Our Time With You. . .
Heavy metal used to be pure daydream, a free-floating matrix of fantasy that any band could plug into. Now, under the new guise of "heavy music," it is a recovered-memory seminar, an egotistical mess, all about I, I, I. Common words pop up: numb, torture, enemy. And the voice of the new metal is the Whine.
The Whine is not quite singing and not exactly screaming, but something a little less showy. It is a release of the least-likable inner self: the needy, wheedling, passive-aggressive creep who is embarrassed and enraged by petty things, who still hasn't gotten over the taunting in high school. The Whine often has a Southern California kick -- a weird combination of Bobcat Goldthwait's paranoid-vegetable humor and the Lothario purr of Jim Morrison. And the Whine is now as important to getting a rock album 0n the charts as leather pants and eye makeup were in 1985. Korn's Jonathan Davis has it. Slipknot picked it up.
And the Whine is not about expressing adolescent confusion; it signifies the certainty of revenge, a kind of violent zombie-speak. "You can't kill me/'Cause I'm already deep inside you," Slipknot sing on their surprise hit album, Slipknot. This is a feeling that echoes through so much of the new metal -- cold-eyed resignation, for one purpose or another.
Mudvayne, a Peoria, Illinois, band whose major-label debut, L.D. 50, is executive-produced by Slipknot percussionist Shawn Crahan, paint their faces in kooky designs and cite Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey as inspiration. Mudvayne's big songwriting device is the old Nirvana strategy: vulnerability in verses, ape-shit aggression in choruses and a pregnant moment in between, when you hear the voice cracking with the swell of adrenalin. The interesting thing about Mudvayne is that some of them are fancy musicians: Bassist Ryknow has got jazz fusion somewhere in his background, and the band uses disquieting sounds and spoken words to form collages that are clearly influenced by, and better than, the ones on Slipknot's second album. Mudvayne's biggest drawback, though, is that we might not want to know their psychodramas.
"Blame Mother for the sickness," screams singer Kud in "Nothing to Gein" (the title is a reference to Fifties killer Ed Gein). It's one of the many songs these days sung by angry guys with shaved heads about parental figures, real or imagined. "Hypnotizing the ignorant/A little boy's best friend's always his mother/At least, that's what she said. . . ./I'm just a soiled, dirty boy." These are the least aggressive lyrics on the album, but they are clearly the basis of Kud's anger, which tumbles out in lines like, "Let me help you tie the rope around your neck/Let me help to talk you the wrong way off the ledge."
Chicago quartet Disturbed ring some of the same bells on their first album, The Sickness. (Notice the shared lexicon here.) Musically, the songs follow the same trajectory of tranquil emotional tenderness into fuzzed-out, white-knuckle anger. But Disturbed have abridged their parent-hating and misplaced-anger complexes into something more direct: banging beats. "Down With the Sickness" is actually a party song, led by frontman David Draiman's scat-singing guttural heaves. "Open up your hate and let it flow into me," he bids. The song ends with Draiman play-acting to his mother. "No, Mommy, don't do it again! I'll be a good boy! I promise! Don't hit me!" he screams, then, of course, starts in on his own violent retribution. Elsewhere, the band covers Tears for Fears' "Shout," a song inspired by Arthur Janov's writings on scream therapy.
Relative Ash, from Chicago, have a different twist on the family-rage perplex. Their debut, Our Time With You . . ., is an extended psychological working out of three elements in singer Marcus Harrington's life: the death of his father from AIDS; his relationship with his sister, whom he met late in life; and the birth of his child. Harrington is angry, but he's also elated by the prospect of improving himself. His fury is interior and convoluted; it doesn't propel the music forward. But Harrington has the Whine, and a good deal of self-loathing, and the album has a high, excitable pitch, thanks to the unique tuning of John Salazar's snare drum and the jolts from Harrington's nervous subconscious.
Soulfly are far more old-school; Brazilian frontman Max Cavalera started Sepultura in the mid-Eighties. He's older than the guys in these other bands and more comfortable in his own skin. Primitive is deeper as a result -- in the sound of Cavalera's lived-in growl, the churning effect of a four-string guitar (he has taken off the B and high-E strings because he likes a low and mean sound), and his concerns, which are slightly more idealistic than taking revenge on one's own mother. Live, the band's music seems to collapse into mush, but Cavalera and co-producer Toby Wright have figured out a way to get a ferocious presence on Primitive. A peace-loving hell-raiser, Cavalera sings vaguely about tribal behavior, quotes Bob Marley's "Who Feels It Knows It" in "Back to the Primitive," and ventures into reggae ("Bring It"), Brazilian percussion ("Terrorist") and straight hip-hop ("In Memory of . . ."). Clearly, Cavalera believes metal can use new instrumentation; you hear the beating of military bass drums and the twang of the single-string Brazilian berimbau (although he's not nearly as innovative as fellow Brazilians Nacao Zumbi). And there's some emo here, too: "Son Song," Cavalera's duet with Sean Lennon, explores the psychological damage of fatherlessness.
All of this emotional honesty -- or the imitation thereof -- seems to have its origins in the Doors. Jim Morrison, a college boy, stuck to the classical Freudian model, as opposed to free-form resentment. Yet there is a clear line between "The End," in which Morrison opened the wounds of his subconscious, and this stuff. These bands break on through to the other side with regularity, but -- with the exception of Soulfly, who seem built to last -- there is no Dionysian joy here, just the freedom to be a wretch. (RS 850)
(Posted: Sep 28, 2000)
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