After having listened to KNAC for years, I got to work with them through animalhouse.com, a website where I was technical producer. After that project ended, I got to work for KNAC directly as a freelance writer. This is one of the columns that I wrote for them.
After Life, There Is Only Death!
Tuesday, December 14, 1999 11:46 PM
Death Metal is all the rage in the Far North.
(Nov.12, 1999) GRAAAAAAGHHHHHORRRRR. This is the sound of my garbage disposal. GRAAAAAAGHHHHHORRRRR. This is the sound of Tiamat. Notice the difference?
The best death metal, as the lyrics of some song by some geezer rock band say, comes from the land of ice and snow. Now, I know what you're thinking, why listen to something that sounds like a garbage disposal grinding through something nasty? That's easy. Death metal is fast, furious, angry, and even sometimes intelligent, though rarely intelligible. Oh, yeah, and sometimes death metallers worship Satan and sometimes they worship Odin.
Scandinavians, the people who live in Sweden, Norway, and Finland, generally do the best death metal. Death metal began as the music of bands like Napalm Death and Carcass spread across the North Sea to Scandinavians took to it like Vikings to nuns. But they decided that those bands were a little bit too slow and wimpy, music for FUCKIN' PUSSIES!
Death metal takes the standard fast guitars and drums of heavy metal and speeds them up to 11. On top of that base are layered the vocals, very guttural vocals. Sometimes high-pitched screaming gutturals and sometimes low growling gutturals accompany the song.
Another thing that distinguishes Scandinavian death metal from average heavy metal or thrash, and the main thing that attracted me to it in the first place and has kept me listening to it long after my interest in genres like grindcore or Florida death faded is its willingness to experiment musically. Blindingly fast intro, all Sturm und Drang guitars and drums, then the chorus is icy melodic keyboards. Classical choral accompaniments. Lead growler/vocalist who happens to be a woman. Industrial style samples. You listen to a death metal compilation from either Relapse Records or Century Media and you won't know what you'll get from track to track.
Death metal experiments in the area of lyrical subject matter as well. The Satanism is pretty obvious and rather usual for death metal. It maybe only differs from the Satanism of stateside bands in the intensity. Not that there aren't true believer Satanist black metal bands in the States, but it seems that the majority of the bands that are shouting "Hail Satan!" are only doing it because that's what black metal bands do. "Song about Satan? Check." "Song about Ed Gein? Check." "Song about doing bong hits? Check."
In contrast, the members of Scandinavian bands like Mayhem and Burzum come across as true believers, at least those members who aren't in prison and are giving interviews.
Besides Satanism, Viking history is another big topic of Scandinavian death metal songs. The death metal lyricists draw on images of Viking raids, berserkers, Norse mythology, dragon boats, and the sea wolves of the North. Some of the bands that are heavily into the Viking imagery are Amon Amarth, Einherjer, and Enslaved.
The interest in Viking history shows up in another way. A substantial number of death metal musicians in Scandanavia are promoting an us-against-them mentality in regards to Christianity. Instead of being Satanists and rebelling against society and Christianity that way, Scandinavian death metallers have become followers of the Old Norse religion, worshipping Odin, Thor, and deities of that pantheon.
Some death metallers are being involved in innocuous Viking rituals like wearing Thor hammer pendants or getting married using the old Norse ceremonies as did Samoth (Emperor: guitar) and his girlfriend, Nebelhexa. Some are involved in less innocuous religious pursuits. Samoth has done both. In the past several years quite a few medieval Norwegian churches have been burned down. Samoth was convicted and did time for burning down Skjold Church in Rogaland.
Myself, as an atheist, I don't care whether the bands worship Satan, Odin, or twigs and berries. Does the music thrash? Does it sound like my garbage disposal? Is it fast as hell? Death metal is. It meets these criteria. After all, I have standards. Make mine DEATH!
A Couple of Band Profiles
Emperor: One of the first Scandinavian death metal bands and one with a very colorful history. The original lineup was Insahn (vocals), Samoth (guitar), and Mortiis (bass) Faust (drums). Samoth did a jolt in a Norwegian prison for burning a church. Mortiis has split to do solo work in an industrial-doom-ambient mode on the Cold Meat Industries label, which is another article entirely. (I mean, you want to talk niche? A label that only publishes Swedish industrial-ambient. Only Swedish, and a little Norwegian. But very cool shit, nonetheless. But that's another article.)
ANYWAY. When Mortiis took his corpse painted, hook nosed visage (he makes Marilyn Manson or Alice Cooper look really, really normal) to Cold Meat, he was replaced by Faust. Faust didn't last long in the lineup. well, actually, he moved from the band line up to a police line up. In 1992, he killed a man, gutted him actually, in a Norwegian park. Faust is still currently in prison.
Samoth has been paroled and has rejoined the band, making the current line up Insahn (vocals), Samoth (guitar), and Trym (drums).
The music is very fast, brutal washes of noise. The lyrics, especially those on In the Nightside Eclipse, are very high pitched, almost helium vocals. The songs themselves are filled with images of war, death, blackness, the majesty of northern forests; rather gothy actually. Doesn't matter though, because this is Death Metal, dammit, and it's the roar of drums and guitar that really matter and Emperor delivers that. Totally.
Discography: Emperor ('92) split disc with Enslaved In the Nightside Eclipse ('93) Anthems to the Welkin at Dusk ('97) Thorns vs. Emperor ('98) split disc with Thorns IX Equilibrium ('99) Plus several demos and 7 inches.
Impaled Nazarene: People from Finland are weird. Fact. Just look at Linux. A freeware OS created by hackers? BWAHAHAHAH! It'll never fly. Um.
So, when you get a band from Finland called Impaled Nazarene, you'd expect goat worshipping, blood drinking Satanists. Wrong. You forgot that these guys are Finns. Except for the goat bit. There are rumors about the sex life of vocalist Mika Luttinen that I don't really want to get into. I recommend the song "Goatvomit and Gasmasks " off of Rapture for the full story. So, these guys aren't Satanists. Well, what are they then?
Pissed off. Really, really pissed off. From reading their lyrics, it seems that they're mainly pissed off at Christianity. It's hard to believe that they're not Satanists, I mean songs like "Angel Rectums Do Bleed" do tend to give a certain impression, but according the interviews that Mika and other band members have given, they aren't. They hate Christianity, but that's not all they hate. They hate conformity, stupid people, and various people in the death metal scene that have pissed them off.
Impaled Nazarene is one of the few death metal bands to utilize punk influences in their music. This is primarily in the "Fuck You!" attitude of the lyrics but in the hardcore punk guitar stylings.
Discography: Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz ('92) Ugra-Karma ('93) Suomi Finland Perkele ('95) Latex Cult ('96) Rapture ('98) Plus several 7 inches and EPs.
Grave: Straight outta Gotland! Pure blender death! Punishing brutal speed and growls. If this music doesn't make you want to put your head through walls, you're dead. Their first album, Into the Grave, is their best. From the blasting intro of the first song to the end of the last song, pure death metal. No colorful history, no wacky philosophies, just straight ahead crushing sounds. I love this band. They totally kick major ass.
Discography: Into the Grave ('91) You'll Never See... ('92) ...And Here I Die...Satisfied ('93) EP Soulless ('94) Hating Life ('96)