Eno (photo by Richard Burbridge)
Yesterday I read two articles that jarred a few thoughts loose in my head. One was a feature (here) by Sasha Frere-Jones in The New Yorker about the musician Brian Eno and one was a Q&A (here) between Kim Kelly and Bölzer’s guitarist/vocalist Okoi “KzR” Jones that appeared at Stereogum.
Eno is credited with coining the phrase “ambient music”. He first became visible through his membership in the band Roxy Music and his subsequent solo albums of pop and rock songs that made extensive use of synthesizers. He produced Devo’s debut album, produced and performed on three albums by Talking Heads, produced seven albums for U2, wrote music and performed on three David Bowie albums, collaborated with King Crimson’s Robert Fripp on multiple records, and worked as a producer and/or performer with many other musicians too numerous to mention. On top of that he is a visual artist, and he has continued experimenting in the creation of music to the present day.
When he spoke to Sascha Frere-Jones in 2013, Eno said:
“I think negative ambition is a big part of what motivates artists. It’s the thing you’re pushing against. When I was a kid, my negative ambition was that I didn’t want to get a job.”
Listening to Eno’s music and reading about the evolution of his life as an artist, you get the sense that his “negative ambition” extended beyond not wanting to get a conventional job. As Sasha-Jones wrote of his art, “Eno fights against received wisdom and habit”. Even in his work as a producer, “Eno often works with highly skilled musicians and then asks them to play against their own virtuosity”.
(In this post NCS guest contributor Kevin P, who I had the pleasure of meeting in person for the first time at this year’s edition of Maryland Deathfest, provides his thoughts about the 12th installment of this amazing U.S. festival.)
This was my third MDF and the first one I planned on attending all four days. In 2011 I went Friday through Sunday, and last year on Thursday only (yes, I flew out simply for Bolt Thrower). As luck would have it, Triptykon cancelled three days before their scheduled performance on Thursday, which made me rethink my plans.
We have a brand new baby in our house (three months old) along with a ten-year-old, so the wife wasn’t what I would call “pleased” that I was going to be away for almost five days while she played the single parent game. The only bands that really mattered to me on Friday were Necros Christos, The Ruins of Beverast, and At the Gates (who I’d just seen twice on Barge to Hell in Dec 2012), so once Triptykon made Thursday utterly useless for me (yeah, Coffins are cool and all, but nothing that gets me all chubbed up at night), I decided to cut my trip to only Saturday and Sunday (ya know, help out around the house, make the wife happy, all that kinda shit).
Then, in their infinite wisdom (and possibly me gently nudging and requesting it on their Facebook page), the organizers decided to add a second Bölzer set on Friday night (in place of Aeturnus, who had visa issues at the airport). Bölzer was originally scheduled to play Saturday night, opposite Dark Angel, which was my sole pain point for the whole festival. I don’t live and die everything Dark Angel, but they are a legendary band I enjoy and have never seen. But when the hell am I going to get a chance to see Bölzer again? So once they added a second Bölzer set on Friday night (opposite At the Gates’ time slot), the wife said “go, why not at this point”. So at 11:50pm Thursday night I rebooked my flight AGAIN to arrive on Friday early afternoon.
I’ve been reliving my experience at Maryland Deathfest XII through these “travelogue” posts. Maybe “extending my experience” would be a better way to say it, because I really didn’t want it to end and still don’t. But I need to move back to what I usually do at the site (as soon as I remember what that is), and so this will be the final installment.
When I left off yesterday I was in the middle of giving a round of applause to the bands I saw at the Rams Head venue during the course of MDF who made the biggest impact on me. To be clear, I enjoyed the performances of every band I heard at MDF, but the ones I’ve mentioned in these posts were the highlights. I’ll wrap up my thoughts about the performances at Rams Head next, and then turn to the bands who were at Edison Lot.
Saturday night after Bölzer finished their set and I finished waiting in line at their merch table to throw money at them, I caught the last half of the set by Finland’s Hooded Menace, a band I like a lot. They were hooded and they were menacing, boulder-sized doom chords falling down like slow rain (if it were raining boulders) and bleak (but entrancing) guitar melodies rising up like graveyard mist.
Diocletian at Rams Head Live — MDF XII
So far I’ve written about two of the venues at Maryland Deathfest XII – The Edison Lot and Soundstage. Today I’ll cover two more and begin discussing more of the bands who provided, for me, the musical highlights of the four-day event.
My two Seattle friends and I arrived in Baltimore in the early evening of last Wednesday after a long cross-country flight to D.C. and then a numbing crawl through rush-hour traffic from there to Baltimore. It was a steady 20 miles per hour all the way, except for the times when it wasn’t moving at all and about 10 minutes when we accelerated all the way up to a blistering 40 mph.
We hooked up with my NCS comrade BadWolf at the hotel (he had driven all the way from Toledo), and since all of us were feeling hungry and sort of beat to shit, we had some food and drinks at the hotel after checking in and before making our way to the Ottobar for the pre-fest show on Wednesday night.
photo by Kusha of Theories
One of the most striking aspects of Maryland Deathfest XII was something that hit me even harder after I returned home to Seattle: As one of my new MDF acquaintances put it on Facebook today, it was a place “where EVERYTHING in totality, literally, everything in a 360 degree view, was ‘metal’ oriented in some way or another.”
You get that feeling at just about any metal show, but it’s a feeling that usually only lasts a handful of hours and then you’re back in the world. At MDF, it went on for days. Everywhere you looked, at almost all hours of the days and nights, even on the streets of Baltimore, you saw and heard the sights and sounds of metal. And especially at the Edison Lot, it was like being transported to another planet populated solely by metalheads. I’ve never seen so much black (or so many patches) in one place in my life.
People-watching was definitely one of the primary MDF spectator sports, second only to watching the bands on stage. Given that this was like a metal homecoming party (or, as Kim Kelly put it, “metal’s version of Spring Break”), lots of people obviously put a lot of thought and care into their selection of finery — including the dude in the horse-head mask pictured above, just after he had successfully crowd-surfed over the barricade at Edison Lot’s Stage A. And of course the official mascot of MDF, Chicken Man:
(This is a follow-up to a widely read piece we published last month about The Loudness War by guest writer Alex (the co-founder and chief editor of Metal-Fi and an audiophile who has been listening to metal for more than 20 years). This article is also being cross-posted at the Angry Metal Guy blog as well as at Metal-Fi.)
“But I like my metal loud. It just sounds better to me.”
This is bar none the number one reaction I get from fellow headbangers, who after they read one of our articles, go off in a frenzy and measure all their record’s dynamic range only to discover they almost always prefer the hyper-compressed albums over the dynamic ones.
Not surprising. In fact, most of the time their results only reinforce why the Loudness War exists in the first place. Let me explain.
From a strictly Darwinian standpoint, the ability to hear is critical to your survival. It allows you to perceive the natural sounds in your environment, find food (as well as avoid becoming it), keep your balance, and most importantly in this day and age, communicate with your fellow headbanger more effectively. Consequently, your ears have developed into a highly sensitive instrument. You have the ability to hear a whisper in a sound-proofed room as well as detect the loudest scream at a Pig Destroyer show. Putting that into numbers, the human ear has about 140dB of dynamic range (the CD is only 96dB) and can hear up to three orders of magnitude in frequency (20Hz – 20kHz).
However, the perceived response of human hearing is not linear with respect to frequency. In English, the apparent loudness of a sound depends on its frequency and intensity. As I stated in my previous article, the study of how our ears perceive sound with respect to volume was first researched by Fletcher and Munson back in 1933. They came up with the first Equal-loudness contour, a plot that shows how your hearing changes depending on a sound’s intensity (sound pressure level or SPL). The curves are measured in Phons, which is the value of SPL that has constant apparent loudness for average human hearing.
Barring some truly unfortunate and unexpected mishap, I will be leaving Seattle on Wednesday morning at the ass crack of dawn to attend my first-ever Maryland Deathfest. I have to add that “mishap” caveat because two members of our original contingent of five Seattle travelers have already had to bail out, the most recent one due to a wrist fracture over the weekend that necessitates surgery tomorrow. So I’m not counting on anything until my butt (and the plane carrying it) lands on the East Coast.
Assuming I make it to Baltimore, there will likely be fewer posts the rest of this week than usual. I don’t plan on spending as much time scouring the web for new music or patiently listening to new releases for review purposes. Also, one of my NCS colleagues — BadWolf — will be at MDF, too, so I’m not expecting much out of him either. Correction: I do expect him to keep me out of jail and out of hospital emergency rooms.
We might have some photos, we might not. We might have some interviews, we might not. We might write some show reviews, but we might not. In other words, this really isn’t a blog-related project, and if the burden of writing about what we’re seeing and hearing interferes with the enjoyment of the moment (or with sleep), you can guess what’s going to take priority.
In messages to me, a couple of NCS supporters have wondered why I haven’t written about the recent controversy swirling around the black metal band Inquisition, perhaps especially because the band are based here in Seattle, because we’ve praised their music in the past, and because just yesterday I praised their live performance on the recently concluded Metal Alliance tour headlined by Behemoth.
While I’m flattered that anyone would care what I think about this subject, I guess the short answer is that I have no relevant facts to add to the discussion and every opinion that could be expressed about the issues (both intelligent and moronic) has been uttered elsewhere already. Also, it seems like every couple of days, some new piece of information surfaces that might be worth considering before expressing an opinion. Of course, none of these factors has stopped other metal bloggers from sticking their oar in the water, so I can understand why some people would wonder why I haven’t.
Given the possibility that our silence could be misinterpreted, I finally decided it might be worth an explanation. Also, I suspect that at least some of you might be interested in expressing your own opinions in a forum that isn’t dominated by idiots — and whatever else might be said about NCS, I think it’s undeniable that intelligent discussion in our Comment sections is one of the site’s strengths. So, here goes….
I got your soft serve right here. Dig in!
You know what “click bait” is, don’t you? You can’t spend any time web surfing without running into it. It’s like a dog turd on the sidewalk, except with ice cream on top to disguise the turd. It’s a way of writing headlines for web posts that will lure people into clicking through the links so the web-page proprietors will get more page views and earn a few extra nano-pennies of advertising. The headlines are always way over the top and sometimes downright false or misleading — the old bait-and-switch in the internet age.
I’m sick of seeing them on Facebook, even though I know what they are and never click on them. Well, almost never. I seem unable to resist any headline that includes the words “nude” and “Scarlett Johansson” in the same sentence. But maybe I’m being too moralistic.
I’m starting to see other metal sites use click-bait headlines. Maybe we should, too. Maybe people have become so inundated with this shit that if you don’t tell them whatever you’re writing about will make them cum immediately, they’ll figure it’s not worth their time. While we don’t advertise or make money from anything else we do, we do get a lot of psychic gratification from our traffic numbers. So maybe it’s time to join the crowd.
In some quarters, Jef Whitehead’s cover to the new album (Death Mask) by Chicago’s Lord Mantis has stirred up controversy — including in the comment thread to our own review of the album, where the band’s Charlie Fell joined the conversation to provide his own response to the controversy. Of course, controversy and metal aren’t strangers. In fact, one might argue that controversy is at the heart of metal. In fact, one might go further and argue that metal really doesn’t give a shit (and shouldn’t give a shit) about social agendas, political issues, or trying to move society in one direction or another.
That seems to be the general point of a short but potent piece by our fellow blogger Full Metal Attorney that appeared yesterday. In that piece, with the title “Metal Doesn’t Give A Shit”, he uses the controversy over Whitehead’s cover as a jumping-off point for an opinion piece in which he responds to the claim that metal should become “a truly counter-cultural resistance against mainstream society” — and I quote in part below:
“No, I’m sorry. Metal doesn’t care. Metal is horror films, snuff films, shock jocks, and pulp in music form. It has no higher purpose, and no social agenda.
Metal isn’t left. It isn’t right. It’s up yours. Dee Snider didn’t dress up like a woman because he was “ahead of his time” on queer issues, he did it to piss people off.