Monday, June 7, 2010

Guest Mix Volume 13 - Helm

If you care about the cool internet blogosphere music community people, you will recognize Helm for his insightful commentary and his deep dedication to heavy metal. He is also a brutally talented artist (see the illustration above), and his work is visible on his blog ASides-BSides. This mix features some awesome weirdo "techno thrash" bands, as well as one of the coolest bands that I've heard in awhile, Socrates Drank the Conium. Once again, my guest poster wrote a lot, so I will shut up.

Hello. I am Helm from Asides-Bsides. I listen to a lot of Heavy Metal and sometimes write about it. Todd Nief of Primitive Future asked me to do just that for you so here's a mixtape and some notes on the songs below.

Waking up today was strange. I suffered from peculiar post-apocalyptic 'digital life' nightmares that I couldn't awaken from. Lots of shit went down but dreams being what they are, most of it is hazy now. All I remember is at the end of the dream I was too afraid to unplug myself from a grotesque body-horror life-support mechanism in fear of not so much death than being 'offline from the world'. Does that sound familiar?

I finally broke the dream paralysis by screaming at the top of my lungs - in the dream, in reality I barely coughed waking up. So, I take a look around in the room and see two monitors staring at me, an abundance of cables lining the floor, felt really weird. Of course I ran to the internet first thing. This playlist was assembled to put my foul mood to some proactive use, plus give me something to do until I felt better. Listening to the full thing seems to have helped, so there you go, self-medicating for information globalism with the Heaviest of Metals.

01 - Shadow of the Beast - Intro

This is a remix of an old Amiga game's intro music, called Shadow of the Beast. I put it on until I could figure out the first few tracks of the playlist but heh, it sorta fits the mood so at the end I left it in.

Here's the intro image from the game. The original tracker music is by Dave Whittaker, if you're interested. I love the synthetic flute, very melancholic.

02 - Obliveon - Cybervoid

This pretty much captures the emotions the dream conjured. Obliveon were a lesser known Canadian thrash outfit obviously influenced in thematics and sound by Voivod. They put out 'Cybervoid' in 1996. They remind somewhat of Meshuggah but I find their compositions to be more succinct and less abstract, hence more enjoyable. The interesting quality of this song is that the lyrics are hilarious on their own,

"Face the void, prepare for the fight
Victimized by cruel megabytes

but along with the music the end result is effective. Or perhaps it just did for me because of the dream paralysis.

03 - Protector - Nothing Has Changed

Well, this is a downer. Look at these guys,

They're German, they play thrash. Expecting Kreator-cloning or something, right? Well, yes although for my money Protector are more savage and visceral than Kreator (no kidding, check out their EP 'Leviathan's Desire'). But on this song we get one of the more depressing doom songs from a thrash band the are.

"The buildings are made of gold
The sun shines bright
Out of a blue, a clear blue sky
The streets are clean
The people laugh
The animals are free
No hate, no one cries
No more distrust
No more disgust
And no more war
Peace forevermore

No industry pollutes the water
The sea is filled with movement and life
The governments scrap all their useless weapons
They are not bribable any longer
Everyone is happy
No more pain

But suddenly it's fading away
I wake up it's 12 o'clock
And I realize, nothing has changed. "

I don't know, it's not just the lyrics. That monophonic guitar tone is murky as hell, the sharp harmonized solo on top punctuates the sentiment. The chant at the end "nothing has changed, nothing has changed" underlined by throaty screams of each word on its own. There's proper doom metal bands that have tried for records to achieve what this oddity in a thrash band's catalogue manages excellently. But where to go from here?

04 Osiris - Futurity (Something to Think About)

Oh, that's right, techno-thrash.

Not only this cover is exactly how I felt this morning, the music also captures a specific metal zeitgeist very successfully. We're back at 1991 here, thrash is trying to grow up, touches on existentialist concerns, the scope is modernist, so on. Here's some interestingly dated lyrics to go with it:

"Gazing into my crystal ball
It never seemed so dark before
The world is lost and lonely
Year 2011, twenty years from now
Will there be earth, will there be people?"

We'll see soon, Osiris.

Actually to be more precise Osiris are a bit late to the modernist techno-thrash/progressive metal party. The height of this genre's potency was circa 1989-90. When the Soviet Union collapsed, signaling the end of the cold war, a lot of this paranoiac techno-thrash (and lots of metal in general) lost its raison d'etre. But for all we know Osiris were perfecting these songs for a couple of years before the record was released. Anyway, I'll write about techno-thrash in detail in some future post, somewhere.

05 - Abstrakt Algebra - Shadowplay

Speaking of direction-less '90s metal, here's a pleasant upset: Candlemass founder Leif Edling puts out a post-metal record in 1995 and it's great! The cover's worth looking at too, (especially if you fold it out). Back when this came out I didn't know what to make of it, I were as confused about the future of metal as everybody else. Romantic doom/death had happened, Black metal had happened, nothing new and as diligently romantic (as is the essence of metal) seemed to be ready to emerge so almost all of us pursued the precarious poisons of post-modernity... perhaps this was the future, you know?

Well, it wasn't, but there's a lot of '90s artifacts worth interest nonetheless. Looking back now it's easier to appreciate them because they're benign growths on the strange tree of Heavy Metal, but back then the possibility of them being wicked stems of the new was slightly more worrying.

"Taciturned teasers with tattooed tears
A play of shadows they give
A blindfolded sojourn from Shakespeare to Marx
Directions vague and obscene

06 - Deathrow - Machinery

This is the absolute flagbearer of what is sometimes called techno-thrash (or less aptly, 'progressive thrash' or 'technical thrash' though my distinctions and reasoning on this will have to wait for a future playlist/essay). Germany, 1988, let's look at the lyrics.

"I am walking through the streets of my old town
Looking back on the days of my youth
There are factories in the fields where we used to play
Clouds of smoke hang in the sky and block out the sun

God bless this house, the car and the TV
Show us our idols in magazines
They build us prisons without any walls
Money rules we can't resist

Snakes of commercial TV
Decoy with their apples
False priests spit out their lies
Because God sells
If we don't pull ourselves out of this mud
Our children will have to pay for our sins

God bless this house, the car and the TV
Show us our idols in magazines
They build us prisons without any walls
Money rules we can't resist
We're just wheels in a great machinery"

I'm 26 years old, I was a little baby person back at 1988 but I remember having nightmares about nuclear bombs raining down on Europe just the same. It's kind of difficult to communicate why the combination of this austere music with that type of grounded social angst is so effective. If you haven't lived in a lesser country under the influence of the world's superpowers during a critical time such as the cold war it all probably sounds kind of funny to you. "Supermarkets sell us their shit, lol, supermarkets are our friends" you might be thinking and for all I know you might be correct. Anyway, Deathrow strike a nerve for me at least. For some synaesthetic understanding, listen at the end of the song how the lead melody tries futilely to escape the grinding gears of the rhythm guitars and drums. Listen how at the end the lockstep is absolutely suffocating.

07 - Socrates Drank the Conium - Breakdown

Well this is from 1973, Greece. I absolutely adore the record it belongs in. The lyric is pretty self-explanatory, but listen how the constant double guitar licks augment the already hectic 7/8 rhythm. "Too much smoke, too many people. Gotta get away, riding on the highway. Endless breakdown. Heavy Breakdown". Extremely effective piece, doesn't even need a Cold War to give it weight. I tend to view the 'On the Wings' record as an early precursor to stuff Psychotic Waltz would be doing 15 years later.

08 - Moahni Moahna - Tales of Xet Sof

My computer crashed while I was making the playlist so now you get the appropriate song to express this frustration. Here's the transcribed lyric,

"You only need to press this key, they said
So he did too bad, so sad, they gave him hell

Destructive instructions are easy to make
They are not constructive
Illusions, confusions breaking him down

What's the point in reading this book
Where's the one I trusted, he must die
Because he lied

Nothing happened whatsoever
Days were wasted, time was tight
Book of wisdom, none too clever
It's so wrong, but oh, so right

What's the point of reading this book

*customer support voice says something inaudible on right speaker*

Now he is older, trapped in a book
And he belongs there"

As you might have realized this is an epic Rainbow-esque song about Soft - Ware troubleshooting, a badly formatted manual, lying tech support and the inevitable fate of anyone who dabbles in computer science. Moahni Moahna are a band almost nobody knows about but they're hilarious and it's a shame. Radio's to blame.

09 - Psycho Symphony - Silent Fall

Well I wouldn't like to go into detail about how this Psycho Symphony song works because it's a headache and a half just listening to it, much less trying to scrutinize its various parts. I'll just say that it captures the emotion of feeling trapped in a dream, for me. All these unresolved melodies mirror the wild changes of pace and location in dreams and the foggy spatiality in them too. It takes real songcrafting skill to have phrases that are so everywhere and still hold it together and convey subtle emotions like Psycho Symphony do.

10 - Paralysis - Arctic Sleep

And this techno-thrash band from the Netherlands ties the whole thing off leaving us exactly where we started. Only now, much wiser.


Helm said...

I object to the notion that anything I've ever said belongs in a cool internet blogosphere. I do not understand coolness, irony strikes me as something to do with shirts and trousers and I am finished with humour, it's cheap, never again!

...but thank you for having me :)

Todd said...

Helm, not understanding coolness is actually the coolest thing of all! Some sort of Zen state or something...

Helm said...

Friedrich Nietzsche would have never said such things >:(

RSS said...

Cool to find a genre i know nothing about. However, I find Socrates Drank the Conium to be really, really underwhelming. Maybe I missed something? And when i heard 'techno-thrash' i immediately thought those 4 or 5 records that Kreator put out in the 90s. I haven't heard these tech/thrash bands, but still, I apologize for that thought. (:

Helm said...

RSS, techno-thrash primer

Watchtower: Energetic Disassembly
& Control and Resistance

Sieges Even: Life Cycles

Coroner: Punishment for Decadence

Mekong Delta: Dances of Death

Deathrow: Deception Ignored

Depressive Age: First Depression

and of course

Metallica - ...And Justice For All

I'm forgetting a lot now but that stuff's timeless and will get you started.

The term originates with Watchtower. Calling other non-Watchtower bands 'techno-thrash' was a practice limited to European journalists, especially German ones who were particularly taken with the subgenre briefly in the late 80's. The term is unwieldy as it has nothing to do with techno electronic music but everything to do with technicality (and technocracy!). You will find a lot more mentions for bands such as these (along with Megace, Flaming Anger, Airdash, Dyoxen, Secrecy and many many more) as 'progressive thrash' in many record reviews especially in the metal archives. I find that term to be unhistorical because progressive metal evolved out of techno-thrash and this term seems to suggest the reverse. But words are words, just as long as we can communicate somewhat.

I'll write about techno-thrash properly... at some point. It's a big project to tackle.

Todd said...

Beyond Cool & Nietzsche

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