Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Gonzo Neurotic Deathhead
A heretic capture of the Legendary Neurotic Deathfest
Tilburg, Netherlands May 30-31st 2008

by Pascal Cretain
Originally published at MOUNTZA #3 fanzine

I’m casually inspecting today’s schedule when a name from the past catches my eye: ‘Grind Inc.’. “Fuck yeah”, I think to myself, “here’s a band that I recognise”! Dave Lombardo on drums, that should be sweet. Still, something was not quite right. Why would they play at 16:45 in the Bat Cave? They should at least be given second billing at the main stage. Have they gone that out of date? I can’t quite figure out what the situation is, slowly making my way towards the Bat Cave nevertheless.

“Nice t-shirt!” says a voice, referring to my Gallhammer t-shirt. There’s a handful of us wearing non-black t-shirts within the thousands of the pilgrims that dwell in the purgatory-like place that is the 013 Venue in Tilburg, Netherlands. “In fact”, he goes, “more than nice t-shirt. How would you like to be featured in next month’s Terrorizer in the blah blah column, where three different metalheads each month get to have their say on one given question”. There seems to be some kind of ‘prize’ involved, as he explains, perhaps a free CD or something, but his words just pass me by at this stage.

“What do you think of myspace death metal bands?” is the question I’m called to comment upon. “I don’t know man; I don’t care much about what they have to say. The whole thing is a bit childish”. A half-decent answer, you might say. Not in my book. I could have given a zillion other far superior answers! I could have explained how the myspace generation is infected with a dangerous variant of Attention Deficit Disorder, and how they dismiss or glorify a band within 10 seconds after the first track kicks in. The whole world seems to shape up to this shrinking time trend; the music universe expands uncontrollably at the expense of the individual artist who needs to squeeze as much soul as possible into the ever-diminishing slots of pseudo-attention that are spared to him by greedy listeners. An absurd, frustrating battle. One that sadly seems to be favouring those who have learned to embrace their loneliness, rather than those whose soul is intact.

Or, I could have reversed the question. “The real question”, I could have said, “is can one hear frogs farting under-water?” That would have confused the Terrorizer bloke. Not sure if he‘d even publish this statement of mine. But if he did, then that would make a hell of a link between the distant worlds of Heavy Metal and Computer Hacking. The “real question” is stolen from Phenoelit.de’s website and it is a response to the question ‘Are you people a bunch of whitehats or blackhats?’ To explain the difference between whitehat hackers and blackhat hackers is “beyond the scope of this document” (sic), but, in case you were wondering one can actually hear frogs farting underwater if he has a parabolic microphone – then he can hear the bubbles bursting. Of course, this begs the question ‘but don’t frogs have watertight asses’?

I wonder what’s going on inside Barney’s head every time he sets up the stage for ‘Nazi Punks Fuck off’. It has become an inevitable destiny for Napalm Death to play this god damn cover song – albeit a great one - to hordes of Type II Metalheads, most of them – myself inclusive - having English as a second language.. “What have I become”, he must think to himself, Mark Greenway, as he spews out the very same words before closing yet another Napalm Death show: “This next song is an anti-fascist song, mmkay? Originally from a little-known band from California called the Dead Kennedys. If you know the words say it out loud my friends, say it proud…. Nazi Punks Fuck off”.

I get my camera out and capture the entire anti fascist hymn on video. I’m thinking I might upload it for the world to marvel. However….a youtube search on ‘napalm death nazi punks’ greets me with dozens of similarly entitled videos, from all over the planet. Colombia, Russia, London, New York, Philadelphia, Mexico, Kuala fucking Lumpur. Same words. Restless Spirits! A commitment that traverses the universe, and takes form and shape every time Barney announces the end of a show, using the exact same formula. Irresistable. Overpowering. A dark force that, reportedly, cast a spell over bouncers and security guards in ND’s show in AN Club, Athens January ’07, and got them stage diving with frenzy alongside punks and other troublemakers. A magic moment indeed.

Ah, Napalm Death. They started it all right there at the Mermaid Pub in Birmingham about 25 years back. I remember the first time I saw them in Athens, the Year of our Lord 2001. I remember how Barney moved around the stage, this skinny, goofy-like figure of his wearing black shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt. I remember the huge riot when the entire Villa Amalias squat just stormed in the venue. No fucking way would they pay to see Napalm Death. A fundamental mentality difference between the Southern and the Northern Metalheads: When a Napalm Death concert is announced, the former would ponder: ‘There’s no way we are getting in for free’, whereas the latter would think: ‘There’s no way we are paying’.

Strolling casually near the Extreme Noise Terror merch, I see a face I recognise. A big Dutch guy, whose name escapes me, browsing through the pile of Black T-shirts. He was staying at the same hotel in Trutnov, July 2005. That’s when we attended the Obscene Extreme Festival. A truly glorious festival. A celebration of DIY Grind Culture. Seeing Yacopsae live amidst a downpour. Forgardur Helvitis blasting away Pagan Style. And much more. That’s when I met the bloke from Aborted – who played a pretty tight set tonight and would definitely team up with Type II metalheads. He was sitting with us having pizzas and beer in the little shop next to the Hotel, in Trutnov’s central square. I bet that, like the Dutch Guy, he won’t remember me at all. Nobody does.

Coldworker is from Sweden and deliver a choked full of energy, contemporary Metallic Grind ala Nasum. I thoroughly enjoy their set and their modest attitude. On and off the stage. Right after their show, I notice the vocalist having a beer alone at the bar in the back. A shy, modest, talented Scandinavian musician. “I really enjoyed your set, you folks stood out from the rest”. “Thanks man, I really appreciate your words”. As I chat away with the Coldworker Bloke, a big American guy that’s somehow connected to Relapse show up. He’s wearing a Today is the Day t-shirt from the latest tour. “Hey”, I ask, “so what did you think of Today is the day’s show”. “I was actually playing that day”, he replies pompously, “so I asked somebody to pick up a t-shirt for me. But I’ve seen Today is the Day many times, man”. From the look in his face I can see that he’s in some sort of cool Relapse band, and they he expects people to recognise him. To this day, I still do not know who he was.

“I’m thinking of doing a Gonzo-type report of this Festival”, I say to the Coldworker, “using the Festival as a base of sorts to build up on a series of unrelated events surrounding my trip to Tilburg. Focusing on the wrong side of the stage”. “That sounds awesome man, do it”. “I think I will”, I say, “If I get to it, you’ll find out. You’ll be in it”. The Coldworker bursts out laughing.

There are precisely two types of metalhead. There are those who think that ‘smashing the state’ is cooler than ‘fisting the dead’. You can usually (but not always) infer that a metalhead who’s wearing skateboard shoes is a state smasher. I dread to think what would become of the world without the Type I metalhead. The way I see it, Type I provides a quintessential absorbing unit, balancing out some of the world’s strongest forces. Type I consumes frantically and passes on only urine. A real Type I knows all about his idols, not only concerning their music, but also their dentist appointments and romances, best friends, favorite foods, secret fears and hopes and dreams. When Black Sabbath played shows at the dawn of the 70s, millions of Type I metalheads were there to swallow the enormous quantities of energy and burp it out loud. Save the world from collapsing under its own gravity.

That’s when I meet David, the archetype metalhead. A big bearded bloke with an XXL Krabathor t-shirt on. With his broken English (Broken as in ‘broken hope’ NOT as in ‘bodies lay broken’) he explains to me that his favourite moment in the festival so far was SUFFOCATION, but he thoroughly enjoyed IMPALED and ASPHYX amongst others. A strange feeling of deja-vu comes down my spine. Miraculously, I know already everything that David has to say. I know that he didn’t like the latest Cryptopsy album, I know he’s seen Behemoth a few times in the past, no reason at all asking him if he liked Extreme Noise Terror. In fact, I don’t only know what’s on David’s mind, I pretty much know what’s on everybody’s mind.

Suddenly I feel like I’m an intruder in this metal festival of theirs. An outcast. A leper. Walking anti-clockwise around their fountain filled with blood and guts. Approaching that music of theirs in an unacceptable, emotional way. Criminally out of date. Not observing obvious facts that everybody else does. Severe Torture playing numbers only from the first two albums. Origin sounding a bit thin. Cryptopsy being all defensive and playing only older stuff. Extreme Noise Terror’s Singer being drunk. Hate Eternal playing a crappy set. All of them see, all of them observe. They know the songs, they recognise the faces, they evaluate, consume, move together in an amorphous black mass of beer and weed, washing out everything that sets foot on their path. Making up the great Heavy Metal Subculture. Wearing it proudly with their whole being.

I remember the Resistance Festival in March 2005, London. Cyberpunk, Techstep and Violent EBM is not my cup of tea, but I usually enjoy the atmosphere and occasionally the music, so I decided to pop down. The resistance fest attracts a diverse crowd of ‘alternative’ people; some of them just looking different through their odd stylistic approach, some others being different in their hearts. If nothing else, it is an entertaining experience to just sit back and observe the manifestation of the goth/cyberpunk/violent electro subcultures at their own personal fiesta.

I saw this guy, in his late 30s or so – dressed all in black, proper ‘goth’ style, holding several vinyls, all alone looking at the floor. He looked so sad, so depressed – it was all over his face and eyes. But this was different, it was not because his subculture dictated it – it was because he did not belong with us (them) anymore. Maybe he never did.

Overtaken by his desire to belong somewhere, to have an identity, he gave so much of himself to the subculture. Without even realising, he lost himself completely in the subculture. He became the subculture. And when, eventually he realised, he had nowhere else to go.

My friends and I, we have a bit more eclectic taste. The breakdown in Converge’s “Heaven in her Arms”. Sunn O))) & Boris’ ‘The Sinking Belle’. Hellnation’s ‘Road Rage’. A few numbers by Black Sabbath including ‘The Wizard’ and ‘War Pigs’. Kyuss’ ‘Gardenia’. Pre-Pucciato Dillinger Escape Plan. Carcass Grinder’s first demo. Rotting Christ’s ‘Αποκαθηλωσις’ 7’’ EP. Portishead’s ‘Undenied’. Στέρεο Νοβα - ‘το ταξίδι της φάλαινας’. The breakdown in Soilent Green’s ‘It was just an accident’. Eyehategod’s ‘Metaphmetamine’. Creations is Crucifixion’s ‘Emergence through the Cables’. All out War’s ‘Soaked in Torment’. Medulla Nocte’s ‘All our friends are dead’. Today is the day’s ‘Tempe of the Morning Star’. Fucking New Bomb Turks. And much more. Music that captures the essence of life and reflects it back to the unsuspected audience. Passionate, wild, untamted. Straight from the heart.

I sip at my beer lazily opposite Bones Brigade’s distro when I catch a glimpse of Cephalic Carnage’s vocalist. He’s been wearing a Hawaian shirt, hiding a Funky SCOPRIONS t-shirt under it, a combination that I find hilarious. Looking at him more in detail now, I start noticing a striking similarity to the porn legend Ron Jeremy.

Must have been 2004 when I saw Ron Jeremy waiting for the train at the South Kensington tube here in London, sat comfortably next to a gorgeous woman. I later read on the web that he was over here for some Adult Grammies. Another nomination. He had this superhuman aura surrounding him; everything was smooth. The world around him made perfect sense. I approached him and attempted to introduce myself. ‘Are you..?’, I think I might have said, but it’s equally likely that I didn’t say a word. Ron smiled to me and offered a handshake. An offer I couldn’t deny. There and then, on that rainy November evening in 2004, I shook God’s hand and let him board the next train. My world was forever changed.

The next chain of thoughts comes fast. I’ll have to organise a survey. Surely other metalheads must have noticed the blatant similarity! I’m monitoring the scene for volunteers. I’ll have to choose five metalheads – preferably split between types I and II – and ask them if they notice the similarity. Simple enough. But whom to start with? Everybody seems to be too drunk; too stoned; too preoccupied with something else. Too busy in their own bubbles. All firewalled Up. Not listening for incoming connections whatsoever. Maybe I’ll just speak to the Cephalic vocalist himself. “Say”, I could tell him, “has anyone told you you look like Ron Jeremy?” Or maybe “Surely you must have heard this before, you look like Ron Jeremy!”, or even “You must get this all the time….” But if what if he gets angry? What if he has linked Ron Jeremy to some freak accident that happened to his step-daughter? As these thoughts take over, I look up to realise that neither the Cephalic Vocalist, nor any of the metalhead candidates for the survey are around anymore. They have been substituted with a new breed of metalheads. Equally stoned. Equally drunk. Equally endorsed in their self-centred ways of interpreting reality.

Pointlessly as I don’t even own a turntable, I browse through the colourful pile of 7’’ Records over at Bones Brigades’ Stall, whilst struggling to figure out what the French conversation that I have tuned into is all about. Despite the fact that my French is even rustier than my driving skills, and I have come to the conclusion that only a cabbie-type job in a French-speaking country would wake up those hibernating parts of my brain, I manage to decipher some insignificant information. Everything is quite harmless and unmemorable until I see the Total Fucking Destruction / Agoraphobic Nosebleed Split 7’’. Glossy, Green, staring at me. Over-the-top devil-skateboarding action on both sides, courtesy of Florian ‘the same guy who does the Baroness artwork’ as the Bones Brigade girl tells me. Trembling with awe and anticipation, I lift the little piece of art and marvel at it. I have no choice: I’ll no doubt have to buy the 7’’ AND a turntable. In fact, I buy two copies of the 7’’. “It’s a gift for a friend”, I explain to the Bones Brigade girl. Later on the same day, I pick up a Nunslaugher / Unholy Grave Split 7’’.

Hate Eternal’s Set is about as yawnsome as Dark Funeral’s set in Inferno, Oslo 2007, only worse because Hate Eternal claim the precious present, whereas Dark Funeral is just a nasty memory. Still, there is something mild in the air. Without doubt, it is Saturday Night and this is Netherlands. A country where authority is about as transparent and tolerant as it can get, or at least that’s the image the country projects to visitors like myself. People around are stoned, drunk, oblivious, happy. Fists raised, hearts soothed.

The world outside might have blown itself to pieces and nobody would have noticed or given a shit.

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