Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Havok - Conformicide


Well, like Twilight Force's sophomore album last year (I'm still refusing to type that idiotic title as much as possible), Havok's new album, Conformicide, seems to already be 2017's bizarre hill to die on.  Though this time, it's not because the frantic hyperbole is focusing on the music itself and the merits thereof (since Twilight Force is basically bombastic flower metal cranked up to eleven most of the critique from both angles seemed to center on whether the style itself was inherently awesome or shitty), instead the controversy from this one stems mostly from the lyrics, themes, and attitude of the band as a collective and individuals.

I'm just gonna get it out of the way since that's what everybody is talking about.  Yes, the lyrics are awful, blunt force trauma rantings of the tinfoil Infowars variety with no subtlety whatsoever.  Yes, they do detract from the overall package.  Yes, Sanchez has made a name for himself for being a ranting Tea Party following, Gadsden Flag waving zealot with a condescending attitude.  Yes, these are all problems that do keep me from enjoying this album fully, but I'll try not to spend too much time on them since I've always been the type to not take lyrics into account too horribly much when it comes to metal anyway.  The biggest problem is twofold actually, the first thing being that the attitude the album exudes is that it's merely a vehicle to preach.  Havok uses their new album as a bully pulpit to talk down to the "sheep" of the "masses" about all the New World Order shit we've been hearing for decades in thrash.  The second is that they don't actually say anything interesting with this platform.  Like, "F.P.C." is all about how political correctness is stifling free speech and how the "snowflake" type youths are ruining everything, but it provides precisely zero examples of such a thing and just rants aimlessly about how much it sucks to get yelled at for being mean.  "Intention to Deceive" starts with an awful snippet of a news anchor announcing that tonight's news will be trivial nonsense to distract you from what's really happening, but the rest of the song conspicuously fails to mention what the news is distracting you from.  It's like the band is trying to come off as a Dale Gribble type character, espousing all kinds of wacky, out-there theories of what is going on behind the scenes when it comes to the people in power, with all kinds of reasons they want to suppress free thought and how they go about it.  Instead they're more of a Steven Hyde, a burnout loser who sits in the basement all day smoking weed and rambling about how The Man is trying to keep you down, maaan.  It's just empty crap, it's the same content you could get from asking any 14 year old in a Led Zeppelin shirt what he thinks is going on in the world.  Just worthless drivel, and being advertised as a forward-thinking album loaded with "truth bombs" is overselling it to a massive degree.

However, I'd be a total hypocrite if I got so hung up on this that I let it ruin the whole album for me.  It's fine if it does for you, but I'm the guy who gave Arghoslent a free pass simply because I love the music so much, so that's where it's going to end for me.

Musically... well it doesn't actually do a whole lot to excite me.  There are some elements that I flat out adore, namely this completely fucking manic approach to vocals that Sanchez seems to have adopted.  I haven't kept up with Havok since their first album since they were just another face in the crowd of rethrash in the late 00s, but god damn I don't remember his vocals being so ludicrously venomous on Burn.  He seems to alternate between that distorted scream and the more conventional snarl, but the former is what stands out and what seems to be utilized more often.  It honestly makes up for a good chunk of the album's faults in my eyes, there's a lot of passion behind those frenzied shrieks, and it helps amp up the aggression when the riffs are stuck in stock meandering mode.  If the riff writing could improve, I could absolutely see Havok being a true standout in the scene, but as it stands the fiendish screams are merely the one thing that makes this album memorable from a musical perspective for me.

Riffs are the lifeblood that keeps the thrash beast mobile, and I won't lie and say there aren't some cool high octane sections on display, but the bulk of the album seems to fall into the same rethrash tropes we've heard a gorillion times for the last decade now.  Now don't get me wrong, there are certainly parts that are creative.  "F.P.C." has a bizarre verse riff that focuses on a Prong styled bass-driven groove, and there are a lot of extended intros (a neat thing that I actually wish more bands would do well), but overall the album focuses on standard thrash rhythms.  This can work just fine, a unique sound is more of a bonus than a requirement to me, but when the passion and aggression is 100% put behind the vocals, the rest of the music suffers.  Basically the point here is that they needed more songs like "Dogmaniacal", which is just fucking ferocious and propulsive, and a whole lot less songs like "Peace is in Pieces", which chugs along and rips out high speed thrash riffs that sound like they were written on the fly and not tweaked at all after the rough draft stage.  Conformicide is deceptively technical as well, with plenty of neat bass licks and complex sections that appear from time to time, but it's not the band's strength.  They're not the brainiac engineers of Watchtower or Coroner who can get Doom to run on anything with an electrical current, but they're competent enough code monkeys to fix my laptop when I download the wrong porn.  The problem is that they don't weave these angular riffs into instantly recognizable anthems like Megadeth did on Rust in Peace (an album this was compared to during the marketing blitz), instead we get ten run of the mill thrash songs that occasionally surprise you with a highly complicated bass run.  I'd call that a failure of songwriting, personally, because the cool ideas they obviously had are overshadowed by the simpler songs like "Claiming Certainty" and "Dogmaniacal".  The Megadeth influence is certainly there, but Havok are still very clearly imitators more than they are trailblazers.

That's really all there is to say about Conformicide.  All around the internet it's either being praised as the thinking man's answer to the overwhelming wave of progressive left wing ideals in metal or a hackneyed vehicle to condescendingly preach to the choir and willingly alienate everybody else, when really it's just a subpar-to-middling thrash album with notable lyrical themes and shit actual lyrics.  It's not awful, this doesn't pain me to listen to and I'll probably reach back for a song or two every now and again, but it's still very full of itself and presents itself as something much grander than it actually is.  Like with all things, the truth is somewhere in the middle, and I'm not just trying to be a oh-lets-just-please-everybody waffler with that statement.  It's just... kinda there.  If there wasn't so much controversy around the lyrics, it'd likely be quickly lost to time as yet another modern thrash album that isn't as shitnards bonkers as Vektor or viciously brutal as Power Trip, apparently the only other two thrash bands people like nowadays. 

RATING - 43%

Tuesday, March 7, 2017


Stream of consciousness incoming

Yesterday, A.V. Club, generally a great source of pop culture news with an occasional smartass twist (a natural consequence of being the rare non-satirical entity owned by The Onion), published an article titled "Metal music still has an unaddressed Nazi problem".  It's been making the rounds in my internetical circles for obvious reasons, mainly being that I'm a metalhead who writes and talks about metal all the time and therefore associates with several likeminded people, and it's just gotten me thinking about a couple of things.  So I figured I should impart some of my unearned and unwanted wisdom upon y'all, because there's a lot to address in that article, and I'm pretty sure I'm gonna lose my way and get introspective as it goes (I don't outline anything before I write it, sue me).

The most glaring thing about the article that I noticed is that it is either amazingly poorly researched, or the author is so far up his own ass that he's in danger of choking on his own head.  Now, I'm not going to sit here and defend Nazis.  I fucking hate Nazis.  I can't stand racism or anti-semitism or basically any other sort of -ism you can throw at me, I just generally don't talk about my political views here on Lair of the Bastard because y'all come here for metal reviews and fart jokes, but it's the truth.  So the fact that this article lit a fire in me does not mean anything even remotely approaching that Nazis are alright and we as a listenership should just get over it or anything of that nature.  What I'm really getting at is that if you're going to go after the shitty people in metal, you should at least take on a modicum of journalistic integrity and have something resembling an idea of what you're talking about.

The article begins by talking shit about Disma, which is fair.  I think Disma is an alright band but they're certainly not a Nazi/white supremacist band, but they are led by Craig Pillard, who hasn't done much in the way of distancing himself from any Nazi sympathies he may seem to exude.  His Sturmführer project is really hard to defend, glorifying Hitler and his atrocities with aplomb.  Whether or not it's just tryhard edgelord shock value bullshit, it's still not the kind of thing that society at large is cool with, so his involvement with pretty much anything is going to carry the stink of Sturmführer.  I'm one of those people who can separate art from artist, and I realize that's likely a privilege thing, but the fact is that I think Arghoslent riffs extremely fucking hard so I'm going to listen to them, but I'm also not going to get upset if somebody else is going to see the lyrics recanting tales of how awesome slavery was and decide to not support them.  That's their individual choice, so the author saying Disma should suck out farts and die is fine by me.

Where he starts to go off the rails is immediately afterwards when he accuses Profound Lore of having no moral compass, signing bands full of awful people and indicating that they simply do not give a shit about these types of things.  If there were more examples than just Disma (I remind you, a band that says nothing objectionable other than the typical death and morbidity tropes of death metal and simply happen to have an objectionable member) I might understand, but the next band on Profound Lore's roster they go after is... Cobalt?

Wait seriously, fucking Cobalt?  The band that wrote Gin?  The album with motherfucking Ernest Hemingway on the cover?  Hold on, does David Anthony actually know a fucking thing about Cobalt?  Cobalt generally sticks to topics of loss and misery at the hands of war, and I don't mean like "Aw yeah the Third Reich had the right idea invading Poland" or anything of that nature.  Hell, Cobalt has always had only two official members, and from the band's inception until 2014, Phil McSorley was one of them, and he's a source of controversy, sure, but only if you completely cut off the narrative at a specific point.  He snapped after an interview with Andrew Curtis-Brignell of Caïna, where Andrew talked about how the forced misanthropy of black metal was kinda dumb and why feminism and such was important.  Phil took offense to this sort of "USBM friendship scene" as he called it and started spouting off homophobic remarks in retaliation.  If you stopped there, Cobalt absolutely seems like the kind of band you'd want to distance yourself from.  But the story doesn't stop there.  Phil was kicked out of Cobalt almost immediately.  That's not the kind of message that the other member, Erik Wunder, wants the band to be associated with.  So there was an offending member who spewed hateful shit and he was immediately kicked out of the band.  To hold the words of somebody who was kicked out of the band as a result of those exact words against the band is just insane and unfair.

But really, that's not his issue.  His issue is with McSorley's replacement, Charlie Fell of (the inimitably fucking awesome) Lord Mantis.  Oddly enough, even then his issue isn't necessarily with Cobalt, but with the album art for Lord Mantis' third album, 2014's excellent Death Mask.  Let's take a look at this offending art:

Now, in a vacuum, it's not exactly hard to see why this could be offensive.  It's a sickly green trans person, mutilated and bound with a noose falling out of slit wrists inside some cosmic hellscape.  Now, anybody who has been touched by Rin's path knows the school of thought that "art is meant to be interpreted, not understood", but the fact of the matter is that there is a concrete message behind this.  I'll let Charlie explain this in his own words, via a statement he released after a review at nocleansinging brought attention to the perceived insensitivity of the art (emphasis mine):

“The art work wasn’t meant to offend it was made to be a portrait of myself destructiveness as well as my minds eye view of my humanity and sexuality. The last album also featured a transgendered Christ on it and its been a theme in our cover art through out the bands existence. Im not always the best with words and come off a bit crass and insensitive to some people but I have no problems or prejudices with any race, gender (cis, trans or otherwise) or sexual orientation.

I myself am a jew and work at a gay bar in Boystown Chicago and also was in a relationship with a transgendered woman so I can tell you that the band does not advocate violence towards anyone besides ourselves, hence the noose and the scars and the agony of the figure on the cover. I haven’t had the most privileged life and the bands art is a direct reflection of my own misery and was not intended to be some sort of tasteless shocker"

See how fucking easy that was to explain?  It's not just a shocking "hee hee look at us we're murdering a trans person" shitshow, it's an expression of the vocalist's own hatred of himself and his confused sexuality, a vocalist who is also Jewish, works in a gay bar, and has been in a relationship with a trans woman.  Like, holy shit talk about taking the exact opposite message from something and justifying it with a cherry picked quote from an interview where he's trying to push the mysticism that so many extreme bands inexplicably rely on (this is sort of a side note itch-scratching, but I hate that sort of shit.  Just be like "Oh hey, my name is Steve and I work in a pet store, this next song is about Satanic murder cults", we really don't need to believe you're in a Satanic murder cult in order to enjoy the song).  Throwing Fell under the bus for something he's already explained is fucking inexcusable, and the author and website both owe him an apology.

Keep in mind that very little of what the article has discussed has to do with Nazism up to this point.  It's only been Craig Pillard, who by extension means everybody else in Disma has drawn ire, plus an entirely unfair attack on Cobalt, Lord Mantis, and Charlie Fell for reasons that make absolutely no sense and were already adequately explained.  So this "Nazi problem" apparently has a whole lot to do with... people not actually being Nazis.

From there the article goes on to continue beating the dead horse of Inquisition, based on a story told by a former tour bus driver about the band going gaga over his swazi tattoo.  This one always bugged me because it was a total hearsay report from one guy about a situation from a decade or more prior with no witnesses, initially reported on as total unflinching fact by Metalsucks with the headline "Inquisition are probably Nazis".  Dagon gave an interview later where he explained his rather laissez faire approach towards the hatred of the past and explaining that they initially signed to No Colours Records simply because they were the only underground label of any renown willing to sign them back then, white supremacy be damned.  I'm not going to try to explain away his 88MM project or the association with No Colours, or the promo pics with a Nazi flag (though that one is likely just cheap shock value as opposed to genuine hate, though I can understand somebody not caring about such a distinction) or his defensive interview (which did him no favors by being presented unedited, including all of his pauses and "um"s and "uh"s), but Metalsucks isn't exactly known for being calm, slow, and rational about these things.  Lets not forget the time they went after Destroyer 666 for being racist Nazi pricks based almost entirely on a white wolf being present on a 20 year old album and an after-show anecdote from a fan, running smear pieces for a week before somebody actually had the idea to fucking talk to the band and ended up retracting everything and deleting the articles.  That one is even more confusing considering there are heaps of stories about KK Warslut being a racist dickhead but apparently they decided to focus on something really flimsy and ended up having to eat crow over it.

Next up is the deadest of all dead horses, going after Mayhem for the shit in the early 90s that every metal fan is well aware of.  Yes, the black metal scene had a lot of ugly shit going on, from the church burnings, to Varg Vikernes being a racist neo-Nazi piece of shit who murdered Euronymous (who, by the way, hasn't been in Mayhem for upwards of twenty years now and even gave up on metal entirely (for racist reasons, natch)), to Hellhammer's ugly quotes regarding racism and homophobia (which, again, were eons ago), to Faust stabbing a homosexual man to death (who, again, hasn't been in Emperor since it happened so holding his actions against the band is like me saying Wal Mart is racist because they hired my high school bully as a cart pusher and then fired him after he said something racist), and on and on.  There are tons of great examples of awful, terrible, reprehensible people being involved in classic bands but to trash those bands after dumping members for those exact reasons is nuts.

Lastly, they take on the guitarist of Deafheaven because of Twitter posts from before the band even formed of him using slurs like a regular part of speech.  Yes, he shouldn't have said those things and I'm not going to try to spin it like he did nothing wrong, but the original article that broke that story never asked him for a comment.  It was just "HA HA LOOK AT THIS SOME DUDE FROM A BAND THAT IS POPULAR NOW USED TO CALL PEOPLE FAGGOTS ALL THE TIME BEFORE THE BAND EVEN STARTED AND NOW WE'RE GOING TO AIR IT TO THE WORLD WITHOUT GIVING HIM AN OPPORTUNITY TO APOLOGIZE BECAUSE WE DON'T CARE IF PEOPLE CHANGE HA HA HA!"  And this A.V. Club article presented that article with nothing else, not caring if he had any remorse or even if he tried to defend himself in some sort of terrible way, it was just used as another example of why metal is littered with awful people with no sort of context around it.

What this all amounts to is a ridiculous witch hunt and an exercise in false equivalence.  Kerry McCoy said "faggot" a lot back in the day and Charlie Fell used his art to express self loathing and sexuality in a way that some people misinterpreted, and that somehow makes them equally as bad as literal murderers and people who glorify a regime that facilitated the deaths of millions of innocent people.  Because... they all play black metal?  Because homophobia is synonymous with Nazism now?  I don't even know what Anthony was trying to go for with this article, because it was just a litany of examples of shitty behavior, several of which were presented irresponsibly or flat out incorrectly, with "Nazi" in the title like it somehow tied it all together.  I feel the need to reiterate that Charlie Fell absolutely got shafted in this article and deserves and apology, everything relating to him, Cobalt, and Profound Lore Records is absolutely shameful.

Now, finally moving past the summary of the initial article, I guess what I want to say in response to all of this is that there are a disturbing amount of Nazi sympathizers in metal, the thing is that there are very few, if any, "infiltrators" and people who get away with murder (literally and metaphorically) in metal.  For the most part they're all sequestered into their own little pocket of easily avoidable and hateable niche of NSBM.  Somebody like Craig Pillard helping shape what death metal would later become in Incantation is a huge rarity, and to frame an entire argument around that, sucking in innocent bystanders like Fell into a self-collapsing vortex of nonsense, is crazy and irresponsible.  If the author wanted to make a point about the problem of Nazis in metal, there were tons, tons more rational examples he could have used.  But no, he went for the sensationalist approach of trying to equate Deafheaven with Absurd, and that's preposterous.

Going back into politics, I am personally fairly far on the left side of the spectrum.  I'm all about inclusion and positivity, I just happen to love aggressive, violent music.  I understand there's a cognitive dissonance at play here, and I'd be a total hypocrite if I tried to deny the privilege I have as a straight, white, cis dude who can't possibly be personally offended or attacked by 99.9999999% of the themes present in metal.  But what this article did was irresponsible and inexcusable, and it only makes it harder for people to sympathize with the values its trying to hold up.  I know it's not always black and white, and I'll admit that seeing Richard Spencer get punched in a face was so schadenfreudetastic that I nearly ejaculated hard enough to change the ph level of the atmosphere upon seeing it, but there's something to be said for tone.

What I mean by that is that this way of going about business, attacking anything and everything that could possibly be seen as insensitive without any attempt at actually understanding it, is fucking dangerous and can (and will) easily backfire.  I actually agree with most of the values that sites like Metalsucks stand for but thanks to their sensationalist and oftentimes sloppy reporting, I don't support them.  The general message of Antifa is something I can wholly get behind.  Fascism is awful and needs to be stomped out before it can spread, but shutting down an entire Messes des Mortes festival simply because Graveland is playing or making threats against a venue in Oakland because Marduk is stopping there on tour is fucking nuts.  Marduk uses militaristic imagery but have written precisely zero songs painting Nazis in a positive light, and threatening to attack a fucking venue simply for hosting them and the several other bands on tour and the innocent fans who just want to headbang their troubles away for a night is the exact opposite of what should be done.  That's picking a bad target and utilizing the exact tactics you claim to be fighting against in order to make some idiotic point, and it makes you look bad and undermines the entire message you're trying to spread.  Articles like this aren't going that far, but it's the same idea.  This article picks bad targets and makes a loosely defined point by attacking people who have jack fuck to do with what harmful shit they're trying to highlight, and in turn devastating their own point and turning otherwise rational people against them.  DON'T DO THIS.  IT IS NOT HARD.

You see, I used to be this way.  No, not like the article, but like the bands they're trying to attack.  When I was a kid, I was an outsider.  I was generally a loner who hung out with a bad crowd because at least they accepted me, and when I was a kid I used to say and believe some pretty reprehensible shit.  Sure I became this charismatic stallion later but that was only when I started forging healthy relationships, read a thesaurus, and got really good at dick jokes, but back then I could have been the type of edgelord clownshoe to start a Nazi band because at least I was getting a reaction and wink wink nudge nudge I'd probably totally be okay if we got rid of all the black and gay people.  I wrote an essay when I was 12 about how immigration is bad because soon there will be more brown people than white people in America.  Do you want to know how I broke away from that shit?  I had things explained to me.  My mom saw that paper before I turned it in and said she'd rather I take a zero than raise a white supremacist.  She illustrated why the things I was saying were awful and how I'm illustrating my veiled prejudice without even realizing I had it.  I didn't know I was racist, it all made sense to me, it wasn't until somebody offered a different perspective that I realized that I was actually being a hurtful dickhead to people I had never met.

Am I saying that polite discourse is the truest way to solve the societal ills that plague us?  Not exactly, I know that a lot of people are so far gone that there's really no way to salvage what humanity they previously may have had.  I was saved from being a hateful prick because it was caught and dealt with early.  It wasn't brainwashing or browbeating, it was simply exposing me to a new way of thinking that, ultimately, made a hell of a lot more sense to me once I was introduced to it.  Shit, I wasn't even barred from hanging out with those people anymore, because I was trusted to make the right decisions, and I did.

But, the difference here is that I'm not in the public eye right now.  I'm just some dork on the internet who plays a lot of Final Fantasy and talks about death metal with pointlessly purple prose, so that shit is pretty much protected.  But if somebody had somehow dredged up all that shit I had said more than half my life ago, you bet your ass I'd go on the defensive and probably dig my heels in the dirt.  How dare you try to paint me as a bad person now because I said bad things back then.  How dare you paint me as a bad person because I used to be friends with white supremacist dickholes, despite the fact that I don't associate with them now.  Just like how it doesn't matter that Phil McSorley used to be a major player in Cobalt, because he said awful things and is no longer part of the band as a result.  Just like how Faust went to jail for a reprehensible murder and Emperor did not stand by him, instead forging onwards and creating an identity that had nothing to do with what he did.  Just like how McCoy said awful things in the past but was judged to be a terrible person now without any regard to whether or not he changed his ways.  Just like how Fell did absolutely nothing wrong and found himself dragged through the mud yet again because somebody didn't bother to do any fucking research.

I guess what I'm saying is that there's a divide between retribution and rehabilitation.  Some people do not want to see or give people the chance to reform, they want to see them nailed to a cross because forgiveness is not an option when it comes to something evil.  This goes for the prison system that favors harsh time or capital punishment as well as people who will not buy an Inquisition or Deafheaven record because Dagon has made some terribly poor decisions and said some hateful shit in his youth or McCoy liberally threw slurs around like they meant nothing.  Other people are willing to give people the chance to change, with or without an explicit apology.

Honestly, I'm not going to give answers here, because I don't have any.  I'm posing the question to you and giving you the opportunity to debate with yourself whether or not one way of thinking has any merit whatsoever.  Do you think that things McCoy said years ago remain status quo until he explicitly apologizes for it?  Or do you think he's grown and matured as a person and deserves the chance to move on?  Do you think that Mayhem should not be supported because of all the terrible things that happened with them in the past or do you think that they've sufficiently distanced themselves from them and forged a new identity and do not need to revisit the past?  This is up to you, this part of the rant isn't meant to be soapboxing, it's genuine curiosity on my part because even I don't know exactly how I feel, even though I certainly seem to be leaning more in one direction than the other.  I understand that everything is a spectrum and there are exceptions to everything.  I'm asking the questions and not providing the answers, because I don't have them, only you do.  I can't tell you how to think.

But I can tell you that the A.V. Club article was sloppy and irresponsible, and potentially very harmful to people who may not deserve the vilification.  This ridiculous witch hunt within metal needs to fucking stop, and efforts need to be focused on the chief offenders who are blatantly and gleefully perpetuating hate and violence, instead of people who might have done so a lifetime ago and have tried to leave that behind them.  People like McCoy, regardless of whether or not you give them the benefit of the doubt in regards to growing away from past homophobia, do not deserve to be lumped in the same category as Varg Vikernes and Hendrik Möbus.  That is dangerous and irresponsible.  I keep using the same words because... fuck it's the truth.

And no matter how you feel, there's no denying that Charlie Fell got shafted and misrepresented, and deserves some sort of apology, because that's just fucking tragic.