The Spark and The Breakdown

The Spark and The Breakdown

It is hard to predict how dancing will happen at any hardcore show. Sometimes certain  regional scenes (California shows, for example) will affect how people dance, for example. Most hardcore songs, whether Straightedge-inspired or not, have set structures. In most cases, there is a part of the song known as the breakdown, which occurs either in the middle or at the end of a song. Prior to the breakdown, the song builds in intensity, which can be felt by dancers and seen in the intensity of the dance. The breakdown provides all of the potential energy needed for intense dancing to occur, but, like a stick of dynamite, it requires activation energy to make it kinetic. This “spark,” which lights the fuse, so to speak, occurs usually at the onset of the breakdown. It is important to note that the spark may occur once the song begins and/or at the breakdown, depending on the song’s pattern of intensity.

The spark is usually provided by one person who decides to dance (more) intensely before anyone else. This person often enters the center of the pit or dance floor and, almost immediately, others follow suit. “Jeremy,” a Straightedge dancer, describes a spark at the onset of a song: “Commonly, to relieve the tension and ignite the “spark,” kids will start dancing as soon as the band starts playing…People will start running back and forth and getting other people fired up. For most people, heavier parts (breakdowns) will excite people and make them get more into it.”

At most shows, the spark can be observed with a careful eye on the crowd and ear on the music. One can feel the music and crowd energy building in intensity, as evidenced by the speed and/or style of dancing and the rhythm of the song. This came through in the participant observation area of data collection. In addition, since dancers are often familiar with the songs being played, he or she who decides to provide the spark usually knows as well as feels when to begin. Once the spark occurs, the mass of dancers seems to take on a life of its own, much like the coalescing tightly bound shoal of minnows rising within a convection current. Viewed from afar, they both seem to act as one larger organism.

The spark is quite a powerful phenomenon. Tensions vary in quality and quantity from show to show and within a show, as do reactions to sparks, as “Chris,” a non-Straightedge dancer explains: “I think that most of today’s “moshers” are always waiting for the same two people to start of the pit and get things moving. It’s a shame that at heavier shows that same “spark” will usually bring out a fight or two.” The above quote demonstrates that sparks do not always yield the same results and therefore can be indicators of a change in intensity of activity, but not exactly what nature of activity one can expect.

From “Identity Maintenance Through Emotional Release and Rejuvenation: A Link Between Hardcore Dancing and the Straightedge Collective Identity” by Michael Lance.  Michael submitted that as his Master of Arts thesis in 2007 at Wayne State University, and I was interviewed for the thesis. I had pulled it up the other day randomly and though the above was interesting. Those who have been to hardcore shows can relate to “the spark.” You can view/download the thesis here.

Photo: Joey Houle

Behemoth Returns, Cancer Destroyed, US Tour Announced

Remember when a “bone marrow” Google search would yield blackened death metal results? That was back when Nergal, the vocalist for Polish band Behemoth, was diagnosed with luekemia in August of 2010. Since then, a lot has happened – he got a bone marrow transplant, lost his hair, made a new video, crushed Poland with a few shows, and are now heading across Europe and US for two headlining tours.

Nergal stated in a recent interview, “I owe you people so much…the whole thing with us coming back to tour(s)…is I’d love to see you all there, and meet you personally, and shake hands. That’s my main goal.” Lest you think their satanic shtick is a bunch of hate; I honestly think that with the outpouring of support that Nergal and the band experienced during his illness, that he embodies both a generous nature, while at the same time delivering an aggressive, crushing black/death metal force to fans. I’m passionate about that dichotomy because too often metal is characterized as evil and anti-social; left for Luddites in dark caves instead of strong men and women who use it as a way to affect change in themselves and others.

Recent evidence shows that not only is Behemoth back, but their stage show is even grander than before:


In that song, “Of Fire And Void,” Nergal sings: “I pulse ov existence / The law ov nature undenied / I hold the torch ov Heraclites / So I can shake the earth and move the suns.” This is pure secular morality, personified by Nergal as he states the “pure joy” of “the here and now.” Greek mythology, coupled with the philosophy of Max Stirner, brings a powerful message to the metal community: we have to act, regardless of any exterior forces; this is “potential in action, never in inertia.”

Behemoth brings this joyful rage to the United States starting in April with fellow black-metallers Watain. I’m stoked to see a reinvigorated Nergal and company bellow and thrash as “pylons ov light.”

Photo: Heavy Blog is Heavy

American Black Metal Gets Some Mainstream Press

Perhaps my favorite genre (aside from Dutch Hardcore, and not the guitar kind, ha!), black metal got an interesting review of itself in The New York last week, with columnist Sasha Frere-Jones writing things like:

If you’re going out of the house to hear amplified music, why not take that to its logical end? 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.

The two bands featured most are Liturgy (unfortunately, I’ve never heard ’em) and the ever “kvlt” Wolves In The Throne Room, who are pretty good if you like that style of lo-fi black metal. Criticism came from the blog “crustcake” who took the opinion that while Jones could have used the piece to really, truly explain the wonders of black metal, instead it just got re-hashed.

But personally I thought the article was great, partly because it focused more on why seeing bands like that live is awesome, and even some history behind the music. Why not expose some of New York’s non-metalheads to a darker, more extreme music? If it can be homogenized, it will, and that probably won’t happen to bands like Wolves or Liturgy.

Very rarely do I self-promote like this, but my interest in black metal is quite related to my own band, Anagnorisis. If you do enjoy black metal, but moreover the more “hi fi” approach such as Dimmu Borgir or Akercocke – check us out. You might dig it. I realize calling us black metal, hi fi, or putting any sort of label on it at all has a host of problems, so if you prefer a crowd sourced description, users would call us: “black metal, death metal, blackened death metal, american death metal, symphonic black metal” and more.

As Venom would say, lay down your souls to the gods rock n’ roll!

Conquer All: Inspiring Metal Lyrics

Nergal, saying "get your shit together! Conquer all!" (src)

One stigma that bugs me is the one that says heavy metal (or extreme metal, black metal, death metal) is nothing but pissed off, hateful youth who rebel for rebellions sake. There is an element of truth to this, but the world of metal is often an outlet for passion that can breed positivity. Countless metalheads relate to the darker side of life that the metal world captures, and this goes way beyond any faux Satan-worshipping or wearing all black. I want to illustrate two solid examples of bands who, to the common listener, may seem “scary” and obscure, but have, in my opinion, supremely uplifting lyrics.

Consider Behemoth, one of Poland’s most internationally-known bands, a force to be reckoned with both live and recorded. In the track “XUL” off the album Demigod, vocalist Nergal writes:

All things exist in me
I believe in naught save myself
My sermon steadfast and proud:
There is nothing but god in me!

All things stir in me
With joy and suffering
My sermon steadfast and proud:
There is nothing but god in me!

I love these lines, as they encapsulate a very secular humanist outlook on life, one filled with both “joy and suffering,” but with the statement that, in the end, you have to belief in yourself. Behemoth is quite critical of traditional religions, so the implication of “god” here is a very abstract one, more akin to “god” being nature, or just an essence, as in Taoism.

When Nergal battled Leukemia last year (which actually prompted the compassion of black metal fans) many worried it would be the end of a great band. Not so, as he triumphed through it all, relying on the strength of his family, friends, and worldwide community of fans. He said recently, in an interview regarding the disease:

I really see Behemoth’s attitude as a very positive thing anyway. Even though our music is serious and angry, it’s all about just marching over the top of any obstacle or problem whatsoever.

And to me, that’s how metal should be! Consider the Dimmu Borgir song “Gateways” that was released in late 2010:

Be the broken or the breaker
Be the giver or the undertaker
Unlock and open the door
Be the healer or the faker
The keys are in your hands
Realize you are your own sole creator
Of your own master plan

Again, supremely invigorating words: you have the power, you have to do the work, and you can choose whether to be broken, or do the breaking! Break down problems, break up confusion, break stagnation! Everything can be overcome. The album the song derives from is entitled “Abrahadabra,” or “I will create as I speak” – a reference to Aleister Crowley’s “The Book of the Law.”

Shagrath of Dimmu Borgir - look how motivational he is (src)

Unfortunately, I could find little to justify DB’s position on the empowering nature of their lyrics. Perhaps introspection isn’t something they advertise in their “tough” interviews! Regardless, that’s the beauty of lyrics – we can interpret them anyway we like, and I think that sometimes, they are some gems within the endless stream of cacophonous metal prose.