages aren't following suit.  But when a service like this changes their price structure so they can provide better service, and it's a relatively small price change, isn't it a bit petty to decry the service and suddenly leave said service strictly for that reason?

To be fair, I'm a bit of a niche Netflix subscriber.  My wife and I have used the streaming service almost exclusively.  Granted, the Instant library is far greater than it was even just a few months ago when we first started, but being able to stream TV shows, movies, anime, and documentaries from our Wii, laptops, and my iPhone are a wondrous thing.  Not to mention that some of my favorites are available via this service, which just makes it more attractive to me.  I understand that average subscriber is going to be pining for blockbuster films on DVD as soon as they're released, but let's be honest - how often are you going to be the first one to get the big blockbuster in the mail as soon as you've added it to your Netflix queue?  Chances are, if everyone wants "Film XYZ" on DVD and have it pre-loaded into their DVD queue, plenty of folks are going to be disappointed when it doesn't show up in their mailbox the week it's released, or 2 days after they send back whatever DVD they've had in their home.

But as much as content is becoming more and more online and less with "owned" content, it makes sense that this model would be the right move.  They can continue to expand and support the DVD business for those subscribers that want it, and they can focus on having the monies available to continually license good content for the Instant service, which I suspect will only continue to grow and get better.  I'm a DVD lover, and I own a number of DVDs of varying types: music/concerts, movies, niche fare, and TV series.  Some of that content is on the Instant, some of it is not.  But as more becomes available online, the more opportunity I as a subscriber will have to have more ready access to that content, even if I already own it in a physical format.  I will continue to purchase DVDs for content that either will likely never be on Netflix Instant, or for stuff I want to permanently have a physical copy of for my own uses.  I will use the Instant service for quick access to content, regardless of whether I own it or not, and it affords me the ability to see all kinds of stuff that I will enjoy watching, but would never pay full price for in a physical format, or purchase digitally.  If there are "must see" movies that I miss in the theater, I can always rent a DVD here and there, but by and large, the Instant service meets my needs and provides a lot of value for what's available and how much my wife and I use it.

In short, I don't feel the need to complain about Netflix's price hike and service level change.  Companies change over time and sometimes the growing pains of those changes include paying more.  As far as I'm concerned, Netflix offers a valuable service at a low price-point, and this change isn't going to convince me to change service providers or "jump ship" as a means of showing Netflix that I'm a dissatisfied customer, because if I'm being honest, I'm quite satisfied.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

I Hear Voices - Subtle Female Vocalists

It's no secret that the rock and heavy metal worlds are overwhelmingly dominated by male voices.  There are plenty of notable female vocalists in these camps, to be sure, but when the vast majority of vocalists are male (despite the boon of female-fronted goth metal bands in the last 10 years), it's safe to say that this market is harder to crack when you're a woman.  Contrast that with the pop music world: while the production, A&R, and ownership segments may still be male-dominated, when it comes to vocals, the women have the corner on the market.  Sure, there are boy bands, Justin Beiber (yes, he's male) and male pop superstars like Elton John and George Michael, but women have consistently been the driving force in pop music since the late 1960's and early 1970's when men began turning their attention to harder rock music.
Female vocalists also range quite a bit as well.  You have your bona fide divas, the women who could sing you the phone book (thanks American Idol, for that nugget of wisdom) and you'd be amazed, due to their vocal quality, ability to be on-point with notes and delivery, and often their incredible range.  Then you have women on the other end of the spectrum who get by almost entirely on attitude and swagger, despite some of them having decent to good voices.  You know, like Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett, or Wendy O. Williams.  Some women have that one-two punch combination of power and versatility where they can bowl you over with powerful vocals, then in the next breath be delicate and dynamic, like Heart's Ann Wilson, Pat Benetar, Barnabas' Nancyjo Mann, or perhaps Evanesence's Amy Lee.  Some pop singers have reasonable voices but make waves simply by exposing themselves more than they should, and earn the adoration of throngs of fans because they're so "daring".

Then there are the subtle voices that are just so smooth, pure, and velvety that they just make you melt when you listen to them.  There's nothing inherently powerful about their vocals, no "big" notes, no inhuman vocal range, no giant crescendos that draw you to them instantly.  These are the singers whose understated performances become the stuff of legends because they are just really good at what they do, and while they may not turn heads like the Brittney Spears' of the world, they impress fans by simply doing what they do and doing it well.  Voices like these I like to think of as "quietly captivating".

Is that a Covergirl model?

Everyone knows Sade has a good voice, and most everyone has heard one of her early hits like the sultry "Smooth Operator" or "The Sweetest Taboo" on the radio at some point.  But the hits aren't enough to truly appreciate Sade Adu or her talent.  She has such a rich, smoky tone to her voice that has a unique quality to it.  But it's more than that - her singing is so accurate, even if she's not doing anything overly complex.  Listening to Sade sing is a simple joy entirely because she just sounds SO GOOD when she does.  When she took a break after her 1992 album and came back 8 years later with "Lovers Rock", some folks might have thought she would make no impact, but with that smooth voice of hers subtly crooning the lead single "By Your Side", it was inevitable that she'd be back in the spotlight again.  All I can say is, it's a good thing enough people with taste supported her return.

Margo Timmins (Cowboy Junkies)
Yes, she is feeling the music.

I'm slightly less familiar with the material of Cowboy Junkies than I am of Sade's music, but after listening to just a few minutes it's easy to hear that same kind of quality in Margo Timmins' voice - hers is a very subtle way of getting your attention, by simply singing sweetly and almost lazily along with the songs.  Of course, most of the Junkies' tunes are pretty laid back anyway, but Margo underscores that with what can almost be called a lackadaisical performance.  That's not a bad thing, mind you - the way she sings over the lazy sort of country/folk/rock the band plays is breathtaking in its own special way.  Take Sarah McLachlan and strip out the overly emotive nature of some of her stuff, and you have a slight idea of what Margo sounds like.  This is especially true on the band's 1996 album "Lay It Down" where Margo just floats along over the music so perfectly.  Don't take my word for it though, go listen for yourself and discover this woman's subtle vocal talent.

Norah Jones
She's just so cute! ^_^

Last, but certainly not least is Norah Jones, a woman who, over the last 9 years has captivated audiences with her slightly soulful, understated voice and her ability to take a song and just add that little extra to it that makes it transcend just being a song.  Her voice has such a natural, pure tone to it that words can't describe it - you simply have to listen to her sing to understand it.  In addition, she has stylized herself a bit of a musical chameleon.  Sure, her material is (mostly) grounded in pop-jazz, but she has explored country, folk, and indie pop within the framework of her voice and piano playing.  Norah is an artist I'd consider to be brilliant in her way of singing/playing the material "just right".  She doesn't over-sing stuff, she doesn't go nuts with the piano and do all kinds of crazy runs or whatnot - everything is so tasteful that it's always in service of the song.  In an age where showboating seems to be all the rage, Norah Jones is a shining example of what an artist can accomplish when they just do something and do it really well.  That doesn't even take into account that she is famous Sitar player Ravi Shankar's daughter!

So there you have it - understated voices that thrill me.  I love powerful voices too, as evidenced by much of the music I highlight on this blog, but sometimes the simple, elegant voices just hit the spot as well.  I'll be highlighting other vocalists over time, touching on ones that inspire me (as a vocalist myself), some that I just find amazing in their talent and abilities, or vocalists that I feel have brought something unique and interesting to the table that perhaps other vocalists haven't done in the same way before.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

RetCon Ruminations – Modern Extreme Metal

Musical elitism bothers me.  With a form of expression and entertainment such as music, as wide-ranging as music is and can be, there are “genre elitists” or purists that feel their particular chosen style, genre, or sub-genre is somehow “sacred” and should be exempt from tampering or cross-pollination with other styles or forms.  Unfortunately, this attitude is pervasive in the heavy metal community, with purists thinking that anything not meeting their arbitrary set of criterion cannot be considered a part of the heavy metal musical “family”.  Traditional metal fans despise what is referred to as “nu-metal”, and extreme metal fans don’t like too much melody or other musical styles influences their beloved death and black metal.  Black metal can’t have lyrics that don’t concern themselves with satan, the “Old Ones”, or some other mythical “evil” figureheads.  Otherwise it has to be “post-black metal” or some other description.  Heaven forbid (or hell, perhaps?) that this musical style have anything to do with Christianity or any other religious form of expression.  Same for death metal, which apparently is supposed to be all about death and cannibalism and horror, even though the tech-metal band Cynic is revered for their overtly technical death metal and purposely obtuse lyrics.  It’s all arbitrary, and as far as I’m concerned, this practice just STINKS of elitism and hypocrisy.

I don't think Korgul cares what constitues metal, as long as he can crush, kill, destroy.

But I digress – I myself have been guilty of some form of musical elitism over the years, though markedly less blatant or purposeful.  Most of my guilt comes from occasionally slagging on a band or album for mixing musical styles together that either don’t make sense, or usually for bands that try to do something along those lines but just fail miserably because they don’t have enough musical know-how to pull it off.  I don’t see this as a bad thing, since a band should have more than a working knowledge of the styles they’re trying to marry before trying to sell their recorded works to the public.  In the grand scheme of things, this is a relatively small issue, compared with the more widespread genre elitism that takes place in the rock and metal world daily.
With that in mind, I have considered the idea of a “Musical RetCon”.  In effect, this would look at a modern style of music and then turn back the clock 20 years to see if the responses to this genre or style would be the same.  Not that we can accurately determine that now; that’s simply not the point.  Rather, I just posit the idea that if said style had originated alongside some of the more revered styles, would they have been accepted in their infancy just as their parent styles were, or would they have been as reviled then as they are (by elitists) today?  I submit before the court the question of metalcore and deathcore – would those styles have been as widely panned by metal purists had they been introduced during the height of thrash metal, the initial stages of death metal, and ultimately the first embers of what became black metal?

Firstly, let’s start with a couple definitions, just to clear the air.  Personally, I see metalcore as a melding of hardcore music (in a more modern form versus early hardcore like Minor Threat or early Agnostic Front) and heavier forms of music like thrash and death metal.  While the conventions of thrash and death metal are nearly always eschewed for a hardcore aesthetic, the music is generally heavier than hardcore music, resulting in something that retains a hardcore basis but is heavy enough to be considered metal music.  Likewise, deathcore is an extension of the metalcore sub-genre, itself taking on the characteristics of metalcore but leaning further in the direction of death metal with greater emphasis on downtuned guitars, guttural vocals, and overall “brutality” in the sound.  Just to make sure my own personal feelings aren’t on trial here, I have opted to link to the Wikipedia articles on both styles to ensure that their origins are understood.
Knowing that, based on these definitions, there is a healthy amount of metal influence in these sub-genres, it would seem on the surface that metalcore and deathcore would be welcomed into the metal fold with open arms.  That would be all too easy, however, as the so-called “metal elite” is often far too self-absorbed for that kind of open-ended thinking.  For a genre that rages against conformity and praises individualism, metal is often victim to its own set of arbitrary rules and regulations, with websites like Metal Archives (aka Encyclopaedia Metallum) leading the charge for metal conformity and uniformity.  When did heavy metal become a genre of rules and regulations?  When did the style of music that was supposed to shake the foundations of the world become old news and succumb to the weight of its own self-imposed law?  I thought metal WAS law?

Metal IS in fact law, case closed!

So while I say some of this in jest, sarcastic tongue planted firmly in cheek, it isn’t without some frustration that I call for this move toward sanity.  Metalcore and deathcore may both be trendy right now, but consider how long these styles have already been in play.  Metalcore has been around in some form since the mid-1990’s when bands like Earth Crisis and Living Sacrifice started blending hardcore elements together with crushing metal sounds.  And to me, the roots of deathcore stretch back more than 10 years with some of the more modern death metal bands at the time (like Embodyment, with their “Embrace the Eternal” album) beginning to incorporate elements that drove some of the deathcore sound, regardless of the presence or absence of hardcore-styled breakdowns.
Let’s look at another example closer to home.  Thrash metal started in the early 80’s and didn’t truly catch on outside the underground until the mid-late 80’s when Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax, Slayer, Testament, Exodus, Overkill, etc. started to gain major fan-bases by touring and releasing solid albums.  So while the roots of the style can be traced back to late 70’s and early 80’s British metal and punk (Motorhead, anyone?), it took a few years before the style started to gain favor in the metal community.  By the late 1980’s, thrash bands from the San Francisco “bay area” were popping up left and right, with even more aggressive bands cropping up in Europe (i.e. Destruction & Kreator) and abroad.  From 1988 to about 1991, before the grunge explosion, one might have said thrash metal became trendy.  One might even say thrash has become trendy once again, with a lot of retro-thrash metal bands popping up, old bands re-uniting and making great records (Testament comes to mind with their latest album), and a lot of young, hungry metal bands making classically-styled thrash records that sound as if Overkill or Exodus were channeling their 1980’s output into a new generation with better production values.

We are NOT the babysitting service!

By the same token, death metal became “trendy” in the mid-late 1990’s when metal was in a more underground state, with tons of death metal bands popping up and emulating early output by Death, Morbid Angel, Bolt Thrower, Deicide and Cannibal Corpse.  Some bands did their own unique things (like Atheist, Pestilence or Gorguts), while some bands opted for a straight ahead, no-frills approach.  Likewise, black metal has in some way become trendy or fashionable.  Indeed, when college-age guys dressing like hipsters are playing (often quite well) their own take on the black metal aesthetic, it’s obvious that it’s not just a bunch of guys wearing corpse paint and burning churches any longer.  The gig is up, and while the large number of “bedroom black metal” bands won’t overtake Immortal any time soon, the age of “true” black metal which is all about Satanism (in whichever form you prefer) is pretty well over.  This brings to mind the subject of “the music is the message, the message is the music” which I also disagree with, though I will tackle that subject at another time.
Yes, I still live in my mom's basement.
Seasons change, and so do opinions over time, but I am in awe at how vehemently the metal elite continues to enforce this ruling against metalcore and deathcore upon the metal community at large.  It would seem to me a much more fitting and “metal” thing to do is to leave the determination of what is and is not metal up to the metal fans themselves, rather than dictating that to us instead.  Given that metal is (supposedly) all about rebellion, non-conformity, and “doing your own thing”, it appears a major double-standard to decry the hardcore-influenced metal bands and deny them “metal status” when earlier crossover acts (MOD, SOD, DRI, etc) are generally considered as metal as the thrash bands that inspired part of that sound.  Why don’t we re-draft the definition of metal to be a little more expansive?  I say we go both ways – let the “glam metal” bands be metal, and let the metalcore and deathcore bands be metal.  You don’t have to like them all, and you don’t have to acknowledge them all with the same reverence or status, but they can all still be metal.  But at least this way metal can be a bit less exclusive and a bit more open minded, which is part of what metal is supposed to be all about.  At least, that’s what I’m told…

For the uninitiated, the term ‘RetCon’ is short for “Retroactive Continuity”.  In terms of television, movies, books, comics, etc. it is the practice by some writers or Intellectual Property holders to retroactively add storylines or modify things that happen either prior to or during an established timeline for that particular medium.  For example, a movie trilogy is established, then perhaps a later work of fiction or TV series related to that movie may retroactively insert details into the original trilogy storyline that were not present in the original medium.  It is a literary device used often to make what is happening now (in the current storyline) relevant or connected to the prior or existing story or events.

The Gamut - CD Giveaway tonight!!!

I've got a copy of Elgibbor's "Soterion Apollumi Hamartia" album to give away tonight, plus great tunes in the show tonight as always!  Tune in at 9 PM EST via to listen in!

Tonight's playlist!
Indwelling - Decay (Death Metal)
Veni Domine - Eli Lema Sabachtani (Doom/Gothic Metal)
Exegesis - Terror Nocturno (Symphonic Black Metal)
The Showdown - Cerberus: The Hellhound Awaits (Groove Metal)
Jet Circus - Dress In White (Hard Rock)
Cast a Fire - These Troubled Waters (Gothic Hard Rock/Folk)
Rob Walker - Down (Grunge/Alternative)
Living Sacrifice - Conditional (Metalcore/Extreme Metal)
Datum Point - Master Plan (Groove Metal)
Clash of Symbols - Give (Alternative Rock)
Legacy - Cross the Line (Classic Metal)
Tourniquet - Caixa de Raiva (Technical Thrash Metal)
Loudflower - I Guess I Need You (Alternative Rock)
Demon Hunter - Beauty Through the Eyes of a Predator (Metalcore)
Joy Electric - The Ministry of Archers (Synthpop)
Illuminandi - Illumina Tenebras Meas (Gothic/Folk Metal)
Sweet Comfort Band - They Just Go On (Classic Rock)
Crush the Enemy - No Thanks To... (Hardcore)
A Plea For Purging - Finite (Metalcore)
Anguidara - Operate (Industrial)
Elgibbor - The Trumpet (Black Metal) -- CD Giveaway!!!
Patriarchs - Submerged (Melodic Metalcore)
Sympathy - Twilight and Rebirth (Death Metal)
Disciple - Coal (Groove Metal)
The Corbans - Heffy Green (Alternative Pop/Rock)
Darkness Before Dawn - Symbiosis (Melodic Death Metal)
subseven - Family Secrets (Emo/Heavy Rock)
DigHayZoose - Brighter Daze (Funk/Alternative)
The Way - There's a Love (Jesus Music)
Oil - Divided (Groove Metal)
Seventh Star - The Undisputed Truth (Hardcore)
Divinefire - Hero (Power Metal)
Erasmus - into oceans, the ever one (Black Metal)
Liptocoal - Forever (Modern Heavy Rock)
Mad At The World - Alone (Hard Rock/Alternative)
Sacrament - Testimony of the Apocalypse (Thrash Metal)
Bon Voyage - Why Can't You Be (Female-fronted Indie Pop)
MxPx - Walking Bye (Pop-Punk)
Stryper - Loud 'N Clear (Classic Metal)
Hope of Glory - You're Nobody (Jesus Music)
Velour 100 - Shine (Female-fronted Indie Pop)
Zao - In Times Gone Past (Metalcore)

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