Bite into the Yorkie a dissection of extreme metal; a confectionary comparison
By Paul Melhuish.
“I’ll listen to anything except thrash” – Umm, a common complaint amongst music enthusiasts. Ive heard this several times when opening up a conversation on musical preferences. I usually answer by telling them that, with me, its the other way around. I am a fan of extreme metal. It used to be called hardcore in the early days, the late eighties, when Peel would play Napalm Death, Extreme Noise Terror and Carcass. It was also called thrash in the very early days of Anthax and Metellica but then the term death-metal appeared and all extreme metal seemed to be labelled as death-metal by those who listen to anything but thrash. Probably because the phrase death-metal conjures comedy images of the sort of thing that could offend your church-going granny by name alone. For instance, when Lordi won the Eurovision Song Contest, their sound was described by Terry Wogan and his legion of TOGS as death-metal. How I sneered at their suburban middle England ignorance. Lordi sound nothing like Cannibal Corpse.
So, to get to the point, why has extreme metal (the umbrella term for all subgenres) got such a bad press even amongst the serious listener of music? It’s not the noise per se, to the serious listener ‘The Swans’ or ‘Sonic Youth’ wouldn’t rattle their cage. Perhaps it’s the subject matter of the lyrics? Juvenile horror stories lacking the depth and emotion that Radiohead offer? The lack of musical variety? One complaint being it all sounds the same, that it is, in fact, boring? Youve no doubt listened to it and drawn your own conclusions. Allow me to explain how I came to mine.
When I was a teenager I got into heavy metal but a lot of the bands weren’t heavy enough. ‘Iron Maiden’ and even ‘Motorhead’ really didn’t cut it. A bit like biting into a Yorkie bar and finding it hollow. When I discovered Anthrax and Metallica – yes – a point in the right direction but it was the Swedish band Bathory that really hit the mark. Even by todays standards their self titled debut sounds impenetrable and crushing, screeched vocals and fast drumming.
British Thrashers Sabbat also had a big influence on me. Developing a sense of political awareness, I also adopted the hardcore sounds of Napalm Death, Doom, Carcass, Extreme Noise Terror, et al. Heavy music at last, a happy teenager and no hollow Yorkie.
By the time grunge hit I was listening to ‘Ministry’ and ‘Nine Inch Nails’. In my twenties and didn’t listen to traditional heavy metal at all. I also got into dance and then britpop. I’d totally lost touch with the extreme metal scene. By the end of the decade the whole grunge/britpop/dance revolution seemed to be waning. Bands like ‘Travis’ and ‘Coldplay’ were filling the gap left by ‘Radiohead’ and ‘Pulp’. I was listening to ‘Moby’ and ‘Placebo’ when I bought an album by folk-metallers Skyclad. I sat there and listened to the album, songs about paganism and nuclear war, reading the lyrics like I used to as a teenager (I was now 29). I’d not sat down and listened to an album like this for years; focussed, noting each nuance of the music and lyrics, the needle leaving the grooves of side two and feeling satisfied, in same way as a biscuit and raisin Yorkie not only satisfies but is a genuinely interesting eating experience. The same thing happened a few weeks later when I bought an LP by Cradle of Filth. (a more dark chocolate, Bourneville experience). Sat there, read the lyrics and was amazed at my own enjoyment of the music. With ‘Moby’ and ‘Placebo’, it was more a case of duty – I’d bought the thing, I suppose I better listen to it.
A lot of things had been happening in the world of extreme metal since I’d left it ten years ago. There were all these subgenres; Death-metal, black metal, doom metal, Folk-metal, Prog-metal, grindcore. And they didn’t all sound the same. To say that black metal and grindcore sound the same is like saying ‘The Clash’ sound like ‘Crass’. While my Moby and Placebo albums gathered dust I was throwing myself into the extreme metal sound in the same way as I’d thrown myself into mosh pits as a young man. Not simply because I was now in my thirties and was trying to relive my youth but I couldn’t help but admire the technical skill of some of these bands. They also had that vital element that ‘Coldplay’ and ‘Travis’ lacked: imagination, or rather a certain kind of imagination. ‘Cradle of Filth’, for instance, create concept albums such as Cruelty and the Beast and Godspeed on the Devils Thunder. The lyrical style forces you to sit down and read the lyrics (or you can’t understand what theyre saying, fact, another complaint from the serious music listener) and there you will find fantastically eloquent lyrics and dark drama in spades. You have to sit down and read them. Back to original point, oh yes, variety, imagination. Take Cathedrals The Guessing Game – sounds like it was made in the early seventies and is a great homage to psychedelic prog rock. Sunn O))) make possibly the most challenging music I’ve ever heard; subsonic bass rhythms pumped through effects pedals. I saw this band live and instead if the usual tinnitus afterwards I thought I had the bends! Further a field, Romanian Black-metal band Negua Bunget (no, I don’t know how to pronounce it either) produce some beautiful, atmospheric music using traditional Romanian instruments alongside electric guitars et al. Hardingrock; beautiful Norwegian violin pitched against spacey black-metal. The list is endless.
You won’t see any of this on the Kerrang channel (and to be honest, 90 percent of that does all sound the same). Perhaps noise is not your thing or perhaps your kind of interested but put off by all the juvenile imagery and church burnings by certain of the Norwegian black metal cohort. (Read Lords of chaos by Michael Moynihan and Didrick Soderlind for more info).
If you are interested I would recommend you start of with a band Called Opeth, a Swedish four piece who are classically trained musicians who decided to form a heavy metal band. This falls under the umbrella prog-metal. All long songs veering between death-metal growls, through to mid-paced rock via some beautiful acoustic guitar passages. Moving and atmospheric even my sister-in-law who likes ‘Barry Manilow’ and thrilled to see ‘Take That’ last year was forced to acknowledge their skilled playing and general brilliance. (I refused to untie her from the chair until she did)
I’m 40 now and don’t have long hair and can no longer squeeze into band t-shirts. I haven’t grown out of it and probably never will. John Peel, not long before his death, said on the programme Room 101 that he was “going through a bit of a death-metal phase” and he was in his sixties. I am not ashamed (but did feel slightly embarrassed to be to be buying an album by Belgian death-metal band Aborted recently. Its for a friend, honest) I genuinely like it! I must go now, the new Annal Nathrakh album has just come through the post from Amazon and my sister-in-law is dying to listen to it……
- Gods of Grind UK tour. From www.sharethebrutality.info. I didnt see Carcass around on this tour but did see the in 1991 at Oxfords now defunct Jericho Tavern. They thanked everyone who travelled to see them.
- Moshpit from www.pixelview.com. These days Im far too old to get in the mosh pit. Once, a a therapy gig I was in a moshpit and bent down to do my shoe laces up and someone slam-dived onto my back. Amazingly, I can still walk.
- Yorkie not for girls. www.nestleprofessional.com. More blokes than woman like extreme metal but the percentage of female fans is higher than it used to be. Arch Enemy have a brilliant female front woman who can really shed her vocal chords.
- Sabbat. Cover art for Dreamweaver: Reflections of our Yesterdays. From www.joegiannetti.com 1989 concept album based on The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates. A Christian missionary travels to a pagan settlement in historical Britain and loses his soul. I lost some luggage on a similar trip to Lebannon in 1993.
- Sunn O))) on the cover of Wire Magazine. From www.thewire.com
- Opeth cover for their album Morningrise. www.flatclassroomproject.com Other albums include Blackwater Park, Still Life and My Arms, Your Hearse The title coined from a lyric by 1960s psych-prog outfit Comus. Well, hearses for curses, as they say.