Rotting Christ Triarchy Of The Lost Lovers Critical Thinking


Triarchy of the lost lovers: 20 years on
May 23, 2016, 11:46 am
Filed under: brutal memoirs, Greece, Heavy metal, people | Tags: Jim Patsouris, Metal Era, Rotting Christ, Sakis Tolis, Themis Tolis, Triarchy of the lost lovers

I find it hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since the release of Rotting Christ‘s masterpiece Triarchy of the lost lovers (1996). Reminiscing upon the release of this album, my initial engagement with it, and the different ways in which it has been implicated in my life, the vast polysemic position that this album occupies in my biography is revealed. In this post I share some personal stories around what I personally consider one of the most beautiful albums of all time.

Rotting Christ occupy a prolific position in my personal biography as a fan of extreme metal. The very first album that induced me to the more underground facets of metal was a compilation cassette tape by Unisound Records, a Greek metal label. The title of this cassette tape was Into the catacthonium (1994). I distinctly remember my friend Nick bringing the cassette tape to my house. Through this tape I was exposed for the first time to extreme metal, through the song “Primordial” by Mortuary Drape. While both of us thought that the singer’s screams sounded funny, I think it irrevocably infected us with the extreme metal virus. Two were the songs that I remember listening to from that tape; one was “Primordial” and the other “Saturn unlock Avey’s son” by Rotting Christ, off the album Non serviam (1994). Similarly, the initial contact with Rotting Christ was not one of unabridged enthusiasm and unconditional surrender. The music was indeed captivating, but the singer’s voice combined with his accent, especially the way he pronounced ‘volcanic explosion’, were hilarious.

Nevertheless, a big change had definitely taken place. Extreme metal did not go down very well with us, but it had our attention. The fact that Rotting Christ was a Greek band was also part of the excitement. Back then I was totally unaware of other Greek metal bands, so the idea that an extreme band was local, so to speak, was exciting. In hindsight, that was an illusion and an excellent example of how national identity works. The excitement that I would feel back in those days reflected a nationalist sentiment, the fantasy that there is a bond between me and a group of people who I would probably never meet and with whom I had very little in common.

The very little I did end up having in common with Rotting Christ would be taste in music. Of course, metal fandom is itself a whole different “imagined community”. Indeed, over the years I have come to realise that the majority of “metal fans” I have met throughout my life have completely different tastes than me, and relate to music differently than I do. In any case, to return to my previous point, even though “greekness” was in the realm of fantasy, I did share with Rotting Christ love for their music (assuming they were fans of their own music). My friend Mark bought “Triarchy of the lost lovers” in 1996, a few months after it came out. He brought the CD to our English lesson and we used my portable CD player to listen to it. If I remember correctly, he must have instructed me to skip the first couple of songs and listen to “Archon” straight away, the fastest cut from this album. By that time we were already listening to death metal and we were primarily intrigued by speed and intensity. I was instantly hooked and soon afterwards I too bought the CD.

Triarchy of the lost lovers is one of those rare albums completely devoid of mediocre moments. Every song is an instant classic. In contrast to most extreme metal, which is loquacious and dense, Triarchy is laconic. It has big openings that give the listener room to breathe and reflect on what they experience. Each musical sentence is a clearly articulated statement and it stands out. I would not use the term “riff” to describe this music; that would be reductionist. Only rarely Sakis (the composer) resorts to the short single-layered patterns that we often identify as riffs in metal music. Although laconic, his musical rhetoric is fascinating; each pattern consists of several layers that involve harmonisations, and a dialogue between primary and secondary melodies. The guitar solos are not ephemeral improvisations either; far from it, they are thought-through compositions in their own right (listen to the solo of “A dynasty from the ice“). Jim’s poems about mythical themes, epic tragedies, and uncanny horror stories, were an essential ingredient in Rotting Christ’s unique style of songwriting.

From left to right: Sakis, Jim, and Themis circa 1996

Back in the mid-1990s one of the best metal record stores in Athens was Metal Era, a shop owned by Jim “Mutilator” Patsouris, original bassist of Rotting Christ. Anyone into metal that grew up in Athens in the mid 1990s knew who the owner of Metal Era was. Over the years I saw many metalheads swarm around him, usually kids who saw him as a rock star. Back then me and my friends often wondered whether some of those fanboys were actually working in the shop for free. In any case, I was not far from being a fanboy myself, because in all honesty I did look up to Jim; he was part of an important chapter of extreme metal history. I too often used to hang out in the shop pestering him to play new releases. Some of the fresh releases or promo versions of albums I listened there over the years include Hypocrisy‘s Final chapter (1997) and Hypocrisy (1999), Hate Eternal‘s Conquering the throne (1999), Broken Hope‘s Loathing (1997), and Dismember‘s Hate campaign (2000). At some point in the late 1990s, after he had quit the band, we ended up talking about Rotting Christ and I told him that Triarchy was my favourite album by them and one of my all-time favourite albums overall. I remember that he was surprised, in a very humble way, and told me that it was his favourite Rotting Christ album too.

But the significance of this album goes beyond simple fascination with the songs. This album is the primary material of many fond memories over the years, one including my younger brother. For a brief period around ’96-97 my brother became interested in the music that his older brother (me) was listening to. One of the songs he used to love was “Snowing still” off Triarchy. Near the end of that song there is an atmospheric passage during which the singer narrates in Greek. This part of the lyrics was omitted from the lyrics in the booklet, and the even more annoying thing was that neither me nor my friends could make out what was being said. My brother wanted to know the lyrics, as it was one of his favourite songs, so I asked Jim to jot down the lyrics on a piece of paper and write a dedication to my brother. Jim was very gracious and indeed wrote down the lyrics in a piece of paper that I’ve kept inside the booklet since.

“Black swans bring tears over his dead body – by dawn they’ll be lying dead together” – Dedicated to our friend Anthony (Jim Mutilator)

Triarchy is undisputedly an extreme metal album, yet it is very difficult to classify it. I personally think that it singularly occupies its own category. Over the summer holidays of 1997, I decided that this album stands out as one of the very few albums where each single second is characterised by sheer perfection. I used to think back then that any band would kill to have even one of the “riffs” on that album. Its melodic dimension anchors it to traditional metal, which was my great love, but also to other styles, such as popular and folk Greek music, that resonated with my habitus. Twenty years have passed since I first listened to it, and today I simply confirm what I had already thought 10 or 15 years ago: Triarchy of the lost lovers is a timeless masterpiece whose significance will only increase with time. Every day that goes by is and will be a reminder that what this band achieved in terms of aesthetic expression and inventiveness cannot be repeated, so this unique example will be admired and treasured.



We will remember them…but for what?
April 8, 2016, 4:16 pm
Filed under: death metal, Heavy metal, people | Tags: Binyon, bolt thrower, For victory, Granite wall, Life sentence, memorial day, remembrance poppy, Satan, Those once loyal

Every year on November 11, and the period leading up to this date, many people around the UK participate in various rituals that aim to commemorate all those soldiers who have sacrificed themselves “fighting for freedom”. The most common ritual of memorial day is wearing the red poppy, a red paper flower, as a symbol of remembrance.

One of the bands that have written songs partially in remembrance of those who died in wars is the British death metal band Bolt Thrower, and the songs I have in mind are “For victory”, off their album For victory (1994), and “Granite wall”, off their album Those once loyal (2005). The opening verse of “Granite wall”, for example, says:

Those that fell today shall be,

in solemn sculpture cast,

always held in reverence,

in memory of the past.

The last two verses of “For victory”, an unbelievable, hauntingly beautiful song, are taken from Binyon’s poem “For the fallen”:

They shall grow not old,

as we that are left grow old,

age shall not weary them,

nor the years condemn,

at the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

These two albums happen to be my favourite Bolt Thrower albums, which I also consider two of the best death metal albums ever made. Bolt Thrower is a band whose lyrical themes revolve almost exclusively around the topic of war. However, they most certainly do not glorify war. On the contrary, they are critical of it and view it as a scourge of humanity, the root of most pain and suffering in our world. When it comes to those two songs, however, I disagree with them because I disagree with what we are supposed to remember. Bolt Thrower seem to omit something from their narrative.

Each person who wears the red poppy participates in a particular discourse. Wearing a poppy has come to signify “gratitude towards those who died so we can be free”. However, this is only part of what happens in wars. This particular framing ignores the fact that soldiers die to protect the political and economic elites’ wealth and power. Soldiers are primarily sent to protect the ruling elites of each nation-state. The political and economic elites do not fight in any wars. Instead they send armies of soldiers to fight for them. Those soldiers come from the dispossessed strata of each society, and they become soldiers because they are forced to become soldiers, directly or indirectly. The status quo can force people to become soldiers by leaving them no other options for earning their livelihood. It can also force them to become soldiers by inculcating in them the idea of patriotism. Patriotism is the fantasy that one is part of such a thing as a “nation” which is exceptional and sacred.

Neither the soldiers of a country on the defensive nor the soldiers of a country on the offensive benefit from war. Both armies are tools in the hands of the political and economic elites in each country. In the end of the war, regardless of who wins or loses, both armies are left in misery. The army of the winning country – the part of the army that survives that is – as well as all those in the lower ranks of society who now secured their “freedom” do not change their destiny. They continue to be part of a system where they are exploited (through exploitative labour, precarious lives, and false needs) while the ruling classes continue “freely” to exploit them.

So, when I listen to those songs by Bolt Thrower, or Satan‘s “Cenotaph” off their brilliant come-back album Life sentence (2013), I do not disagree with their desire to pay tribute to those who died. But I disagree with their failure to acknowledge that those soldiers entered wars that were waged among the ruling classes of different nation-states, who used soldiers for their own benefit. I therefore think that if people want to pay their respects to those who died, they should invent a new ritual that acknowledges that “we will remember all those who were sent to their deaths by the ruling elites of different nation-states who either started wars to increase their wealth and power, or entered wars to guard their wealth and power”. This is a ritual I would not mind participating in.



A brief rant about social media “activism”

I am responsible for the bombings in Syria as well as the suffering of people experienced here and in other parts of the world, and so are you. Please accept my apologies if you spend your disposable income (minus what you spend on basic needs such as food, clothes and shelter – that does not include conspicuous consumption) on helping out people who cannot satisfy those basic needs. I certainly don’t. I do work hard in order to be able to afford a flat, and I also go out for drinks, coffee, and I buy records. I don’t feel bad that I do all those things. But from now on, I will not act as if I am contributing in making this world a better place, because I am not. Instead, I choose to enjoy my life rather than making my life a bit shittier in order to make someone else’s life a bit less shitty. Capitalism is a zero-sum game. And if I behave like I am making the world a better place by opposing the Syrian bombings on Facebook, or by writing a post on my blog, I am a hypocrite. And I could shout out a dozen social theories to absolve myself of the real responsibility of making the world a better place ’till I’m blue in the face, but this does not matter anymore. I could talk about the fluid channels of new communication technologies and how power flows through them rather than concentrate on traditional centres of power, and I could talk about discursive power and that every little thing we do to challenge hegemonic discourses matters, but I won’t, because all these things mean shit if when I leave my keyboard I continue living my hegemonic lifestyle. Thinking that I am resisting because I use social media to criticise authorities (and coincidentally show off what an awesome activist I am) is insulting. If I did anything to pose an actual threat to the system I would be in prison. And the way social media work to absolve us of our real responsibilities is sickening. This is exemplified in crap like #notinmyname. I hate to burst your bubble but it is in your and in my name. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t suggest that laughable acts of resistance are worthless. On the contrary, their disappearance would mean unconditional surrender. What I do say is that, from now on, I would like to be a bit less insulting towards all those generations of people whose utter misery makes my life a little bit nicer (and no doubt some other people’s life a lot nicer). A different approach to social media “activism”, such as pointing out how our everyday practices enable the perpetuation of oppression and suffering in the world, would be much more honest and respectful.



What happened to us? #3 Edge of Sanity and Dan Swano
July 9, 2015, 7:35 pm
Filed under: death metal, people, sweden, What happened to us? | Tags: Anders Lindberg, Andreas Axelsson, Benny Larsson, Dan Swano, Edge of Sanity, Sami Nerberg

A classic break-up was the separation of Dan Swano from the rest of Edge of Sanity in 1997. Back then Dan was widely perceived to be the creative force behind Edge of Sanity’s music, if not the undisputed band leader. I remember that when Cryptic came out and Dan was not part of it, it was not received well among me and my friends, and Dan’s absence was the main reason why. Back then I viewed it as an incomplete version of Edge of Sanity, but over the years I have come to appreciate it and now I consider it as one of the best Edge of Sanity albums and definitely one of the top Swedish death metal albums of the late 1990s. A few years later, in 2003, Dan resurrected the band without the other four members and released Crimson II, which is my least favourite album by them.

From left to right: Benny Larsson, Anders Lindberg, Andreas Axelsson, Sami Nerberg, and Dan Swano.

It appears that several factors contributed to the break-up of this legendary line-up responsible for some of the greatest and most innovative albums in the history of death metal. According to an interview with Dan, he was kicked out of the band in 1997. His exit, according to him, was the company’s (Black Mark) decision. From his account of the situation it is unclear why the label had to choose between him and the rest of the band to grant permission to use the name Edge of Sanity. It is implied that him and the rest of the band were two entities by that point, so the label decided to go with the entity that resembled more a functioning band, and that entity was the one with the four musicians on board (Andreas, Sami, Benny and Anders) rather than only Dan. 

I was unable to find official accounts on why by that point the band was split between Dan and the other band members. However, there is plenty of information available to help fill in this gap. First of all, there is evidence to suggest that Dan and the rest of the band had different, potentially conflicting, creative visions and drew inspiration from different genres; Dan from symphonic rock, pop and soft rock, the rest of the band, extreme metal and punk. Both Andreas Axelsson and Dan have made this claim (see here and here respectively) and from Andreas’s account it could be inferred that different creative visions can be a problem. Conflicts based on creative differences have also been implied by Dan, who has argued that the rest of the band refused to incorporate more Gothic rock elements in the band’s style. Sami Nerberg has also suggested that Swano’s departure was a positive thing as the band’s style became more coherent.

The notion that Dan was the leader of the band could have been another cause for conflict among band members. Sami has even insinuated that Dan had taken over the band (read an interview with him here). While this is also the popular sentiment, in another interview Dan does not take credit for the significance/legacy of Edge of Sanity, and explicitly points out that Edge of Sanity’s magic was a collective effort. However, his discourse farther ahead suggests that he does consider himself the quintessential element in Edge of Sanity’s sound. He was indeed bitter about the rest of the band recording Cryptic without him, saying “[Crimson II] was revenge towards the other guys for doing the Cryptic album”, and he goes as far as to describe the latter as “anti-Edge of Sanity”. For him, the legitimate Edge of Sanity vision corresponds to his own, and the Edge of Sanity chapter should be closed accordingly. 

Linked to the previous argument, there is also a chance that Dan and the rest of the band drifted apart over the years because Dan did not think highly of others’ (apart from Benny’s who is objectively a genius) musical skills. I remember reading an interview back in the day on a Greek metal zine on which Dan explained that the reason he played on the songs he composed on Infernal was because the others couldn’t play them properly (if I remember wrong someone could correct me?). This might have been a reason for Sami, Anders and Andreas to dislike Dan.

Dan has also acknowledged that while the rest had always been friends with one another beyond the band, he was an outsider. His association with Sami, Benny, Anders and Andreas, was only in the context of Edge of Sanity, a band that begun as one of his numerous projects. Not being friends outside of the band meant that it was easy for them to drift apart.

It should also be considered that different band members were differentially invested in the band. For example, in the case of Dan, Edge of Sanity was only one thing amongst other important ventures such as his recording studio and his other projects. In a 1996 interview with Andreas on Chronicles of Chaos, the interviewer asks him why the band does not tour much. Andreas’s answer suggests that the reason behind the band’s reluctance to tour was Dan’s job as a studio owner. It could be hypothesised that the rest of the band considered Dan an obstacle to the band’s success.

Finally, we should not ignore that the death metal genre was dying in the late 1990s, and morale was low for many death metal musicians who felt that the potential for money or recognition was limited. For these reasons, maybe Edge of Sanity was not a priority for Dan in the mid-90s. Indeed, recognition seems to be an important consideration for him. On this interview he very eloquently describes his conscious effort to associate his music on Crimson II with the Edge of Sanity “brand”, because it would receive the attention it deserved (in 2003 when death metal was again on the rise), instead of being overlooked under a different, unrecognised, moniker. 

Nevertheless, it looks like Dan and the rest of the band did not end their creative relationship bitterly. Dan has suggested that his decision to resurrect the band back in 2003 was not done against the will of the old band-members, and Andreas argued a few years ago that him and Dan were still good friends. Since the first and second demise of Edge of Sanity, Dan has been involved in numerous bands, either as a producer or as a musician. I thought that the Moontower album was an excellent example of progressive melodic death metal. The Jesusatan album with Infestdead as well as the first album he did with Bloodbath were also ace. Benny Larsson now plays in the death-thrash ensemble Plague Warhead. Andreas remains rotten to the core with his new incredible band, Tormented. Dan, Andreas and Benny released the crust album Total Terror in 2009.



Guilty pleasures #1
March 26, 2015, 1:47 pm
Filed under: Brighton, brutal memoirs, Guilty pleasures, metal, people, popular music, social theory | Tags: aesthetics, cultural capital, Greece, guilty pleasures, heavy metal, Power metal, subcultures

What is the definition of a guilty pleasure? I would say that a guilty pleasure has two parameters: firstly, it is when one derives pleasure from something which contradicts or is inconsistent with one’s tastes, and, secondly, it is when this inconsistency causes one to feel both personal (the “I” of the self) or/and social (the “me” of the self) embarrassment. A guilty pleasure implies that we have particular aesthetic standards that exclude the derivation of pleasure from cultural artifacts that fall outside these aesthetic standards. However, if we actually like something that falls outside of these standards doesn’t it mean that they were wider than we thought, to begin with, and that we should re-evaluate them? That would not make it a guilty pleasure though; it would just make it a surprising pleasure, at first, followed by the cognitive stage of being accepted as a new pleasure in line with our newly reconsidered aesthetic standards. That rarely happens though; the pleasure inconsistent with the aesthetic standards with which we want to identify remains a guilty pleasure. The reason behind our unwillingness to admit to different aesthetic standards – where embarrassment lies – can be found in the meanings that are attached to different aesthetics as well as in the degree to which our identity is depended on our cultural tastes.

When I was younger, back in Greece, I was part of a small group of friends whose cultural practices revolved around metal music. Therein, I felt the peer pressure to some degree to conform to what the group considered “true” or “serious” metal. As I have described in a previous post, what constituted true metal was the result of interaction and negotiation with the Greek metal press, older well-respected metalheads from around our town, and each other. So, people whom we admired lent legitimacy to the bands that they listened to. People whom we did not know, however, and we did not know whether they were “true”, were judged on the basis of our already held perceptions of what “serious” is. Our group set some blurry subcultural boundaries early on, that somewhat determined the parameters of negotiation. These boundaries reflected the typical heteronormative hegemonic masculinity that we all performed. An appearance that signified femininity was frowned upon, so hair-metal bands were doomed from the start. Bands with fantasy lyrics were also frowned upon, because they were admired by people whom we considered nerds. High-pitched vocals were accepted on the condition that the music and overall style was serious, usually meaning being devoid of happy melodies and major chord progressions. After a certain point all power metal bands were made fun of.

Sarcofago on the back-cover of the inimitable The laws of scourge

Still, bands like Crimson Glory were initially accepted, although we would make our disapproval of their looks known by calling them “Crimson Floroi” (i.e. Crimson sissies). Sarcofago, a band we always admired, was also made fun of due to the BDSM aesthetics they had during the Laws of scourge period. Another classic negotiation would concern bands like Manowar. Manowar was considered a ridiculous band among the people in the group, yet because we could not resist the brilliance of songs like “Black wind, fire and steel”, “Carry on”, “Heart of steel” and “Kingdom come”, we would still listen to them among ourselves but we would never admit to liking Manowar outside our group. A public admittance would position us – or so we thought because we imposed our interpretation of what serious metal is to the gaze of others – to the “poser” category.

This is aimed as the introduction to a series of posts in which I will discuss my guilty musical pleasures. In future posts I will demonstrate, using personal experiences, how guilty pleasures do not exist independently of the social situation in which one finds themselves and the position one occupies in such a social situation.

 

 

 

 



Whatever happened to Lars?
February 21, 2015, 8:13 pm
Filed under: death metal, people, sweden, Whatever happened to...? | Tags: carbonized, Entombed, Lars Rosenberg, Mental Distortion, Monastery, Roachpowder, Serpent, therion

Lars Rosenberg has been part of some of Sweden’s most important bands. However, since his stint with a couple of small rock bands in the early 2000s his whereabouts are unknown to me and information available on the internet fails to shed light to what has become of this great musician.

From left to right, Piotr, Christopher and Lars as seen on the inlay of For the security.

Lars was a founding member of Carbonized, one of Sweden’s seminal brutal death metal bands. He composed music and played the bass in Carbonized’s demos, singles and all three albums. On the first album (For the security, 1991) he played bass, sang and composed most of the music. For the security is a fine example of brutal, grinding Swedish death metal. Lars’s vocals are more shouted and aggressive – something along the lines of Andersson’s vocals on Clandestine – compared to Christopher Johnsson’s super brutal vocals who also sings on the album. What sets this album apart from its contemporaries is the more prevalent grind elements (check out “For the security”, “Recarbonized” and “Hypnotic aim”, among others) and the use of dissonant melodies and weird rhythms (check out “Euthanasia”, “Purified” and “Third eye”). On their second album (Disharmonization, 1993) Carbonized went down a more experimental direction reminiscent of Celtic Frost’s change of character from To mega therion (1985) to Into the pandemonium (1987). Most songs are a big departure from death metal incorporating jazz fusion and progressive rock. Lars’s shouted vocals fit the music perfectly on that album, which is much more twisted, varied and dissonant compared to their debut. Still, death metal is represented in devastating songs like “The voice of the slained pig”, “Nigh shadows” and “Succubus”. On their third album (Screaming machines, 1995) their sound went towards a totally cacophonous mix of jazz fusion and industrial (“Fist” is probably the most conventional song on this album). A quite insane offering that showcases Lars’s varied contribution to extreme music.

Lars, on the left, together with Aad and Ron.

In the early 1990s Lars also played with Aad and Ron from Sinister in the group Monastery, that only released some demos and two 7inch records (click here for their brutal e.p. The process – church of the final judgement). Sonically they are pretty unrefined and devastating, something between early Napalm Death and Sinister. Both Lars and Ron sing, and Lars’s vocals are particularly reminiscent of Lee Dorian of Napalm Death.

Lars on the front, among the rest of Entombed, looking cool.

As the bass player of Entombed Lars contributed to two cornerstones of Swedish death, namely Clandestine (1991) and Wolverine blues (1993). On the former he co-wrote the music on the mysterious “Evilyn” and the hardcore-charged “Blessed be“, while on Wolverine he was the primary composer of the nowadays cult “Out of hand” and “Blood song“.

In Therion, Lars played alongside his band-mates from Carbonized (Piotr and Christopher) in the album Theli (1996). The latter was an album that took further the experimental/symphonic elements present on Symphony masses (1993) and Lepaca Kliffoth (1995), elements under which Therion’s sound would be totally subsumed in the years to come.

In 1996, Lars played the bass in the debut album of the doom metal band, in the vein of Candlemass, Serpent (Piotr Wawrzeniuk, his band-mate from Carbonized and Therion was also in the band). Listen to the song “Stoned the dawn” off this album here. A year later he played in the debut album of the Argentinian death metal band Mental Distortion.

According to the Encyclopaedia Metallum, Lars’s last known band was the stoner metal ensemble Roachpowder, on whose second album he played the bass (listen to “No reason” off this album). Lars’s movement away from death metal towards more conventional heavy rock music was consistent with many of his contemporaries, including Michael Amott (originally of Carnage and Carcass and then in Spiritual Beggars), Nicke Andersson (originally of Entombed and then in The Hellacopters), Fredrik Lindgren (originally of Unleashed and then in Terra Firma), and more recently Peter Stjarnvind (originally of Merciless and Entombed and more recently in Black Trip) and Fred Estby and David Blomqvist (originally of Dismember and now in The Dagger). The whereabouts of this great musician today are unknown to me.



Heavy metal musicians and objectification
February 17, 2015, 5:06 pm
Filed under: death metal, Heavy metal, people, popular music, social theory | Tags: Bathory, bolt thrower, Bourdieu, death metal, Doro, Foucault, Girlschool, Goffman, heavy metal, Jo Bench, Lita Ford, Lori Bravo, Manowar, metalcore, Mulvey, Nuclear Death, Rachel van Mastrigt-heyzer, sexual objectification, Sinister, Warlock

The heavy metal subculture is famous for its gendered and exclusionary to women character (see Weinstein, 1991). Since its crystallisation as a genre in the late 1970s – early 1980s, a phenomenon fueled by the so-called New Wave of British Heavy Metal, women tended to be thin on the ground. That is not to say that there were no women in metal. Girlschool was one of the seminal English metal bands and their influence can be seen on bands like Metallica (check out how similar Girlschool’s “Not for sale“, themselves influenced by Motorhead, is to Metallica’s “Seek and destroy“).

Women in heavy metal who became famous, like Doro and Lita Ford, were objectified in accordance with the objectification to which women have been subjected in mainstream culture. Through images at record covers and inner sleeves on which their bodies were exposed and would assume sexually suggestive poses, women in metal were reduced to only one aspect of their personality, their bodies. These bodies were meant to be gazed at by what was perceived to be the main occupier of the heavy metal fandom, the heterosexual male.

Lita Ford was one of the most successful women in Metal

 

Looking at media representations of women in heavy metal, toughness as well as the particular subcultural attire would be the only two elements of their performance which would distinguish them from women in mainstream culture. The ostensible tough performance women would put on represented only a minor diversion from mainstream representations of female sexuality. Toughness, at the same time, would grant them subcultural legitimacy. The stereotyped metalhead, as a vehicular unit (Goffman, 1971), involves a specific dress code and a specific body language. The dress code includes denim, leather, dark colors, and chains; the specific body language involves toughness. Thus, in heavy metal culture, women might hope to be accepted as equals as long as they espouse these subcultural norms. Insofar as toughness is a signifier of hegemonic masculinity (Connell and Connell, 2005), then women have to conform to this hegemonic masculinity in the heavy metal subculture. In that sense, women in metal might appear to liberate themselves from the shackles of a dominant femininity that wants them docile and fragile, but might find themselves subjugated to the binary opposite. This, combined with the likelihood of continuing being sexually objectified as in mainstream culture, precludes any emancipatory potential through subcultural membership in heavy metal.

Doro as the singer of Warlock

 

However, sexual objectification in metal, one could argue, has not necessarily been limited to women. Male performers like Manowar or even the much more “underground” Bathory would also expose their bodies to the “camera’s gaze” (Mulvey, 1992). Of course, like in mainstream culture, the meanings ascribed to male objectification were different to those coded into the female body. While in the case of women, objectification conveyed – apart from eroticism – vulnerability, often hidden behind a veil of toughness, in the case of men it signified indisputable strength. It could be said that in the case of male performers, objectification played a central role in the broader narrative of their music. Both Manowar’s and Bathory’s music was about warriors, and their revealing attire (fittingly supplemented by swords) was meant to be a warrior’s attire. Their “bodily hexis” (Bourdieu, 1977) as well, was quite different to the one of their female peers; men confidently stood their ground with arms spread and flexed, while women were in awkward positions (see Lita Ford pictured above) that insinuated vulnerability (Doro on the Warlock cover above might appear strong, but she is barefoot and threateningly enveloped by a man). Having said that, it does not mean that the audience would necessarily decode the male bodily rhetoric (Foucault, 1977) in terms of “strength”. The heterosexual female receiver or the homosexual male receiver, or potentially anyone, could read these pictures in terms of eroticism.

The hilarious artwork of Manowar’s sophomore album.

 

Moreover, glam metal bands in the 1980s, like Poison, Motley Crue and Ratt, were prime examples of male sexual objectification. These bands were products of the music industry primarily marketed to the (heterosexual) female gaze. Also, from a psychoanalytical perspective, these examples of male sexual objectification do not preclude the possibility of narcissistic identification by heterosexual men.

Throughout the years, there have been women, predominantly in the less commercial sub-genres of metal, like Death Metal, that resisted the more blatant sexual objectification that is observed in mainstream culture and the more commercial strands of subcultures. Jo Bench from Bolt Thrower, Lori Bravo from Nuclear Death and Rachel Van Maastrigt-Heyzer of Sinister are three good examples of women who were not objectified, self- or otherwise (although they might have conformed to hegemonic masculinity). This further supports the hypothesis that in patriarchal capitalism sexual objectification is positively associated with commercialism. When the art world becomes colonised by the logic of the business world, the former’s practices reflect the imperative of profit. To the extent that profit depends on sales and that the heavy metal audience is a predominantly male chauvinist one, sexual objectification of women becomes a strategy for companies to maximise profit and a tactic for women heavy metal performers to succeed. The body becomes a resource used to compete and improve a woman’s position in the record industry.

Jo Bench at a concert.

 

Having said that, I do not imply that Jo Bench or Lori Bravo simply were not subjected to the record industry’s pressures to be sexualised (or more precisely, embedded in the industry’s logic), because of the underground character of the death metal sub-genre. Indeed there is a chance that they were unlikely to have situated themselves in commercial metal to begin with. Maybe due to a more emancipated habitus they might have felt more at home within this specific sub-genre where the logic of the market would not apply its pressure on them. It is also likely that they would have resisted sexual objectification anyway, regardless of the logic of the sub-genre. At the same time, the logic of the sub-genre at any given time is expected to reflect the business model characterising the sub-genre, so in death metal (a genre that thought of itself as counter-cultural) it is likely that mainstream femininity would be looked down upon.

Some small changes have occurred in the metal landscape over the last two decades. In particular there’s a new tendency which can even be interpreted as a relative victory of dominant femininity in the heavy metal subculture. While in the 1980s we would see women in mainstream metal being subjected to the same sexual objectification as in other genres of mainstream culture and, additionally, having to adapt to the subcultural norms of hegemonic masculinity, today we see an acceptance of some of the attributes of dominant femininity in mainstream metal. In particular, we see women being dressed in typical feminine clothes (dresses, skirts, etc.) and singing in forms traditionally reserved by women (e.g. soprano). However, the issue of sexual objectification confronts women in heavy metal in pretty much the same way. As one can notice in Metalholic’s Top 25 women in metal list, women continue to perform the role of the sex object common in hegemonic culture, which involves exposure of their bodies and ridiculous poses that denote subjugation to the mainstream media logic of commercialisation.

Metalcore band “Haste the Day”

Moreover, contemporary commercial heavy metal is not very different to mainstream pop boy-bands and girl-bands, both in terms of composition and in terms of “look”. This is indicative of heavy metal’s increasing embeddedness into the mainstream, with old subcultural boundaries increasingly becoming blurred. This tendency is exemplified in the metalcore sub-genre or bands like Baby Metal, where sexual objectification concerns all genders. Again, it would be inaccurate to view this as a totally new development. As explained earlier, today’s metalcore and mainstream heavy metal are the equivalent of glam metal in the 1980s; both of them are commercialised sub-genres that coexist with less/non commercialised sub-genres.

Defunct boy-band “One Call”

The implications for this increasing mainstreaming of heavy metal music include on the one hand objectification becoming even more common (as now commercial pressures on the genre are even stronger), but also creating metal sub-genres for audiences that are more susceptible to consumerism and, therefore, more likely to spend loads of money on merchandise (compared to the traditional working class base of Heavy metal). The latter serves the interests of the metal music industry and I would expect that even minor record labels that proclaim to be “true” have opened up to metalcore.

HESPERIA
Caesar [Roma Vol. I]

Sixth release of this Italian one-man band! Atmospheric pagan black metal in generally, but now they extended their sounds and limits, creating cinematic rock metal opera in a concept album, about the life of Julius Caesar.

Epic, sumptuous, captivating, fascinating, furious, but atmospheric and shamanic metal from Ancient Rome!

11 Epic tracks of Italic Roman metal, sung in Italian and Archaic Latin.
Guest appearances among others: tenor voice by Christian Bartolacci (Ibridoma, Scala Mercalli), ambient fx by Shelmerdine (Dark Awake), epic celtic choirs by M (The True Endless, Skoll), soprano femalo voices by Aeretica (Amethista).

Available as limited digipack edition!

Limited box-edition to 100 copies, including the album in digipack format, some gifts among them a board game! (That’s happened maybe for the first time in history of music, to include a board game in a musical album!)

Catalogue Number:
SR-0188

Release Date:
12 April 2017

Tracklist:
Ivlia Gens (intro)/Svpremvs Dvx
Trivmviratvm
De Bello Gallico
Britannia Capta Erit/Alea Iacta Est
Roma
Aegyptvs (Tema Di Cleopatra)
Caesar (Tema Di Cesare)
Romana Conspiratio (Tema Di Bruto)
Divini Praesagii (Romanorvm Deorvm)
Le Idi Di Marzo (The Ides Of March)
Ivlivs Caesar (Divvs Et Mythvs)

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