Wednesday, March 4, 2009


Now here this: this text is about the extreme metal subgenre, grindcore. For those of you who are not yet metal-heads, the creatures forming extreme metal’s die hard audience, it is necessary that you read a little about its background., and are decent resources. Additionally, use and the google to research the bands Napalm Death, Repulsion (from Flint, MI), Disrupt, Discordance Axis, Nasum, and most importantly, Pig Destroyer. I recommend you listen to at least three grindcore songs prior to reading this edition of UltraMegaSound (try these: Napalm Death plays "You Suffer (But Why?)," Repulsion plays "The Lurking Fear," Pig Destroyer plays "Naked Trees,").

To listen grindcore is to hear the sound of senseless perdition. It’s fantasy Hell. Light up and burn up on vile and thick guitar distortion, like oil slick on a gull, like lung cancer, like the crust of desert death sweats. What kind of ludicrous animal seriously desires to attend to the world in such a way? Comedians, disgruntled government computer spies, and civil engineers sick of their civility. Sure, they like some beautiful things (Springsteen, Chomsky), but who cares? They are addicted in public; they are stomping on a mess; they are mad, gibbering apes with public educations planted solidly in overlarge brains, seeing a prison wall behind everything.

You can fully engage with grindcore in two ways: you can honestly hate your shitty life, detest the systematic oppression you see everywhere, find psychosis in everybody you love or hate, and then shut up and go to work until you explode; or you can bear the brunt of your shitty life, systematic oppression, and the psychosis of those you love by being at a grindcore show with all the energy you can summon from your mortal body. To engage with grindcore is to immerse oneself in worldly irrationality until it hurts. The music is secondary. The real difference is in the resignation of the former approach to bare the weight and horror of insignificance to the death.

Henry David Thoreau said most men lead lives of quiet desperation. A desperate man resigned to live out his plight is like a guard in his own prison. He keeps his gun loaded with non-lethals. The real stuff is in a locker, and another guy, not a supervisor or a manager per se, but some kind of superior keeps a key on the ring on his belt. If things get too hairy, if too many connections are made, the lights won’t go out, memories are beginning to organize themselves, if the violence over which he watches (keeping the guard distracted from his addictions to sleep, waking, bathing, coffee, meal 1, commute, chatter, forgotten misery, face time, market share, branding, meal 2, e-mail, shitting as entertainment, breaking, breeding, meal 3 at a sensible restaurant, preventative maintenance, laughing at TV, chums, pals, cohorts, drinking and watching sports, pool, girls and boys, old songs, weekend projects, and waiting to die) has disappeared except for a few idle threats, supplies in the office are missing, or no one talks in the showers, then the locker comes open. The guard spends months lying in wait for that locker to dart wide like a clam in heat or a chest of pirate treasure. And then…finally, some action! This man, in his desperation to fight off all of his lies as they come into view, fires at will with a state-issued Remington model 1100 shotgun from the locker. But all the cages are open, the mattresses are on fire, there shivs and shanks coming out of the air, and a brick in a bed sheet swinging into his face. Had he paroled his better demons, let them march out into the world to live with the rest of us, he might have found his guardianship at a monument of human spiritual unity. But because he hesitated, he is smashed to a pulp by ethereal climbers and mercenaries alike. This is the grind of the willing oppressed.

JR Hayes doesn’t strike me as necessarily happy with petty satisfactions, but he is not interested in grand ideas either. He is an American, perhaps the most fully American man I’ve ever met, who can see that the government’s agents are just prison guards, but can’t imagine any action other than to wait out his term. So he posts no guards on the prison of his mind.

The inmates were all born there, out of the ether of JR’s experience. It seems that the architect who built JR’s prison never saw a need to leave, and so failed install a door. The guys get by all right. Someone, a while back, had the bright idea to plant some seeds they found in the kitchen; they built a trellis in the shop and shived and shanked the ground into turned-over soil. It took a year to make a garden big enough to sustain any people, and it’s still not enough to keep the many that are left. Every Wednesday there’s a lottery to see which seven guys have to give up their meat for the lives of the others. So the whole population of better demons and bitter angels is slowly dying, and will go on that way until there are no more than the garden will feed.

There are no new guys in the JR’s prison, but you can still hear screaming in the night. Most of the terror comes on Monday, because on Tuesday they all celebrate the dying. They get together and build skyscrapers with Mesa/Boogie stacks. They beat on every can, stump, and wall. They crow violence to the stars. When they get tired, they lie down and sleep where they stood.

Wednesday nights are orderly, and even a little sweet. Everyone got a number when they arrived. Every number is duplicated on a square of paper cut out of one of the books some guy found in a drawer in the office, and each paper square is laminated with Scotch tape. These scraps are floating in the water runoff barrel out behind the main office. Everyone gathers out there, away from the lights and fires they leave burning in the yard. One guy volunteers to pick seven pieces of laminate out; another guy hands him matches or a lighter. He flicks a little fire into being and calls out seven numbers as casually as he can, and everyone slowly spins their heads around, looking with a mixture of sadness and delirious relief at the guys walking forward.

Everybody, no exceptions, steps forward when his number is called. If a guy were to refuse then there would be the guards all over again. One thing the guys sure can’t stomach is the idea of having guards again. So they sing the songs every Tuesday, chose and chop up their brothers every Wednesday, and tend the garden all the rest of the week. And on Monday they hate it all so much they can’t breath until they scream the suffocation out of their body.

* * *

Pig Destroyer doesn’t really play shows. It’s too hard to stand still and gape at the mere spectacle of their performance. Shows are for statues, and concerts are for hearts plus brains plus clapping hands equals entertainment. Pig Destroyer makes collapse, combs rubble, boils blood; they play rotations: organized, consensual exchanges of position between guards and prisoners. We don’t watch. We are inmates in the pit, admins on the console and working the door, and the guards ignore their world falling apart because of the implicit promises the music makes that they will not get involved. We climb the stage like a guard tower, seize the mic like an empty gun, we dive away without considering just who is doing the catching. For others it’s like a holiday or a new coat of paint. For me it’s like cliff diving off the outer wall and discovering that it goes straight down forever.

It is not ironic that the men behind Pig Destroyer are exceedingly nice. Blake Harrison worked everything short of magic to get me backstage at the Feb. 4 LA event. JR and Brian both sat for interviews and were genial and sweaty in the same way one should be after a particularly satisfying workout. I asked a variety of silly and devastating questions to which I received a variety of devastating and silly answers. I tried to lead JR into describing artistic and political intentions that he doesn’t have, and which I only imagined because I engaged with his band in exactly the way he intended: by seeing my own interests reflected in the band’s intensity. But he insists he doesn’t make art, because it’s just grindcore.

I believe that art is in its right place philosophically when it advocates an ideal or a vision, and I find an artist believable when they make their ethos evident. JR doesn’t consider himself either an artist or an intellectual, which is news that probably only surprised me. I believe in Pig Destroyer and for the last month I’ve been trying to figure out why. Since this blog is not yet widely read, and should this sentence make it into a periodical it will most likely be removed by a judicious editor (unless he is a good enough person to feel guilty simply for the reading of it), it is safe to assume that there are few to no avowed metal heads in my audience yet. It will be hard for those who are not addicted to guitar distortion to understand just how much righteous power it holds (for a taste refer to all prior entries). For avowed metal heads, it might be disconcerting to read what must seem like a senseless intellectualization of a musical form that almost defies basic characterization. The crossroads of these two positions is where my belief stood, waiting for me to bare my soul in the night for a pittance of vision.

In phonetics, the fundamental is the lowest pitch in a harmonic series, and forms the basis for the information and action, or the timbre if you will, of any musical note. The fundamental of Rock and Roll music is rebellion. It is a simple and brutal reaction against perceived class oppression, given voice by a set of tools derived from the existing empowered-class-approved set. The “hardest” and “heaviest” subgenres of rock are those that most embody this anarchistic fundamental: hardcore punk, grindcore, noise, rap-music, etc. Bands that fall into these subgenres are, in the context of a Musicsociety constructed as a function of social class, easily classified as a kind of anti-music, with some bands (Discharge, Skitsystem, Anti-Climax) going so far as to self-classify in this way. For a group like Pig Destroyer, the very timbres they work with constitute a political action.

However, such action may be problematic because it only utilizes tools granted to the oppressed by the oppressor; JR Hayes seems to me to be a true American because he possesses both a dangerous artistic intention and a striking need to rebel, and also because these two factors seem opposed to one another. There is a little nobility and poetry in JR’s art because it is so deeply restless. During our interview, JR only discussed art in abstracted, idealistic terms. Given that, it makes sense then that he doesn’t consider the music of Pig Destroyer to be art. The predominant effect is to translate profound restlessness into movement. This is politically and philosophically valuable because one cannot disengage with one’s environment while listening to grindcore. If you turn on the radio today, ninety-nine percent of the music you listen to will ask you to turn off everything else. It is quite impossible to tune out or relax while listening to Pig Destroyer. In fact, it is practically impossible not to seriously listen to Pig Destroyer if it is in any way audible.

Art created for pleasure out of dishonorable intentions creates the hidden nihilism at the heart of American philosophical and political apathy. Pig Destroyer’s anti-art is noble because it cares so hard despite its assumption that escape from one’s nightmare is impossible. Perhaps it is the use of oppressor-granted tools that creates this perception. How can one create a vision of being beyond oppression when the one’s essence is deeply rooted in it? When all you have to work with are oppressor-tools, then all visions look like reflections of oppressor-desires. Pig Destroyer’s poetry is that they craft the greatest, and therefore most anarchistic, extremity of rock and roll’s fundamental rebellion. And if you think their music sounds hopeless now, consider this: if what I say is true, and if rock ever succeeds in destroying its oppressors, then its necessity would no longer exist, and rock and roll itself would truly die.


Anonymous said...

Wow! You should be publishing your reviews! This is amazing, thought provoking, with a deep sense of knowing true human conditions. Great work

Theresa said...

There's something about the experience of listening to certain music that I never really understood until I started listening to what you have to say about music and reading your blog. That with some music it's less important how it sounds to you because the sound is most importantly a tool to make you feel a different way. It's interesting that I've never made that connection before because I experience this so strongly when I dance to music that makes me happy. I guess the fact that I never listened to grincore before isn't just that I didn't like the way it sounds. It's that I didn't understand the value of something fueling the worst most crushing feeling you have so that you feel it to the fullest. I didn't ever want to feel that before. And so I never listened to grincore before. When grindcore causes us to feel and face our oppressors we will truly be free. I have to look at what I have been avoiding.
Feel! Keep it up Max, I think I'm getting it!

Digestion said...

"The music is secondary." I take serious issue with this. If grindcore is only attitude and anger, why did it even evolve from punk? Wasn't punk doing attitude and anger just fine back in the late '70s and early '80s? And if the music is secondary, couldn't they get their message across more directly by just writing some incendiary pamphlets or something? You also seem to be dismissing any grind band that isn't political or full of seething anger. There's lots of fun music in the genre, too, that doesn't take itself super-seriously and think it's creating a grand artistic statement. And some of that stuff is awesome.

Also, what's the point of interviewing Pig Destroyer if you're only going to paraphrase one or two things they said, and not even provide any direct quotes or insight from the members?

- Andrew

MAX! said...

Culture music changes compulsively. Grind evolved from punk out of a sense of humor. "What happens," those Napalm Death lads said, "when we write a song that lasts as long as the arc of an electron?" Grindcore is full of humor. But I think that you have to face a certain level of brutality, which may be metaphysical, in order to get down with the sound of grind.

However, I think the more valid criticism of this piece is that I took it seriously without taking it lightly as well. I did ignore the grindcore that is about fun i.e. Digestion, Carcass, and even Pig Destroyer. Pig Destroyer is probably the most fun of all grind bands because the riffs are so good.

As fot the quotes? I used what JR and Brian told me by responding directly or indirectly to it. The whole piece is a reaction to interviews with the band.

MAX! said...

The reason I think it's so important to have an ethos that includes an awareness of the world beyond the band or the lyricists head is that fostering such awareness is part of saving the world. It seems like the world, a society, a town, a family, a school, a person facing some kind of destruction is an underlying factor in producing extreme music. If that destruction is a philosophical evil, as I believe it is, then an appropriate reaction to it should include some kind of working against it. That's when art is truly enjoyable to me. It does no good to simply offer relief from the struggle of living in a world gone mad. There is FAR too much art doing that and only that. Besides, Americans are privileged and powerful. The only reason we don't react with actual action is insecurity.

Anthony Cristofani - The Sacred Dice revolutionary salon said...

This is an exceedingly creative reaction to a band and a genre of music. For one thing, you do what I do with Star Wars and Phish--alienate both the haters and lovers of that art. This is the first step to re-envisioning it, of course.

The argument about the music being secondary fascinates because of the way music, as opiate administered by the culture industry, now succeeds in dis-engaging our bodies (except, occasionally, sexually). I go to a U2 or Springsteen show and see middle-aged people sitting down as if they're watching television. In this dire situation, I can see why music that is so violent that one's body is implicated whether one wants it or not.
The question: does this PHYSICAL training (the only training that can subvert the opiate of entertainment) at the shows translate to greater physical/mental liberation in daily life???
Do tell.

Vanessa said...

I love that in the comments you have an example of just what you are trying to avoid: "And That Stuff Is Awesome."

I'm actually going to be irreverent (and lighthearted) enough to call this a syndrome, acronym ATSIA. Atsia occurs when one has an instinct of attraction towards something, without a philosophy to explain the attraction. It's a value in American culture, really, to just like stuff because you do.

King Missile made fun of us for this many years ago by writing these lyrics: "As I was writing this, a cockroach fell from the sky and landed on the paper. I killed it, because I did. That's the way I am."

What I admire here, Max, is how you are struggling to work through what is a 15-year-old (?) love of metal, to understand not only what is lovable about it, but possibly what is the mistake in your love. You are not content to just like stuff--you won't ever again say something is awesome and assume we know why.

Thanks, dude.

Cory G said...

I'm no where near as articulate as you are, but I'll try to make this as clear as I can.

You're an amazing writer. I have never listened to grindcore, but I'm definitely going to check it out.

I could really tell how passionate you are about the topic. From the way you talk about it, I would say that it goes beyond "love", and is more along the lines of "a way of life."

This was a wonderfully clear editorial/article. I had no difficulties understanding it. It was engaging and compelling, and your lead really drew me in and made me want more. You managed to keep my attention throughout the entire article, which is a considerable feat, since I never read things longer than a few paragraphs on a computer.

It could use an editor for just a few parts, but for the most part, the grammar and spelling is excellent. And at no point is it hard to read.

I'd give it a 9.5/10.

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