A hessian guide to the proper care and maintenance of your records and sound equipment, part I – digital

Throughout the years, I have met many hessians that, despite the passion for metal music that is so common among them, haven’t yet learned how to take care of their records and sound equipment of which they depend so much.

Being part of a culture means, among many other things, maintaining the material manifestations of that culture. We get stronger, as individuals and as a culture, by learning good habits and applying our energies towards the preservation of the things that we care the most.

So it is imperative for us at the Hessian Studies Center, in our efforts to improve the well-being of metalheads worldwide, that we provide our readers with a comprehensive guide to the proper care of your music records and reproduction system.

CDs

Compact discs are by far the recording medium of preference for hessians of all ages and inclinations, and it is easy to see why: it is small, so it’s easily transportable and manageable, provides great, clean sound, and doesn’t degrade with use since the reproduction of sound doesn’t involve the constant friction of a needle or a cassette tape head. Of course, this medium has its detractors, and much more in the metal culture than other music-oriented human groups, for reasons we’ll explain later on.

Despite its advantages, CDs are very easy to damage if mistreated, so you must take the following cautions:

– Never touch the readable surface of the CD. Grab the discs by its edges, never by the middle. It could get fingerprints on it, resulting in bad playback.
– Always keep the CD in a protective jewelcase if you ain’t playing it. Other storing devices, such as wallets and cakeboxes, are not recommended since they could easily scratch the discs. Make sure that you have the inner tray of the CD case as clean as possible, removing all particles of dust, before storing the CD.
-If the CD gets some dirt or dust on it, clean with a dry cloth, gently so that you barely touch the surface of the CD.
– Keep your CDs away from humidity or high temperatures. If your CD gets splashed with water, gently dry it with a soft cloth, from center to edge, in a careful fashion so that you don’t scratch it.
Never use solvents or liquids of the sort to clean the CD, save for those cleaning kits available in commerce. Better yet, Just try your best to keep your CDs from getting dirt on them and they’ll be fine.
– If your CD ever gets scratched, and those aren’t too deep into the surface, you can try one of those machines that refinish the readable surface, meaning they remove the scratches by polishing the acrylic plastic that is the transparent layer of the CD. If the scratch is too deep, or in the label side of the disc, it probably damaged the silver layer (where the audio is recorded). In that case you’re screwed. Repair kits aren’t too efective, so I wouldn’t mind with them if I’m you. DVD renting or used CD stores usually keep one of the aforementioned machines handy, and charge a small fee for the repair of a disc or several.

Also, keep in mind that straight scratches from the center to the edge of the CD are much less likely to cause your CD to malfunction when compared to scratches paralel to the circumference of the disc, for obvious reasons – a CD reproduction system can afford to lose one or a few bits without any problems, but not several of them, in which case the information (audio) might be impossible to read by the equipment.

CDRs

To record a sample from your recordings, compilations and rare albums you know you won’t easily get otherwise, CDRs are very practical. They are also cheaper than they were years ago, but the average in price have lowered in great part because of cheap quality CDRs flooding the market. In choosing your recording medium, pick a good brand of CDR: Sony, Zykon, Kodak, Mitsui. Buying the CDRs in packs of 20, 25 or 50 is cheaper in the long term as well (less value per unit).

Make sure you buy a good brand of CD burner. Favorites among the public are Asus, Sony, Samsung, LG and AOpen.

For recording, use a good software such as Nero Burning Room 9. Always record your CDRs at the lowest speed possible. Preferably, you should never burn the disc faster than 4x of speed.

The bad combination of low quality CDs, cheap CD burner equipment and excessive burning speed may cause your CDRs to fail to reproduce on the short or the long term, so be sure to spend a little more and be a bit more patient. That way your burned CDRs will last for a long time (+5 years, at least, if you pick a good brand).

For storing the CDRs, you can use either a jewelcase or a slim case, the latter tending to be more practical if you have way too many CDRs. In the last case, it is also a good idea to have an Excel sheet of all your recorded CDs so you can find them, since you can’t easily label the side of slim cases.

Care tips for CDs are equally appliable to the recorded sort. Another thing that should be considered, though, is the damage that heat can produce to the special chemical properties particular to a CDR. So, you should never place a CDR in direct sunlight. More info here.

To label your CDRs, use a water-based marker with a non-sharp tip.

Digital formats

Not much to say here. Prefered audio formats for PC playback are mp3 and FLAC. The latter allows one to keep a CD quality, lossless reproduction of the recording, with its downside being a lot heavier in individual file size than mp3. Other formats, such as .ogg, are also prefered by certain digital audio aficionados.

One thing that should be mentioned, though: if you keep a large collection of digitalized music, it is convenient to store them on a separate external hard drive in case your computer crashes or fails, like they do so often these days.

Some links on the subject you may find useful:

Foobar 2000 – best damn audio playback software for your computer with lots of different options for amateur and expert audio freaks.

FLAC codec home – to download the program/codec that allows your PC to reproduce and burn FLAC files. It includes a coding/decoding software that is light and easy to use.

Fraunhofer mp3 audio codec – One of the best mp3 encoders, allows to get a better quality or definition of sound.

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Metal painting of the month – Rembrandt's "The Anatomy Lesson"

Metal isn’t the only artform in history to portray sick imagery. Back in the “good old days” (18th century and below), when people were less afraid of seeing all sides of reality, even the most unconfortable, genius artists made artworks like our pick of today: Rembrandt van Rijn’s “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp”.


Hessian

(Click on the image to enlarge)

Fitting as the insert of an Autopsy or a Carcass album, this painting shows the artist’s preference for the contrast between dark and light, with the latter only to draw more attention to the former (like metal does). The image itself portrays the urge to study the morbid in order to bring more health (again, like metal does). Its exquisite aesthetic details are carefully crafted to further draw us onto the imagery, even if we could initially feel repeled by such, and when the contemplation ends we finally see the subject as a normal, natural thing (metal’s best albums tend to do that as well).

Besides, it looks fucking metal, what else could you possibly want from it?

More info.

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Black sheeps bred in turbulent times: metal, hardcore punk and industrial

At all times, the function of art is to bring its audience as close to reality as possible, whether that reality is circunscribed to a certain group, in which its particular culture connects the group to a larger living frame, or by looking at that frame directly, not as members of race, nation or even as humans, but as conscious beings wishing to be more aware of the structure of the universe.

In healthy times, art is seen as necessary for the purpose described above. In sick, decadent times, on the other hand, the situation is drastically different. In times that are ruled by delusion and deception, true art is seen as dangerous, albeit the craft that could potentially create true works of art still exist. Such craft, however, doesn’t reach such heights in most cases, and generally the result is as empty as the values of the time the works were created.

In other words: false art is universally prefered and recognized over true art.

Three genres of music were, at least on their origins and their respective better days, not only true to the strict definition of what art is, but were created as a reaction to the present situation. Those genres are hardcore punk, industrial and heavy metal. These initially were the vehicles in which discontented youngsters with artistic talent and a sharper consciousness which allowed them to view the world in a more realistic fashion could pour their ideas and frustration in sonic form. Hardcore punk took a public-friendly style crafted by marketing and deconstructed it, making it more violent, minimalistic and less rigidly enclosed into a singular form. In the same way, industrial took mainstream music, mixed it with electronically generated sounds and turn that combination into a harsh and cold environment which reminded the listener of the monotonous sound of the industrial machinery that defines our times.

Metal was born into the industrial settings of England by taking rock music and injecting a strong dose of fatalism into it, influenced no doubt by the bleak and dehumanizing surroundings that the first metal heroes experienced. With time, the genre made gigantic leaps, evolving into a nihilistic, naturalistic and romantic artform which splitted from the mainstream forms (the “craft”) from which it initially developed.

Consequentially, those three genres of music are the most hated and ridiculed by the majority of people in today’s society. The fight against these was not only limited to finger pointing, but as a process of assimilation in which the spineless crowd filling the pockets of the mainstream music industry attempted to streamline the genres to make them more tame and accessible.

So, as much as there is false and true art, there is also false metal, false punk, and false industrial, with the proportion of true and false having a certain ratio to it. The struggle for each hessian, then, is to know the true from the false, and how? Easy: recognize that only a modest percentage of metal is worthy of your time; skew the rest; don’t listen to hipsters and other social manipulators; listen and buy only the music you most closely connect to; stay away from scenes: most are dens of manipulation in which the social takes precedence over the artistic, and you will waste valuable time listening to the drivel those people will shove down your throat, so you can be either as “open minded” or “elite” as them.

Lastly, remember the golden rule: if something (music, ideas) is hated with an irrational passion, give it a chance. It may probably be worth something. Be brave, and go against the grain, and you will reach for the best.

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Book review – The Aeneid

Among the superb examples of classic literature produced by the once rich and productive european culture; amidst the works of a fecund civilization that have left a permanent mark on the subsequent generations, proving their relevance in all eras of human history; touching topics that are so eternal and defining of our humanity, such as the neverending strife for life on all levels; among all those works, very few pieces of writing (and art) can reach the heights of Virgil’s masterwork, the culmination of a lifetime of work and self-improving in the field of the written word.

The intention with this review, less than providing a synthesis of the book’s argument, which can be found anywhere else on the Internet, is to give the reader what we believe is the central message of such a story in a short and concise manner so you can pick the book and explore the depths of its message for yourself.

The main subject of the story is the overcoming of difficulties and the strife for better conditions of living, or a better future. In the example of a group of survivors from the destruction of the legendary Troy, them lead by the fearless and noble warrior Aeneas, as they go through a series of awful calamities one after the other, with nothing but the promise of a bright future that the mentioned group of people won’t even see for themselves, but which will be enjoyed by their descendants, the future patricians that would build the greatest civilization known to man, Virgil gives us the best example of the glory and the rewards of reaching new heights by conquering difficulties.

It is this argument that best reflects that condition of human life that modern people try so hard to hide or run away from: the unescapable fact that, if we want the good things in life, we need to make some effort to get them. Not just some meager effort, but a serious one, since calamities, the only sure things in life, and the ones that come most easily, will get in the way of our dreams. Such calamities may come in many forms: the death of a close one, the sabotage made on us by envious people, the crash of the financial market, or a meteor falling through your roof and into your room – it doesn’t matter. They are as real as the air you breath (“only death is real”, indeed) and you will need to face and go through many of them if you want to get some of the sweet fruits that the tree of life offers.

Despite the universality of its message, I feel this book applies specially to hessians and the hard path in life they choose to take. As modern warriors, wandering as misunderstood entities in the maelstrom of modern life, the analogy with the wandering trojans is self-evident. So, even thought this story doesn’t depict long haired dudes with beer guts, it fits the metalhead persona like a glove.

Grab this and learn the joy of surviving the brutal game of life, the hessian way.

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Sturgeon's Law

In 1958, science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon made a remark on the general state of the SF genre that would live on through the years as an axiom applicable to all human endeavours. The remark will be infamously known as “Sturgeon’s Revelation” or, more familiarly, “Sturgeon’s Law”:

The first reference I can find in his oeuve appears in the March 1958 issue of Venture Science Fiction, where he wrote:

“I repeat Sturgeon’s Revelation, which was wrung out of me after twenty years of wearying defense of science fiction against attacks of people who used the worst examples of the field for ammunition, and whose conclusion was that ninety percent of sf is crud.

“The Revelation: Ninety percent of everything is crud.

“Corallary 1: The existence of immense quantities of trash in science fiction is admitted and if is regrettable; but it is no more unnatural than the existence of trash anywhere.

“Corallary 2: The best science fiction is as good as the best fiction in any field.”

The Theodore Sturgeon FAQ

Sturgeon’s Law is applicable to all fields of human creation, including metal music and its different subgenres.

– NWOBHM: for every cool band arising from the genre such as Angelwitch, Diamond Head, Pagan Altar and the like, there were hundreds of bands mixing mostly early 60s rock with some half-assed, early-Judas Priest rip-off attempt. Mediocre acts such as Tygers of Pan Tang, Praying Mantis, Mythra, Def Leppard and the like were the norm back when the movement exploded in popularity.

– Speed Metal: there was only one Metallica, one Kreator, one Sodom, and many, many Kublai Khans, Evil Deads, Xentrixes, D.A.M.s and Atrophies pouring out uninspired, pussified drivel to bores us to death.

– Death Metal: story repeats itself here. For every masterpiece of the subgenre such as “Like an Ever Flowing Stream”, there was either a lot of wannabe brutal crap or randomly pasted bad speed metal riffs with death growls on top that drowned the genre into irrelevance.

– Black Metal: oh shit, where do we begin here? Let’s just say that the genre was at its most brilliant creative phase when only a handful of bands scattered on different parts of the world such as Norway, Greece, Switzerland, the US and certain south american localities made the most powerful and influential works of the genre. Now, it takes only a small game of “I know one who knows another” to easily link you to any of the thousand wannabe garage black metal bands expecting to be the next legend in the subgenre. And where are the exceptional works of our time? Eeehhh…

Most of the mediocre stuff that plagued each of the metal genres from speed metal downwards have thankfully dissapeared with the years, but some were revived by the shouts of the hipsters demanding 4 LP “die hard” collector versions of the reissues. We can thank them for that.

But don’t despair. As in Sci-Fi, the metal genre may have way too much fat on it, but that doesn’t mean that it’s dying. Rather, the current downfall of the genre is caused by our excessive tolerance of run-of-the-mill music with no intent, passion and spirit on it. That brings us to another point: the fact that metal needs to be fresh again in order to pursue new creative heights. A genre of art, whether it is science fiction or metal music, is defined by the quality of the few acts that can pull the task off, not by the total number of bands.

What should we support, then: the crud, or the good?

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Metal needs to be fresh again

Those of you who regularly check the blog posts written here have surely noticed that we at the Hessian Studies Center care a lot about the future of underground metal music. And right now, that future is uncertain: the scene produces hundred of releases and most of them are considered decent enough for consideration or even to shell out some bucks, but none inspiring and essential like the undisputed classics of the genre. When confronted with that truth (and many in the scene would readily admit that), they will say that metal was crafted and totally perfected in the “classic era” (late 70s to early 90s). The limit was reached and it was up to us and all subsequent generations to “keep the flame going” by releasing more material following the blueprint given by the old bands to the note.

Such an excuse must have sounded good at first. After all, how far can metal get? It seemed like it stretched out and reached a creative breaking point at the end of the black metal movements forged in Scandinavia, Greece and the US, and it was up to the “hardcore dudes” from the scene to keep the tradition forged by our forefathers and to shy the center of attention away from the “false ones” trying to soften metal by adding progressive self-indulgence or soft vocals on top of a pseudo-symphonic incoherent mess.

The illusion couldn’t last enough though. The guys on the scene did have a point, though: we probably have reached the end of the aesthetical evolution of metal with the culmination of death and black metal technical development. The mistake was believing that technique and style are all the requirements needed for creating quality metal music.

If we choose not to become conformists so we can keep producing album after album of safe, gutless material, we will try to be as creative and demanding on ourselves and release music of the best quality possible, completely unconcerned whether if the scene will dig it or not. It will be honest music, because it will appeal to the standards of the songwriter, and it will be music reaching out to its potential listener since it will encompass an idea common to the whole of humanity and even beyond it and not merely cincunscribed to the ideals of a local scene or group of friends with the naive and limited vision of life of a teenager.

But to accomplish that we need to understand what made the composers of the classic-era of metal so determined to pour their creativity to the maximum on their music. Comparing both eras of metal (the “classic” one and our current times) we can reach, after some pondering, to the one requirement needed to burn the old flame back: the fact that metal needs to be fresh again.

When each of the metal subgenres first arose, it offered a wide spectrum of exploration in concept and development for the craft and gave the musicians involved big creative possibilities. And those horizons were initially given by small additions to a finished subgenre. That way, NWOBHM mixed with hardcore punk spawned speed metal, speed metal with an extra dose of Discharge and the inclusion of morbid concepts and elements created death metal, and so on. Those additions certainly didn’t made the subgenre on its entirety, but gave the initial push required for relentless creativity to finish the job: they gave a feeling of freshness to a genre that was stagnated.

Fast forward to our current time, and we see the same thing happening now: metal is stagnated, and what we need right now is to have the balls to think outside of the box and put our creativity first and social intentions second, while having respect for the history of the genre as determined by its classics. In the process, we would not deny the importance of all the previous eras in metal and we would not try to drastically reinvent the genre, keeping the growth in accordance with the natural evolution of the genre. Darkthrone is easily associable with Bathory, which in turn is easily associable with Motörhead, and the future acts will keep that lineage intact. We are stepping on firm ground. It is only a matter of either sitting there, get lazy, and accumulate fat, or use its firmness to impel ourselves and jump to newer creative heights.

We asserted early on this post that the innovation required would probably not come in the form of technical advancements, but who knows? In any case, the most plausible step towards the future is expanding the conceptual, and therefore, compositional scope of the genre, making longer and more complex songs dealing with universally human topics (the dychotomy between life and death being just one of those topics), in the vein of what composers of the Romantic era did. Black metal did had its influence from electronica. Maybe the future will come with a more newer, fresher creative infusion from classical music.

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Motifs and leitmotifs in metal

The use of motifs and leitmotifs is very frequent in the musical genres of classical and opera, but we can also find some examples of their use in that furious contemporary “classical” brand of sound making we known as heavy metal. Here we’ll explain what they are and their application in metal music.

The Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary defines “leitmotif” as follows:

Leitmotif
(LITE-moe-teef)
[Ger., leading motif]

A recurring motif in a composition (usually an opera) which represents a specific person, idea, or emotion. This term was first applied to the operas of Richard Wagner.

(…)

Motif
(moe-TEEF)
[Fr.]

A short tune or musical figure that characterizes and unifies a composition. It can be of any length, but is usually only a few notes long. A motif can be a melodic, harmonic or rhythmic pattern that is easily recognizable throughout the composition.

Virginia Tech Multimedia Music Dictionary

A motif (without the “leit-” attached ot it) can be either melodic, rhythmic or harmonic, it doesn’t matter. It must be short in duration, though, and it must contain some importance for the structure of the composition, if not providing the backbone itself. It is not just a casual riff, but a memorable mini-tune around which parts or the whole of the composition depend on.

Motifs have been used in metal music for all of its existence. In fact, the first motif in the history of the genre is the universally recognizable three-note sequence which is the main riff of the song “Black Sabbath” by the band of the same name. What would the rest of the song be without it? Like this trascendental example, motifs are the norm, rather than the exception, in metal.

Leitmotifs, on the other hand, are motifs that are recurrent in an entire composition or album, and serve to return our minds to a particular feeling or idea. As such, these are not restricted to a single song, but frequently reappear on an album or entire work to reminds us of the object the motif evokes. An entire composition structured around leitmotifs is, then, rather than a collection of individual songs, a unit, or a large song composed itself of songs.

Leitmotifs are famously associated with opera composer Richard Wagner. Its use in metal isn’t much of a recurring happening, nor its full potential been exploited so far, but I can name a few examples of its use that will immediately ring the bell of any devoted hessian:

– The acoustic short piece used as both intro and outro of Iron Maiden’s “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” album.

Listen to the album’s intro on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/maiden-leifm1-a1.mp3%5D
Listen to the album’s outro on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/maiden-leifm1-b.mp3%5D

Notice that both differ solely on interpretation. The piece as the outro to the album is played slower and in a more tired fashion compared to the intro. Leitmotifs don’t have to reappear on a composition at exactly the same way all the time – rather the subtle variation between them can create a contrast, which in turn give the listener a feeling that a narration is taking place. Iron Maiden’s 1988 album is a concept work which tells the life of a clairvoyant from birth to death and it makes sense that the outro, with its more dragging mood represents the end of the life of such person.

Another example from the same album are the intro sequences to the title track and the last track. Both are strikingly similar, except that the first is slower and ominous while the second is more upbeat. Notice that the lyrics on the last track of the album show a man resigned to his fate and happy despite of it, so the altered use of the riff from the title track (which could very well be the seventh son’s main motif) makes sense from this standpoint.

Listen to the intro riff to “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/maiden-leifm2-a.mp3%5D
Listen to the intro riff to “Only the Good Die Young” on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/maiden-leifm2-b.mp3%5D

– Bathory, in its viking era, used a number of leitmotifs in its music and particularly in the “Twilight of the Gods” album. Here is but one example:

Listen to the intro sequence of “Through Blood by Thunder” on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/bathory-leitm1-a.mp3%5D
Listen to the intro sequence of “Blood and Iron” on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/bathory-leitm1-b.mp3%5D

Two different intros with the same motif attached to them. If you have the album, you can also notice how the intro to “Blood and Iron” further develops until it turns into the main motif of the song, which carries it to its end. It is not unusual to slowly turn one motif into another – Wagner did that on his operas, particularly in the transition between scenes 1 and 2 of “Das Rheingold”.

Listen to the previous motif developing into the main motif of “Blood and Iron” on mp3:
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/bathory-leitm2-a.mp3%5D

– A small example of an implied leitmotif that gets displayed on its full extension later on the album is to be found on Rotting Christ’s “Non Serviam”.

Listen to an excerpt from “Mephesis Of Black Crystal” on mp3 (the implied leitmotif):
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/rc-leitm-a.mp3%5D
Listen to an excerpt from “Saturn Unlock Avey’s Son” on mp3 (the full leitmotif):
[audio:https://hessianstudies.files.wordpress.com/2009/06/slayin6.jpgwp-content/uploads/2009/07/rc-leitm-b.mp3%5D

These were only a few examples. Notice that the use of leitmotifs isn’t just restricted to concept albums. See how many more you can find on your CDs.

To learn more about leitmotifs, visit this excellent link: Leitmotifs in Der Ring des Nibelungen – an introduction.

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