R.I.P. Fred Cole

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on November 10, 2017 by Magadh

fred2I heard today that Fred Cole of the legendary Portland band Dead Moon had died of cancer. I regard this as a tragedy, but if I may be permitted to utter a bit of heresy I will say that I never liked Dead Moon all that much. They just kind of weren’t my thing. I saw them plenty of times in practically every state of mind (other than stone cold sober of course), but I never quite got the lo-fi magic that everyone else seemed to be tuning in to. That said, I will say that there are few people with whom I have crossed paths in music for whom I have so much respect, and perhaps that distance between the first thing and the second is worth a bit of comment.

It was hard to avoid Dead Moon if you came up in the underground scene in Portland, Oregon in the 1980s. It was Fred who handed me the first musical instrument I ever bought, a Gibson SG bass that he recommended because I was left handed and it would be easy to restring. He even showed me how to flip the nut so that the strings would fit right. All of this happened in the course of a twenty minute conversation at Tombstone Music out in Clackamas (after I’d spend an hour trying to find the place because it was on 82nd Drive, not 82nd Avenue). Anyway, it was useful advice, and he didn’t hiccup at the fact that, at that point, knew just about zilch about musical instruments or what to do with them.

I must have seen Dead Moon at the Satyricon twenty times at least. They had the feel of having being around forever, even though they really only formed in 1987. Now, to be 100% honest, I hung around the Satyricon a lot and wasn’t terribly picky about what I was seeing there. In point of fact, I saw The Mentors like three years running (they used to play every year around Christmas on their way up to Seattle), and please believe me when I say that I had no inclination to see them even one time. For me, Dead Moon was kind of like sonic wallpaper in an environment which I was naïve enough to think would never really change.

It never really occurred to me that anyone outside the Willamette Valley actually cared about them until one night in the 90s when a bunch of us were chatting with Dregen Borg after a Backyard Babies show at Satyricon. Someone asked him how they like Portland and he was like, “Yeah, we love Portland. Dead Moon are great!” That was pretty close to the time that I actually moved out of town, and by that point I was so wrapped up in black metal and its more obscure variants that I didn’t really have the space in my head to wind back the clock and revise my judgment.

Well, Fred is gone now and I wish him a happy trip to Valhalla or wherever the legendary rockers go. He had a commitment to doing things his own way, and he clearly never gave a damn about making big or any of the other bullshit trappings that come with playing music. He just went his own way, churning out dark country music recorded in mono. There is something in that fundamentally worth respect. There are and will be many imitators of that way of doing things, but one thing I knew about Fred was that it was a fundamental expression of who he was, and I salute another idol as he fades into the twilight.

Review of Destruction: Text I

Posted in Reviews with tags , , on September 21, 2017 by Magadh

Oliver Sheppard, Destruction: Text I (Dallas, TX: Ikonograph Press, 2017)

 

destructionIt takes guts to write and publish a book of poetry at this point in the history of the world. This has little to do with Adorno’s comment about the barbarism of writing poetry in the wake of Auschwitz (I think he was talking about lyric poetry and in any case he backed off it later). No, the real problem with pursuing the poetic form at the current moment is the fundamental absurdity of the modern. Historically, poetry has involved the creative use of language to write with greater depth (or with greater precision) than that available in the medium of prose. In the spectacular society in which we live the depths beneath the surface have evaporated and precision, more often than not, is simply a matter of giving the right name to the right specter.

 

Oliver Sheppard’s Destruction: Text I strives mightily against the bonds of the age. The pieces in this volume do not, unlike so many exemplars of modern poetry, exhaust their energies in parsing the minutiae of human internality. Sheppard’s writings are distinctly external in their focus, ranging widely from the mechanized battlefields of the Second World War’s Eastern Front to the event horizons of collapsing stars. This may strike one a thinking big in a way that strains the bonds of coherent conception, but Sheppard’s pieces are united in the consistency of a dark atmosphere that creates a space for the examination of human and trans- (or perhaps super-) human experience.

 

These pieces are, so far as I am aware, something of a change of mode for Sheppard. I will offer as a caveat that we know each other in that via-the-internet sort of way that is common for people whose subcultural attachments overlap. I can’t remember whether his work first came to my attention because he published at Souciant.com (which I am also a contributor) or whether I only found out about that later. But I do know a few verifiable facts. Oliver Sheppard is simply the most passionate fan Killing Joke that I have ever met. He also follows death rock with the same sort of obsessive passion that I have for European hardcore. Where I would be talking about Pandemonium’s Wir fahren gegen Dreck he can discourse at length about Fliehende Stürme’s An den Ufern.

 

Perhaps it is this virtuoso level familiarity with the obscure that first interested me in his work. In pieces for Cvlt Nation or (more occasionally) Bandcamp, Sheppard gives his readers access to a pool of knowledge that is as broad as it is deep. What seems to pull it all together is a dark, although not to say morbid, aesthetic. Given the chance, Sheppard will lead you down dark and unfamiliar paths, to moments of weird beauty not blighted by the death fixation of a lot of the figures one meets along these ways. The pieces collected in Destruction: Text I exemplify this well.

 

Reading Sheppard’s poetry is a little like listening to a conversation between Nietzsche and William Blake during a showing of Peckinpah’s Cross of Iron. Using a wide range of forms and cultural references, Sheppard illustrates the human condition in ways that take as much account of its absence as its presence. Thus we find early in a cycle of Second World War-themed pieces, the following:

 

Severe grey angles

Turretless malevolence

Squat steel gunned bulwark

 

It takes a certain kind of audacity to compose a cycle of haikus about war on the Eastern Front, but it is precisely this breadth of conception that lifts this collection above the mean. Sheppard seems fascinated with the human, but also with the superhuman, with the action of entities at the far ends of space or, as in his references to Persephone, descending into the underworld. In a piece entitled “Achromatic #1” Sheppard writes,

 

A hyperdimensional SPHERE of battleship gray

Lays some distance southwestward of its

RECTANGULAR and TRAPEZOIDAL cousins.

 

The terms and mode of expression are stark, recalling Pound’s quotations from the letters of the vortecist sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska before the latter’s death in battle in 1915. Indeed, Sheppard’s writing is redolent of the desperate modernism of the interwar period, inflected through the lens of late 20th underground culture. His mix of longer and shorter pieces and quotations from other authors (both in epigrams and longer elements) gives the feel of Hannah Höch’s collages, but with a later 20th century atmosphere in which playfulness has been replaced by an ineluctable consciousness of the gigantic and of the finitude of things.

 

There are moments at which it appears that the fabric of reality is coming apart at the seams, held together only tenuously by the images that mediate human social relations. Sheppard’s darkly beautiful poetry investigates the dark interstices of this system of images, looking both below and beyond to stark and often threatening realities. Often the human is absent, but it is reconstituted by reflected into this emptiness, leaving the afterimage of an unsettling universe. If there is a barbaric dimension to this writing it is a barbarism that, in a certain sense, works to recover the human.

Technics 1

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on August 20, 2017 by Magadh

“Everything washes together into the uniformly distanceless. How? Is not this moving together into the distanceless even more uncanny than everything being out of place? The human is transfixed by what could come about with the explosion of the atomic bomb. The human does not see what for a long time now has already arrived and even is occurring, and for which the atomic bomb and its explosion are merely the latest emission, not to speak of the hydrogen bomb, whose detonation, thought in its broadest possibility, could be enough to wipe out all life on earth. What is this clueless anxiety waiting for, if the horrible has already occurred?

hydrogen

The horrifying is what transposes all that is out of its previous essence. What is so horrifying? It reveals and conceals itself in the way that everything presences, namely that despite all overcoming of distance, the nearness of that which is remains outstanding.”

Martin Heidegger, 1949

Wonder Woman

Posted in Articles with tags , , , , , , on June 2, 2017 by Magadh

gadot

I was, I must admit, a bit apprehensive when the full Wonder Woman movie was announced. DC doesn’t really have a very good track record in my book. I find the Superman movies insufferable and the Batman movies pretty uninspiring. If I never see another Scott Snyder directed movie it will be too soon. Still, Wonder Woman’s cameo was pretty much the best thing in Batman v Superman.

Why was I nervous about this movie? Well, if you’re reading this then you probably already know that there have been a real dearth female-led superhero movies. These, in fact, have not been all that inspiring. Supergirl (1984) was pretty much a trainwreck. Elektra (2005), which I’ve just actually rewatched, is not as bad as I remember. It’s just sort of boring. It didn’t make a lot of money, and I think that this confirmed in the minds of people running studios that centering superhero movies on women was a “risk”.

Of course, it’s not like there were a lot of choices to begin with. Comics have been, up until the last ten or fifteen years, very dude-oriented. There’s a lot to be said about how little girls might find reflecting themselves in the major comic imprints, but I won’t get into it here. You can just take it as read that the choices for girls have been pretty thin. The fact that this has started to change in the last few years is, I think, a key element of the backstory of the making of this movie.

Given all of this, one can easily see why this movie is a big deal. A studio has decided to center a project costing some $125 million on a female character and to entrust it to a female director to boot. If this thing had turned out to be a dog, the consequences for female-led movies, and for the chances of girls and young women seeing themselves reflected in the superhero culture would have taken a big hit. Fortunately, that is not the case. What follows is a few thoughts on what we have here and why it is important.

This is an important film, for the reasons noted above, and many others. I happened to see it in the company of a group of ten or fifteen teenage girls. What did they think of it? Well, if the fact that they were all talking selfies with the life-sized cutout of Gal Gadot in the lobby is anything to go by, I think they dug it.

You have to be willing to let go of your commitment to facts. This movie takes some big liberties with the history of the First World War. I do not care. I have a doctorate in modern European history. I know very well how Erich Ludendorff died (here’s a clue: not by getting stabbed with a gigantic sword). This is a superhero movie, not a documentary. Don’t get hung up. Focus on the story that is being told.

I would love for every girl in the country to see this movie. It shows that women can be a lot of things. They can be hard, or soft, or both, and it’s ok. Women can be empathetic without it being a source of weakness. In fact, it’s a source of strength, giving Diana a firmness in purpose and commitment.

Single sex communities are a thing. It’s ok boys. All the foolishness resulting from some places doing women-0nly showings illustrates the utter stupidity of the dudebro crowd. Listen gentlemen (and I use this term advisedly), sometimes women just want to hang out with each other. This doesn’t mean that they hate you (necessarily). Sometimes they just need some solidarity time. They’re in a different historical and cultural position than we are. If this upsets you, perhaps you could meditate on all the ways that women get the shit end of the stick in our society.

If I have to listen to one more person complain the women-only showings are discrimination I am going to barf. Look, suppose you’ve just eaten lunch and you’re standing next to someone who hasn’t eaten in a week. If someone presents you with a ham sandwich, it might occur to you that the starving person needs it more than you do. It doesn’t mean you’re individuality or personal worth is diminished. It just means that their historical location is different than yours. Is this discrimination. Yes. In fact, every moment of perception involves discrimination. Pretending that you don’t understand the difference between the descriptive and critical senses of that term suggests that you’re either stupid or dishonest. Just don’t bother.

Does Diana need a man to actualize her humanity? No, she does not. Steve Trevor works with her, but she has her own mission and her own moral compass. And she is strong. Incredibly strong. And fearless. And committed to helping people who need it, irrespective of the cost to herself. These are useful lessons for everyone. For young women coming up in our society, they are essential. I like the fact that this movie doesn’t make the common mistake of making the female lead into an appendage of her male colleagues. She has power and agency. And she hands out some really epic ass-whippings, which you’ve got to like.

The fight scenes are really well done. This is important because a lot of what’s good about this movie wouldn’t work if the beatdowns weren’t compelling. But they are.

Maybe the most important thing about Diana is her willingness to speak her mind. She simply will not allow herself to be silenced, or to be told where she can’t go or what she can’t do. That is a great example to set.

If you have daughters you should take them to see this movie. But you should also take your sons. They have to learn about what’s up with women too and there are some very useful object lessons here. Are the more complex elements of the nature of gender relations that they will need to learn? Of course there are. But it’s worth getting it fixed in their minds that women can be tough and dedicated in exactly the same measure as men can.

I hope this movie makes a ton of money. It’s just the sort of thing that could actually kick DC’s movie wing out of the doldrums in which it has been mired in the last few years. Here I’m obviously speaking culturally and artistically, since Batman v Superman did rake in like $827 million. This is a movie that needs to prove itself. It shouldn’t have to, but it does because it’s carrying the torch for a change in culture that really needs to happen. It’s a good sign that they’ve managed to come out with a thoroughly enjoyable superhero flick. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Review: Power Trip

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , on April 13, 2017 by Magadh

Power Trip, Nightmare Logic, Southern Lord

power trip2There are a number of things that differentiate this disc from Power Trip’s previous outing (2013’s Manifest Decimation), but the one that you’re really going to notice if you’ve heard the earlier release is the production. Manifest Decimation was a good record in a lot of respects, an example of the mid-80s style thrashmetal that occasionally lifts its head above the sea of black metal and grindcore. It has some pretty good songwriting and a decent degree of aggression. The main problem was that the recording seemed so awash in something (reverb probably) that it made the songs hard to discern.

I’ve got no problem with raw recording values in metal and hardcore. Sometimes, given the right overall tone, it can add an element of atmosphere (I won’t tax you by reciting where I think this is the case but if you page back some of my reviews you will find ample evidence). But in the case of Manifest Decimation, it just made it difficult to follow the chord changes without really adding the needed atmospheric dimension.

I am happy to report that this problem has been sorted in their new disc. Nightmare Logic is crisply recorded and features a wealth of punch, intense thrash metal cuts. Those who heard their split with Integrity from last year will have seen the moves in this direction, but the release of Nightmare Logic shows that they can put it together for a whole album’s worth of material, which is worthy of note. And let’s be clear: this album absolutely rips. They don’t have quite the tonality of a band like Havok, but they are none the worse for being a bit nastier.

power trip1As you might expect given the four year gap between their full releases, there are other improvements to be noted. Power Trip have made notable advances in terms of songwriting and arranging. Their sound is reminiscent (at least to my ear) the thrashmetal bands that labels like Combat seemed to release with such frequency back in 1980s, particularly Dark Angel, with whom they share more than a passing similarity. That said, their songs are more complex and intensively developed than Dark Angel were in their heyday.

That said, their songs are more complex and intensively developed than Dark Angel were in their heyday. Power Trip’s songs are full of little back picked elements that add power in ways that are hard to quantify or to describe in the abstract. I found myself thinking of the picking style of Artillery’s first couple of records. The drums are clearer as well, and I really loved the snare sound, thick and thudding, but with enough tone to cut through and be heard.

Nightmare Logic is one of the best exemplars of the thrashmetal genre to be released in at least the last five years. It’s got a lot of variety and changes of speed, and the musicianship is about as close to flawless you’re ever going to hear. I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting a great deal to begin with, these guys have produced some really hard rocking stuff that’s going to be infesting my stereo (and tormenting my neighbors) for a long time to come.

Review: Cruz

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , on March 31, 2017 by Magadh

Cruz, Culto Abismal, Sentient Ruin Laboratories

cruz1The dregs of this shit week were enlivened by the receipt of this awesome disk. What we have here is eight helpings of extremely tasty death metal riffage. It’s mostly middling in tempo (right about the speed and gruffness of Corpse’s classic “Black Dawn) and I have to say I like that. Blast beats are cool and all, and they really seemed like something novel to me when I heard Napalm Death do them in the 1980s, but they’re really not my favorite part of death metal.

These Barcelona thrashers have a pretty good formula: crushing, straightforward death metal with galloping beats and utterly tortured vocals. There are a lot of bands to which they might be compared. They sort of remind me of a kind of grimier sounding version of Entombed, although they generally don’t get up to the speeds that Swedes moved at. But that’s just fine. Cruz have an idea of what they want to do and the execute their plan with panache and aggression.

cruz2This disc has been on repeat in my car for the best part of a week now, and every time I listen to it I pick up some nuance or vibe that I hadn’t caught before. The thing that differentiates them from a lot of bands that don’t roll at super high speeds is that their riffs are complex and compelling. They’re not content to just chug along on damped bar chords. Not to harp on the Entombed thing, but their riffs sort of put me in mind of a more aggressive version of Clandestine.

The sound of this record is absolutely perfect: dark and dismal, but clear enough to let the music shine through. Culto Abismal was recorded and mixed by Javi Félez (bassist in Graveyard who are only marginally less awesome). It was mastered by none other than Brad Boatright, who pretty much turns everything he touches into dark, thrashy gold, and this is no exception. Boatright brings a certain bleak aesthetic to everything he does, and Culto Abismal is a perfect example of this. It is a dark, swirling mass of sound rolling forward with the momentum of a freight train.

Yeah, just to sum up, this is the best thing I’ve heard since the last Martyrdöd album came out, and but for the awesomeness of that record it would be the best release that I heard from 2016. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to crank this up again and keep on rocking until the apocalypse descends.

Spectacular Dispatches #2

Posted in Dispatches with tags , , on March 30, 2017 by Magadh

“The images detached from every aspect of life merge into a common stream in which the unity of that life can no longer be recovered. Fragmented views of reality regroup themselves into a new unity as a separate pseudo-world that can only be looked at. The specialization of images of the world has culminated in a world of autonomized images where even the deceivers are deceived. The spectacle is a concrete inversion of life, an autonomous movement of the non-living.”

trumpism1The individualistic ideology of liberal capitalism functions as a superstructure for the fragmentation and isolation of human beings. But this fragmentary individualism operates dialectically with the world of collective images. No feature is so definitive of politics in postmodern mass societies as the centrality of images that create the illusion of integrated life. These images surpass and eventually replace the true.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate businessman Donald Trump speaks during the Republican presidential debate in Las VegasThe politics of Donald Trump (one hesitates to lend it coherence by designating it Trumpism) are predicated on the construction of a complex of stimuli coalescing into apparent coherenceThe utterances of Mr. Trump and his amanuenses weave together truth, rumor, and outright lies into a web the target of which is more affect than intellect.

trumpism2The creating of this spectacle is facilitated by the prevalence of infotainment, in process for at least half a century. The twenty-four hour news cycle created a need for the creation of ever greater volumes of content (although not substance), with sports punditry increasingly used as the structural model for political and social commentary. The sporting industrial complex has retrogenetically colonized the culture out of which it grew.

trumpism4Sporting events have cultural traction to the extent that they involve individuals in the narrative worlds of imagined communities. The insistence on referring to the fanbase of particular teams as “nations” seems ridiculous at first blush. But this is merely a function of the absurdity of nations as such, which does not practically diminish the capacity of such narratives to motivate mass human action, often with lethal consequences.

(Text from Guy Debord, The Society of the Spectacle drawn from Ken Knabb’s website)