The Switch to Turn Off Mankind


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)

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.


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



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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The Foundations of “The King in Yellow” and the “Necronomicon”

The Foundations of “The King in Yellow” and the “Necronomicon”

I must admit, I’m currently reading “The King in Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers for the first time. The stories are widely considered essential reading for anyone interested in the legacy and origins of SF/H literature. The title story reminded me of H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, and I wondered if TKiY had influenced HPL. According to this recent article in the Lovecraft eZine, that does not appear to be the case, and that the stories of Lord Dunsany, Ambrose Bierce, and of course Poe had a more direct effect on Lovecraft >

Lovecraft eZine

Article by Rick Lai.

From the zarono etsy store: From the zarono etsy store:

In “History of the Necronomicon,” H. P. Lovecraft remarked that his fictional tome of arcane lore inspired Robert W. Chambers to write The King in Yellow (1895). Of course, Lovecraft was joking. The short story collection by Chambers owed its inception to the supernatural tales of Ambrose Bierce. I suspect a secret meaning in Lovecraft’s jest. The same stories by Bierce that prompted Chambers to invent The King in Yellow spurred Lovecraft to create the Necronomicon. Although Bierce would be the primary influence on the imaginary tome, Lord Dunsany, Edgar Allan Poe, Thomas Moore, and the ninth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica all played significant roles in molding the cornerstone of Lovecraft’s artificial mythology. Similarly, Bierce mixed together with Poe, Moore, Masonic rituals and Breton legends would shape the Carcosa mythology of Chambers.

In Lovecraft: A Look…

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Hammer of Darkness revisited


I don’t always re-publish decade-old album reviews. But when I do it’s usually for a really good cause. For a few years I reviewed albums for Roberto Martinelli, the soul behind the dulcimer-centric Bay Area black metal project Botanist. I discovered some crazy-good, new music during a very dark and unhappy period of my life. Most of this music sticks with me today. I am still open to new soundscapes and new experiences. Enjoy while we can. NOTE: “Power Means Death Power” is still my ringtone – hey, it’s got to get my attention, somehow.

AMMIT – Hammer of Darkness – CD – Displeased Records – 2005

Chilean It-Man Ammit is HEREBY PROCLAIMED to be the new Bob Dylan of black thrash – a polarizing figure; abhorred by some, deified by others. This listener is a new convert to the latter faction (paradoxically, she cannot stand Bob Dylan). (whew! – ed)

See, early on in the 1980’s, Venom and Bathory marked the nether-region of just how far people were willing to go with their metal. Many preferred to stop at Thin Lizzy, Budgie, or U.F.O. Others explored only so far as Motorhead. The nether-regions were not to be trifled with, however, much less listened to, unless you were willing to go all the way. A few years along, Hellhammer and Sodom conquered that nether-region.

Now, with extremity languishing as a very subjective term, from Opeth to Sublime Cadaveric Decomposition and back, the preponderance of bands, styles, and subgenres makes it very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Hammer of Darkness, Ammit’s second full-length, may surprise those familiar with his previous output. Admittedly, the Mass Suicide / Steel Inferno CD lost this listener after only a few spins – it felt too larval; it needed more time in the oven. But Ammit’s new release treads the gargantuan step that catapulted Venom from Welcome to Hell to Black Metal, from relatively meh to TOTAL FUCKING CLASSIC.

This latest CD is a new black dawn for South American metal, a platter of pure, steaming, diarrhea-soaked nastiness – in terms of extremity, yet coupled with accessibility (the production is crystal clear), Ammit is unmatched so far in this year of 2005.

To start with, Ammit introduces this less-than-forty minute demon with “Pure Infernal Fire,” a minimalist, pounding, Melvins-y, layered chant that is pure fucking ten-ton-testicle ATMOSPHERE.

That said, please allow the following revelation, a epiphany that converted this reviewer to Ammit’s Crusade against Christ: the second song, “Power Means Death Power,” is possibly the most brazen, fierce, epileptic, fist-in-the-air punk-thrash anthem ever recorded. The barely off-cue, self-conscious, furiously barking vokills, the total snare drum rape, and hilarious Nigel Tufnel-ized guitar solo are the clincher. To summarize: even if Hammer of Darkness contained ONLY this particular track, it would still get a 10.

The next one, “Acid,” is no less lethal – a pure delight it is to hear its thrash pace and hearken back to the fresh blast of PURE BLACK AIR issued forth from Bathory’s essential 1986 abortion, Under the Sign of the Black Mark. Ammit’s latest is THAT good.

“Dogs of Hell” is almost Van Halen-esque in its simple, pleasing, mid-paced warmongering. “Sinner” is evocative of the political turbulence from which Ammit hails: a cacophonous, thrashing pandemonium, almost vortex-like with intensity, brings extreme metal’s disenchantment with ultra-conservative authority to a new apex (the brutal dictatorship of General Augusto Pinochet still ripples through the Chilean psyche). And “Terrormass” in the “Mayhem with Mercy” of Hammer of Darkness: a brief but harsh keyboard interlude that presages the ensuing blizzard.

“Wraith” is another topper. The chorus chant “Wraith—FULL OF WRATH!” is part Melvins, part Crebain, so killer and sloppy it’s like watching a frisky piranha fight.

“Black Plagues” is the signature Kreator “Pleasure to Kill” hail of the CD – it bludgeons a guttural whirl of treble, rapid-fire distortion, and complete siphoning away of common decency.

“Genocide” is even faster than some of the other tracks, until it descends into a Sabbath-y interlude that provides further evidence of Ammit’s vastly improved sense of range. “Las Garras Del Mal” bears a crazy resemblance to Venom’s finer vintage, right down to the pinch harmonics and linear (but furious) drumming. Finally, Hammer of Darkness closes the CD with a return to the repetitive minimalism of the first track, but by the time it reaches the pulsing crescendo of “DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE! DIE!”; it finally falls apart beneath its own weight.

Ammit is not a visionary. But Hammer of Darkness draws the most distinct line between the Ride the Lightning camp and the Black Album camp; it deserves commendation (and condemnation). Such is the struggle for metal – its past, present, and future. (10/10)