Re­cent­ly I went out for a live met­al triple-bill, with En­don and SUMAC open­ing for Boris, whom I’ve cov­ered here be­fore (with groovy pix). More pix to­day, with words on the his­to­ry and mean­ing of met­al, and how to pho­to­graph it.

En­don, the open­er­s, are de­scribed as catas­troph­ic noise met­al and yeah, they were pret­ty catas­troph­ic. A lit­tle too ab­stract for me, but sin­cere and re­al­ly try­ing to bring it. Didn’t get any pix.

Here’s my prob­lem: I whole­heart­ed­ly love this mu­sic, in par­tic­u­lar live, and yet I have to ac­knowl­edge that it’s sort of, well, ridicu­lous. The vol­ume is much loud­er than can be sane­ly nec­es­sary. The chore­og­ra­phy is all moves in­vent­ed around 1970 by Robert Plant or Jon An­der­son or some­one like that. The mu­si­cal con­tent is built mono­ma­ni­a­cal­ly around a sin­gle sound, that of an over­driv­en gui­tar am­p.

SUMAC (on Band­camp) are very tra­di­tion­al met­allis­tas; the pos­es, the riff­s, the look, the barked vo­cal­s.

SUMAC guitarist

Me­tal is hard­er to pho­to­graph than many oth­er gen­res, be­cause they like to keep the stage dark, and bathed in sub­dued reds and blues that stress out the poor sen­sor. Some­times you get an in­cred­i­bly dra­mat­ic col­or treat­men­t, but of­ten the best bet is just to switch to high-contrast B&W.

Wikipedia says the gui­tarist is Aaron Turn­er and the bassist Bri­an Cook, but their pic­ture doesn’t look like this guy.

SUMAC bass player

An­a­lyt­ics · Metal’s not just one thing, there are many linked strands in its fab­ric. Check out Heavy met­al gen­res over at Wikipedia (part of Wik­iPro­ject Me­tal). For more fun, con­sid­er the heavy-metal doc­u­men­taries by Cana­di­an so­ci­ol­o­gist Sam Dunn. I haven’t seen them al­l, but I can hearti­ly rec­om­mend Me­tal  —  A Headbanger’s Jour­ney, his first, which dives deep, deep, deep, on the sub­ject and is al­so full of heavy gui­tar riff­s. Best played loud.

Dunn points out that while you can ar­gue all you want about the birth of met­al, Black Sab­bath usu­al­ly gets the most votes. I’d go fur­ther: It helps that I’m old and was thus there at the time. It was in 1970; I was fif­teen and we were vis­it­ing my cousin who was a cou­ple years old­er and in­finite­ly cool­er. “Come lis­ten to this record” he said, and put on Sabbath’s epony­mous Black Sab­bath. Go lis­ten (not to the fla­vor­less sam­ple on the Wikipedia page, the re­al thing’s all over the In­ter­net). It’s all there, and I mean all there in the first 1:08. Por­ten­tous thun­der­storm noise, church bel­l, then four rep­e­ti­tions of a beautifully-heavy three-note rif­f. No vo­cal­s, no noth­ing, just that awe­some gui­tar tone. I hadn’t imag­ined that such a sound could ex­ist in this world and my life was nev­er the same af­ter.

There’s more to the song, some pret­ty good singing from Ozzy and of course the ex­plic­it­ly Satan­ic lyric­s. But Heavy Me­tal is ba­si­cal­ly about tak­ing those sixty-eight sec­onds and build­ing a hun­dred sub­gen­res and a ra­bid fol­low­ing around them. I don’t think the oc­cult an­gle was ini­tial­ly nec­es­sary; but it was a clever move by Ozzy and Geez­er, and got dragged along with that gui­tar sound in lat­er years.

Enough his­to­ry and so­ci­ol­o­gy.

Boris · Like I said, the good pic­tures of Boris are here. On this out­ing, the lights were dark­er and the fake-fog flow al­most con­tin­u­ous. This time around, they ob­vi­ous­ly and by de­sign want­ed to play be­hind a cur­tain of bright red/blue/vi­o­let smoke; which as an artis­tic choice, is nice­ly har­mo­nious with their mu­sic, which it­self is nice­ly har­mo­nious al­beit crush­ing­ly loud.

For this out­ing, I rent­ed the Fu­ji­non 23mm f/1.4 from Beau Pho­to, and the wide-open/wide-angle com­bi­na­tion was help­ful. But it was still tough; here’s what I got.

Boris in 2017
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Boris in 2017
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Boris in 2017
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Boris in 2017

Pro tip: When the last open­er quits play­ing, you can al­most al­ways snag a great photographers’ spot up near the front of the stage. And then, af­ter the first few songs, it’s po­lite to turn it over to a fel­low fan. On this oc­ca­sion I was dead cen­ter and had the rare ex­pe­ri­ence of live met­al in stere­o, with Wata’s amps to my left and Atsuo’s to my right. Cool!

Yes, Wa­ta picked up an ac­cor­dion for a cou­ple tunes. The gen­er­al sound is re­mark­ably like her gui­tar, but doesn’t al­low for her rare-but-wonderful ex­cur­sions up the neck in­to screaming-treble ter­ri­to­ry.


Dam­n, I love their mu­sic. Wata’s gui­tar tone is up there with the great­s, and the beau­ty of their crush­ing melo­di­ous drone is not equalled by any­one ex­cept maybe Sunn O))); and it’s worth men­tion­ing that the Boris/Sunn O))) col­lab­o­ra­tion Al­tar is a very beau­ti­ful piece of mu­sic.

Other Boris out­ings that I strong­ly rec­om­mend are Pink (from 2005) and the much more re­cent At­ten­tion Please.

Why it’s OK to love Me­tal · I mean, I’m old and com­plete­ly out of fucks to give about what oth­ers think of my tastes. But still…

First of al­l, Me­tal is se­ri­ous mu­sic. Giv­en the size of the crowds at this point in the 21st cen­tu­ry (s­mal­l­), it’s no road to rich­es. And the play­ers are com­plete­ly obliv­i­ous to is­sues of pack­ag­ing and pan­der­ing. And if you ac­tu­al­ly lis­ten close­ly past the sur­face of the roar, the mu­sic is con­struct­ed with care, and then ob­vi­ous­ly the re­sult of end­less prac­tice and ded­i­ca­tion to the craft. It may lack a back­beat and a catchy cho­rus, but there’s beau­ty aplen­ty in there.

I’ve quot­ed Sasha Frere-Jones, erst­while New York­er rock crit­ic, be­fore on this sub­jec­t, but he said two things that are worth re­peat­ing. First, “Get past the nov­el­ty, though, and you find a lev­el of pas­sion and an at­ten­tion to de­tail that make a num­ber of mere rock bands look lazy.” And “You may even­tu­al­ly find a TV that is suf­fi­cient­ly large that it makes go­ing to a movie the­atre point­less, but you are nev­er go­ing to repli­cate any­thing like a black-metal show at home, no mat­ter how fan­cy your stereo is.”.

Me­tal peo­ple · There are very few gath­er­ings in the world at which I feel to­tal­ly at home. Ex­am­ples are O’Reilly’s OSCON and an Ama­zon principal-engineers’ gath­er­ing. But a met­al con­cert is an­oth­er. Here’s the cute end of met­al style.

Metal fans

Aren’t they adorable?

When I was young, I as­pired to hair like that, but mine was al­ways too thin and stringy, and now I don’t have much. But the crowd in­clud­ed griz­zled hardass­es with fa­cial tat­toos, a cou­ple of sub­groups of Ja­panese extreme-music cul­ture that I don’t be­gin to un­der­stand, and then a lot of or­di­nary peo­ple off the street who just share the love of this ex­treme, crazy, deadly-serious art for­m.

It’s OK to crowd up to the front and stand there like a post. It’s OK to head-bang when the beat picks up. It’s OK to sit mo­tion­less in the back row, eyes closed. It’s a per­fect­ly fine thing, in 2017, to be a grey­beard­ed metal-head.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Bradley (Oct 14 2017, at 12:15)

Damn right.


From: Lars Bjerregaard (Oct 14 2017, at 13:39)

When I was young I _had_ hair like that :-) And I still like metal (at 53), some of it, not all. Agree with the first Sabbath album. There were sporadic overtures before that, but that album pretty much packaged it all up, and launched the genre. Still a great album. Can't believe it's 47 years old now, damn.


From: jef (Oct 15 2017, at 02:03)

Spot on. Many of my friends don't understand why I still love going to shows since I'm "old". Nothing makes me feel less old than seeing a live performance - hearing and *feeling* the music.


From: John (Oct 15 2017, at 18:59)

Didn't realize you were a fellow metal head. Kick ass. \m/


From: Peter Keane (Oct 18 2017, at 04:52)

Funny, I was a bit too young in 1970 and after that decidedly NOT into metal (not sure we even called it that in the 70s). I eventually picked up that first Black Sabbath a few years ago. Absolutely transfixed. Your description of the effect it had on you at age fifteen is pretty much the exact same effect it had on me at 50(ish). Beautiful stuff.


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