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Category Archives: music

An Ode to an .EXE



The rise of music sharing isn’t a social calamity involving general lawlessness; nor it is the dawn of a new age of human kindness. It’s just new opportunities linked to old motives via the right incentives. When you get that right, you can change the way people interact with one another in fairly fundamental ways, and you can shape people’s behavior around things as simple as sharing music and as complex as civic engagement. – Clay Shirky, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (126). 


Audiogalaxy doesn’t exist anymore. The website doesn’t take you anywhere. There is no 404. It is just dead. The official Facebook page is down – only Wikipedia links and fandom pages linger. It is not coming back.

Audiogalaxy has existed in different forms and iterations. Most recently, it functioned as a music streaming service. It was a way to stream your entire mp3 collection (and multiple other file formats) and playlists from a home computer through multiple devices. A small program was installed on your computer with all the music on it, and it streamed it to your smartphone or to any other computer by simply logging into your account on the AG website. You collection stayed in one place and you could take it anywhere and everywhere. Logging into a website gave me access to the thousands of songs I loved. I didn’t need to install anything on an office computer, it didn’t upload my mp3 collection to a company’s cloud, there were no annoying or irrelevant ads, and it was completely ad free. It was, by and far, one of the greatest music-related programs I had ever encountered in my entire life. Its last day of functioning use was January 31, 2013.

Dropbox bought out the technology and the development team. It is unclear what their plans are. The Facebook page was very tight lipped about there being any sort of future for Audiogalaxy, but people speculated on possible music streaming being integrated into Dropbox. But, they work on a cloud system rather than flat-out device to device streaming. They do not exactly match in terms of technology or service. No one seems to know what they plan on doing with the AG technology or development team – not even Dropbox.  Fans were angry. While the page no longer exists, many on the Facebook page vowed to uninstall Dropbox and never use their service again.

For a bit of perspective, iTunes takes up about 200mb of space (for some reason) and comes with multiple invasive programs – some of which I don’t know the function of. Yes, it does a lot, but I’ve never had much use for it beyond playing movie trailers. It is too cumbersome and clunky for me as a music player, takes forever to load, and wants full control over your media experience.

Audiogalaxy is/was just a few megabytes and functioned beautifully – it made you forget that it was there and let you do your own thing, it simply helped.

But, there is more to this story. I had used Audiogalaxy every day for the last couple of years – but I had also used a different version of AG nearly 15 years ago.


The original program and purpose of Audiogalaxy was very different. While it was always a lightweight, mostly web-based service, it started in the post-Napster craze of music sharing that took dial-up internet by storm. Napster allowed us to look for music and files we wanted, but it did little other than to help you find a repeatable file of a song you heard on the radio (and maybe its techno remix). AG was most useful for its ability to help you find the song, album, artist, or genre and link you to related content that you would most likely enjoy. In so, it provided a landscape of musical and artistic exploration. Before Napster exploded, young people either knew about the radio, from friends who happened to know something different, or from monthly mail-order music programs (who one time accidentally sent my older brother Cannibal Corpse instead of Red Hot Chili Peppers. We loved it). These were good ways to find something new that was relatively available, but not a good way to explore unknown aesthetics and possibilities.

As mp3’s became increasingly prominent, so did too the underlying system of labeling files. ID3 tagging helped programs categorize files based on more than file names (which were often wrong, inaccurate, or victim to trolling). You could now search for popular files in the same genre, file ripper, quality, or a variety of things. Lesser known and independent artists benefited from this, as people sharing files could help pass along something to someone else with similar tastes. Audiogalaxy benefited from this cultural process immensely, integrating it into their service. There were comment boards and community groups, allowing people to connect and communicate with each other, rather than blindly sharing. A group based on a genre could link to various artists and someone in that group could sample new music based on recommendations very quickly. I learned not just about new songs or artists, but the stories and histories of these artists and genres, how they connected to other groups, and perhaps most importantly, developed an intense need to explore and learn about the art I was consuming. AG is perhaps singly responsible for where my cultural capital is today.

I used the service rabidly, filling up my parents’ computer’s hard drive with all the weird and extreme music I could get my hands on. And hiding it at the same time, so they couldn’t hear how weird or extreme my tastes were. During a very important part of my teenage years, I found music that I really cared about rather than what corporations expected me to like (and purchase). And there was an aura of excitement to it all – not just listening to different music, but discovering it all. Unearthing the unknown. Perhaps it wasn’t the music that changed me, but the act of discovering it, and Audiogalaxy provided that in my life. It helped me develop my tastes as well as how I thought about culture and art – find my own thing, unafraid to be weird.

And apparently I wasn’t the only one, according to a Facebook fanpage.


While users attempted to block downloads of particular songs and artists in order to extend the legal life of their service, people figured out loopholes around this process by being coy with file names and tag data. But, it was only a matter of time. The service had a relatively brief life (about 3 years) and the whole thing was shut down. The RIAA was particularly brutal and incredibly powerful, proclaiming that an industry was in mortal danger. Audiogalaxy was more than a simple program that let people send things back and forth to each other. It was more of a contemporary music service years ahead of its time – multifaceted communities, encyclopedias of information, and the limitless unknown pushing the limits of dial-up connections across the planet. The community aspect was perhaps what was most terrifying to the RIAA. It wasn’t that people were sharing files, but sharing ideas and aesthetics. Users were not only capable of downloading mainstream music for free, but learning that this music had little purpose in their lives, and to look elsewhere for new and different things.

P2P’s were no longer safe to use. Viruses plagued the unsuspecting  and people began to learn the horror stories of life-crippling lawsuits for downloading a single song. While Audiogalaxy attempted to go legit while teaming up with Rhapsody, the community abandoned ship. In 2002, BitTorrent was just getting on its feet, and people were beginning to get broadband connections as opposed to dial-up. Albums and discographies were able to be downloaded as opposed to single songs and people learned about new music from message boards and newly-developing “social networking” communities.

As a member of these communities, it was interesting to see how Audiogalaxy shaped me in comparison to others. I was able to track down obscure musicians on MySpace or talk about bands people might enjoy while on various boards. I found these artists in local record stores (if possible) and supported them through merch sales. The program, in essence, changed my life in a serious way. It wasn’t just a way to find music, but it taught me the importance of cultural exploration – something I missed out on from my small-town adolescence. I learned to not just be satisfied with what was presented to me, but to go and find things that I actually liked. As a consumer, I learned about why I liked things rather than just simply liking.

Cut to almost a decade later.


In 2010, it took me by surprise that Audiogalaxy still existed, had the same loopy logo, and was providing an incredibly effective and free service, albeit entirely different than its original inception. Instead of downloading music from others, a user was able to stream their library of music to different devices. You could have an extensive collection of music at the touch of a finger on your memory-limited smart phone, or keep your sanity at work by having all of your music to listen to via a web interface. By logging into their website, you could listen to all of your music. Your computer became a cloud rather than paying a large company like Apple or Google to be the cloud for you. You had full control over your files and experience. There were no ads or algorithms competing for your attention.

In grad school I researched, typed, and graded papers in my office through insane A.M. hours while listening to black metal, dark ambient, alternative rock, new wave, comedy, podcasts, or any number of files without lugging around my laptop or needing to constantly update and organize an iPod through the horrors of iTunes. At jobs, I edited boring corporate blog posts and media presentations while comforted by sense of individuality and life outside of office walls.

But, this too was short lived. Audiogalaxy was bought by Dropbox in late 2012 and shut down its service entirely on January 31, 2013. No one knows how Dropbox plans to use the AG technology or development team, but fans are afraid. Again, years ahead of its time, AG fans fear that a company will charge money for simple and effective service that they’ve grown to love and use for free.


I still have Audiogalaxy installed on my computer. Its little logo sits lifeless and gray in my running programs list. I don’t want to uninstall it. I don’t want to kill it. I don’t want it to be gone from my life again. To me, it isn’t simply a program. AG’s essence, its process, its community, its freedom, and its passion became a fundamental aspect of who I am as a consumer, a fan, and as a human being. It feels odd to suggest a personal connection to a program, but I don’t think I was ever more connected to an .exe file.

While Audiogalaxy taught me about new music, it also taught me about myself.

R.I.P. Audiogalaxy 2002/2013.


Planning for Burial – Quietly


[I]t is a relief to have some utterly banal sound pierce the darkness that we lie in, and to jar us out of the hypnagogic terror that would convince us that we are alone with the phantasms of our minds. – Thomas Bey William Bailey (174)


Planning for Burial

Quietly CD reissue (limited, with bonus tracks).

Digital album.

Enemies List Home Recordings

Planning for Burial make an audacious claim – Death to false gloom. The credo firmly asserts the idea that “yes, this is all real.” This is not to be confused with doom. Doom and gloom may go hand-in-hand in some contexts, there are noticeable differences. The former suggests a noticeable reality, a pending and altogether real shift of the inevitable – wide scale and encompassing. Gloom permeates strictly within. A personal melancholy that is experienced by the individual. Though it is something one can identify with, one’s gloom is their own. That is part of the enigma, struggle, and beauty of Planning for Burial.

With contemporaries such as Enemies List artists Have a Nice Life and Giles Corey, or other shoegaze projects such as Sun Devoured Earth, Planning for Burial is a part of a prolific and engaging indie music culture. But, where Giles Corey might eulogize that “No One is Ever Going to Want Me,” the sadness of Planning for Burial seems different. Alfred Tennyson might have proclaimed that “’Tis better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.” Planning for Burial adamantly denies this proposition.

The metanarrative of the band supports this. One need only follow the band’s tumblr in the twilight hours to catch glimpses of haunting pain. Cryptic posts written in drunken hazes alluding to past events, impossible realities, constant hurt, and lost love. While some may only sympathize, being able to identify with the struggle is perhaps what makes Planning for Burial so mesmerizing. The gloom is real. All of our gloom is real.

It is perhaps an odd comparison to make, but I am reminded of listening to Navicon Torture Technologies while wandering around my college campus. While they sound nothing alike, Lee M. Bartow left the same impression on me – this is real. Songs of such inner-hatred echoed in my headphones as one man attempted a form of artistic and noisey emotional revenge. It seemed like the only way he could deal with heartbreak, loss, betrayal, and pain (his “Personal Apocalypse” series of songs really comes to mind). Listening to him back then helped me process my own gloom. I get the same feeling as I listen to Planning for Burial. As the band stated in a correspondence with me in late 2012, “[gloom] to me is about feeling…it’s a feeling that comes through me best through music, I believe.”

Quietly works differently than most PFB releases. The album Leaving often presents a loud, clashing, distorted drone as a sense of gloom. I have tried to share the beauty of “Oh Pennsylvania, Your Black Clouds Hang Low,” with others, only to have them be immediately turned off by the carnal screams within the first few seconds. Even “Humming Quietly” has a sense of immediacy and synaptic anxiety feedback that the album Quietly contrasts against. Herein lies the rather splendid way in which Planning for Burial is able to capture gloom – in noise, in quietness, and in the noise of the quiet.

A series of guitar notes, brushed up against and plucked, loom over frequencies in the background. Mild feedback oscillates between the delicate balances of here and there. The album itself is quieter than others, but “quietly” is an adverb and means more than the presentation of the music. The albums captures, in a sense, the ways in which those who manage the day-to-day, but suffer in the invisible heartbreak of life. The music is able to haunt rather than intrude, lingering in the listener like a memory. Its quietness is no less powerful, emotive, or deafening. The vocals are just within listenable range – there, but not quiet identifiable. The words are there, but you can’t quiet capture them. They drift, like a dream after you wake up, away from consciousness and into a lingering sensation. This is not to suggest that “quiet” is “nice” or “relaxing” or any number of positive connotations.  There can be a violence of emotion that is singular, personal, and hidden. The album forces a pain, luring in one with an aesthetic of ambience but contrasting with distortions, noises, and emotions. Quietly is an ethereal experience, allowing the listener participate with the quietness around them and the emotions muted inside.





Bailey, Thomas Bey William. Micro-bionic: Radical Electronic Music and Sound Art in the 21st Century. [London]: Creation, 2009. Print.

CFP: Heavy Metal and Popular Culture


This website is not officially related to the conference. I know a couple of the people in charge of organization and I am passing along this great call for presentations to any potential readers of the site. A link is easier for me to share via Twitter/Facebook than a pdf or e-mail.

If you have any questions about this conference, leave a comment and I will either answer it myself (as I am somewhat in the know) or forward the proper contact information to you.  I hesitate to leave anyone’s email on here without permission (besides where to send your abstract).

Heavy Metal and Popular Culture
April 4 – 7, 2013
Bowling Green State University
Bowling Green, Ohio, USA

The Department of Popular Culture at Bowling Green State University, in collaboration with Heavy Fundametalisms: Metal, Music and Politics and the International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS), announce the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture. The Program Committee of the International Conference on Heavy Metal and Popular Culture invites proposals for papers, organized panels of 3-4 papers, and scholarly posters. The online submission deadline for all proposals is 1 December 2012. The conference will take place on the campus of Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, April 4-7, 2013.

We envision a highly selective conference featuring cutting-edge scholarship on heavy metal’s many facets and forms. Papers will be organized into a single track of programming over four days—there will be no overlapping sessions. Featured at the conference will be keynote lectures by Robert Walser, Laina Dawes, and Keith Kahn-Harris, a screening of the film Motörhead Matters, three roundtables featuring Niall Scott, Steve Waksman, Deena Weinstein and other international metal scholars to be announced, and a special exhibit on facepaint and masks.

We welcome proposals involving all facets of heavy metal musical life throughout the world, with a focus on the intersections, circuits, and mutual imbrications of heavy metal and popular culture, globally and locally. We especially welcome proposals addressing the following themes:

  • Heavy Metal Consumption: In what ways has mainstream popular culture changed, prefigured or reversed the consumption of heavy metal? How has heavy metal, as a subculture, sound or style, affected popular culture? Are there new forms of popular culture for which heavy metal has become an influence? Is the intersection of heavy metal, popular culture and consumption creating new questions about authenticity, aesthetics, and soundscape? (In other words, what does it mean when obscure 1980s thrash metal tracks wind up on Guitar Hero?)
  • Heavy Metal, Popular Culture and New Media: Given the rise of new media for heavy metal (social networking media, music and video systems online, gaming, music downloading technology), how has heavy metal further saturated the landscape of popular culture? Are the sounds of heavy metal changing with new technologies and popular media?
  • Heavy Metal Clothing Style: From the fantastic costumes of bands such as Gwar to the ubiquitous heavy metal t-shirt, the fashion of heavy metal is a vital part of its allure, its popularity, and its criticism. Why is heavy metal style both controversial and popular? Where and how has heavy metal style intersected with fashion locally and globally?
  • American Heavy Metal Popular Culture and Its Circuits: From films such as Heavy Metal Parking Lot to Kiss’ commercialism and the Osbourne family’s reality television programs, mainstream American popular culture has held a particular fascination for heavy metal, fomenting moral panics against it one day and celebrating its integrity and authenticity the next. How did American popular culture and heavy metal become so mutually imbricated? Are American popular culture’s heavy metal appropriations altering the scenes in other countries and cultures? Do local scenes, including those within the United States, seek to resist mainstream popular culture or embrace it?

Research Poster Sessions
The poster format provides an opportunity for conference attendees to meet informally with authors and discuss research. Each author attends her/his respective 60-minute session, distributes abstracts, and answers questions. Supporting sound and/or video examples (on personal computers and utilizing battery, rather than A/C power) will be coordinated with other presenters once the Program Committee has formed sessions.

General Guidelines
Accepted presenters will not be required to pay conference attendance registration fees. The committee encourages proposals from graduate students and independent scholars. An individual may submit only one proposal. All proposals must be submitted through the online electronic submission process.

Proposals must specify whether the proposal is for 1) paper, 2) poster, or 3) either presentation format, the latter to be determined by the Program Committee as it builds sessions. Individual or joint papers should be no longer than twenty minutes. Posters will be organized in block sessions. For complete session proposals, the organizer must include an initial statement of 100 words explaining the rationale for the session, in addition to proposals and abstract files for each paper.
Include the following for all submissions:

  • Proposer’s name, e-mail address, and institutional affiliation or city of residence
  • 250-word proposal
  • 100-word version of your proposal suitable for publication in the conference program (.doc, .docx, .txt, or .rtf format). Include proposer’s name and email, and the proposal title in this file.
  • Audio and visual needs: CD player, DVD player, digital projector. Please also specify IBM or Mac platforms, and any special needs. Request of special audio and visual needs does not guarantee their availability, but presenters will be notified if their requests cannot be met.
  • Specify whether you are a student.

All materials must be electronically date-stamped by December 1, 2012 at midnight CST and emailed to Clifford (at) ucmo (dot) edu with “HMPC Submission” in the subject line and required documents attached. For further information regarding the submission process: Amber R. Clifford-Napoleone, Chair, HM&PC 2013 Program Committee, Wood 136B, Department of History and Anthropology, University of Central Missouri, Warrensburg, MO 64093, USA.


Giles Corey – Deconstructionist

There is some negativity in deconstruction. I wouldn’t deny this. You have to criticise, to ask questions, to challenge and sometimes to oppose. – Jacques Derrida

The shaman is the great specialist in the human soul; he alone “sees” it, for he knows its “form” and its destiny. – Mircea Eliade


Giles Corey – Deconstructionist
$5 Digital Download
Release Date: 08/24/2012
Enemies List

After an attempted suicide, Dan Barrett recorded Giles Corey’s self titled debut. In 1611, Giles Corey, the person, was crushed to death under stones in an attempt to have him confess to witchcraft. This bleakness – the attempt to force someone to confess something due to moral panic (in effect, being killed for perceived strangeness), and suffering a painful death in protest at the very idea of it, became a figurehead of sorts for the project. The album is, as the press page suggests, “An intensely personal study of depression and the afterlife.” Songs such as “I am Going to Do It” and “No One is Ever Going to Want Me” deliver an expression of deep depression, which for the listener can be identifiably therapeutic. Stylistically, I suppose you could say that this was a “folk” album. Though I’d imagine that most traditional folk fans would find it unlistenable, partially because of its experimentality and partially due to the fact that it dives head first into the sadness that most Americana music tends to be aware of, yet skirt around, in hopes of better times. For Giles Corey, there are no better times.

Barrett enlisted the help of internet to help review his latest Giles Corey album Deconstructionist with the warning that it was “weird.” I jumped at the chance to review this new album not only as a huge fan of Barrett’s work and the artists of his label, but as a dedicated fan of “weird” music.

What I got was something rather unexpected.

In 2005, there were rumors of the black metal band Sigh recording with experimental sonic warfare techniques that were developed by the Nazis during the second World War. The album experienced great delays, according to these rumors, due to the aurally-derived illnesses of Mirai Kawashima, the frontperson of Sigh. This came as a warning to listeners and developed an intense authenticity of the release – a metal album that could actually harm you. Later it was revealed that the delay and the rumors had the same cause – a disappointed record label that dropped the band, causing them to need to find a new home for the release. The dangers were not really there, just a somewhat disappointing album after their critically acclaimed Imaginary Sonicscapes.

In essence, this release is a couple of steps further in a different direction. And it is not simply a rumor.

Many of Barrett’s releases come with paratexts (novella length album booklets, building an additional narrative to each body of work). While Sigh’s Gallows Gallery is an album that came with a warning (though based on a false premise), nothing comes to mind in terms of albums that have come with instruction manuals (besides casual lines about listening to it “really loud”).

A text file came with the zip of the album, reminding us that the “booklet *must* be read before listening to the music. Seriously.” The instructions, 34 pages in total, are an undertaking on their own. Before getting to Barrett’s how-to for listening, we get a treatise on the concept of identity – or, at the very least, the conflicting relationship between the Western concept of identity and cultural relativism. I am who I am versus I am what culture has made me.

This manual is part of the namesake of the album, Deconstructionist, as it is partially an attempt to deconstruct the very nature of identity and our understanding of consciousness. Barrett is correct on many levels with his writing, we are a product of the culture that surrounds us, and that includes our mindsets, our ideologies, and our concepts of truth. Barrett highlights this through various case studies and scientific experiments. His ideas have merit and are grounded in scientific and anthropological studies (though, somewhat ironically, it is a Western science objecting a Western expression of consciousness). He is not making this stuff up, either. The skeptical can easily google any of the names or studies he mentions.

Beyond that, Barrett is touching on something very shamanic, regardless of his lack of addressing the idea from outside the grounded world of tested scientific principles. For example – consider the words of Grant Morrison from his speech at the Disinfo Conference in 2000:

Morrison, a counterculture icon, practicing magician, and self-ascribed shaman, alludes to the same ideas – the idea of the individual is a false one. Though the scientific approach by Barrett may ultimately be a more identifiable one (and thus making his experiment more believable), it (perhaps on purpose) ignores the spiritual and the shamanic, except for in metaphor or example. (If you want to watch the whole thing (and I suggest it), click here).

Regardless of the science and audio technology behind the music, the album is an experiment in the shamanic. As Barrett points out, “This is not really ‘music.’” He uses audio frequencies, chants, drums, and “cultural connections” in order to create a technique of ecstasy (ecstasy, in this spiritual and magical sense, not to be confused with the idea of pleasure). In this creation, he is pushing the very limits of the listener and his fan base by going against the expectations of a Giles Corey album, as it isn’t an album at all. It is an attempt to invoke a trance state in the listener through musical meditation.

What we get is 3 audio tracks. Each track is 20-40 minutes long. Because of this, you will most likely never see it as a vinyl release (sorry fans). And due to Berrett’s insistence that it needs to be listened to in order and as a whole, there is no way it could be a CD release either. Not only that, but it must be listened to with headphones in order to get the desired effects. I can attest to this personally, as I listened to it as an experiment with headphones and as a piece of music through speakers (you have to hear the left and the right directly in each ear, or it just won’t work the way it is intended). So, there are serious limitations for potential listeners. No physical copy, no real music, and required situational context.

As a piece of music, it will read similar to the dark ambient works found on Cold Meat Industries than as a piece of folk music. So, expect something more like Coil’s ANS, Nurse With Wound, or Wolfskin. As it was not intended to be listened to as a piece of music, it is hard to review it as one. If you like dark ambient stuff, as I do, it can be entirely listenable on its own. The songs, though lengthy, are interesting, droning, and have a surprising depth to their sounds. The experience could be rather tedious, if one is unfamiliar with ambient works.

As an experiment, though. That is a little more weird to talk about. I did as the instructions asked, turning out all the lights, blindfolding myself, becoming isolated, and putting on my big stupid headphones. Most importantly though, you need to want to try. Magic will not happen if you are unwilling to allow it to happen. My breathing became scant and a great stillness overcame my body. I can’t necessarily associate this with the music, as opposed to my relaxed state. But, I did experience visions and I was not sleeping/dreaming. In terms of what I experienced, the first song (Awake Now) had very natural, man-made images floating in my mind – statues, machines, political leaders, industry, and art. The second song (Death) was very dark. Black figures and bodies in total blackness. It was not scary, in fact, I think this part was the deepest experience of them all, but it was the most “dark” in terms of aesthetic compared to the other two. The final song, (Epsilon) was very natural. I saw animals and landscapes.

Again, I can’t necessarily connect this to the album or the experience that the album was trying to invoke. As an admitted piece of “not really music” its very essence begs the question of the very nature of music itself. I would image my willingness to be “into it” could have worked regardless of the music, as long as I was consciously working towards that end. But in terms of listening to music, in general I want more of an emotional or mental connection to it (which Enemies List is particularly good at). Deconstructionist purposely tries to connect the aural event to the emotional being of the listener, giving them something more from the experience. This idea of moreness is something Jeremy Wallach describes (in terms of listening to metal music) as affective overdrive. This idea, as Wallach states in Metal Rules the Globe, “can even fill one’s awareness to such an extent that, while listening, it becomes impossible to think about or feel anything else” (Wallach, Berger, Greene 13). Though I haven’t tried, I wonder if I could have a similar “ecstatic” experience listening to just about anything that I find emotionally engaging. At the very least, affective overdrive is used to explain when someone feels so passionately engaged with something that may be aesthetically questionable, challenging, or nontraditional – such as this album. It implies that there is an engagement beyond mere enjoyment – a deeper connection to the musical experience. Deconstructionist works on this same level, I feel. The paratext of the instruction manual adds to the idea of the album, and perhaps makes the experience more probable. (Though, I am entirely willing to try a few more times).

Can I recommend Deconstructionist? I am not entirely sure. But, one is not supposed to listen to this album for its aesthetics, so the idea of a recommendation is a moot point. Dedicated Enemies List fans will want to get it no matter what. Fans wanting another similar Giles Corey album may be disappointed. It is an experiment, something to try.

Does the experiment work? Well, I’ll leave that up to the individual listener.

Leviathan and the Ethics of Consumption

… the life of man solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short. … The condition of man … is a condition of war of everyone against everyone. (Hobbes, Leviathan)

[Update: The more I think about this post, the more compelled I am to preface it. The basic argument stands as a ‘people are able to think critical about the media they like’ approach, which isn’t terribly new, complicated, or even an interesting point to make. I wanted to emphasize my own moral complications about the horror of his action versus being a fan of someone’s music for several years. There was an attempt to highlight the ways in which black metal has been celebrated over the recent years for its artistic authenticity and to contrast that with the fact that it is still a rather violent, bleak, and problematic subculture. It complicates a lot of cultural perspectives about consumption and art. Some of the comments nail the complications better than I did, and I appreciate the fact that people have read the piece and have added to it. Leviathan was and still is a rather difficult topic to handle. He was eventually found guilty of some of his charges. Something certainly happened in his assault arrest, but it doesn’t seem to be as horrendous as the original charge against him. Noisey also released their 3-part One Man Metal documentary series featuring Wrest. And he comes off much different than he does in interviews, particularly part 3.]

I am going to write about the new Leviathan album, even though I have not yet listened to it. In the context of this article, I do not think I need to – I am discussing True Traitor, True Whore as a cultural object, not as a piece of music. I have been a fan of Leviathan (and the various and entirely different projects of Wrest (aka Jef Whitehead) – Twilight, Lurker of Chalice) since I made a special order for The Tenth Sublevel of Suicide album at my local music shop in my first year of college. He is responsible for some of my favorite music, black metal or not. All of his albums are haunting and leave an impact on the listener in some way (if they listen to black metal, or are brave enough to try). His latest release is looking to be no exception, and has many people declaring it the album of the year (considering the releases so far, that is absolutely no easy task).

But, this article is not directly about this new album. I am insanely excited to hear it, but a review/deconstruction will have to come later.

Regardless of the name of this site, and the misconceptions of popular culture being entirely mainstream culture, it is not my intention to define black metal (or even metal) to a potentially unknowing audience. As a genre, black metal has been around (arguably) since the late 70s/early 80s and has been global since the mid-to-late 80s. It is notorious for murder, church burnings, upsetting politics, radical imagery, and for its sound alone. It is not appealing to a mass audience, and was never intended to be. However, it is a cultural trend that has existed for nearly 30 years, and someone should have some minimal exposure to it, even if it is just jokes from Adult Swim’s Metalacolypse or humorous internet lists. The genre has managed to escape a large portion of cultural exposure, but you can walk into a Hot Topic and buy tee-shirts from a number of more mainstream acts (Cradle of Filth, for example).

As a bit of a primer for any future posts on the topic of black metal, I am aware that many people may not be particularly aware about the historical, cultural, and musical developments of the genre. Black metal has made its way into academia, which means that it has some tangible amount of mainstream exposure. There are some fantastic academic sources on the topic (covering history, culture, philosophy, globalization, etc):

  • Lords of ChaosA good start at the history of black metal. It sometimes romanticizes intention and ideology, as well as some potentially problematic issues with the writers (in terms of being participants rather than objective historians), but it does a great job at discussing the genre’s roots.
  • Extreme Metal – This is probably my favorite book on metal, as it deals with a holistic approach to multiple genres. It is constantly interesting and very well written.
  • Hideous Gnosis – Notorious in the black metal scene for being full of shit (and it mostly is…), but an important work of philosophy that is at least trying to engage the essence of black metal in different ways. The collection suffers from being overly disjointed and non-applicable, but some pieces stand out.
  • Metal Rules the Globe – This book is technically not out yet, but a good collection of essays about metal and how a genre and culture develops on a global and local scale. Metal is a global genre, and this volume offers a lot of great insight on perspectives that are not generally considered.
  • Metal A Headbangers Journey / Global MetalTwo important anthropological documentaries on the genre. Accessible and well worth the time. They strive to discuss the function and purpose of metal music in peoples’ lives.

But, I should get back to Leviathan and Wrest. His music has always had a big impact on me. While it is a one-man project (which is not all that rare in black metal), all the music is well constructed, atmospheric (even if that is a cliché description), and he develops his sound in an interesting way from album to album. Wrest’s voice is almost always indecipherable, but being able to understand lyrical content has never appealed to me. This is, in part, due to metal’s inherent way of being emotionally evocative rather than lyrically illuminative. This is not the genre of singer-songwriters spinning narratives of nostalgia, love, and ennui.

As I said above, I am here to talk about the upcoming album, and again, I have yet to hear it (though, if you would like to send me future advance copies of any upcoming music for the purpose of a similarly elaborate article, I’d be thrilled). So, this article is less about the album as a piece of music, and more about the album as a cultural object. This particular context is important to discuss because of the controversy of events leading to its creation and release, as well as the intense cultural capital surrounding its distribution.

Things get complicated from here.

In January of 2011, Wrest was arrested for allegedly choking his at-the-time girlfriend, and beating her unconscious. He allegedly sexually assaulted her with his tattooing equipment, and beat her unconscious again. The article linked above is quick to mention Wrest’s physical appearance, noting his beard and tattoos, and wearing all black. For any Foucault fans out there, this is a classic example of the panoptic gaze, declaring his guilt through the judgement of his character. The crimes are deplorable and it is not difficult to put guilt on someone accused for this sort of assault – especially when someone is a black metal musician. Black metal is not unfamiliar with artists and crime, and the rhetoric of Leviathan’s albums and song titles have always had an uncomfortable air of violence and sexual aggression – including Fucking Her Ghost in Chains of Ice”, “Mouth Orifice Bizarre”, “The History of Rape” and others. So, it is increasingly difficult to separate Wrest’s work from his actions, considering his upcoming album is entitled True Traitor, True Whore and features album art prominently displaying the hand he allegedly used to assault the woman in question.

Black metal has also always capitalized on the actions of individuals – either in directly making Varg Virkernes one of the most recognizable names in the genre, or by bands simply building cachet from the sensationalized authenticity. But, generally speaking, the actions that have stood out by these musicians have been rare. Only a small handful of black metal musicians have done anything of questionable morality.

Colleagues and friends of Wrest have spoken out in his defense, stating that he didn’t do the crime of which he is accused. They claim they saw the woman hit herself, and that she has a history of falsely accusing people of rape. When Blake Judd speaks so candidly and honestly about his own life in the interview, it is hard to imagine he is making things up about Wrest. Though, it is also difficult to take everything as truth when speaking in defense about a friend and colleague. One should be aware of both sides of the story.

Ultimately, Wrest has not been convicted, and little more about the case has come to light. Wrest had time to record a new album and approached metal’s most prestigious record label to release it. Profound Lore consistently puts out amazing albums that gain serious critical acclaim, even from unlikely sources like NPR. Generally speaking, if PL releases it, it has to be good. Invisible Oranges and Pitchfork have released exclusive tracks from the upcoming release, and they sound incredible, different, and interesting.  The album is pushing the genre down creative roads and each song is intensely fascinating. But, the aura of Wrest certainly helps to put the listener into a particular state of mind when listening. Guilt or innocence aside, the crime haunts the album and artist, and thus, haunts the mind of the listener. When metal is often about making the listener feel something, and when black metal is an extreme of that goal, it is difficult to consider that this affect on the listener is deliberate – either in the construction of the album or in the culture that surrounds it. In that context, is it not successful? Is it not an accomplishment? You are not supposed to necessarily like the feeling – and this goes for any art, in a general sense – but it is supposed to make consider it. While, I do not associate the songs I have heard so far to be evocative of violence (physical or sexual), there is something profound in these tracks, and that alone is both enjoyable and important.

Within the press for the upcoming album, there is also a certain amount of discomfort with journalists and reviewers. Due to the allegations against him, people have already stated their disavowal with Wrest and his work, or choosing to only discuss the album as a piece of music alone.

Obviously, alleged sexual assault is a serious issue– one that put Whitehead in the category of Burzum (the project of convicted murderer Varg Vikernes) as a band to boycott. As music writer Chris Weingarten Tweeted (and I Retweeted) at the time: “ATTN Metal fans, today is the day you throw your Leviathan and Twilight records in the trash.” I did feel that way. I was disgusted by the details of the alleged crime. And I still am.


[Though it should be noted that the writer of above (Brandon Stosuy) continued on to ignore this particular perspective and declares, “I’d prefer to confront controversial art instead of brushing it under the rug.” There are people who do not share this point of view.]

For most of us, it is difficult to separate the life of the creator with the art they create. This is not necessarily bad or unthoughtful, but simply something that occurs. Keith Kahn-Harris, writer of Extreme Metal and MetalJew.com often discusses the work of Burzum and the conflicts he feels when listening to the music, both as a Jew and as a fan. He states:

[T]here’s no way of ignoring the context of which Burzum emerged – a violent, misanthropic world of church burnings, suicide and murder. Even if the history of the early 1990s Norwegian black metal is often romanticised, sensationalized and its extremity exaggerated, you cannot ignore the fact that Vikernes burned down several historic churches and murdered his erstwhile friend Euronymous of the band Mayhem. Nor can you ignore the fact that even before his imprisonment, Vikernes embraced pagan neo-Nazism and once even sent a letter bomb to the Israeli band Salem.

One may view this as a rant against Burzum, but he prefaces this acknowledgement of Burzum by review his latest album – “Vikernes produced something cold, sublime and ineffably beautiful.” Again, Kahn-Harris is a fan of Burzum. One might see potential conflict in this, but he concludes his piece with this particularly apt statement:

The acceptance of Burzum within much of the contemporary metal scene provides ample illustration of the ways in which an overriding love of music can cause people to overlook or collude in dangerous politics. The flipside of this though is that Burzum’s music can also undermine Vikernes dangerousness. It may be then that leftist Burzum fans should feel no guilt. The more albums Vikernes produces, the less he will be a threat to anyone or anything.

Justin Davisson goes on further to discuss this tenuous relationship between artist and audience in his essay “Extreme Politics and Extreme Metal: Strange Bedfellows or Fellow Travelers?” (which can be found in the amazing collection of essays in The Metal Void: First Gathering – a clear predecessor to Hideous Gnosis, but with actual intent, purpose, and application). He states:

Music from bands like Graveland, Absurd, Nokturnal Mortum and many other like-minded bands can easily be found in record stores in the traditionally liberal cities of San Francisco and Berkeley, California.

This is not really surprising or shocking in any way, but uses some interviews with shop keepers to help explain the point, stating that music buyers can be extremely conscious of the politics in the music they buy, but that this is not always the case.

[W]e have a couple of older Jewish guys, who both wrestled over Burzum to begin with but both eventually decided they love the music and have chosen to just ignore the politics. I think that stuff is abhorrent, but a lot of the music is amazing.

H.P. Lovecraft wrote stories warning America about the dangers of race mixing. Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite. Ezra Pound was a fascist. We forgive a lot of these thoughts and actions because of their historical and cultural context. And, quite frankly, they are all amazing artists, worthy of our praise.

But, there are just as many artists today with questionable politics. Famed science fiction writer Orson Scott Card opposed gay rights (this is a particularly good article on how video game fans reacted to a highly-rated game for Xbox that was based off of a story of Card’s). Roman Polanski raped a child. Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert, posted some bizarre and extremely misogynist rants on his website. These actions always shock their unknowing fans, but Card is still a best-seller, Polanski is still making critically acclaimed films, and Dilbert is still in most newspapers.

You’ll have to excuse the divergence away from Leviathan here, but I’m going somewhere with it.

Chicago’s Nachtmystium, fronted by Blake Judd, is known for pushing their music into new directions. Their earlier albums represented a traditional form of black metal, but their music has been growing increasingly “psychedelic” in nature, pulling in clear influences from very non-metal genres. Nachtmystium embodies what Kahn-Harris (applying Foucault’s concept) describes as transgression, “implying a sense of testing and crossing boundaries and limits” (Kahn-Harris Extreme Metal, 28). Nachtmystium’s most recent album, Addicts: Black Meddle part II (the album name a plays on Pink Floyd), describes itself on the album’s cover as “[continuing] to blur the chopped lines of metal and psychedelia, only this time cutting in a little bit of dark wave to help bring you down.” This contrasts to the advertising of Swedish contemporaries, Watain, who released Lawless Darkness a week before Addicts. The album describes itself as “up-to-date Bathory worship,” implying a traditional black metal sound. Nachtmystium boldly transgresses away from the notion of an “authentic” black metal sound, and admits it right on the front of their albums. Judd states, “I just feel that those bands are marketed for what has happened outside of the music, not so much involving the music. There’s guys selling crack in Chicago that are scarier to me than [Gaahl of Gorgoroth],” Nachtmystium rejects the idea of marketing their albums based on the actions of past bands that made their genre notorious, and chooses to focus on their own music, transgressing away from the idea of marketing on the aura of the past, and of limiting their own creative output to the historical standard of music for the genre. Addicts is described as including “dance beats, juddery eighth-note alternative rock, psychedelia,” and is described as including influences from Neil Young, Joy Division, and Interpol as well as “[a cross] between extreme metal and music recognizable as ‘pop.’” This review emphasizes the way in which Nachtmystium has brought in outside influences and has created hybridic music away from the clichéd sound of tradition.

Black metal has traditionally been associated with “corpse paint” – white face paint and blackened eyes, Satanic symbols, and “infernal names” – referring to yourself as a demonic pseudonym (Kahn-Harris, Extreme Metal, 38). These iconographic symbols, along with the particularly hateful worldview, are frequent throughout the culture, and particularly heavy among Scandinavian bands, and have become defining features of a black metal band. Judd formerly referred to himself as “Azentrius,” and subscribed to these symbols of black metal, but has removed all from his band, transgressing away from the traditional notions of what it means to be black metal.

These symbolic notions of black metal has haunted Judd’s recent career, particularly accusations of racism and bigotry. The band was dropped from the Scion Rock Fest in 2009, a large extreme metal festival, because Toyota Motor Corporation did not want a racist band on their tour. Judd has a long past in the black metal scene, starting when he was in his teens, and the actions of his youth have haunted his career. During an interview in 2005, Judd was fully encapsulated with the traditional black metal lifestyle, including using a pseudonym, wearing corpse paint, and subscribing to an aggressive view of the world. Judd was quoted in the interview discussing the talent of his influences versus, “something not found in 99% of TV-fed ‘bands’ through MTV and other Zionist means of demoralizing young American’s artistic standards.” In reaction to this, Judd states, “I probably didn’t realize exactly what I was saying. I made a stupid comment as a kid,” Judd admits to his words, but also is aware of the ideologies prevalent in black metal culture. In his youth, Judd subscribed to the notions of black metal, including many of the negative aspects of the genre. Though he is clearly aware of the boundaries and limits of the genre, particularly in the ways one must act to be an authentic member of the culture, Judd’s transgression away from these boundaries is embodied in his rejection of traditional black metal ideology, discourse and ultimately in the rejection of traditional black metal culture.

This is also combined with two early Nachtmystium albums being released on Vinland Winds and Unholy Records and Regimental Records, labels noted for connections to white supremacist organizations. Judd stats that the releases were not authorized, as Miles Raymer explains, “[the album] was a CD-R, and Vinland simply burned more copies without the band’s permission.” Judd claims he simply didn’t know Regimental Records was affiliated with racism, as it was a small D.I.Y. organization, and when he found out he demanded they stopped distribution. These controversies have been detrimental to Nachtmystium’s ability to tour, as promoters are unwilling to be associated with the band. Raymer is quick to counter these weak allegations of bigotry with several simple facts, “Judd collaborated with Robert Lowe of Lichens, who’s black…Bruce Finkelman, his [former] boss at the Empty Bottle [bar], is Jewish, as is Nachtmystium’s manager, Merrick Jarmulowicz.” (All quotes from this paragraph are from this article – it is particularly good).

The band furthers to comment on the allegations with their new logo for merchandise stating the slogan, “White Powder Not White Power,” rejecting the associations of black metal and hatred, and playing on the notions of drug use with the band’s musical experimentation. Judd does not just comment on the ideas of racist allegations, like some Scandinavian bands, but openly and aggressively rejects the ideology and its cultural connections to black metal, again, actively transgressing away from the standard approach of traditional black metal.

Point being – Nachtmystium is not and should not be wholly represented by their actions, past, present, or future. Neither should Leviathan, or any other artist.

As creatively transgressive as Nachtmystium is, Metalsucks.net is still prone to criticize Judd for his drug use. Critics and academics have latched onto black metal for its authenticity, its creativity and constant development, and its unignorable presence (both in sound and in the aura of its creators). This has romanticized the genre and its history and culture to a certain extent. We are horrified at the supposed actions of Wrest – but forget that black metal is a big “fuck you” in almost every possible meaning. We can glorify the genre all we want, but one shouldn’t forget that there are some seriously bad dudes (again, in a general sense – Wrest has yet to be convicted). Blake Judd is there to remind us about black metal

We are not your leaders
We are not your friends
We are thieves and cheaters
We live at the end

We don’t want your loyalty
We reject your trust
We ignore your sympathy
We do what we must

– High on Hate – Addicts: Black Meddle pt II

While black metal is worthy of our critical attention, it is also constantly there to remind us of this sometimes mortally troubling relationship between artist and audience. In the case of black metal, it is easy for us not involved to separate ourselves from the things we do not like and to celebrate what we do. For the artists, it is very much their entire lives condensed into their work, and one can not glorify and ignore parts of a life on a whim.

A friend of mine once described her thoughts on art to me, after she had read a book for a class. I can’t remember the title, but that is not important, her words stuck in my head. They are thoughtful, sincere, and powerfully apt (as she usually is).

I do like the way that this author describes the way that art works. It gives form to the immaterial, confronting the viewer with new interactions with the materials that surround us, thereby creating new thought processes rather than objects of knowledge.

I have always been drawn to more formalist approaches to things, as I like to work with processes of intent and purpose, and I think that this really nails down the purpose of art. Though I could certainly go into Benjamin or Adorno, I like the simplicity of this statement more and it focuses on the audience, rather than the artist. It gives the consumer agency in the artistic process.

The Tweet mentioned above is destructive for several reasons. It removes the idea that audience is able to think critically about what they are consuming. It strips the listener from being able to enjoy any type of art, and it revokes their ability to acknowledge and think critically about those responsible for the things they like. This is probably why the stance was later rejected by Pitchfork’s Brandon Stosuy. Keith Kahn-Harris can like Burzum, and I can continue to like Leviathan.

In a sense, Leviathan’s TTTW is a perfect example of why cultural literacy is important, and how badly it is ignored in contemporary education. Though we should be aware of the aura surrounding of a piece of art, never should it be able to overshadow the consumer’s ability to interpret, negotiate, criticize, or enjoy a piece of art. A piece of art is not attempting to convince us of any particular ideology, but only to make us think. Our ability to critically engage a piece of art is not entirely dependent on role of the artist and we should not allow the creator to have all the social and cultural power in this dynamic relationship. Negating the ability of the consumer to think critically is damningly destructive and ignores the purpose of art in the first place.

The ability to be critical is an ethical action. Geoffrey Harpham states in his book Shadows of Ethics that:

It is also the office of criticism to promote literature’s immediacy, concreteness, vitality, and affective richness, and so to assert the claims of literature as a way of understanding human life that is superior to philosophy. –Harpham, iiiiv

It is not unreasonable to replace “literature” with “art” or even “culture”. The study of culture, art, media, music, or any related concept is important, and these can all tell us something about the understanding of human life – even True Traitor, True Whore. Good art (and I use that phrase begrudgingly) should make us feel and think, but exactly what is up to the consumer. It is not unethical to consume art by seemingly unethical individuals as long as you are able to think critically about what you are consuming. One should not feel troubled about buying a Leviathan album, but one should be aware of the context in which it was created.

I can’t wait to buy this album and listen to it very loudly in my car.

Stuff to Read – 06/25/11

LulzSec, Anonymous, & #AntiSec: Thoughts on Lulz and Ethical Hacking  – 

It’s 5:00 a.m. and these are the questions keeping me up right now:  Why is it so easy for LulzSec to gain access to these sites and leak this kind of info using such simplistic methods? Why does it take this kind of public-profile hacking and media attention for these breaches to be corrected? Why are people trusting enough on the Internet–where social engineering is commonplace and fairly easy to pull off–to use the same login information everywhere? Why are most media outlets quick to assume rather than verify information through fact-checking? What constitutes ethical hacking? When do grayhats become blackhats? When does it become “cyberterrorism” that merits quicker, harder scrutiny than, say, the way in which bin Laden was finally taken down?

Vyshali is sort of becoming my favorite blogger. She does a great job defining the terminology of a relatively easy thing to ignore, and reminds us why we shouldn’t. I can’t help but smile at the description of events feeling very much like a crime noir. Suspense. Betrayal. Vengeance.

‘Mega Man’ Is All-Ages Comic That Deals With War and the Nature of Humanity. Seriously.

And while I expected it to offer up some nostalgia-fueled fun, what surprised me was that it’s actually one of the best all-ages comics coming out right now, and one that deals with some pretty intense issues of guilt, death and humanity…Flynn examines the character in a way that I’ve never thought about, even as a lifelong fan, showing him as someone caught between a desire to help people by defeating the enemies that threaten him and the guilt that comes from killing other robots.

Chris Sims nails this one. A fantastic description and analysis of what would have been an overlooked comic that helps to illustrate why comics are so important in the first place. He dares us to actually think about what we read. Seriously.

“Visions Of American Black Metal”: Liturgy’s Hunter Hunt-Hendrix Responds

If you have any interest in underground metal, black or otherwise, you’re aware of the uproar created by Brooklyn quartet Liturgy. Much of the disdain’s focused on frontman Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, and what people view as his “pretentious” reading of black metal (American and otherwise.

I wrote a piece on American black metal and I used Hunt-Hendrix’s treatise featured in Hideous Gnosis as a framing of developing authenticity and genre. I’m considering going about and editing the piece to post here. Anyway, Liturgy is a band that people love to hate (pardon the cliche), and even though I was not a huge fan of their new album (I should maybe give it another listen…), I do think that what they are doing and saying is rather important.

A lot of people don’t take metal seriously as art, and a lot of people don’t take art seriously as ethics. That’s fine, I guess — but as for myself, I do both.

It is an interesting statement, and something I tend to agree with.

Scion Rock Fest 2011 – Dark Castle Interview from Scion A/V on Vimeo.

This is the way to go.

Dark Castle is a very interesting band. I once got a package of a bunch of their merch from a friend of mine, and I still wear the shirt regularly. I’m a little bummed that the video doesn’t embed, but whatever. Anyway, I’m not posting them in relation to the above metal article. There is something very different going on here. It is equal parts “Why metal is important” and why we should always be willing to risk change and development in something we hold dear.

Stuff to Read – 06/21/2011

Noise du Jour: A Critical Analysis of “Ode to the Bouncer” by The Studio Killers – Ectomo

The video deserves further analysis. The first thing anyone notices about little Cherry is that she’s positively chubby. And not in that over-voluptuous, massive-titted way that most cartoonists represent “heavy, sexy” girls. Cherry’s got soft arms, fat knees, a wide and mobile rump, but most unusually, a round belly. Try finding that in idealized female portrayals elsewhere–it’s not easy.

Pitchfork Interviews: Louis C.K. – Pitchfork

C.K.: When I say awful things, I think it’s clear to the audience that I just stumbled into a terrible part of my brain. It’s just where my brain goes first. The difference is that I said it out loud. That’s all. It’s just a big excuse to say awful things. But people know that. They intrinsically trust somebody: He’s just fucking around. People get tired of processing life in a linear way. When you watch my show or my stand-up, you’re opening the top button on your coat and sitting back, but with your brain. When I say vulgar things, it’s usually not to be mean or sexually charged. It’s just a dumb lashing-out in a direction that’s inappropriate.

Talking Bollocks – Garth Ennis’ John Constantine part 1 – Mindless Ones

Bullshit ain’t about lying…Like bullshit, bollocks is subtle. It is used as a declaration of falsehood, but it’s also, more commonly, used as to denote poor quality, or, like bullshit, highlight truth rejecting nonsense, or to punctuate a fuck-up.

Post-Black Metal-Shoegaze

So, I haven’t talked about music very much on here, but I am into weird extreme stuff. Mostly metal, electronic, industrial or rock. I tend to hop around lots of different stuff, though. I’ve written about metal music academically, it wasn’t a terribly solid paper, but my professor liked it, so I may post it up online at some point. I’m a big fan of black metal, which is a hard thing to say in an academic world, or if you are trying to hit on women. But, I follow the music that I enjoy very closely. I don’t think I’m telling any tales out of school here, but academics are usually a few years behind what is happening in the underground, or at the very least, a few years behind the developing mainstream. Regardless, I try to stay connected. I have a very good local metal store, follow particular labels, jump around Youtube, and have some very hip friends who send me new music.

But, this is summer, and I’ve been very bored. So, I’ve taken to being annoying on Facebook as one of my new hobbies. The other day I posted this status update:

Basically, I was bullshitting. Completely and totally. I was simply trying to be annoying and say something completely absurd that my friends will look at and think me weird. It is a hobby. But then, a friend called me on my bluff, which I suppose by being a bullshitter, you are constantly asking for. I had to explain myself.

I had noticed a particular grouping of ‘French Post-Black Metal-Shoegaze’ artists being posted online in various different places. So, my status wasn’t coming out of no-where. And, for the record, I’ve only listened to a couple of the above mentioned bands. But, I had a bit of a Baader-Meinhoff moment. I saw all several bands from France with this very particular, somewhat bullshit genre title. The very idea of Post-black metal-shoegaze made me laugh, and that so many were from France made me laugh even further. Thus, the stupid status update.

However, I realized that some of the music I had been listening to in the last few days was falling into this genre distinction more and more. It wasn’t the bands above, but some other strange stuff that I downloaded just for the sake of trying something new.

So, for such a bullshit genre, why was I liking it so much? Shoegaze and Black Metal should NOT go together. Never ever. But this stuff works so well together, it blows me away.

I mean, just look at these totally hip dudes:


It isn’t exactly black metal. Even though it is just music, black metal isn’t about cool dudes with nice hair and ironed shirts.

And really, it isn’t all that dissimilar from the traditions that black metal has established for itself in the past, particularly the suicidal black metal sub-genre. Long, droning songs, incredible bleakness, and the general sense of melancholy that black metal and shoegaze are both known for. And yet, there is something very romantic to both genres. Romantic in the literary sense. To help define that, let’s go to Wikipedia:

In part, it was a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature.[2] The movement validated strong emotion as an authentic source of aesthetic experience, placing new emphasis on such emotions as trepidation, horror and terror and awe—especially that which is experienced in confronting the sublimity of untamed nature and its picturesque qualities, both new aesthetic categories. It elevated folk art and ancient custom to something noble, made of spontaneity a desirable character (as in the musical impromptu), and argued for a “natural” epistemology of human activities as conditioned by nature in the form of language and customary usage.


An early post-black metal-shoegaze fan.

Strange bedfellows indeed, but perhaps not as strange as one would think. Is Deafheaven all that different from Xasthur?

Well, maybe a bit. Xasthur falls very firmly into the ‘suicidal black metal’ sub-genre. Some of the markers are there and some aren’t. The aesthetic is slightly different, but you can hear the basic framework, I think. But mix equal parts Xasthur with My Bloody Valentine…

I’m not listening to the French, however. That part is still bullshit to me. I’ll get to them someday (I’ll admit that French black metal is often overlooked and unappreciated…). I’m really loving two bands in this rather long and specific subgenre: Deafheaven from California (posted above), Cold Body Radiation from Holland, and Woods of Desolation from Australia. Hell, I’ll even throw in The Angelic Process as a similar act. Though, maybe it was Justin Broadrick’s band Jesu that helped to make Shoegaze a little more extreme. I’m sure he isn’t the first, but I remember a lot of cross-genre appeal to the Jesu releases (and I remember thinking that very strange).

And what makes something post-anything? Well you got me there. I’m not terribly sure. Taking the aesthetic of a particular genre, but doing something else with it? Post-punk isn’t very punk, now is it?

So, that is where I am right now. There is without a doubt more to be explored in this genre, and more to be discussed, but if I can at least share a couple of bands and the direction that music is going, I’ll be happy.

Not a terribly insightful post, but whatever. There are some excellent songs here.

And yes, Michael questioning the validity of shoegaze as a genre onto itself is rather humorous to me. And honestly, I couldn’t really think of many shoegaze bands to post in this in order to compare, but I remember the genre being very popular when I was an undgergrad in college (not popular at my college, but with cool people, as the genre had a bit of an emo-inspired resurgence).


I keep coming back to this article for some reason. I think there are a lot of questions here worth exploring. Is it black metal? Is it even metal? How do we determine the differences and why? I might come back to this more later in a separate post, but these are just some notes.

Undoubtedly, I would say that this stuff is not black metal. At all. We all know that there is more to how we define music other than just its sound. I’m not sure I would even bother asking if my local metal shop had Deafheaven in stock, as opposed to a more traditional local music location. Maybe that is my own insecurities, though. I don’t know…I’ll figure something out later.

Bring me my megabuster…

So, this is a topic I felt like I driven to write about in some capacity. However, this will probably be rather rambly and discordant.

The article over here states some very interesting points in regard to this sudden (is it?) genre explosion of nerd music – a term that I particularly despise. It sort of sensationalizes the concept of enjoying the music into something only a nerd is capable of doing, and also associates the environment which helped produce the musical text as something inherently nerdy. Not to mention associates the listener with a problematic, though a re-appropriated term. Nerd was never something I was comfortable with defining myself as, even in an ironic/accepted way. I have enthusiasm over many things, some of them associate with traditional nerdom, some not. What it does speak to is sort of the alarming trend of hegemonic power over people who chose to ignore traditional media and fan activities.

Genre works as a discourse, a constant dialog of shifts and changes within a particular set of associations and generic “rules.” So, saying this music is a new “genre” is odd to me, because bands like The Protomen (of whom I am a huge fan…) is rock music, not nerd music. But, it is this paradigmatic shift in genre towards this evolving and new media landscape of the internet that, I think, is partially causing some of the needless tension. Contemporary music has been built up on the DIY ethos of the punk and post-punk movements, creating a viable performance network and distribution of music and expression by un-signed bands, and to have it be profitable. This ethos is still applicable to the current generation of underground bands that make up this movement of “nerd music,” but is also greatly expanded by the internet.

We live in a postmodern world of immense media saturation, to the point where all texts become inter-texts. Where the creation of something new is inherently constructed by something in the past. All texts link to all other texts, and influence the author. So, the fact that this music uses cultural reference points ( nerd rap, or the nostalgia of 8-bit noise, etc) isn’t anything new, revolutionary or particularly important to the music itself.  Black metal bands build albums around Norse myth, and The Protomen have created albums around Mega Man myth. The act becomes culturally significant, however, because it speaks directly to a culture that would get/understand these references, and be able to engage with them in a serious way. And this contemporary nerd culture often lacks a voice in media – they are presented to (with video games, comics, film, etc) but not asked to participate with their culture, unless it means buying more products. Nerd music has created this participatory output for a culture that is heavily mediated, and thus, exposed to cutting edge texts and technologies to use and engage with.

Part of the problem is America’s fear of messing with intellectual property, I believe. The movement and genre play hasn’t developed too much because it isn’t profitable for major record labels, especially if they have to worry about Capcom suing them because The Protomen have put out a new album. It is nearly impossible to escape political economy, and this is no exception. The second a major corporation can figure out how to get Anamanaguchi on MTV, this sort of debate will change in a drastic way.

Another part is authenticity. Music fans are intensely fierce and protective. Cover bands are never seen as authentic, and originality counts. I think a lot of the fear comes from the ideas around what it means to be original. Girl Talk is respected and seen as authentic, but his music comes entirely from cut up samples of other musicians. Is he more or less original than The Protomen creating a story around the mythos of the Mega Man universe? The documentary Rip: A Remix Manifesto posits the idea of creativity and cultural development versus intellectual property, and again, is related to this discussion.

That being said, I can’t stand about 99% of it. But, it is certainly a topic for interesting debate. Nerdcore has sort of exploded (enough so to have its own documentary…), but for my money the best “nerdcore” song is by someone who doesn’t fit the nerdcore mold, and possibly not even known within the nerdcore culture:

Del Tha Funkee Homosapien has a brilliant song about video game culture, and able to keep the cultural cache (another important element of this debate…) of auteured hip hop. And he was able to do this 4 years before MC Chris burst onto the scene. So, this idea of contemporary inter-textuality has been around, and musicians were willing to play with this idea a decade ago.

Do I want to listen to Nerdcore? No, but I don’t want to listen to country music either. But, of course, there are always exceptions to these rules. Quality helps, authenticity helps, originality, expressibility, performance, taste – all of these help. I’ve gotten friends into The Protomen not because they play video games and are literate in that medium, but because they like a lot of the music and culture that came out of the 1980’s, and The Protomen is clearly influenced by that. That being said, I have friends who love video games and even Mega Man that wouldn’t touch the band with a pole. There is lots to be said on this topic, and it is certainly complex, but in 10-15 years I think people will think we are all being silly for having such problems with “nerd music.”

Fan Made

This is a fan made title sequence to the upcoming AMC program The Walking Dead, which as we all know, is based on the comic by Robert Kirkman. So, this is not official and won’t be used on the show, but it is really quite beautiful. AMC has never had a strong fan base for a show before it ever aired, so it will be interesting to see how they react to the fan culture that already exists around the property.

THE WALKING DEAD “Opening Titles” from Daniel Kanemoto on Vimeo.

I’m gearing up pretty heavily for the show’s airing on Halloween, and I love the charming Kirkman popping in and out of this behind-the-scenes look at the show.