Thursday, March 1, 2012

A New Hope

It began with the herd, as so many others did. Another spermatazoa wriggling its way through the pack. Dubbed TDK cassette tapes of tripe upon tripe. Muffled stereo's pulsating the sounds of 'One' and 'Power Slave' through fiberglass and drywall from my brother's room. With me at the age of 12 in the year 1990, and him 16, the equation was easy: His word = law. And I knew from the disappointment in his eyes upon hearing 'Enter Sandman' for the first time, and the snapped back beneath the weight of the final straw that was the video for 'Nothing Else Matters', that he had felt betrayed by those that once gave him catharsis. Not to mention the legions of new sheep that joined the herd, pushing him to back pasteurs where the grass was already chewed and shit upon.
I saw it happening too, though still felt things stir when I heard him playing 'Of Wolf And Man'. I watched as he sat and listened, over and over again - like some experiment whose test ratio was a preposterous 1:100 - the theory of a scientific fluke - just waiting to feel something in the music, hoping all was not lost. I'm not sure it ever came. But he found solace in other places of the genre. I was teetering on the edge, teething, my eyes beginning to adjust to the dark. It all finally geared into place, like a daisy chain of whirring centrifuges the first time I heard Megadeth's 'Take No Prisoners'. The hooks had set in and I was being pulled into the box. True they were all sounds I'd heard before emanating from my behind my brother's closed bedroom door, the strange juxtaposition of angry speed metal and the beauty of the scantily-clad Kathy Ireland poster tacked into the wooden slab staring at me was peculiar. But just like the day she stopped being just a poster and started becoming an uber-priapism, this time around the music just clicked. Most importantly however, my brother had found a new pupil.
Of all the music he began to overwhelmingly throw at me all at once, the three songs that I recall sticking to my ribs the most back then were the aforementioned 'Take No Prisoners', Gwar's 'Salaminizer', and Slayer's 'War Ensemble'. My two-ton version of the Mamasan Trilogy. The temporary foundation upon which to repeatedly build and destroy. Moments of fragile life just cast aside like indestructable plastic, spent locked away in my bedroom feverishly compiling songs onto tapes, the new world was opening up in front of me. Amongst the libraried collection of cassettes in my brother's room I stumpled upon Sepultura's 'Arise', an album I still consider to be the blue print for thrash metal perfection. In 1992 I made the transition from tape to CD, purchasing the first two albums of my collection, Testament's 'Practice What You Preach', and COC's "Blind". Shortly thereafter a friend turned me onto Pantera with one quick audible perusing of  'Fucking Hostile' during recess.
 I meandered in the world of early 90's speed, groove, whatever metal for some time. One Christmas my brother bought me a poster of the Obituary 'Cause Of Death' album cover, having never listened to them himself he told me that he had bought it on the merit that it simply "looked cool", adding that now that I had the poster, it would be hypocritical of me not to own the album (he had obviously already began reading Rollins at this point), so I went out and bought it. The inaudible vocals, the mere heaviness of songs like 'Dying' and 'Body Bag', and at the time - the fact that nobody else really 'got it', including my brother - nudged me into a more extreme direction. I broke away and began searching out new music to bate my new appetite - not the easiest thing to do in a world before the internet shat everything you could ever want to know at the soles of your feet, but back then ignorance was bliss. A chance viewing of the local channel 19 heavy metal video show introduced me to Meathook Seed, which led me to persue Napalm Death (in their mid-career post-grindcore-pre-grindcore industrial phase). Fear Factory opening for Sepultura during their Chaos tour led me to 'Soul Of A New Machine'. And my brother proved himself to be the teacher yet again by forwarding me a promotional copy of the first Mindrot album from his shithole radio station satellite shift he was working in college between the hours of Midnight and 2 a.m.
That Mindrot album became an axis point for me in my pathetically self-absorbed sonic journey. The gutteral, grinding bass and monolithic wall of guitars was leveling. Throated growls piercing the wall of sound then breaking away into the quiet anguish of strummed clean chords and vocal despair, a dark beauty looming underneath it all, occasionally audible when the chaos breaks like the sun reaching through clouds. The band sonically embraced every emotion of the dark side of the human experience. It was then that I realized what it was in this kind of music that moved me the way it did. It wasn't about structure or hooks, breakdowns or swagger. It was about the conveyance of emotion, something that felt honest. With just two albums under their belts the band fell apart, leaving a void in the soundtrack of my existence that I had been trying to fill up to that point with mediocre Death Metal, so that there would be something to fall back on when the inevitable went down. Eventually, utilizing the internet in all it's dial-up glory, I had found two groups with the potential to move me that way again (I was REALLY melodramatic back then), both groups standing like towering rookes on opposite ends of the Death Metal genre (and obviously still a little bit melodramatic now, towering rookes?) - Opeth, and Nile.
The sonic density of Nile's savage riffing sounds like a dexterous Leviathan, leaving it's victims confounded at how something so large and magnanimous could move with such speed and precision. Intertwined with the cinematic sounds of the Middle East's most majestic instruments, the band puts forward studied and historic Egyptian lore as it's subject matter, elevating themselves leagues above most of their peers. On the other end of the spectrum is the lush, almost orchestral arrangements of Opeth. Epic Death Metal movements weaving into beautiful folk passages and occasional somber piano ballads, then ever so discreetly returning to the darkness. One song takes you full circle without even realizing you had ever left - in a good way.
Throughout this dirge into really long and arguably way over-produced Death/Doom I'd never really let go of the music that was responsible for this new obsession of extreme sounds. I had ridden out the groove thrash movement of the mid-nineties and was beginning to experience the slow emergence of the bands that it influenced. Vision of Disorder's 'Imprint' album in particular. The looseness of the performance on that album, the almost sloppy recorded-in-one take rawness that feels like a choke hold throughout that disc, only letting up slightly in the chorus that is 'Jada Bloom' makes me want to chew broken glass. It was something else that felt honest, like they may actually come over and play in my shitty garage if I asked them to, then kick you in the nuts and raid your fridge. I felt that same purity in some of the more unconventional indie bands as well like Glassjaw, and the masterwork that is At The Drive-In's 'Relationship of Command'. Before the metal-core movement came along years later and watered the scene down into mascara wearing goth lady-boys.
By this time there were compositions going on in my head that I wasn't even paying attention to. A hurricane of noise that was a hybrid of raw, desperate and dense chaos. Some kind of sprinting Frankenstein ninja pieced together with the purity of a garage band and the freight train weight of the entire floridian death metal movement. I'm not sure how I stumbled upon it, but Strapping Young Lad's 'City' album was the closest thing I could find that matched the batshit cacaphony of noise I had going on in my head that I wanted to hear in form coming out of my speakers. The complete shitstorm of songs like 'Oh My Fucking God' and 'Underneath The Waves' was proof and comfort that I wasn't alone in a longing for something always harder and faster in music. Shortly after that I began to embrace The Dillinger Escape Plan, especially the 'Irony Is A Dead Scene' EP featuring Mike Patton when it was released in 2002. After a brief phase of exploring the Math Metal movement for something as equally unhinged and schizophrenic, I quickly mudslided into the world of Grindcore. Nasum, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Pig Destroyer, Napalm Death, Discordance Axis, all the heavy hitters.
The pure noise and violence of the Grind genre suddenly watered everything else I'd been listening to down significantly. Bands like Meshuggah, Fear Factory and Morbid Angel didn't seem to pack the same punch that they always had before - they suddenly seemed to be going through the motions. I had to reinvent some of my own perceptions of what I was listening to in order to still enjoy it, because I honestly didn't want to give it all up. There was a shift - I began to view bands like Slayer and Pantera more as gritty punk bands than the driving forces I once perceived them to be. Morbid Angel and Nile became epic slabs of concentrated control rather than the insane swirling fits of noise I used to think of them as. And in the long run it began to force me to appreciate different aspects of the music in lights I'd never thought to put them under before.
But when it comes time to hit the weightroom, or punch the heavy bag or just run face first into a concrete wall for shits and giggles, I turn to Grindcore. The short, almost uncontrolled bursts of speed, sometimes breaking down and derailing into wrecking ball heaviness, sometimes just continuing off the tracks and into mass destruction is the sound I've been longing to hear in music for years. Vocally, musically, lyrically, it conveys it's emotion and feels real. It will never leave me with the feeling of abandonment my brother felt years before, when his boys in black took the reach around from Bob Rock for a box o' money. Groups are getting off of work to tour, getting on stage and setting up their gear, playing a style of music so completely misunderstood with no monetary value to handfuls of fans in basements or clubs, then breaking it down and moving on, and even it's peers in parallel sub-genres scoff at it.  There's no long hair and leather, bullet belts or bracelets. Laughable tough guy looks in front of the local scrapyard from a douche playing emotionally vapid sheep metal. It's people being honest with themselves and making music that honestly moves them, because they still love to do it, not because they're trying to buy a hummer. And as for my search for the next big against the grain genre - for the last ten years and the time being now my thirst seems quenched, though I still sometimes find myself wandering into different avenues of extreme music for different results. The disturbing noise that is Gnaw Their Tonges, the bleakness of Lycia, the fuzzed out beauty of Loveliescrushing - all move me in extremes of different emotions, and variety keeps everything fresh and coiled, ready to strike when you call upon it, what is it they say? -  Satisfaction is the death of desire.

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