Gimmicks in Modern Rock Music, With a Focus on Immortal
September 2, 2009
I don’t visit my friends often. Once a week or twice if they’re lucky. I have a lot of free time on my hands when I’m not at work, so a nice way to watch time pass in between games of Donkey Kong is research! Whether it music, movies, literature, arcade history, its all quite fun. Lately, I’ve been trying to dig into the vast genre of Black Metal in hopes of finding bands that sound like a mess on tape. I can name you only 50 or 60 bands, and of those, maybe I like 15? If all black metal bands sounded like the second Darkthrone record or select songs by Mutiilation, then I’d be an obsessive, but they don’t. They toy with folk music, viking and norse mythology, and the quality of albums released by groups like every other genre gets worse and worse. Interestingly enough, sometimes we get lucky, and with the quality of music failing it corresponds with the degrading effort of album covers, that turn out to be hilarious.
Now I know most laugh at corpse paint. I think its fun, I mean Misfits and Samhain did it along with devilocks and leather clothes, and I don’t hear many people talk negatively about it. King Diamond looks bad-ass in his glory days, but I can’t really say he does now. Maybe its the same for whole genre. In the early stages of the second wave, it acted well as a gimmick. Here we had these bands writing some raw, cold, primitive metal often shouting pro-satanic lyrics, so an image that helped them look hellish would only seem proper. I mean, Kiss didn’t look hellish, but it had many middle aged women scared shitless. Imagery is key in all forms. I mean, do you think if Mayhem played early live shows, without impaled animal heads, throwing guts into the audience, without any makeup, and if they never had Dead smelling dead crows and wearing rotting clothes, do you think people would give them the cult status they have now? I don’t know, but I’d guess not to the degree. Alice Cooper was HUGE on theatrics. Beheading on stage! And the python and stuff. Theatrics is key. And I mean, same thing happened with him I suppose. In the 70’s, he released a few wicked albums such as Killer, Love it to Death, Welcome to My Nightmare, Billion Dollar Babies, and School’s Out, but not in that order. I remember being a kid and having a CD or 2 or 3. No Shame in my game. But look at him in Wayne’s World. Not Scary. An old man in leather with black around the eyes with a whip. I’m sure if your grandpa showed up in leather and had a whip, you’d rip your dick off, but only from guaranteed hilarity. I guess the only problem is that sometimes artists don’t know when the art they produce becomes stale. They most likely believe it to be good. Bolt Thrower released maybe 7 or 8 albums in their time, the last one being 4 years ago. I haven’t heard it, and I probably won’t listen to it. I like a bit of B.T every now and again but I’ll stick to the gems I’m familiar with, but there are people who like their stuff, and maybe they did an ok job at keeping things somewhat status-quo, but they planned to record one more record last year and decided not to. They realized they have nowhere to go but down so they called it quits. Why doesn’t this happen more often. I could live a happy person if Ragnarok only released their second LP, “Arising Realm” instead of trudging through a couple more and releasing an album that contains one of the dumbest album covers ever: Blackdoor Miracle
Guns and Black Metal don’t mix. If he had a sword, I’d get it but still think it stupid. I mean, their first 2 records, full of Pagan pride and setting Satan high on a pedestal and they refer to ancient beings or entities such as dragons. I don’t know why the gun bugs me so much but it does. Maybe they felt they had to step up their game with something new, because its not like Immortal released an LP holding Uzi’s. Can I talk about Immortal for a second?
Immortal were and are seen as a big player of the second wave. Rightfully so, I love their first two LP’s. The first one had a cool album cover. Someone breathing fire, while the other 2 members are visible but only in outline. Nice. The second, “Pure Holocaust” featured a black and white portrait shot, very clean, very crisp. Its neat in that if featured a band in full getup quite tastefully. And then they went downhill in quality, not only in music but in cover art. Their next album had two members in front of a white backdrop.
The end result is a very confusing cover. Here are these 2 guys, in leather and studs and white and black face paint, surrounded by white. I mean, I get the idea. Battles from the north, its snowy in the north, you can see their feet printing in the snow, but I mean, you can’t have some sort of blue sky. You took a cold, dark persona created by the first two records and ruined it. I’m sure if people were passing by this photo shoot, they’d laugh.
Blizzard Beasts is worst. They sort of watermarked a shot of them over a snowy passage, and they are making the most ridiculous power-metal/Butt-Rock style expressions, which furthers the cheeses into 5 year old cheddar territory. Skipping over one more release that didn’t feature them on the cover, we are treated with another for Damned in Black.
If someone see’s this and takes their tough or scary or wicked expressions (describing some left to right) for serious, and doesn’t see the joke, I’m sad. A similar cover would be featured on Sons of Northern Darkness with the exact same tough, scary, wicked expressions left to right. The poses and expressions differ a bit, and we see the middleman has a wicket goatee and someone did a bad job of putting blood on his arms but oh well. They have an album coming out later this month, but the cover doesn’t feature them. As you can guess, I’m bummed. Maybe I hate these covers, along with ones like it (like the Ragnarok one) but I don’t have anything else going on, so I need these things to have fun with.
Going back to an idea I presented before, stepping up a gimmick, if bands do this, it usually means they know their albums suck. I mean an average live show by KISS in the later part of the 70’s was extravagant. When they saw their art dwindling with giving the boot to Criss and Frehley, what did they do? Scrubbed off the makeup and embraced the sounds of 80’s hair rock. Kiss’s catalogue for the 1980’s/1990’s is pretty much a failure, and you can take it from me, a man who’s inner child is a die-hard Kiss fan. Maybe the 2 went hand in hand. People were drawn to the gimmick, but not to mention they had some pretty fun rock and roll songs. I had a sociology professor who said “Kiss is just a garage band but with costumes” and he isn’t far from the truth, their sound was very basic rock with guitar solo’s. I guess though, through the history of music to the bands we listen to today, some have relied on more than just their songs to get them to the level of success they have gained or are trying to attain.
Some bands have gimmicks that serve for certain people to never check them out. Shining from Sweden promotes suicide and self harm, with self mutilation being a key part in their on stage performance. The singer has gone on record claiming that their music has assisted in the aiding of people killing themselves, and that’s a triumph for him. I watched this stale documentary that featured them and he mentioned he hates life and hates living, so I can’t see why he continues to live. If you look down on everyone around you, and refer to women as whores minus 4 or 5 exceptions, why plague yourself with pain? He presents an idea, and old idea, which is what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If you try to kill yourself and survive perhaps you will experience higher stages of enlightenment. The french movie Martyrs toyed with these ideas, the ideas of torturing someone to the point where they can transcend our time; Leave their body and experience something that is unworldly, maybe in a vision but with a total detachment from everything around you, and then being able to relay the experience afterward. Martyrs, while a tough movie to stomach from a visual perspective, is even tougher to bear from a psychological one with the ideas they provide. It had Joe and I thinking for days.
I don’t buy into it. But, from an outsider looking in, this is a sub-genre worth looking into just from an interest point of view. There’s a whole genre that goes under “Depressive Black Metal” and I don’t know where it started but the earliest artist I’m familiar with that played this style is Strid. Strid were from Norway, and they’re considered to be the first DSBM. They’re good. The idea behind this genre I suppose is slow-doomy black metal, but it seems it has to be accompanied with depressing or nihilistic lyrics. Their well known song, “End of Life” would probably help with that idea. I’d relay the lyrics, but I can’t find them anywhere on the net.
But look at a band with a silly name. “Make a Change…Kill Yourself”. They play DSBM, and the common theme throughout their songs is “Life on Earth is painful. Everyone around us is worthless. Lets kill them, and then kill ourselves”. The lyrical content shows them ultimately choosing death as a solution. Seems like we should be looking more at this stuff than Judas Priest 20 years ago.
(I still think this is awesome.)
But I will say, there’s a Canadian act from Quebec called “Sombres Forets” who play that style of slow black metal, and I likes it! It reminds me of the slower parts of Burzum building on atmosphere and shrieking vocals. Quebec has been good for Metal acts. Like Gorguts or Kataklysm or Cryptopsy and such. Also, Canada is home to one of the finest first wave Black Metal acts, BLASPHEMY.
I don’t know what I”m really trying to drive home with this. Something for Colin to read and giggle at excitedly. Its important to branch out and check out lots of stuff. Whether it be alt-rock or alt-country from the 90s, Drone or Sludge, or Goregrind (Impetigo and General Surgery are best, next to Carcass, Necrony is also good, Regurgitate is cute, Rottest Slag are fun) or just Grind (You only need Agathocles and Napalm Death along with a couple others [Terrorizer and others duh]), or Mambo like Tito Puente (I have an album I quite like, will be checking out this genre more in depth soon, so expect a full report), Finnish Death Metal (Better than most Swedish, Convulse is great), or Shoegaze, or Goth-rock, or Power Metal, or French Black Metal, or New Wave/Dark Wave, or whatever. Its fun to check stuff out. Last time I saw Colin he told me of an all girl hip hop record and I thought that was cool to hear. There’s definitely a couple great girl-hoppers out there.
Let me also take a minute, to thank Jason for my copy of Songs For a Blue Guitar. Plain records released this, for its first time on vinyl. The layout is great, gatefold and all. The notes are quick and to the point on the specifics of the record. The album is dedicated to Katy. Its nice to have this on vinyl. I’ll cook up a Red House post soon. Also, leave comments with suggestions for future posts.