Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Switch to Turn Off Mankind

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The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” (2007) by Norway’s Audiopain is a pretty unusual metal release. I first reviewed it for Maelstrom some years back, and even to this day the power trio’s consistently peculiar riffing style intrigues me. Guitarist Sverre Dæhli adds wild trills and chromatic variations to main songlines as a sort of default (try to imagine what might have happened if Steve Vai had joined Motörhead). This approach gives off a math-rock feel, while retaining the sneering defiance of punk. The heavily distorted bass playing of Plenum (formerly of Ved Buens Ende) and steadily frenetic drumming by Christian Holm never let you forget you’re listening to a metal band, granted one that allows itself to sound heavy and slightly cartoonish at the same time.

Hellbound” starts off the release with rapid-fire picking and a definitive atonality along with a staccato assault technique classic NWOBHM speed. However, the more traditionally-minded metal dietician may feel challenged by the Nintendo riffing and gravelly vocals. “Hellbound” also features the only guitar solo of the album, in which Dæhli offers up tasteful nods to Kirk Hammett (Metallica, Exodus) with pan-fretboard sweeps and repetition of certain phrases.

The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” is an even faster track which, being more wordy, elaborates upon the band’s atheist and anti-dogmatic ideologies:

Mankind on its knees before a power too strong
Helplessly accepting their god proven wrong …
Hope crushed on display, screams breed like flies
You envy the dying in the mirror, where I bring peace …

Sweden’s superb black metal practitioners Craft employ similarly anti-human/pro-apocalypse lyrical themes, but Audiopain pull it off with a Saturday-detention-teenage glee that makes the switching-off of mankind seem more like an enjoyable spring cleaning than a catastrophe. The song also switches gears to a slow, Voivod-hypnotic dirge a little more than halfway through that draws you into a more relaxed, if not contemplative state of mind, and then reverts back to a fresh assault that culminates with a sudden ending.

Holy Toxic” is pretty mischievous. Once you think you’ve got a handle on what the band is doing they jump over to some other divergent gameplay. For some reason, I hear a lot of early Iron Maiden seasonings in this weirdo.

I originally stated that the primary math-blues riff of “Termination Fields” was the slam-dunk of that entire year [2008]. It’s oddly-timed and yet greasy. The live version, filmed in Greece, is the video at the head of this post. The slower, steady pace and prog-hiccups make this track seem all the more heavy. Best case scenario = the crazed heavy at about the 0:30 mark. It’s basic, but confident.

Alliance” is much more straightforward, if a bit restrained by comparison. Its main thrust is about paranoia vs. awareness, that hidden enemy forces may secretly be working amongst your seeming allies, preparing an ambush.

Cobra Dance” is the final insult, also the longest and most interesting. Audiopain seem to intend this the track as a stylistic reiteration of its predecessors: the “Ace of Spades” rates of acceleration, the addicted gear-shifting, the “fuck religion” screeds, the progression from speed into slower and grinding heaviness. Audiopain adopt their style from many obvious sources, but they made this particular hybrid release on their own, and well-enough to maintain my interest even if I’m not in such a “metal mood” at a given moment.

Norway still carries a somewhat antiquated popular image of being an exclusively black metal enclave. Indeed, it has historically been the source of some legendary bands (Kampfar may still be my favorite export), but other projects such as Aura Noir have also made their mark in prog thrash, especially as a live unit. Audiopain have been around since the late 1990s, but “The Switch to Turn Off Mankind” is the most recent and economic introduction to their sound–not only is it unrelenting (a nod to the similarly brief “Reign in Blood” perhaps?), but it is entertaining as shit for anyone who grew up in the old 1980s thrash metal tradition of Anthrax and Sadus. Hell, even Fenriz of Darkthrone gave his stamp of approval, and we know his affinity for the old school.

FULL DISCLOSURE: “New England Noise” is my youtube channel I had created to upload old digitized video footage of various noise bands I played with and filmed during the 1990s. Each track is linked above, because I couldn’t find associated Audiopain videos with acceptable sound quality. If anyone from the band or label finds the credits lacking, please contact me and I fix.

Alone in the Dark (1982)

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Martin Landau as Byron 'Preacher' Sutcliff

Martin Landau as Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff

“There are no crazy people, doctor. We’re all just on vacation.”
—Jack Palance as Frank Hawkes, “Alone in the Dark”

My first exposure to “Alone in the Dark” came from “Terror in the Aisles” (1984), a pseudo-documentary about the then-nascent 1980s horror boom and America’s cultural love of fear as pop-entertainment. “Terror” is essentially a compilation of horror clips interspersed with some adorable if dated commentary by Donald Pleasence and Nancy Allen. “Terror” may not have stood the test of time, but it’s laudable for having been one of the first American feature-length documentaries to slice horror film up the belly and study the creamy filling (as in, ‘What makes this stuff tick?’)

One “Terror” clip intrigued me especially: a slowly cruising white van pursues a bike messenger. It is broad daylight on a quiet New Jersey residential street. A POV shot within the van reveals the stalkers from behind, silhouetted in darkness, the victim in their sights: “I want the hat…” someone says from the passenger seat.

The van nudges aggressively from behind the cyclist who then swerves and falters along the curb into dry autumn leaves. The random violence that unfolds from there is difficult to fathom, mostly due to the sheer randomness of the assault: the maniacs in the van want to kill, simply because that is what they enjoy during that particular moment.

Why? Why not?

“In the end [the villains] simply don’t distinguish between right and wrong.
Perhaps they don’t know the difference. Perhaps they just don’t care.”
—Donald Pleasance, “Terror in the Aisles”

The main story of “Alone in the Dark” involves a psychiatrist whose entire family endures a nighttime home invasion by a group of three escaped convicts during a citywide blackout. Doctor Dan Potter, played by Dwight Schultz (‘Howling Mad’ Murdoch of “A-Team” fame!), has taken a new post at “The Haven,” a beautiful manor converted into pysch-wards. We then meet the chief psychiatrist Dr. Leo Bain played by Donald Pleasence, and it soon becomes quite plain why he enjoys his work a little too much: he’s loopy as any of the patients, even the ones on “the third floor.”

Bain gives Potter a tour of the hospital, and explains the third-floor security system that keeps the “most dangerous” patients under lock and keycard: it is state-of-the-art, foolproof, and runs completely on electricity. And so Bain is an enormous fuckup—we can see where this is all going.

The third-floor patients are, in fact, even more ABC-List actors: Jack Palance, Phillip Clark, Erland van Lidth (Dynamo in “The Running Man”), and Martin Landau. Once Bain introduces Dr. Potter to this tribe, their reactions range from cold to hyper-aggressive. Their previous doctor, Harry Merton, had apparently earned their trust and reliance, and they see this newcomer as a disruption at first, then they conclude in a paranoid reverie that Potter has murdered Merton, and will soon murder each of them. They decide to retaliate, to counterattack at the first opportunity.

This sets into motion one of the most enjoyable horror classics of the 80s “slasher” era. At turns subtle, hilarious, self-consciously low-budget, genre-baiting (especially during the babysitter scene), and gleefully excessive, “Alone in the Dark” is definitely worth seeking out. There is even an amazing music club sequence brought to you by the real New York horror-punk band The Sick F*cks (which included Snooky and Tish Bellomo, the two founders of Manic Panic).

Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Bain like a deer in the headlights, and yet with an adorable enthusiasm, as if he’s channeling the screenwriter/director (which makes sense, since this was Jack Sholder’s feature film debut).

But highest praise is due for Martin Landau’s portrayal of the Byron ‘Preacher’ Sutcliff. There are completely deranged psychopaths in horror film, and then there are totally rabid, post-Aftermath, Defcon-One hell-toads full of malignancy, wrath, and flair. Landau gets the hat.

CAUTION:

Do your utmost best to steer clear of Uwe Boll’s “Alone in the Dark” (2005), which is not a remake.

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NWOBHM: Year One

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MayoNoise

Punk Rock was the best thing that ever happened to Heavy Metal. Like the comet that struck the earth killed off the dinosaurs, Punk’s impact destroyed the status quo and wiped the slate clean for rock music to reinvent itself. Punk slayed the arena gods of the 70’s, and demanded that you didn’t have to be a musical genius to express yourself musically; anyone could form a band, and everyone should form a band.

Ultimately, Punk rock’s success doomed it to failure, as it eventually assimilated into the very thing it was programmed to destroy: the mainstream. Of course, during Punk’s brief reign, the Metalheads were still out there, both fans and bands, biding their time, awaiting their moment. Punk didn’t kill Heavy Metal; it just drove it underground. In one such underground haven, a hall called The Bandwagon, Metal had found a place to weather the Punk rock storm…

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