Individual Thought Patterns: Women in NY’s Extreme Metal Music Scene – 10.19.15

Cover of Natalie Purcell's book

Cover from Natalie Purcell’s book, Death Metal Music: The Passion and Politics of a Subculture

I just realized that although I’ve been working on this research for some time, I’ve rarely posted anything that’s part of the draft thesis. So in case you were wondering…here’s a sample of what I’ve been writing about. I’ve included the abstract, table of contents, and just the working introduction, which reads very auto-ethnographic.
Draft – Individual Thought Patterns
And of course, please feel free to contact me if there’s something just glaringly odd/off. It’s still a draft form so I’m sure my advisor and second reader will have changes in mind.

Thanks  \m/

Summer Work Never Ends when You’re Metal Thirsty

In case you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to – it’s been a couple of things, but the most exciting thing this summer is the fact that I’ve got about 56 pages of my master thesis on women in EMM written, that’s excluding all the appendices–Woo hoo!

Metal researchIn addition, the folks over at the Society of Ethnomuiscology’s Student Union Blog were gracious enough to allow me to post about my experience with academia, motherhood, librarianship, and metal. Check it out!

Moreover,  I just finished writing a book review for Choice Magazine and I’m now in the midst of writing another review for ARLISNA on John Sharp’s Works of Game:On the Aesthetics of Games and Art. Which, by the way, I totally recommend as summer reading!

worksofgameLastly, I’ve been lucky enough to see Gospel of the Witches twice this year! I’ve made a handful of good friends through the academic metal route and the experience has really imparted some enlightening insights for me.

With that said, here’s a couple of pics from the GoTW show at Blackthorn21, July 10, 2015. It really was a great show and unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to get pictures of the other bands–all female fronted too, like The Missing and Earthbound!

Finally, it was super cool to finally see Alekhine’s Gun, since I’ve heard so much about Jessica Pimentel’s engaging metal  performances, but of course, I didn’t get any pictures, so here’s a link to some photos of the event from Skullnbones.com

Enjoy!

Mothering: The Extreme Metal Way

metal mom shirtI mentioned in a previous post that in between thesis writing, book/music reviews, work and parenting, I’ve begun researching motherhood and metal. It’s a side interest that came up with my thesis research that I’m finding fascinating because I’m a new mom and a metalhead and sometimes that can be strange to folks; especially when, as a new mom, you’re trying to make friends with other moms.

I didn’t really think too much on it before, but through interviews and surveys, I started to notice that enjoying extreme metal seems to be at odds with parenting. One example, which totally upset me-though my husband found it humorous because its most likely a “fake” page, was a Facebook page that I recently found while researching called, “Moms Against Heavy Metal“. Whether or not this page is authentic, it construes an idea that heavy metal negatively impacts on the social and family values of adolescents and continues an idea that has been around for decades, when people thought that rock-and-roll music was evil and Elvis Presley’s gyrating hips would shred the moral fabric of the children of the 50s. This continued into the 80’s and 90’s with crusades against heavy metal and other kinds of music – ala Tipper Gore. Some would argue that musical censorship like this can even be traced back to historical times with the Church banning music that included the tritone, which of course features prominently in heavy metal.

Started by the supposed mom who has a son whose life was almost ruined by heavy metal. She writes this on her About Me page:

“8 years ago, my son started listening to Cannibal Corpse (a hardcore metal band). Ever since then he began wearing all black and wouldn’t listen to his mom or dad. Today, my son has been finally left rehab after 2 years. This is all because of metal music.”

To me, this is sad on a couple of fronts. For one, although it might all be tongue-in-cheek, it points to a more serious matter of how metal’s reputation is so often negatively perceived. Secondly, there are assumptions and accusations being made about people which are derived solely from a person’s musical taste. I can’t help but think of how ignorant words like, “The music made me do it,” or “I saw it on TV so I did it too,” sound.

Understandably, younger children can be influenced by a variety of things that they see in the media and elsewhere, including the home, but that’s where we have a problem–parents need to explain things, not just restrain or avoid when they think that something might be inappropriate. Children need to know “why” to begin to build rationality and a moral compass. Nowhere on this mom’s FB page does she talk about asking why her son listened to metal or what he thought about her own reactions towards the music. Thirdly, if you’re going to accuse music of corrupting morality, know something about the music!!! It’s comedic to me that Cannibal Corpse gets labeled as hardcore….ummmm NO.That’s a different type of music that comes from punk rock, not heavy metal. The sad fact is, I have met real people who are very misinformed on topics that they’d argue to death. I’m sure you’ve all met them – arguing about religion, politics, feminism, economics and race, without a real understanding of the subject matter.

Getting back to Moms Against Heavy Metal – has this person ever read interviews with the band? They’re pretty articulate and express what they think about writing the music that they do, justifying it as art in the same sense that movies and video games express often fantastic content, why should music be any different? How different are writing horrific lyrics and producing movies with horrific content? Should we be taking artistic license away? If so, a plethora of books would have to be taken off the shelves. Not to mention artwork. I don’t see an outcry to ban Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft or the Saw movies.

Granted, there are many bands out there that spread agendas full of hate, misogyny and racism – but entire genres shouldn’t be blamed for these people and their opinions. And of course, it’s not just metal music. You can find hate in rap, folk, and pop …just read about some of these musicians and their backgrounds.

Additionally, I have to wonder what she would think of metal bands like Amorphis, whose lyrical writing is Finnish storytelling at its best. Or again, my favorite – Crisis, with songs of proto-feminist themes. Or even transgenderd musicians like Marissa Martinez of Cretin or Mina Caputo from Life of Agony, both musicians who found compassion from the metal community. Would she be against bands like Blotted Science or Conquering Dystopia? These are both extreme metal bands, with members of acts like Cannibal Corpse, but which create instrumental music. Is she blaming the sound, the lyrics, the tempo, or some other combination for her son’s behavior?

Personally, for me, heavy and extreme metal music have been empowering. It is for a lot of metal heads. As a transgressive form of music, it can alleviate feelings of alienation, abuse and grief. I believe for this mom, exploring her son’s psychology, and her own, would be a better way to get to the root and resolve the issues they have, not starting a crusade against an entire musical genre that has millions of positive, productive fans globally. If this mom was a little more enlightened, she’d realized there is a very open discourse on metal music and she’d not only see benefits of listening to the music but the benefits of being a musician and performing.

Luckily, on the flip side to this are real moms like Lisa Petty over at the blog Parenting: ten to twenty who sees this benefit for her and her son. She’s written a funny post about being a metal mom, called “I Am a Metal Mom – Not a Soccer Mom” where she acknowledges her son’s passion for the music and encourages him to be comfortable with himself, even if he’s different from everyone else around him.

With that, I leave you with some pics from this adorable “My Mom Wearing Heavy Metal Shirts” Tumblr page….(this was genius!)

Testament mom

death metal momMetal moms

Album Review: Karyn Crisis’ Gospel of the Witches – Salem’s Wounds

I was asked to write an album review over at MetalRiot.com of an inspiring musician I’ve mentioned on this blog in the past – Karyn Crisis! Her band is Gospel of the Witches. Below is a copy of the text that you can find over at Metal Riot.

Enjoy!

Review: Karyn Crisis – Gospel of the Witches (2015)

As most loyal fans of Crisis will find—Gospel of the Witches is a departure from the core metal/death sound of their 90’s heyday. But that’s to be expected. Away from the East Coast metal scene after the Crisis break-up, Karyn travelled to California to learn more about her experiences with the incorporeal, having had countless episodes of what could best be described as “encounters with the supernatural” during her childhood and onward.

In between self-discovery and music-making with a brief stint in husband Davide Tiso’s band Ephel Duath, we find a new Karyn, grounded in her abilities to communicate with her own spirit guide and with humanity through the medium of music. Ever the creative soul, she’s crafted and pursued leatherworks, paintings, and mediumship and come back full circle to music.

From metalinjection.com

From metalinjection.com

Gospel of the Witches’ debut album, Salem’s Wounds, is Karyn’s latest mesmerizing project with husband Davide Tiso of Ephel Duath and Bob Vigna from Immolation on guitar, Ross Dolan, also from Immolation, on bass and backing vocals, and Charlie Schmid from Vaura on drums. Each member brings a range of experience to the table.

To me, the first significant song is the opening track, aptly-titled Omphalos, which becomes just that – an object of power, positioned to propel the listener on a journey of arcane reflexivity. Karyn’s “I am no one, I am nothing, I am nowhere,” juxtaposed with “I am everything, I am everywhere, I am everyone,” starts with clean vocals and quickly metamorphosizes into a growled delivery layered atop Ross Dolan’s own deathly vocals and sets both the tone and expectations high with a powerful intro to the album. Its subtle ascending vocal tempo creates an escalating mood, a musical ascension of sorts. Short, simple and leading; it directs the listener right into the second song, The Alchemist, in which the theme of being an acolyte learning the ways of the occult arises from both the composition of Karyn’s music and lyrical content that points heavily towards mysticism and transmutation – “I am no longer the dust and lifeless, waiting to be swept away…” and “…I hear those words, kept unsaid, and I walk in the world of the living and the dead.” A little more than halfway through the song, we hear a bit of the old Crisis as Karyn alternates styles with bits of clean and heavier vocals with Dolan backing the choruses.

And so begins our journey, alongside Karyn, towards self-discovery. In a Lovecraftian way, we learn of ritualism and guidance from both Ancient Ways and Aradia, where verses become chants foretelling haunting revelations of mankind existing as only a small part of the greater world. The driving melodies lead the ear to witness the rites in progress. Karyn’s lyrics paint a haunting, yet enlightening, revelation of liberation. Aradia, itself, is used interchangeably for “Gospel of the Witches,” featured as part of the title of the original book or religious text, from which the band’s name most likely originates. Its also the name of a person in the book, allegedly the daughter of Diana, Queen of the Witches and Lucifer, portrayed as a sun god. In 1899, it later caused quite a stir and came to be a major influence on the modern Wiccan belief system. It details rites and beliefs of a sect of Italian witches, which is intriguing considering that Karyn’s husband lives in Italy, and she, herself, spent several years living there with him.

Its interesting to me to note that Gospel of the Witches has a pronounced gothic tinge to their overall sound. With both Dolan and Vigna from Immolation on board, I had expected to hear a composition replete with shredding guitar and complex death metal composition, tempered by Davide’s somewhat lyrical guitar-work and pacing. Instead, we’re indulged with a surprising side of Immolation’s palette that moves in a more gothic-rock direction and has Karyn, at times, invoking early Switchblade Symphony with her vocals instead of Dawn Crosby or even her own previous works.

As two halves of a greater whole, the songs Mother and Father are a nice compliment to each other. They’re a payment of respect to the progenitors of the universe and not just the parents that gave birth to us-though one can interpret its multilayered meanings to differing conclusions. With Mother in particular, the lyrics really resonated with me as I lost my own mother to disease when I was 23, so I took the lyrics of “Mother, I can feel your flesh burning, Mother, I can smell your sacrifice” as both profound and cathartic, with a call-and-response relationship built in. However, what Karyn is doing here is relating Aradia’s story, her origins, the depth of her beginnings. In contrast, the song Father radiates a more anchored feeling than what Mother produces. Its potent lyrical structuring with repetitive chants like “I am” followed by words such as invictus sets forth a dominant tone of invocation making it read like Delphic verses in the night. What we can infer here is Aradia’s conversation with her own Father, stating her known identity; she is aware of her origins and unconquerable spirit.

In many places throughout the album, Karyn layers her voice with Dolan’s, creating an interplay that harkens to a singer possessed. This maniacal effect plays with our aural assumptions of what is masculine and feminine, giving equal play to both genders and allowing them to become one. What results is a ritualistic profoundness similar to an altered state of consciousness. We become active listeners in her tale of the first witch.

Perhaps the one song that really brings this concept home for me is Goddess of Light. In particular, the part where Karyn sings, “Bear witness to my eternal rebirth”. Through a quick perusal of the definition of the Goddess Light deity that Karyn refers to, its possible to interpret the song as an homage to the divine feminine. What also struck me about this reference to the Goddess of Light was how it ties into my own conversations with my mother-in-law, who is a Hindu. An equivalent deity to the Goddess of Light, tales of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi relate a story of The Churning of the Ocean in which her disappearance from the world leads to darkness and chaos overtaking the earth with asuras (spirits) taking over. After much work and perseverance between the other deities and humans, Lakshmi returns, overturning the demons and making the world safe once again. Karyn’s music alludes to this kind of ethereal world-building.

With a surprising change in tone, at least in its intro, we hear The Secret, the tenth song on the album. It opens with a spacier introduction bordering on lounge-like beats. Her lyrics, “if you don’t go within, you go without,“ seem to sum up her inner discoveries and confessions. There’s a subtle extended invitation to join the dark with her, making it feel as though you’re witness to something beyond the sacred. However, the lyrical play on words could also reference Buddhist Zen ideas of self-discovery and self-evident truths contrasted with a activities of people looking for external signs of faith as a validation or sign of reprieve from their life’s troubles through pseudo-spirituality and mysticism, or people who superficially claim to practice “black magic” or “witchcraft” without knowledge of the traditions, lore and history of what they’ve appropriated.

Compositionally, I was surprised by the relative simplicity of the music compared to her earlier works, as fans who go in expecting anything resembling Crisis aren’t going to find what they’re looking for instrumentally here. Immolation fans will frankly be shocked. There’s nothing inherently wrong with musicians of Immolation’s background coming together to produce music of this type, but it should almost come with a warning for certain types of fans who may be more close-minded or fixed in their ideas of musical expression and range and are put off by change.

In many ways, what Karyn has done here is exactly the opposite of the progression Carl McCoy underwent when transitioning from Fields of the Nephilim to simply, Nephilim. His was a journey from atmospheric and gothic rock to gothic-influenced death metal, also steeped in mysticism. Hers has been a journey from metal to atmospheric, metal-influenced gothic music – with a movement from introspection and to the occult.

With Salem’s Wounds, we’re once again sharing in her confession with a leading gothic rock melody. There’s an abject feeling listening to her use of “hallelujah“, conveying an inversion of Christian traditions. Her repetition of the word “samsara”, the reincarnation cycle, reminds me of Hindu myths and how the religion at one point, and still to a degree today, was considered pagan to western Christian hegemony. It’s through these intentional nuances of lyrical construction that Karyn imparts a spiritual epiphany. If the NBC tv-series Constantine stays afloat next season, this should be on the series soundtrack.

I’ve had an advance copy of the album for about a week now, and ultimately, I had to listen to it twice before I began to realize its full thaumaturgic intentions. As each song unfolds, Karyn’s ability to build a world very different from what we’ve known of Crisis emerges. The same can be said of Vigna and Dolan’s parts here – maybe even more so. I, myself. had to shed my preconceived notions of a possible death metal album because of Dolan and Vigna’s involvement. What we see, instead, is not a brutal, in-your-face assault of Karyn’s previous politics, but the mature, cultivated cosmos of a world that she’s been quietly exploring for decades. As a personal project for Karyn, it’s evident that her spiritual and existential experiences are grounded in her musical composition, paralleling her growth as an artist and medium. It goes with the tone she’s set for the entirety of the album.

By the end of this album, the listener is left with a somber and dirge-like atmosphere, prepping the ear to trade in what’s it known from its physical life for a second helping of spiritual self-discovery. In a manner common to all things esoteric, the album’s chants and dark, meandering atmosphere leaves the listener with a feeling of transition, waiting for something “more”. Whether that “more” is in the form of an actual visitation, only Karyn Crisis can tell us.

Full Track listing:

  1. Omphalos (2:00)
  2. Alchemist (6:28)
  3. Ancient Ways (4:34)
  4. Aradia (3:42)
  5. Mother (6:05)
  6. Father (4:54)
  7. Goddess of Light (4:00)
  8. Howl At The Moon (5:45)
  9. Pillars (3:16)
  10. The Secret (3:32)
  11. Salem’s Wounds (4:48)
  12. The Sword and The Stone (4:05)
  13. The Ascent (5:22)
  14. White Willow (2:24)

Heavy Metal, Motherhood, and Parenting

Lately I’ve been in a writing rut with regard to my thesis research on women in metal. All the things I usually try to do to get out of said rut are failing. I went to Yoga, started reading material not pertaining to my research, and I even thought about painting again; anything to get my mind off schoolwork.

Instead, while browsing an old sheet of notebook paper with ideas about possible thesis topics, I ended up revisiting this idea I had when I was pregnant with my daughter, Ella. It was on researching mothers and motherhood in heavy metal. I decided to give more time to researching this topic.

During the course of my research with women in NY’s extreme metal scene, the concept of motherhood came up a handful of times, both during the one-on-one interviews and in the online survey. In general, women said that future motherhood would be a challenge to them simply because of the lifestyle change. A few said that they look forward to figuring that lifestyle change out, while the majority of my interviewees said it wasn’t in the cards, mostly because they couldn’t see themselves as both musicians and moms. I found this bit intriguing, as I bet male musicians rarely think of this concern, or at least, not in the same way. It’s not like they would have to be drumming insane blast beats while being 7 months pregnant or anything.

Motherhood and metal also became a reoccurring theme in my daily WordPress musings because 1) I’m a newish mom myself and so I follow parenting blogs here and there (see beautiful pic of my daughter below) and 2) women in my age group are starting to settle down and have children.

Ella_motorhead2

It wasn’t surprising that when I read a review of Kim Gordon‘s forthcoming book, Girl in a Band, I was immediately fascinated with her memoir of life on the road as a musician, performer and new mom. As a rock icon, I definitely look forward to reading her book. To add, motherhood and balancing everything else is a challenge that Gordon seems to have successfully managed.

On top of women like Kim Gordon, there are others, specifically in metal that I was curious about. One example being women like Simone Simons from Epica (see video below):

It’s amazing to me that the topic hasn’t really been explored. Considering that all these musicians came out of somewhere, you’d think the topic of moms and motherhood would have been researched. There’s a dearth of information about home environments and adolescent studies with regard to reasons for listening to metal and it looks like there’s little on the way about mothers and their influences on these musicians. I would like think that in one way or another (whether it’s positive or negative) it would be highlighted.

On that note, I unfortunately found this video while I was researching that made me upset. It’s a recording of a conversation between a mother and her musician-son..well sorta. Understandably, we don’t have the entire context of why this mother felt so disgusted with her son. I’m sure anxiety and being afraid of something she didn’t understand played a big role in her reaction but it was disheartening to see the approach she took in addressing her son.

And yet, over at places like the Jarakarta Globe, psychology lecturer Gita Soerjoatmodjo writes on her experience of being a mom who doesn’t feel a need to reconcile being a metalhead with parenting. She references society’s perception of metal music and talks about, how for her, it’s an empowering and constructive force, not something to simply be rebellious or violent about.

In addition, I’ve noticed a wave of new parenting columns catering to the metal community. Both Decibel and Hellhound magazines offer new parenting columns in their issues. Just look at the cover of Decibel’s March 2015 issue:
Decibel cover_1024x1024So it goes without saying, while I’m on break with my thesis work, you’ll probably see me writing something researchy about what it means to consider motherhood within the heavy metal community.

Welcome to Metal Kingdom Documentary

With all the ongoing research I’ve been doing for my thesis, I came upon this gem. It’s a documentary produced back in 2006-2009 by Denise Gaberman called Welcome to Metal Kingdom (see video below). Gaberman chronicled the lifespan of a small metal venue that opened in Queens, NY, back in 2006 called Metal Kingdom. The film is about 35 minutes long and offers a nice snippet of what the metal community, especially the Pan-Latino metal community looked like in the early 2000’s. It documents the year-long journey of the owner, Salvador Gil, and his partner Edwin Mazariegas, towards maintaining the venue’s life amid financial, political, and renovation complications.

Having seen Sam Dunn’s series, Metal Evolution, I found this documentary, in contrast, even more fascinating and quite different due to its exploration of the ethnic groups participating in NY’s local metal scene. Metal has so often been stereotyped as “white male adolescent” music and this documentary contradicts this notion and in fact shows the director’s perceptiveness to include interviews with women and people of color within the scene. Of particular interest to me were the interviews with two sisters (Denise and Wanda Ramirez) who were in two different extreme metal bands in which they employed male vocal stylings-something that is still rare in the more commercial extreme metal bands that are fronted by women. Add to this, that we still see very few extreme metal bands with women period.

Since my research is ongoing, I hope to reach out and get further insight on both the men and women from the Pan-Latino community as it definitely looks like a gap in local NY Metal scholarship.

Metal Monday – Agrimonia

Agrimonia

Over at RateYourMusic.com I found a nifty list of DOOM metal bands with females either fronting the band or as members. To my serendipitous surprise, I just discovered the band Agrimonia. Fronted by lead singer, Christina, the band hails from Gothenburg, Sweden and employs a sludge, crust, post metal sound–not surprising, given Gothenburg’s musical history. Having only listened to the band’s first self titled album from 2008, I wasn’t left wanting.

As for stylings, Christina’s vocals are impressive. She alternates from gritty bowl crunching growls to an easily identifiable influence of the punk and hardcore vocals of which she stems. Drawing from both a rich history of Gothenburg metal and punk, it’s easy to see why I loved hearing this band. Melodically, I found the perfect balance between heaviness, precision and and straight-up musicianship. The album, which had only five songs, about 10 minutes each or longer, offered a skillful blend of atmosphere and symmetry while remaining intense throughout. I lost myself to certain signatures that gave me the right amount of rumination for hearing the organic transitions of each song-listen to The Decay below and you’ll see what I mean. Even their lyrics blow me away –

“My tears all I can give
My anger my despise
The poison eats you alive
I can see every bite”…

Of course, I can’t wait to hear the next two albums that were released in 2010 and 2013. I could totally imagine them being signed to Neurot Records if they were state-side. It’s that kind of organic sludge.

Cue research soundtrack…..