Lay down your souls to the Gods rock and roll

When I was a youngster at some point I started to like Guns’n’Roses. I bought shirts, had a jacket with patches and everything. At school I met a guy who was totally into death metal. Even though he was younger than myself, he had a massive amount of cds, it seemed to be the only thing he worked for. I lent a great deal of his cds and even though there were some things that I did like, death metal was not really my thing. Metal is a strange phenomenon. It is an umbrella term for a whole range of (mostly extreme) guitar-based music, but it seems that even though the entire spectrum is always there, there are one or two subgenres that flourish. Halfway the 1990’s there was an American band called Master, by many seen as a ‘proto-deathmetal band’. Their debut is from 1985, but the legendary albums untitled and On The Seventh Day God Created… Master are from 1990 and 1991 respectivelly, when other bands already came with a more extreme form of this music that technically should be called “trash metal”. Actually an entire story comes before this, since when you start to trace back, metal is an extreme form of rock and rock’s origins can be found in blues which gave birth to ‘Southern rock’. In any case, it was the band called Death that would give death metal its name. With albums in 1987, 1988 and 1991 one of the earlier bands defining its style with gory lyrics, downtuned guitars and growling vocals. Death metal had its peak from about 1990 to 1995 with bands such as Cannibal Corpse, Morbid Angel, Obituary and Massacre. I heard a lot of it, some things I liked, but most bands I did not find too interesting. A band that did catch my attention was Deicide.
Deicide was in several ways much more extreme than any of the bands I just mentioned. Death metal is extreme in lyrics, a band such as Cannibal Corpse sing about car-accidents in detail and listeners enjoy to singalong “a skull full of maggots!” Artwork is often bloodier than most horror films and of course there were other things to shock with. Insane for outsiders, surely, but with a high tongue-in-cheek mentallity. Glen Benton, the main man of Deicide had a more serious message though. “Deicide” means “to kill God and everything that’s holy” according to Benton. I do not think that Benton came up with that term himself, but it is not one that you run into often. Deicide is extremely anti-Christian with sometimes painfully clear, sometimes more veiled lyrics:

Three days to rise
If he lives again he is sure to die
I killed Jesus
Just to see him bleed on his pupped throne
I am evil
I’m the Deicide and I killed the lord
No more reasons
I will kill the world in another form

I rule this world

NAIL HIM

The sheer hatred that spoke from the lyrics and the music strenghtened my resistance against my quite Catholic upbringing. Pretty soon I knew all lyrics by heart. Deicide debuted in 1990 with a titleless album and the second album “Legion” was released in 1992. “Legion” has Benton’s “trifixion” on the cover, a drawing consisting of three inverted crosses and two inverted pentagrams. I do not remember when I realised the design, nor do I know if my parents did at all, but thinking back, Deicide was not that extreme in apparel. They sold quite well and I suppose their label tried to keep them short a little. Benton, on the other hand, has an inverted cross burned in his forehead and seemed to be loosing it more and more. Meanwhile, my friend has run into something more serious.

The Netherlands have a legendary metalmagazine called Aardschok (‘earthshake’). In these days, Aardschok had quite some attention for underground music. Besides, it was about the only source of information that we knew, so we read Aardschok. Somewhere in 1991 an album was reviewed from a Swiss band called Samael, the album was called “Worship Him”. The band was supposedly genuinely Satanic and in the booklet was a picture of a man praying to Satan. This album was the start of a deep dive into the extreme metal underground. Samael proved to have been around for some time, they released an EP in 1988, ‘underground’. There appeared to be a vast network of bands, labels and magazines, none of which were available through ‘normal’ channels. We sent around flyers, wrote to bands for demos. It took a few years to get around well, but in the end the scene was small enough to be able to keep up with. Before 1991 there were not too many releases available, but soon after the underground exploded.

Venom and Bathory
What I did not know yet, was that this new kind of metal had some history of its own already. When trash metal was big, the British band Venom took things a step further, making a Satanic kind of rock-n-roll. In 1981 they debuted with “Welcome To Hell”, a year later followed the legendary album “Black Metal”. Nowadays Venom does not sound very extreme, nor did their musical style put a very big stamp on musicians that started to use their term, but Venom are the very source of the black metal craze. A band that had profoundly more influence was the Swedish one-man project Bathory. “Quorthon” debuted in 1984 with a titleless album and a year later followed “The Return…”. Soon after, Bathory started to experiment and his/their albums vary from boring to alright, but things were never really like the first albums anymore. Bathory would also spell the split between Scandinavian and continental black metal. Where Venom was more rock-n-roll, Bathory was extremely fast, with high-pitched guitars and high, screamed vocals. Inspired by Bathory (but also Possessed and Celtic Frost), the Norwegian band Mayhem was the first of the new-wave of black metal bands, extreme in music very extreme in philosophy, practical Satanism and anti-Christianity. A few years after Mayhem the Scandinavian uprise of black metal started. Just to give an idea of how things started, Mayhem was supposedly founded in 1984, after the first two singers left (and the legendary “Deathcrush” demo was long sold out) in 1988 Mayhem became modestly popular with Dead as a singer. Dead mutilated himself on stage and eventually lived up to his nickname when he shot himself. Instead of calling the police, founding member “Euronymus” went out to buy a camera for pictures and collected pieces of skull. There were many changes in the line-up, but when Varg Vikernes joined, he and Euronymous got wild plans for blowing up churches to make their actions live up to the philosophy they spread with their music. Eventually the two got arguments and Vikernes stabbed Euronymous to death. Continuing alone under the monicker Burzum, Vikernes continued with carrying out his extreme ideas and typical Norwegian style black metal and even though many scene members were hostile to Vikernes for killing one of their own, he inspired more than one to burn churches, kill homosexuals and things like that. Yes, the Scandinavian black metal scene was more extreme than anything before. Also invented in the Norwegian scene was a makeup style called “corpse paint” (sometimes “war paint”) which became the characteristic for black metal bands (but in fact only for Scandinavians). While there were as old band on the continent, it was the Northern part that got most following.

Fuck Christ tour 1993
As far as I remember there had been no black metal concerts in my country before Immortal (nor), Rotting Christ (gre) and Blasphemy (can) came to the Baroeg in Rotterdam. An inverted cross over the door and inside, a gloomy atmosphere and more people inside than I figured would listen to this extreme musical style. It was a classic show. Where normally during metal concerts people are “moshing” and “stage-diving”, the bands obviously did not appreciate people who did. “No fun, no core, no mosh, no trends” was the selling line of Mayhem’s label Deathlike Silence Productions and black metal concerts lived up to that. Soon after the concerts started to come, the “true” discussions arose. “True” were people who had been part of the scene long enough. You could prove this by possessing certain demos for example. All other people were “posers” and more than once kicked out of venues. Also this got quite extreme sometimes. More and more concerts, but mostly more and more demos and magazine proved the ‘markability’ of black metal. The black metal murders where even mentioned on MTV news and ‘normal media’ started to report about the satanic metal underground. Then at some point it was proven that the scene harboured some good musicians as well.

The end (or the beginning)
Some people were only interested in more and more extremity, but soon the “true Norwegian black metal” style was worn out by way too many unimaginable copyists and continental black metal did not raise too many good bands or releases either. Fortunately there were bands trying something different. Keyboards were introduced (and soon became common) some bands started to slow down their pace (resulting in for example the great album “Again Shall Be” of Hades (1994)) while some day there was a rumour about a band using normal vocals. Normal vocals!?! what a shit kind of poser band would that be? The concerning album was “For All Tid” (1994) of Dimmu Borgir, an album that may not have stood the tooth of time, but has had big enough influence. Another such experiment was Fenris (of of early black metal band Darkthrone) with his Isengard project who (inspired by later Bathory material?) made some kind of Viking metal with normal vocals (Vinterskugge 1994). Meanwhile there was a new band from the UK, Cradle of Filth who released the great demo “Total Fucking Darkness” in 1992 with magnificent “symphonic” (lots of keyboard) black metal with very deep vocals and a genuine black metal apparel with a shirt stating “Fuck Your God” on the back (I used to have the longsleeve with the Anton LaVey pentagrams on the sleeves). Such bold statements raised (understandable) problems with my parents, but I guess they got the message… A few years later CoF released their debut album “The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh”, a grandiose album of great musicianship. The vocals went to high-pitched (but not really ‘Scandinavian’), the songs were superb, so good that when we had tracks play a the Dynamo club in Eindhoven, also people who never knew or liked black metal heard the musical quality. The star of black metal slowly started to rise. Later more ‘commercial’ album were released and black metal appeared in the mainstream metal scene. Of course there was a bad name to wipe and a large part wanted nothing to do with the commercial exploits, but this was the end of the underground and the beginning of a new period for the musical style. Inspite of bands doing something different from the rest, Impaled Nazarene making some sort of grind metal with a lot of electronic experimentations (“industrial cyber punk” in their own words) or Absu making almost pure old-fashioned trash metal, I started to loose my interest in metal. After only about six years during which I saw the rise and fall of black metal, it was time for something else. Fortunately my new start came from the very scene that I drifted away from. Some people decided to do more with the keyboards, eventually leaving out guitars alltogether. In America there was the project Equitant (with an Absu member), who started to make soft, electronic, “ritual music” with demos in 1993 (!!), 1994 and 1996. Also there was Equimanthorn (also the Absu corner) with a picture LP in 1994 (!!), the American project Cernunnos’ Woods (not a member of any metal band, but from that scene), Funerary Call from Canada (like Cernunnos’ Woods, not a bandmember, but from the scene) and the former Emperor (Sweden) bassplayer Mortiis who released demos from 1993. It was through my intensive contact with Mortiis that I found ‘that other scene’, because he was approached by Cold Meat Industry and thought that I might like their music too. I did!

I realise that this is a flawed and slightly one-sided history of metal music, but it is my history. Do not shy to share your own experiences. As far as I know, there is no maximum to comments, so…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *