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We tend to associate the word stereotype with something negative. But, that isn’t always true and stereotypes exist for a reason. While we tend to exaggerate them, there is some truth behind every stereotype. Like everything else in the world, metal in various countries tends to fall under certain stereotypes. In this post I’d like to fully embrace each countries stereotype and highlight a worthwhile band.

Germany (Power Metal) – Blind Guardian

One of my favorite bands, Blind Guardian is the stereotypical German power metal band. Power metal is characterized by a more uplifting sound, usually have anthem-like songs with fantasy-based subject matter and strong choruses. Blind Guardian fits that description to a point. Their lyrics are mostly inspired by fantasy authors such as Stephen King, J. R. R. Tolkien, and George R. R. Martin as well as traditional german legends . My favorite record of theirs , Nightfall in Middle Earth, is a concept album based solely on Tolkien’s “The Simarillion”. When you think of German power metal, you think Blind Guardian.

Other examples: Primal Fear, Gamma Ray

Sweden (Viking Metal) – Amon Amarth

Sweden, along with most of the rest of Scandinavia, loves their viking metal – and Amon Amarth is the premiere viking metal band. Obviously, their lyrics mostly deal with the Vikings, their mythology and their history. Amon Amarth take the idea of viking metal and run full speed – sparing no expense in their lyrics, music video and appearance. Their giant beards help add to the illusion as well. When you say Sweden, or viking metal, to a metalhead – Amon Amarth is the first thing to come to mind. Stereotypical viking metal and I love it.

Other examples: Hel, Grand Magus

United States of America (New Wave of American Heavy Metal) – Lamb of God

Chances are, if you’re a metalhead or not, you’ve probably heard the name Lamb of God tossed around somewhere. Especially after their vocalist was imprisoned in the Czech Republic earlier this year. Lamb of God, to me, is the perfect representation of American metal. Specifically, The New Wave of American Heavy Metal, which originated in the United States during the early to mid 1990s. Lamb of God have been leading the pack ever since their debut in 1999. Lamb of God play a perfect combination of European-style riffing, quick, powerful drumming and throaty vocals that define the NWOAHM movement. Traditional American metal – Lamb of God will go down in history alongside the greats like Metallica.

Other examples: Chimaira, Unearthed

Norway (Black Metal) – Immortal

I easily could have(and probably should have) gone with Mayhem for this post. But, since I spent so much time on them in the first post I figured it was only fair to talk about Immortal. Immortal posses everything stereotypical about black metal – corpse paint, depressing lyrics, and overly harsh vocals. Immortal’s lyrics are based on an overall theme, a realm called “Blashyrkh”, which is said to replicate the bands feelings of isolation living in Bergen, Norway. They created Blashyrkh to mirror those feelings. Standard black metal from the black metal capital of the world.

Other examples: Dark Throne, Mayhem

Best of 2012

I was struggling this week to think of a topic to write about so I was listening to my “Best of 2012” playlist for inspiration. As I’ve pointed out numerous times before, my library is more international that American. My “Best of 2012” playlist only supports that argument. I’d like to use this post to highlight some of my favorite albums of the year and introduce you to some international metal bands at the same time.

Carach AngrenWhere Corpses Sink Forever (Netherlands)

At first look these guys are your stereotypical black metal guys; complete with corpse-paint and satanic lyrics. Wrong. Well, halfway wrong. They do love a good corpse-paint (see: every image of them ever) but, their lyrics are not satanic. Violent, yes, but the album deals with World War II which was, well, violent.  Lyrics are amazingly cheesy and over the top – as the vocalist is literally singing about the battle formations and gun fights. “Where the Corpses Sink Forever” takes the idea of symphonic black metal to a new level by creating the equivalent of an extreme metal musical. Big fan, definitely worth a full listen.

GojiraL’enfant Sauvage (France)

Gojira is easily one of my favorite bands today and L’enfant Sauvage was one of my, if not the, most anticipated albums of 2012. The title of the album means “the wild child,” which is a reference to a famous case of a feral child being discovered in France in 1798. The guys sing in English (which is great for us Yankees), and lyrics focus, in typical Gojira fashion, on the wilderness, nature and our impact on planet earth. While I felt that this new album didn’t live up to the previous albums,  I fully believe that L’Enfant Sauvage cements Gojira’s place as one of the most inventive, unique metal bands of today. I also enjoy the odd looks I get from people when I tell them my favorite band is French!

WintersunTime I (Finland)

It is a blessing that metal fans were able to finally listen to Wintersun’s new album Time I this year. If it weren’t for a ridiculous amount of setbacks  we would have had the album over six years ago! The landscape of metal has changed significantly since their debut album eight years ago and many people complained that this album feels old. While I agree it does fee a bit old I actually think it improves the overall record. Like a blast from the past. Reminds me of Germany’s Blind Guardian.

The FacelessAutotheism (USA)

As of now I’d have to say that this is my number one pick for ‘Best Album of 2012’. I can’t explain what about it makes it so great, but it just has that ‘it’ factor.  Also, noticeably, all of my top records make use of orchestra and piano formations – something that is widely used by metal bands across the globe and something that I’m (obviously) a big fan of.

Is your ‘Best Album of 2012’ list heavy on international bands? I’m interested to know!

According to Reuters, Poland’s Supreme Court ruled that Adam “Nergal” Darski, frontman for death metal act Behemoth, committed a crime when when he called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet” during the band’s September 2007 performance in Gdynia and tore up a copy of the Bible, calling it “a book of lies.” The case will now move to a lower court which will  decide if Nergal is guilty of the crime, which carries a maximum sentence of two years in jail.

Let’s back up a bit…

Back in 2007, Behemoth, a well known and popular anti-christian death metal band was playing a show in Gdynia, Poland. Nergal then said some nasty things about the catholic church and ripped up a bible on stage. After the incident, Ryszard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defense Against Sects sued Behemoth for promoting Satanism.

Offending somebody’s religious feelings and beliefs is a criminal offense under Polish law.

Nergal argued that what he does on stage is part of artistic license and it wasn’t supposed to offend religious feelings. Bassist Tomasz “Orion” Wróblewski commented  “A Behemoth show is a Behemoth show, and Behemoth fans are coming to a Behemoth show. Behemoth fans know what Behemoth is about, know what the lyrics are about, and know at least a little of the philosophy behind the band. So, it’s kind of surprising that there are people coming to the shows and feeling offended with what we do onstage.”

The case was dragged through Polish courts for years until  2010 when it was dismissed as “the defendant’s behavior wasn’t recognized as a crime.” I’m unfamiliar with Polish law, but the case seemed to have continued to circulate for a few years. Back in August 2011, a Polish judge ruled that Nergal’s ripping up of a Bible during a show was a form of artistic expression consistent with the style of his band.

However, just this week the courts decided that yes, Nergal did commit a crime directed at the Catholic church when he tore up that bible on stage 5 years ago.

Nergal’s lawyer commented that “[The ruling] is negative and restricts the freedom of speech. The court decided that this is allowed in a democratic system. We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements.”

I have to comment that I believe people should be allowed to do whatever they like in the name of freedom of expression, so long as they’re not physically hurting anyone. It is really unfortunate that in 2012 there are laws that limit expressions like so. Also, in a situation like this context needs to be considered. If he was tearing up a bible on a popular street corner than yes, it’s probably not ‘artistic’. But, they were at a death metal show. Even audience members who testified said their religious feelings had not been hurt despite the fact they were practicing Christians.

Makes you thankful for freedoms we are allowed in the United States.

The bible tearing incident

International Touring

I’m a tour fanatic. I try to catch every show I possibly can. Living in Gainesville grants me the opportunity to be 2 hours from Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa so I’m usually fortunate to attend any shows that make their way to Florida. As a continuation of an early blog post I did regarding the international prevalence of metal I decided to take a look at some upcoming tours to see how internationally diverse they are. My findings are anything but surprising at this point.

The Deconsecrate The Nation Tour

This tour boasts one of the most exciting lineups to come around all year. Lets look at the bands: Both the Faceless and Revocation are US based bands while The Haarp Machine is from the UK. So 1/3 of the bands aren’t from the US. Not bad. While the band may be from the UK, their members have scattered origins. Abdullah Al-Mu’min started the band from his bedroom on his own between ’07 and ’09, whilst trying to find able musicians who shared the same passion and drive. This tour will actually be the bands first tour in the US as their previously planned tour was cancelled because the US Government denied the band entry into the state. Many believe it was a result of Al-Mu’min’s middle eastern sounding name. Unfortunately this tour doesn’t make its way to the sunshine state so I’ll have to make a trip to Texas if I want to catch a show.

Insomnium Tour

This is probably my most anticipated tour of the year. Not because of the well rounded lineup, but because of the fact that Insomnium is finally making their way over to the US from Finland. So, the headliner is international, but what about the rest of the lineup? Epica is from the Neatherlands, Alestorm is from Scotland and System Divide has no ‘home’ so to speak but  features members from Israel, Belgium and the US. So, not only does the entire roster feature bands not from the United States, one of the bands is so international that they can’t even designate a ‘home’ to be from. The fact that this tour has sold out most of its dates is a true testament to the international power and popularity of metal.

Lamb of God Tour

This is easily the biggest and most popular metal tour this year. Fresh out of jail, Randy Blythe rejoins Lamb of God to take on their homeland of the United States. Joining them is one of the most popular metal bands in the world – In Flames who hail from Sweden. Hatebreed, another US powerhouse band, lands a spot on the bill along with Sylosis from the United Kingdom. This tour is interesting because it includes 2 of the most popular metal bands in the work with Lamb of God and In Flames. This tour rocks a 50% international raiting.

I am not surprised at the amount of international metal bands on these tours. Metal has always been and will always be a global scene.

The latest fad in the metal world is that of ‘djent’, or a heavier form of progressive metal. Djent, as a grene, is described is an extremely loose term for progressive/math metal which features low-tuning, polyrhythms (or syncopation), riff-bending and a general sense of technicality – usually accompanied by both harsh and screamed vocals. Djent has also become the word describing a community of like minded people interested and experimenting with this new sound and playing method.

Two of the biggest bands in the Djent/Progressive Metal scene today are Tesseract from England and Periphery from America. Check out a song form each band:

Periphery

Tesseract

At first listen, you can notice lots of similarities between the two bands in their music. Despite being on entirely different continents, both bands share similarities that extend far beyond the music. Both bands exploded onto the scene in 2010 – Tesseract with Concealing Fate and Periphery with Periphery. Both releases gained strong reviews throughout the metal community regarding both vocals and guitar work. Both bands have struggled with maintaning lead vocalists. Periphery has had four vocalists, finally settling on Spencer Sotelo whose voice goes “up like an angel and down like a wounded ox”. Tesseract have also gone through four vocalists, and just recently announced the newest vocalist Ashe O’Hara. Both bands also used the internet as a way to help release their music, often times releasing singles instead of full albums. Both bands seems to have walked a similar line. I wanted to bring these two bands up because I think it is quite interesting how similar of a history and sound they have despite being an ocean’s length away from each other.  Many fans of the genre would argue that both Tesseract and Periphery are responsible for the current wave of ‘djent’ bands and are the biggest influences on the scene today.

I think this speaks wonders of Djent as a community. While members of the scene may not always be on board with the name associated, djent as a community is a fantastic and interesting thing. Got-Djent.com is one of the leading djent community sites. It helps introduce fans to new music and bands, but more interestingly its forums are bursting with like minded people looking to make music together. People from all over the country are coming together to record songs with each other – not for money, but for the love of the music and they enjoyment that comes with creating something special. The comradery in the scene is mind-blowing, guitarists form Brazil are recording for vocalists in England with drums being sent in by someone from India.

I’m personally a big fan of this new wave of progressive metal. It seems to be looked down upon by traditional metal heads, but I find myself enjoying it more and more. I actually use both Periphery and Tesseract as a transition band to try and convince my non-metal friends to listen to metal. I find that most of my friends either don’t mind, or actually enjoy both bands.

Metal: The true global music?

In class we were analyzing music videos from other countries and people continually commented on if they would succeed in American culture. That stuck me as interesting as I had never viewed music that way. I thought about my favorite bands and what countries they were from and noticed that the majority of them were from outside of the United States. So, is metal the biggest “global force” in music? I assumed that most people listen to music mostly from the United State or England as styles are generally similar. I polled my close group of friends to see…

I can’t say I’m all that shocked as to the data I collected from my group of friends. I was spot on in my assumption that the majority would be from the United States or England. In fact, not a single one of my four friends put down a band that was outside of those two countries.

Friend T is a buddy of mine who actually works in the music industry. I expected him to be the most internationally diverse but was clearly wrong. Out of his 10 bands only one was outside the US, and that was in England. T‘s list follows my first assumption and closely mimic’s another friends list.

Friend S has a list that is similar to T in a few ways. First, S was split the same way – 9 bands from America and 1 from England. Also, 4 of S‘s bands were also on T‘s list. The note added gives a glimpse as to why.

Friend P is a little most internationally diverse, but not by much. P‘s list shifted one from America to England as compared to previous two lists.

Friend M follows P‘s pattern, moving one from America to England to finish with 3 England and 7 America. Friend M secures his spot as the most ‘internationally diverse’ of my group of friends, which is unfortunate because none of the bands sit outside of the assumed America/England domination.

Up until now the genre’s of choice were mostly indie-rock, alternative and punk styles of music. Notice how metal is absent? Let’s take a look at what a metalheads list would look like:

This list is vastly different. I have a total of 8 different countries on my list alone, and only two countries has repeats. England isn’t even included on my list. Now, I could just be very internationally diverse. I polled a metal friend to see if his list was similar.

Friend J‘s list is quite similar to mine. 7 different countries make the list with only 2 having multiple. What is also interesting is that J’s list has 5 countries that I don’t have on my list. So, the two metalheads had a combined 12 different countries compared to the 2 countries chosen by the others. The same pattern can be seen in other magazines. NPR’s most popular list has 3 countries and NPR’s metal list has 5.

This is far from an exact study. But, in my quick little experiment it looks like metalheads seem to be less bound by international boarders.

Randy Blythe

The international metal scene took a big hit this summer when Lamb of God vocalist Randy Blythe was arrested in the Czech Republic. On June 28th, a Czech news website reported that Blythe was arrested in Prague on charges of manslaughter. In 2010, Blythe was allegedly involved in an incident that resulted in the death of Czech fan Daniel Nosek who, after falling into a coma, died about a month after the concert. Many Czech blogs accused Randy of attacking Daniel. Roughly translated, SicMaggot says that Randy “hit [Daniel] a lot, then jumped on him and held him down while he continued singing? When the fan got up, Randy took him by the hair and threw down again – quite quickly…. It took him a little while to realize what happened and as he struggled to get his breathe back.”

Lamb of God’s publicist quickly commented on the matter: “Under no circumstances was there a fight of any kind involved. This incident deals with a fan that three times during the concert jumped the barricade and rushed Randy during the performance. It is alleged that the third time, security was not able to reach him and that Randy pushed him back into the audience where supposedly he fell and hit his head.”

Based on footage of the show in question, it seems clear that a security guard is to blame for Daniel’s injuries. Debates quickly popped up regarding the whole situation. What rights do fans have while attending shows? What was security doing? Most importantly, what rights do performers have to protect themselves while on stage? At a metal show it is commonplace for fans to be physical and crazy. It is normal for fans to jump on stage and jump off into the crowd – stage diving is part of the scene. It gets tricky when fans try to directly interact with musicians.

Metal Injection notes that “musicians can get quite defensive if they’re feeling attacked on stage, especially after the tragic shooting of Dimebag.” This refers to the death of Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrell in 2004 when a crazed fan shot him onstage. Randy’s manager makes an excellent point: “What’s [he] supposed to do? How does he know the guy’s not coming at him with a gun or a knife?” Disturbed vocalist David Draiman also commented on the situation, saying, “I feel for the child and for the family and for Randy, but you have to understand that ever since Dimebag Darrell was assaulted, shot, and murdered on stage by a ‘fan,’ all of us have been very defensive/cautious of anyone jumping up onstage.”

Many international tours are worried about setting up shows in the Czech Republic, or skipping the country altogether. The Czech government didn’t help their case by doubling Randy’s bail twice and holding him even after bail was paid.

Eventually, Randy was freed and returned to the United States. He has stated that he will return to the Czech Republic for trial when necessary.

Black Metal: Breaking the Stereotype

Agalloch

If you’ve read my previous blog post (which you can find here), you’re well aware of the tainted history of the Norway-inspired birth of black metal. While the past may be ugly, it paved the way for an entire scene. I’d like to take this time to break some of the myths regarding black metal and introduce you to some of my favorite black metal bands.

First, metal and the devil do not go hand in hand. There is this crazy idea that all metal bands, regardless of genre, sing about death, Satan, and generally terrible things. Yes, those bands exist and as a result a stereotype has formed, but by no means is this a majority of metal bands. The media’s portrayal of metal is also to blame for the negative perception. During the Norwegian black metal movement, local news stations painted these bands as being satanists – which were just anti-christian bands. In reality there was no satanic movement in Norway at all.

I would have to guess that a majority of the bands that I listen to don’t sing about overly negative or hateful things. Just because the delivery of the lyrics sounds angry doesn’t mean the content is. You’re probably familiar with Outkast‘s “Hey Yeah” – well, did you know that Andre3000 is actually singing about being in a relationship with a woman he no longer loves? The delivery doesn’t always reflect the content. As a metalhead, that is one of the biggest misconceptions about metal that I experience.

Quick Tip: Black metal, in its simplest form, can be described as raw, fast-paced music with harsh vocals, blast beats and an emphasis on tremolo picking and unconventional song structures. Nowadays bands fuse so many styles of metal that it is impossible to properly label them.

My favorite black metal-inspired band is from Portland, Oregon and is called Agalloch – which sounds evil, but is really a soft, resinous wood with a highly aromatic smell that is used as incense and perfume. They employ an experimental style of metal that combines a lot of folk and black metal tendencies. Their lyrics typically deal with nature, life, winter and so forth. While it may seem odd at first, I actually listen to Agalloch when I want to relax. The slow pace of the songs is actually quite soothing. Below is a link to my favorite song, “In the Shadow Of Our Pale Companion”.

Borknagar is another black metal-inspired band that I quite enjoy. Hailing from Bergen, Norway, Borknagar, in a way, is a super-group made up of members from Norway’s best black metal bands. Similar to Agalloch, Borknagar focus on ‘the admiration and pondering about nature and mankind’s place therein‘.

While both these bands use harsh vocals, they do so sparingly, oftentimes allowing clean vocals to direct the song. If you listen you can really catch the similarities between Agalloch and Borknagar. I think these two bands are accessible enough to those not familiar with metal and do not perpetuate the stereotype of ‘evil’ metal bands.

Norway: Black Metal

Mayhem

Black Metal is what probably comes to mind first when someone unfamiliar with the metal scene thinks about metal. Harsh vocals, distorted guitars and blast beats that sound, to an untrained ear, like a bunch of random noises and shrieking that doesn’t make much sense.  The music goes hand in hand with the stereotypical belief that all metalheads worship the devil and burn down churches. While, like all stereotypes, the origin of that kind thinking may be true, it is vastly exaggerated and skewed.

The history of the black metal scene in Norway was well documented – Mayhem being the dominating force in igniting the whole movement.  Mayhem was composed of movement leaders Hellhammer, Dead, Euronymous, and Varg Vikernes.

Fellow musicians often described Dead, the bands vocalist, as introverted and distant while off-stage, but his on-stage personality was much different. According to drummer Hellhammer, “Before the shows, Dead used to bury his clothes into the ground so that they could start to rot and get that “grave” scent. He was a “corpse” on a stage. Once he even asked us to bury him in the ground — he wanted his skin to become pale.” Dead was the first to wear the paint on his face,  called corpse paint, that the scene soon adopted. On 8 April 1991 Dead committed suicide by shooting himself in the head. Guitarist Euronymous, who found Dead dead, first took a photo of the situation before calling the police. This image then went on to be the album art for Dawn of the Black Hearts.

The suicide of vocalist Dead paled in comparison to the forthcoming wave of hysteria generated by the media. Vikerenes, after a period of tension with Euronymous murdered him in the stairwell of his apartment building in 1993.  It needs to be noted that  none of these extreme acts, up to this point, were designed for public scrutiny. The teenagers responsible for the hysteria had their own personal agenda, mostly against each other and the destructive christian faith, that eventually became swallowed up in the media attention that ultimately followed.

Black Metal originally carried a very anti-Christian message. This was a result of the how the bands felt the Christian faith had decimated the history of cultures throughout Norway. In late 1992 there was a slew of church burnings, to which Vikerenes is typically credited. The media twisted the story to present the idea that these were a result of satanic rituals involving members of the black metal scene. However, in reality there was no satanic movement in Norway at all, but what emerged after the media-lies was a subculture consisting of rebellious teenagers who liked metal music and flirted with satanic symbolism to provoke the establishment.

While Black Metal may have an ugly past, it paved the way for an entire scene. USA’s Wolves In The Throne Room sing about radical ecology,creating a nature-based occult worldview and modern society’s lost connection with the natural world.

Mayhem (Norway)- Funeral Fog

Wolves In The Throne Room (USA) – Thuja Magus Imperium

For more information on the history of black metal check out Until The Light Takes Us and Lords of Chaos.

Mayhem

This history of metal can not be traced back to any specific country, any one  band or any single idea. There is this romance that the modern extreme metal scene was started in Norway with Mayhem and Varg Vikernes. In reality it was a collective effort during the early 1980’s, mainly between the United States and Europe, which eventually blossomed into today’s metal scene and gave birth to countless subgeners metal fans love today.

The origins of metal exist between a slew of genre-propelling bands that span the entire globe. Heavy metal got it start in England with notable bands such as Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. In America, metal derived from the loud blues-rock and psychedelia of the late ’60s, resulting in bands that fused heavy guitars with blues based rock ‘n roll and began to put on outrageous live performances – propelled by Aerosmith and KISS in the late 1970s. Australia participated by unleashing AC/DC. These bands helped define a clear style of metal which the commercial success helped to spread the sound all over the globe.

In the 1980s This first wave of heavy metal blanketed the globe. From then on, bands all over the planet began to put their own specific spin on the heavy sound. Norway spearheaded the black metal movement with legendary bands such as Emperor and Mayhem. American bands like Anthrax and Metallica brought about a wave of thrash metal, while Slayer, Death and Obituary began to pave the way for death metal. Germany, with bands such as Blind Guardian and Helloween, gave the world power metal.

In the 1990s the United States dominated the metal scene (for better or worse) as bands exhausted traditional styles of metal and began to experiement with more fusion styles. Metal started to become commercially sucessfull with nu-metal bands like Limp Bizkit, Slipknot and Korn. In addition, the metalcore scene exploded with the help of bands such as Killswitch Engage, All That Remains and As I Lay Dying, all of which were commercially sucessful. Other countries experimented in different ways – Finland and help build the symphonic metal scene with acts such as Nightwish and Waltari.

As a result of the increasing popularity of metal, fans began to forge even more complex subgenres of metal. In the late 20oos The UK spearheaded the a trance metal, or electronicore, scene with bands such as Enter Shikari and Asking Alexandria. Technology also spurred a new wave of progressive metal bands – sometimes known as djent – who gained their popularity essentially online. Notable bands include Periphery, TesseracT, and Chimpspanner.

The previous paragraphs contain a brief, and incomplete, recap of the history of metal. It exists to show how metal has always been a global force. No one country, band, person, or idea has ever dominated the metal scene.  I will use this blog in the upcoming weeks to touch on metal bands from various countries and compare the United States to the international extreme metal scene. Stay tuned.