Posts Tagged ‘heavy metal’


Thunderous, resonant

July 8, 2009
Attila Csihar from <i>Monoliths & Dimensions</i> liner. Cyanotype by Mathilde Darel.

Attila Csihar from Monoliths & Dimensions liner. Cyanotype by Mathilde Darel.

Monoliths & Dimensions is coursing through my head, and I am not listening to it. I posted some extremely impressionistic notes taken during a listening preview of this newest SUNN O))) release, which fell far short of a review (so I didn’t call it a review). But it’s staying with me and I’m compelled to write more about it.

On O’Malley’s blog (scroll way down to June 11 entry), I read an interview with Attila Csihar, whose vocal presence on the album may be the single most deranging element of the entire effort. In the interview, Csihar confirms a few intuitions I had about his extremely affecting, otherworldly utterances, establishing a surprising link between this recent doom opus and several key industrial bands. “Surprising” because though it is now more common to hear it talked about as an inclusive genre, metal is still a movement with a strong sense of aesthetic purity.

However, if your flavor of extreme music tended toward the industrial, as mine did in the 80s, then underneath SUNN’s eruptive chords you will hear shades of Skinny Puppy, Coil, and even Laibach in some of the textures, instrumentation, and pacing of the album.

In particular compare “Choralone“ from Skinny Puppy’s 1989 release Rabies with SUNN’s “Agartha.” Of course Ogre’s vocals are heavily processed, and Csihar’s are not (or perhaps not nearly as much—more on that below). And try Coil’s “Cathedral in Flames” next to “Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia).” But it is hard not to think of the radically basso delivery of Laibach’s Milan Fras when listening to the first track, “Aghartha.” When the interviewer apparently cites Fras, Csihar explains the link:
“I was inspired by Laibach while I did those vocal lines,” he says. “I didn’t know that it was that obvious, but that’s great. I was always amazed by Milan’s voice, how he could go that deep down, and it took me many years of practicing to be able to do that. Laibach was one of my biggest inspirations back in the ‘80s, besides Current 93, Skinny Puppy, Front Line Assembly, etc. And of course, some extreme underground metal bands like Celtic Frost.”

The first words on the album are, “Thunderous, resonant.” Attila Csihar, Milan Fras.

Original interview at CleveScene.

Earlier: In lieu of a review: SUNN O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions, The look of metal today


Helvetica metal

June 4, 2009


More evidence that workhorse sans serifs can transform even the humblest of thrash epics. This conceptual heavy metal graphic design project comes in the form of Metallica’s 1986 opus Master of Puppets processed in the title identity through the great leveler, Helvetica Franklin Gothic (see update below).

Noah Venezia, whose projects include the enigmatic Stupendous, has alchemically distilled the sleeve material of Master into a Swissly modernized poster. This approach isolates the text component of the album’s packaging, disorienting it in its degenrefication. It would be condescending to the original album to suggest this is an improvement; it’s apples to invisible oranges. (Master’s cover art was executed by the late Don Brautigam, whose Stephen King covers for Night Shift and The Stand, linger durably in my memory. Compared to what Ed RepkaDerek Riggs, and Joe Petagno produced the same year,  Master of Puppets is the quintessence of subtlety.)

The original vinyl Master of Puppets packaging (European issue), via Johan’s Metallica collection site

The original vinyl Master of Puppets packaging (European issue), via Johan’s Metallica collection site

Of the project Noah says, “Master of Puppets had a tremendous impact on me during my formative years. It was unlike anything I had heard and I became obsessed with it. People that I talk to either share a similar experience or it means nothing to them.

“My redesign of the liner notes was an attempt to glorify the album while also making it more acceptable to those unfamiliar. I wanted to compress it into a format that people did not question. I also wanted to make it more powerful simply by increasing its scale. It’s a sort of homage to the album.”

UPDATE: That is indeed Franklin Gothic. Though the main point adheres: it’s compelling to envision heavy metal through the conventions of modernism and clean type. And the pun in the hed is too good to ditch.

Noah says the poster will be on display at the new art + performance space Littlefield in the Gowanus neighborhood of Brooklyn on Friday, June 19.

Earlier: In lieu of a review: SUNN O)))’s Monoliths & DimensionsThe look of metal today


ln lieu of a review: SUNN O)))’s Monoliths & Dimensions

May 17, 2009


Given New York magazine’s profile of SUNN O))) upon the occasion of their Monoliths & Dimensions release, it’s fair to say that Doom, a formerly peripheral metal subgenre, has mainstreamed. A slight discomfort arose in this, and not just in recognizing myself in the predictable demographic slot of SUNN fans (musically omnivorous, mid-thirties, not seemingly a very metal dude). It’s the overprotective feeling fans get when their objects of devotion get that dreaded syndrome known as “exposure.” They’re going to get it all wrong, the avaricious part of the brain says. They may listen, but they won’t really hear.

I had the pleasure of previewing this album in a recording studio in DUMBO a few weeks ago. My professional interest in SUNN currently revolves around a piece I’m writing for Print magazine about contemporary heavy metal design, which will feature the graphic work of SUNN cofounder Stephen O’Malley, Isis and Hydra Head records frontman Aaron Turner, and designer/illustrator (and much more) Seldon Hunt. And though I no longer review music or profile bands, it was a music journalist preview, and old habits die hard. In lieu of an actual review, here are some impressionistic notes I took there as the multivalent and very loud currents of sound emanated from the well-calibrated studio monitors. The album’s nearly hour-long duration collapsed, and I entered an ambiguously deranged headspace. References below include: SOMA = Stephen O’Malley, Attila = Attila Csihar, former Mayhem vocalist and SUNN collaborator, and references to old-school industrial bands Coil, Laibach, and Skinny Puppy (surprising associations which SUNN fans may not appreciate). The notes below are numbered one through four corresponding to the album’s four tracks: Aghartha, Big Church [megszentségteleníthetetlenségeskedéseitekért], Hunting & Gathering (Cydonia), Alice—yes I just cut and paste those titles:

8 dudes and one girl waiting for doom.
Richard Serra as front over art. SOMA really going for the art
1. —midchord eruption like a lawnmower engine
chord progression actually faster than usual
Attila vocals from outer space. I think he said “Satan.” What other background chaos can come up against the guttural wall than the squealy-mouse running pick on guitar string effect?
It’s turning into Scatology-era Coil, even Skinny Puppy atmospheres (“Reclamation”). Industrial undertones-noise
The horns, what are the horns?
-panicky @ that point
2. choral! Then the chord eruption-
two punctuated silences with bell. Abrupt end, just falls off a cliff.
3. like lo-fi SUNN coming over bad reception until-
horns very Fairlight–Coil, textures like “Cathedral in Flames”
* coming together on this one *
4. Modern classical tradition–horns dissolve, harp, plucked strings

Maybe that comprises a review after all. For more go check out interview transcripts from the world’s best music magazine, The Wire.

Earlier: The look of metal today


The look of metal today

March 30, 2009

Seldon Hunt's treatment of Isis for Revolver magazine

Seldon Hunt's treatment of Isis for Revolver magazine

This audio piece is part of an ongoing research project about contemporary heavy metal graphics. It was my final project for the D-Crit podcast workshop taught by Studio 360 host Kurt Andersen and producer Leital Molad. That I could learn the requisite recording and ProTools chops—and perhaps moreover to overcome the anxiety that went with it—to produce this piece was miraculous enough. It’s still rough; I’d redo a few things, but the basis is well enough there.

SUNN logoFor this piece I had the privilege to interview two great contemporary designers, Stephen O’Malley (avant-metal master of SUNN O))) and other influential doom and experimental projects) and Seldon Hunt, whose photography, illustration, and design graces packaging and tee-shirts for Isis, Neurosis, Nadja, and many other bands. I also talked to Mike Essl, head of graphic design at Cooper Union (and who I got to work with on this survey of lowbrow art), and Ian Christe, author of the excellent Sound of the Beast: The Complete Headbanging History of Heavy Metal and publisher of Bazillion Points.

Bazillion Points logo

The argument here is not just that heavy metal isn’t all Blackletter and horrorshow graphics; it’s that some of the most compelling design today is coming out of this world. It’s weird to me that this much innovative visual output goes virtually unnoticed in the design world. More on this subject, anon.

The look of metal today (about eight minutes long).