What I’m listening to

July 16, 2010

Divided into groups so you can skip the parts you don’t care about:

ROCK and/or ROLL

Jamie Lidell – Compass

Technically Lidell is a former electronica square-pusher who is now doing R&B and funk.  But he has time for other genres too, including this folky title track from his third album.  Here it is paired with visuals from the game “Red Dead Redemption,” which it played a key role in.

Jose Gonzalez – Veneer

Speaking of “Red Dead,” this summarizes why the game was so absorbing to me, and why my girlfriend probably considered hiding my copy.  This is what happens in the game when you first enter Mexico.  (This song isn’t on “Veneer” but it gives you a taste of the beauty of Gonzalez’s music.)

Broken Social Scene – Forgiveness Rock Record

For indie rock this is pretty high-profile.  I beg your forgiveness, but frankly I don’t have the energy to read the reviews in Alternative Press every month any more.  But here’s what matters: it’s a damn good album.

HIP HOP

Big Boi – Sir Lucious Leftfoot… The Son of Chico Dusty

OutKast fans can rejoice because half of that classic group finally released something, after several years of label drama and non-music-related BS.  Hip hop fans can rejoice because this right here is the best rap album of the year… and it’s only July.

Homeboy Sandman – The Good Sun

This cat is just weird.  Video below isn’t from this album, but from his previous one – however, I find the video so low-rent charming and his flow so bizarre in this song that I just had to throw this up.

Roc Marciano – Marcberg and AG – Everything’s Berri

No video here, but let me just say this: if you miss old school boom bap with grimy production and sedate flows, and above all that immersive, cinematic quality that made “Only Built 4 Cuban Linx” a classic, check out both of these.  I especially dig “Snow” off of “Marcberg” and that very-70s cover art for “Berri.”  Both albums are nice.

DANCEHALL and REGGAE

Busy Signal – D.O.B.

Excellent album in general (though his debut “Step Out” remains his best), but this dark, poverty-focused track with Bounty Killer is the high point for me.

There’s also, rather weirdly, a few semi-covers of popular hit songs.  This one really works for me and I couldn’t even explain why.  I only wish Busy would get past the autotune trend – his voice is so effective without it.

Black Dillinger – Love Life

This track is so huge, reminding me of old Sizzla cuts such as “Like Mountain.” The digital version of “Love Life” has been out for a spell (since January or so) but the CD still doesn’t exist, which is a shame.  Anyway, give this a listen.

METAL and RELATED CRAP

Hooded Menace – Never Cross the Dead

Death metal mired in sludge, taking one horrible crawling step at a time in your direction.  Hooded Menace’s concept is based on the sleazy, cheesy Eurohorror “Blind Dead” series of movies:

…and the music is SO fitting to that premise.  Also: best metal cover art of 2010, without question.

Sabbath Assembly – Restored to One

Sabbath Assembly is Jex of Jex Thoth – a sonorous-voiced woman who sounds imported from both the 70s and a Frank Frazetta painting – along with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band and a guy who produced Sunn O))).  The concept behind the album is to take a bunch of hymns of the Process Church of the Final Judgment (key excerpt: “They were often viewed as Satanic on the grounds that they worshipped both Christ and Satan. Their belief is that Satan will become reconciled to Christ, and together will come at the end of the world to judge humanity, Christ to judge and Satan to execute judgment”) and realize them with fleshed-out arrangements and a serious evil hippie, Manson cult vibe.  It’s 60s flower rock meets 70s doom metal meets seriously weird religious fanaticism, and if I thought they believed in what they’re singing, I’d be a little concerned.  But as is, it makes for really interesting listening, almost like an alternative reality soundtrack to “The Wicker Man.”


Halloween playlist

October 19, 2009

Some obscure music for you this Halloween season, Diane:

Rose Kemp, “The Unholy.” Good lord, Ms. Kemp can sing.  And this song is creepy, eerie, yet gorgeous as all get out.  (Sorry about the “butt art” – people who make YouTube videos are weird.)

Fred Myrow, “Phantasm Theme.” Wouldn’t be Halloween without a spooky horror theme from the 80s; this is one of my favorites that isn’t the overplayed (but still classic) John Carpenter stuff.

Roky Erickson, “Two Headed Dog.” Roky was a nut who spent time in a mental institution, and wrote songs about demons and zombies and two-headed dogs.  And a lot of his stuff sounded like this: completely perfect rock ‘n roll.  (Albums like this are why I have emusic; occasionally you unearth a real gem.)

The Devil’s Blood “The Heavens Cry Out for the Devil’s Blood.” In an alternate universe, Heart and Iron Maiden formed a supergroup that sounded like this.  Weird band – too weird (and diabolical) to get any mainstream love, but their songs are amazingly catchy.

Fantomas, “Rosemary’s Baby.” On the “Director’s Cut” album, Mike Patton’s crew of weirdos in Fantomas did a bunch of horror soundtrack covers.  This is one of my favorites.

Aghast, “Enter the Hall of Ice.” A pioneering “dark ambient” album from the wives of famous Norwegian black metallers.  If you like spooky ambient stuff, don’t let the description keep you away – this is truly good, honestly disturbing music.

And finally, no Halloween music post would be complete without this slice of terror:


It feels like 1990 all over again

July 8, 2009

What’s this?  Megadeth wrote a thrash song again? Holy crap.

This “Headcrusher” could be a head fake – but if it’s not, and the rest of the album sounds basically like this, I’m gonna be one happy listener this September 15th.  (Which is when the album comes out.  I guess I could have said that before.)


Your hands, and what they tell the world about your metalness

December 8, 2008

Diane,

Hands can be used for good and ill alike.  They can dispense massages, but they can also give out punches or stabbings.  They can make a fine deep-dish pizza, or slip somebody a mickey.  They can write a good blog post, like you might find somewhere else, or churn out some crap like this.  You see?  A, B.  X, Y.  Black, white.  “Lost,” “Heroes.”

Well, they can also communicate to a band’s listening public exactly how metal that band is… or isn’t.  So here are some handy guidelines for metal bands looking to appear metal.  Stick to the first five, and avoid the second five – it’s just that simple.

TOP FIVE METAL THINGS TO DO WITH YOUR HANDS

1. Make devil horns. 

immortal

Devil horns are the universally-acknowledged symbol of metal.  You’d think their sheer ubiquity (even your grandma has probably thrown horns some time this year) would ruin their cache in the metal underground, but somehow, the ol’ horns soldier on.  Proper headbanging practically requires injudicious use of the horns, and I have it on good authority that finger-tapping as a guitar technique was invented to free up the pick hand for horn-hurling.  As a metal asset, there is none greater.

2. Do the “Metal Hands.”

sadistic

I don’t know what this is actually called, so I’m just calling it Metal Hands.  Five million metal bands (statistic courtesy of my ass) have done this exact thing with their hands in band pics.  (I’m referring here to the left and middle guys in this picture, not the emo girl on the right who is apparently very distraught about her boyfriend dumping her.)  It communicates an assortment of very metal sentiments: “I want to claw at things,” “I may have rigor mortis even as we speak,” “This happened because I masturbate too much,” etc.  It’s important to note, however, that even the considerable power of Metal Hands can be overwhelmed by great lameness in other areas, as shown here:

december-fog

3. Adorn them with, and use them to display, knuckle tattoos.

ozzy-tat

This is quite simple: 1. Black Sabbath created metal.  2. Ozzy was a key ingredient of Black Sabbath.  3. Ozzy has the world’s most famous knuckle tattoo.  4. Therefore, knuckle tattoos are completely fucking metal. 

If you need further convincing, a gentlemen calling himself “HeadOvMetal” on Flickr has the final word in this discussion:

headovmetal-on-flickr

Now that might be the metalliest thing I’ve ever seen.

4. Play a flying V with them.

mustaine

Dave Mustaine is so metal that he’s made it acceptable to convert to Christianity, refuse to play shows with bands that have Satanic lyrics, and even sell out and release a bunch of shitty albums that are much, much worse than “Peace Sells.”  So – listen to Mustaine, and bask in the glory of that picture of him destroying the world with the most metal guitar there is.

5. Clutch an inverted cross.

old-funeral

The Norwegians in Old Funeral show off their inverted cross-clutching AND Metal Hands skills.  Clearly, this is a band not to be trifled with.

TOP FIVE NON-METAL THINGS NOT TO DO WITH YOUR HANDS

1. Point at the camera.

emperor

Anyone can point, man.  Frankly I’m a little scared that the members of Emperor today all look like they should be in a jazz-fusion group.  Or “The Matrix.”  Anyway, take a lesson from Ozzy: if you must point at something, point at your knuckle tattoo. 

2. Hold a candelabra.

drape

We at the field office are always willing to court controversy, and here is this week’s flirtation with infamy.  I don’t care if Dead from Mayhem did it, or Fenriz from Darkthrone, or the incredibly weird creeps from the awesome Mortuary Drape as in the picture above: holding a candelabra can’t be all that metal when they are most associated with church, weddings, and Hannukah.  At best, this activity is metal-neutral.  Now if you inverted the candelabra – and especially if you somehow kept it alight while doing so – I’d be open to discussion on it.  I will concede, though, that Dead looks pretty great in this famous album cover:

mayhem1

But my argument is that the darkness, corpsepaint, and band logo are working for him way more than the symbol of yuletide cheer is.

3. Make devil horns (wife and kids variant).

hetfield-family

It’s totally great that James Hetfield is happy and all that, but… Jesus H. Satan, what the fuck IS this picture?  You’re lucky that “Death Magnetic” doesn’t totally blow, Het, or I’d hunt you down and give you a severe tongue-lashing.  Probably also confiscate your flying Vs and whatnot.

4. Restrain your band from fighting.

dimmu

I can only imagine this shot preceded a Michael-Jackson-in-the-“Beat It”-video-style confrontation.  Perhaps with the members of Cradle of Filth.

5. Use them to take money out of your wallet and buy a bunch of lousy crap from the Halloween store; then subsequently bedeck yourself with said crap, and on top of it, wield a giant plastic axe for your official publicity photo.

damien-storm

He calls himself Damien Storm, and you really should hear the music he makes.  If I could review it in a word, that word would be “blaaarrrrrrgggh.”  This is the same word I use during flu season when I’m in the bathroom, kneeling in front of the toilet and making Metal Hands.


Movie/music/food

September 25, 2008

1. Goodfellas/Frank Sinatra/veal parmigiana.  Some combinations are so obvious, I probably could have left them off this list.  Nonetheless, this combo platter of mob guys, a singing mob guy, and unethically-raised meat slathered in tomato sauce and cheese is a feast for the senses, even if it will leave you feeling a little guilty and sick to your stomach.  Here’s a veal recipe and a Frank recommendation.  If your conscience bothers you, sub in chicken or Quorn for the veal, Tony Bennett or Brent Spiner for Ol’ Blue Eyes.  But don’t try to swap out the mafia guys – you might get stomped on:

2. The Harder They Come/Jimmy Cliff/fried plantains.  Another serving of obviousness, but we may as well get it out of the way early.  Fried plantains are easy to make and delicious, and you really can’t have tropical island or Latin American cuisine without them.  As for the movie and the Jimmy, here’s a ready-made slice of both:

3. Tombs of the Blind Dead/Hooded Menace/paella.  This slow, eerie Eurohorror cult classic was made in Spain – hence the paella, a Spanish staple akin to the more familiar (to Americans anyway) jambalaya.  As for the Hooded Menace (“Who?” I hear you asking), they’re a new death/doom metal band about to release their debut on Razorback Records, they’re great, and they’re directly inspired by the blind dead movie series.  So it was an obvious choice.  Anyway, here’s an indifferently edited and voiced trailer for “Tombs of the Blind Dead”:

4. Repo Man/The Sex Pistols/Food.  This is nothing but a brazen plea to one of my dear friends: watch “Repo Man,” fucker, it’s funny!  “Repo Man” is becoming a lost cult classic – you hear less about it every year, even though it remains Emilio Estevez’s best work (take that, “Young Guns 2!”) and holds what is near the top of the list of must-see Harry Dean Stanton performances.  For the Pistols, the obvious choice is the bullocks – but you also can’t go wrong with taking a tangential ride down “My Way” Road (which brings us back to “Goodfellas” territory, coincidentally) ((Special Double Parentheses: that video is well, WELL worth your time)).  Finally, if you don’t get the “Food” thing, all I can say is this: put it on a plate, son.  You’ll enjoy it more.

5. The double-your-pleasure seafood special: Jaws & Moby Dick/Ahab & Mastodon/shrimp tempura roll & pan-seared tuna.  Too… much… linking….  Want… to… kill… self.  OK, let’s just run through this real quick:

  – “Jaws” is a classic movie by Steven Spielberg that basically created the blockbuster summer movie.  It holds up today as (in my opinion) the best of its breed, even better than “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” 

  – “Moby Dick” is of course a book, but it was also a movie a few times, including a decent made-for-TV version with Patrick Stewart as Captain Crazypants (that was his name, right?).  Pretty soon it’s going to be a shitty blockbuster with its soul removed (super-spectacular quote: “Our vision isn’t your grandfather’s ‘Moby Dick’… This is an opportunity to take a timeless classic and capitalize on the advances in visual effects to tell what at its core is an action-adventure revenge story.”).  So take your pick.

  – Ahab and  Mastodon are two separate metal bands who decided to turn “Moby Dick” into a concept album.  In both cases this works way better than you’d think.  Ahab’s album in particular sounds exactly like what I imagine you’d hear after a whale mauled you and you were drifting to the bottom of the ocean, many dark fathoms deep.

  – Shrimp tempura roll is one of my favorite sushi rolls that doesn’t cost a zillion dollars.  This recipe for pan-seared tuna I have never tried, but it sounds awesome.

Now here’s the 50s “Moby Dick” with Gregory Peck, which I have never seen, but looks pretty good:

6. The Lord of the Rings trilogy/Led Zeppelin/bread with butter and honey, cheese, apples, cold cured meats.  A movie about hobbits, some music about Mordor, and an array of simple Shire food.  Definitely a good plan for whiling away an entire Saturday one week.


The loudness wars claim a major casualty

September 17, 2008

Diane,

Last Friday was a momentous occasion for a certain long-haired segment of the population: Metallica released a new album.  And it did not suck.

Musically, I mean.  On other fronts it was not without its problems.  But we’ll get to that shortly.

“Death Magnetic” was hyped up months before its release as a return to form for the creatively stagnant millionaires behind the massive ball of confusion and betrayal known as “St. Anger.”  If Lucas raped our collective childhood with the “Star Wars” prequels, Lars raped our collective high school years with “St. Anger.”  For everyone still smarting from several successive crappy Metallica albums, and from the whole Lars/Napster/don’t-download-or-we’ll-hunt-you-down fiasco, “Death Magnetic” was both an apology and a love letter.  It really does sound like the lost album that should have come between “And Justice For All” and the black album.  Or maybe, even more accurately, like the album the black-album-Metallica would have produced if they had said, “Cool, we made our bajillion dollars – now we’re going to try to crank out another ‘Puppets’ for you guys.”  And subsequently failed to do so, but still made a valiant attempt at it.

So yeah: “Death Magnetic,” pretty damn good.  First Metallica album I’ve purchased since the black album.  First Metallica album I’ve even CONSIDERED purchasing since the black album, in fact.

That being the case… why is the internet abuzz with fans complaining about “Death Magnetic” and once again running up the war standard?

Because somebody – the band, producer Rick Rubin, mastering guy Ted Jensen, or some subset of all of these – screwed the pooch hard when it came to the sound of the album.

If you’re not familiar with the idea of brickwall compression and limiting, this is the quick and dirty explanation: Compression is when you make the soft parts louder and the loud parts softer so that the entirety of a song sounds all about the same volume.  That enables you to crank up the whole track so that it all sounds much louder, while the loudest peaks are still within the not-distorting-like-Link-Wray’s-amp range.  Limiting is just chopping off those loudest peaks so you can crank it up a few notches further.  Modern audio product – er, music – is usually compressed and limited like a motherfucker so that the music blasts out of your headphones/cell phone/radio like a rocket.  The goal of this desecration is to make it so you never have to strain your ears to hear anything.  It’s all clear and present and LOUD.  And if you open up one of these modern audio tracks in a visual editor, it looks like a brickwall, because from start to finish the peaks slam right up against the top and bottom of the decibal range.

The “loudness wars” of the title are a race to the top and bottom that the major record labels have been engaging in for years now.  The louder something is out of the box, the better suited it is to be an MTV single, a ringtone, and an mp3.  So everything is over-compressed and over-limited until there’s no chance of a bit of dynamic subtlety remaining.  If you’re old like me, do you remember hi-fi stero systems and people buying really expensive speakers, and turning them up to absurd volumes, to hear every nuance of the music they bought?  Well, nowadays we don’t buy music and there’s no such thing as nuance.  (End cranky old man rant.)

I’ve generally made my peace with this shit – if you consume as much music as I do, you basically have to.  But on “Death Magnetic”‘s retail version, a significant corpse just fell on the field of battle.

“Death Magnetic” is compressed and limited and normalized and amplified into a square wave.  There’s nothing left of it.  An old CD from, let’s say, the early 90s, would have plenty of dynamic range and would be generally rather quiet; if you ripped it in iTunes and let the “Sound Check” feature work its magic, it would determine to play the songs at somewhere between -2 and -4 db.  A standard modern CD from any time since 2000 would probably play at -12 to -14 db – a huge 10 db difference that is accounted for entirely by compressing the hell out of the sound.  “Death Magnetic,” when I ripped it on Friday, wants to play at about -16 db, and even at that level it sounds loud and aggressive.  It will not be suppressed.

Worse, however, and on top of having no dynamic range at all – which is bad enough, but not usually noticable to the non-audiophile – “Death Magnetic” is a clipping, distorted mess.  It sounds like they got to a certain point with the compression and said, “It’s still not loud enough.  Let’s just turn it up 3 db and see what we get.”  And at that point, Diane, what you get is DISTORTION.  Most of the CD is completely overdriven.  Loud drum hits disintegrate into wooden splinters; guitars that were already distorted coming out of the amps now break into shards of digital noise.  The overall effect, for those of you tired of my metaphorical bludgeoning, is like playing the whole thing through small and busted speakers.  It sounds like this: frapppppaaarrrrrrfffrrrrrrfffrrrrKOOOSHffrrrrrrrrrrrrr. 

What compelled veterans like the Metallica guys and uber-producer Rick Rubin to let slide this unholy mess?  The album is good, the songs are interesting and complex and the best the band has written in literally two decades.  Why did they fuck it up with a terrible mix-and-master hack job?

Of course the band and the label have made no statement on this, and despite the clamor of fans, there is no prospect of a remix/remaster/recall on the horizon.  A lot of people have said they’d even pay for the CD again if they could get a better-sounding version of it.  I don’t know if I’d go that far, but I’d seriously consider it.  (How’s that for cynical double-dipping?)

But here’s the interesting thing: there’s already a better-sounding version.

“Death Magnetic” arrived with a “Guitar Hero”-ready little brother.  If you own the game and downloaded the game-compatible tracks, you can pretend to be Hetfield and Hammett all you want.  But even better, you can hear a “Death Magnetic” that isn’t an over-compressed, distorted junk pile. 

And here’s where we (unexpectedly, quite surprisingly) get back to illegal downloading.  Grit your teeth, Lars: some good people out there have made both lossy and lossless rips from “Guitar Hero” and put out the version of “Death Magnetic” that Metallica for whatever reason did not.  I’m not saying you should go download it, Diane, but I will pose a few hypothetical questions to you:

1. If you already bought the CD, should you feel an ethical quandary about downloading a better-sounding version of the same music?

2. If you already have a bittorrent client, shouldn’t you blow the dust out of it once in a while to make your ears happier? 

3. And if you’re a member of Metallica or a big muckity-muck from their record label, why are you wasting time on one of the many complaining blogs, when you could be fixing this problem for real?

Believe me, a whole lot of us would much rather hear an official, well-mixed “Death Magnetic” than this “Guitar Hero”-derived version.  But since the former doesn’t exist, the latter is what we got.  Get yer bittorrent out and yer horns up!


Sympathy for the devil

September 11, 2008

Diane,

Satan has been much on my mind of late.  Given my hard-won and rock-solid atheism, that might surprise you. 

Well, what can I say?  Listening to heavy metal and watching horror movies will do that to a guy.  Even THIS guy.

I’m on the home stretch of a book called “Lords of Chaos: The Bloody Rise of the Satanic Metal Underground,” and it’s been a fascinating read.  Generally the subject is the goings-on in the Norwegian black metal scene circa the early 90s – I refer here to church burnings, heathenism, racialism, Satanism, and most especially the murder of Euronymous (né Øystein Aarseth) by Count Grishnakh (né Kristian Vikernes, but more commonly known as Varg), in which the former was stabbed repeatedly by the latter, including once, and with great finality, right through the forehead.  With crazy antics and bizarre pseudonyms like that, how could this subject NOT be interesting?

The thing that has been dawning on me through the late pages of this book is that we’ve lost him.  The devil, that is.  The darkest and most dangerous thing imaginable in a Christian society has been swept under a rug and replaced by boring, real world shit: terrorism, sexual predators, teen pregnancy, Republicans.  O how dull and lifeless.  I practically flat-line just thinking about it.  Wherefore art thou, our love and loathing of the occult?

The devil in music

First there were those bluesmen and their legendary relationship with the horned one.  Robert Johnson is the most notorious example – the man who sold his soul at the fabled crossroads so he could play guitar like nobody’s business.  Interestingly, the devil also gave Johnson the ability to write sinister lyrics like these:

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got ’em for sale
I got a girl, say she long and tall
She sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall

(…wha?)

Next up was rock ‘n roll – blues-inspired, and true music of evil.  The Stones and Led Zeppelin dabbled in occult rituals, flirted with the actual Church of Satan (more on which momentarily), and wrote paeans to all sorts of subterranean shenanigans.  Zep was lyrically subtle when it came to Satanism – which is to say, they threw a few Satanic ingredients into their incomprehensible stew of Tolkien, blues-derivative sexual innuendos, and drugged hippie babble – but they liked to drop a lot of hints, including the seeming fallen angel of their famous logo and the Zoso sign on their fourth album cover.  (Zoso, if you’re not in the know, is supposed to be a stylized rendering of 666, or at least some kind of crazy occult/demon-raising thingymabob.  For a tiny smidge of extra info and a lot of belly laughs, visit this hilarious site.)  The Stones were, um, not as subtle.  They wrote “Sympathy for the Devil.”  They titled one of their albums “Their Satanic Majesties Request,” and another “Goats Head Soup.”  Hell yeah, boys – now that’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout.  By about 1970 that red guy was front and center in the public consciousness – especially here in America, where we fear the lord in one way and fear everything else in quite another.  The stage was set.

Fallen angel, zoso

Fallen angel, zoso

The devil in film

And on to that stage paraded a bunch of moralistic, uptight movie directors (with one exception, soon to be mentioned).  These guys nevertheless managed to crank out some Satanic classics.  William Friedkin adapted William Peter Blatty’s novel “The Exorcist” in 1973, and even though the moral was pretty much “be on guard, that nasty devil is everywhere!” a lot of people were very taken aback by all the crucifix masturbation and pea soup vomiting.  “The Omen” followed suit in 1976, presenting an extremely Christian vision of the son of Satan coming to Earth to try to engineer the end of days.  The storyline and lesson that followed in the trilogy was ham-fisted and conservative, but hey: it was at least pretty great when Damien’s nanny flung herself off the roof.  Even the great Hammer Studios rode the demonic winds with a pair of Dennis Wheatley adaptations: “The Devil Rides Out” in 1968, and “To The Devil A Daughter” in 1976. 

The best and most subversive of all of them was probably the earliest – Polanski’s “Rosemary’s Baby,” which offers no clear lesson, allows evil to triumph in the end, and even presents that evil as a rather banal, urban lifestyle choice.  Out of any of these pictures, “Rosemary’s Baby” was the closest to wandering the left hand path.  (This point would be underscored many years later when Polanski made “The Ninth Gate,” which went even further in allowing the forces of darkness to prevail and offering no judgement upon their actions; unfortunately, the movie was a little too weird and erratic for its own good.)

The Exorcist

Famous promo image for "The Exorcist"

The devil in basically everything else

So with all that background, it should come as no surprise that Dungeons & Dragons emerged from the primordial soup in 1974, and created a huge superstitious and moralistic panic throughout the 80s.  If you had a 20 sided die and a bottle of Mountain Dew, you were probably secretly worshipping the devil through your Monster Manual (and particularly your Deities & Demigods book).  TV and radio simmered with panicked reports of D&D-inspired murder, infant sacrifice, and dark backwoods spell-casting.  Awesomely, during the exact same time frame (1983-1985), Dungeons & Dragons ran as a Saturday morning cartoon, warping my fragile little mind with images of beholders and Tiamat.  They were heady, dangerous, confusing-ass times.

If that was the extremity of fake and laughable Satanism, Anton LaVey’s infamous Church of Satan surely represented the other end of the spectrum.  Except that, y’know, LaVey didn’t believe in God OR Satan, really.  LaVey declared the founding of his church in 1966 on Walpurgisnacht, and it wasn’t long before he had some high-profile rock bands and seemingly half of Hollywood in his pocket.  The glory years of the Church were fleeting, but LaVey at least had the dictinction of introducing a Satanism that had little to do with an actual horned guy presiding over fiery pits and torture chambers.  LaVey took Aleister Crowley’s idea of the Left Hand Path and made it another thing altogether – a path away from theism, a path toward worship and satiation of the self.  LaVey’s Satanists were in fact atheists and hedonists, and little more; they just had a knack for terminology and imagery that really pissed off the Christian Right. 

So in that respect, at least, they were pretty great.

LaVey was only an intellectual threat (if that) to Christianity, although many were confused on this point because of his use of the name of the devil.  (Many Christians still today have no idea what the Church of Satan actually believes in, and probably assume it involves hair- and demon-raising rituals right out of the lamest Lovecraft stories.)  There was a lot of blabbity-blab in Christian churches about practitioners of magic and the popular Ouija board game/netherworld communication device – I distinctly remember a weird sermon one week that focused on people who can call forth ectoplasm, like “Ghostbusters” but not funny – but it was fearmongering based on almost no real events or persons.  Actual Satanists who actually worshipped the literal Satan of the Bible were hard to come by.  So…

The devil in music, for real this time

…naturally someone had to step into that void.  And who better than disenfranchised, cold, surly teenagers from Norway?  Throughout the 80s heavy metal, as pioneered and designed by Black Sabbath and others, had evolved into true extremity, and with that came the sneering face of Christian evil.  Sabbath toyed with Satanic images (in fact, the lyrics all tend to be reactionary and anti-Satanic when read closely… or at all); but it was up to the bands at the dawn of extreme metal to really ally themselves with darkness. 

Slayer put out their first album in 1983.  By 1985’s “Hell Awaits” the band was trading in full-on devil worship in musical/lyrical form.  The same year, Celtic Frost released “To Mega Therion” with a cover image of the devil using Jesus as a slingshot (no kidding), and Possessed put out their seminal “Seven Churches.”  The latter album was a classic, a twisted slab of electrifying guitar riffs and lyrics such as

Holy Hell, death to us
Satan’s fell, unholy lust
Devil’s water starts to flood
God is slaughtered, drink his blood

Alright, it ain’t exactly great poetry – in fact it barely hangs together as English – but it sounds pretty fucking good when Jeff Becerra howls it over Larry Lalonde (yes, the guy from Primus!)’s crazy guitar lines. 

A flood of Satanic albums (most of the faux- variety) followed in the wake of these influential examples.  Five years later, the Swedes in Entombed released their debut album under the name “Left Hand Path.”  The devil wasn’t just in the details – he was in everything.  No wonder my parents’ panties were all in a wad every time I brought home a Queensryche tape or a character sheet (my characters always had high Dexterity – you can’t fuck with Armor Class bonuses, yo).

Left Hand Path and Seven Churches

"Left Hand Path" and "Seven Churches"

So it was high time that the dark one achieved critical mass.  Which he did, when Burzum and Mayhem started releasing albums, burning down churches, and murdering each other.

Mayhem’s first album title from 1994, “De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas,” roughly translates to “Lord Satan’s Secret Rites” (a full breakdown of what it really means can be found here).  Here in all their glory are the lyrics from the title track:

Welcome!
To the elder ruins again
The wind whispers beside the deep forest
Darkness will show us the way
Heic Noenum Pax, Here is no peace
The sky has darkened thirteen as
We are collected woeful around a book
Made of human flesh
De Grandae Vus Antiquus Mulum Tristis
Arcanas Mysteria Scriptum
The books blood written pages open
Invoco Crentus Domini De Daemonium
We follow with our white eyes
The ceremonial proceeding
Heic Noenum Pax, Bring us the goat
Rex Sacriticulus Mortifer
In the circle of stone coffins
We are standing with our black robes on
Holding the bowl with unholy water

Psychomantum Et Precr Exito Annos Major
Ferus Netandus Sacerdos Magus Mortem Animalium

I imagine I would have been locked in my room for a week and then shuttled off to a religious private school if I’d brought home anything with lyrics like those.  Notably, the CD came out shortly after Euronymous of Mayhem was murdered – with publicity like that, who needs an advertising budget?  Black metal took over the metal underground around this time, and Satan had finally reached the forefront of public consciousness as a threat to the souls of ourselves and our children.

Except this was 1994 – two years after Nirvana dropped “Nevermind,” a year or so after we stopped giving a shit about hair metal, and almost exactly the point that we collectively became 50% more ironic and 50% less interested in God.  You can see where things were heading.  We had simultaneously built things up as far as they could possibly go, and also started turning a corner into a much more enlightened age.

So naturally, when a few years and five thousand black metal bands came and went, we all kind of shrugged and said, “Hey, we’re over this.”

Post-devil

We don’t care about the devil any more.  A lot of Norwegian-style black metal bands still scream his unholy name on their highly limited albums and seven inch singles, but now that they’ve stopped killing people and whatnot, we don’t really pay attention.  Horror movies have gone through various phases – slasher movies, J-horror, torture porn, remake-o-rama – but the devil hasn’t made much of a re-appearance as of yet.  The closest we’ve come to it were remakes of “The Amityville Horror” and “The Omen,” and both of those whizzed through the public sphere like the translucent nothings they were.  “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” enjoyed a brief spurt of popularity, I guess, but nothing like the furor and excitement generated by the original “Exorcist.”  We used to really fear the devil, and from that fear sprang true titillation; now we pleasantly and absent-mindedly engage with the devil, the same as we might enjoy a retro monster movie (e.g. “Cloverfield”) or western (e.g. “3:10 to Yuma”) on a sleepy summer afternoon.  In effect, Satan has been sucked into our post-modern, soulless entertainment machine, and delivered back to us as packaged pap.  Where’s the danger in that?  Where, even, is the FUN?

I’m thinking, Diane, that I miss the old guy a little bit, even though LaVey still seems too reactionary to me, and I’ve long since disposed of any belief or interest in the spirit world and the occult.  Perhaps this Halloween – or next Walpurgisnacht – we should gather ’round in our black cloaks, with knives and burning candles and a squalling infant, and do a little sacrificin’ to the evil one.  Frankly, I don’t know what else would inspire us all to care again.  But if that’s pushing things a little too far, might I suggest that we all watch “Rosemary’s Baby” and listen to “Seven Churches” and enjoy a little nostalgia for better, darker time-gone-by?

"To Mega Therion"