The Sound of Courage, Part 2


In our previous installment, we spoke of moral courage regarding both artist and consumer, and its place in the great landscape of communication in human society.

We discussed the nuance of its application and the situational relativism with which it must inevitably be applied across the course of our lives, and even revisited one of the more shining examples of courage in art from the previous century. But as upstanding citizens, we know that we cannot simply be content to rest on the times of yore! We know that only shame is destined for those who dare think that the greatnesses of the past can never be achieved again in new ways, and sad is the spirit of he or she who takes not inspiration from those who came before, but instead carries only a sense of defeated resignation and unwillingness to step forward for fear of failure by comparison!

For it is the year 2018, which by all reaches of the imagination is a uniquely enlightening, bizarre and equally unsettling time to be alive, and one in which the arc of our fates seem to be subject to violent and sudden change mid-trajectory, acted upon equally by both self and forces beyond. In such a time I believe it is as important as ever to harness the true strength of art in showing us the unseen, forgotten or otherwise ignored truths of our own selves as seen from without, whether be they personal, social, spiritual, political or biological. For like it or not, our need for clarity of perspective increases in parallel with the exponential tsunami of information we are now expected to handle properly on a daily basis.

1. Nervosa – Downfall of Mankind

Despite being the oldest of the extreme metal styles, thrash metal is probably the most flexible in terms of its lyrical content and what could still be considered easily accessible and accepted as safely ‘in genre’: everything from partying, rocking out, pollution, war and political allegory have at one point been the norm within this rowdiest of genres. But in the midst of this so-called re-thrash movement, where many bands seem to have an eagerness to make specific stylistic nods to bygone decades rather than fully embrace the reality of now, Nervosa is a powerful exception.

Their songs ‘Raise Your Fist’ or ‘Kill the Silence’ sound like standard-fare homages to rocking out and being loud and reckless, until you dive into the no-frills lyrics, the former about protests and celebrating political activism, and the latter a song of encouragement and unity in regards to victims of sexual assault and cultural norms, which is visited again with equal viciousness in the ripping ‘Cultura de Estupro’ (Rape Culture).

As a small aside from a student of themes in modern media messaging, this song and video in particular exhibit a rarely shown perspective in that the song is explicitly encouraging, humanizing and directly addressing the victims of sexual assault. No vague elements are added to make the song seem applicable to a wider audience, no couching the topic in loose spiritual metaphor or diluting the message to make it more palatable: this song sets a laser sight on a single target and unleashes a blaze of fury, while everyone else are invited to take a back seat and observe slack-jawed from the sidelines. And all this while channeling the pummeling precision of Doc-era Vader through an explosive mix of blistering blasts and bone-crunching headbangs.

2. Nequient – Wolves at the Door

Nequient occupies a handful of genres of considerable stylistic breadth, which I can really only describe as the 21st century brainchild of mid-90s metalcore. I realize you are now probably clutching the toilet bowl with the sweaty grip of desperation, but hear me out, because prior to the watered-down At the Gates worship and limply predictable 4/4 choruses that became known as the genre, metalcore was simply a blend of hardcore (both punk and east coast styles) and the over-the-top instrumentality and speeds of metal. Intensity had been the name of the game, and using any and all musical technique to achieve it was allowed, with precision only an afterthought at best. Think early Dillinger Escape Plan with the math dialed back a bit. (This also gave rise to a golden era of local shows where melodic death metal, thrash, grind, punk and metalcore bands would all happily share a bill).

In any case, their stylistic brand leaves them a lot of lyrical leeway, but where they could have easily phoned in a mish-mash of personal woes or other metaphorical doubts, they take their unhinged bulldozer music and apply the same principle to the topics at hand with no room for misinterpretation or safe vagueries to maximize their appeal. They firmly put their hearts on their sleeve, then rip off the sleeves and twist them like locker room towels coiled to strike our outstretched and comfortably complacent bums.

Their disc is full worth the time to sit and read along as you listen to the album, just like you did as a kid, but two standouts I would like to highlight are ‘ROI’ and ‘Blast Beats and Cocaine’. Both are excellently scathing and particularly ravenous with their appraisal of our dim reality, and even doubly so when you realize that they run thematically parallel to two prime cuts from last years excellent Pyrrhon album and the tracks ‘Trash Talk Landfill’ and ‘Goat Mockery Ritual’ respectively.

3. Knaaves – January

This is an odd inclusion I admit due to its newness and its brevity. Knaaves are apparently some kind of metallic hardcore from Wisconsin, and this EP sounds like they must have some extensive back catalog of LPs, sold out demos and t-shirts, and perhaps the odd US tour under their belt. But as far as I can tell, this is the only thing they’ve done so far, to my great surprise, such is its confidence and character.

For this piece, I would highlight the song ‘Nine Lives Lost’, which is about the bystander effect in general and the murder of Kitty Genovese specifically. What is crucial here is that they focus on the truly horrifying elements of the inaction and apathy of bystanders and fellow citizens, rather than simply the shock value and grisly spectacle of physical biology usually explored by metal artists.

4. Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs

This is practically a foregone conclusion, as being morally outspoken is essentially the norm for the Israel-based group. But it is always worth highlighting that, as talented as they are, they could probably coast the rest of their career singing about some kind of generic desert myths or exoticism and they would garner an equal amount of praise and fandom (probably more), that they instead use their voice to encourage thoughtfulness and understanding at every opportunity. The album’s narrative is a strong and insightful one and so it seems inappropriate to select a single song upon which to focus, but as always, they have managed to weave an equally poignant yet entirely distinct narrative with their music videos that can be digested separately from the wider story arc.

5. War on Women – Capture the Flag

While this was originally intended to be an extreme metal list, I feel that I would be remiss not to include the recent album by Baltimore’s gem of a punk band, War on Women. Brought up recently here in this very Toilet by a Mr. Poutine, this album is every bit of searing outrage and moral courage one could ever hope to fit onto a disc or download file. The overall sensation of the band is that of moving forwards, both in the rhythmic and social sense, and such is their momentum that they crash right through the barricades of our unsuspecting ears before colliding with the tender ages-old concepts, stereotypes and historic blind-spots planted in our minds long ago. Once properly entrenched in our delicate gray matter, the band cuts loose with the recklessness of a teenage bull in the fragile china-shop of our brain, dashing our delicate preconceptions with the fury of both cognitive and musical dissonance and the subtlety of a d-beat drive-by.

Speaking personally, I experienced about a 1:10 ratio of time spent listening to the song vs. staring into space and comparatively contemplating both the behavioral horrors of humanity and the abject failures of American public schools as well as my own personal ignorance. Multiply that by 12 songs on the album plus a college-level workbook and then I couldn’t find myself anywhere else but at the bottom of a Wikipedia rabbit-hole so deep and dismal that the horrors found within cavernous Void[noun] bands now seem like the conceptual equivalent of Candy Land.

But of course, this list is not complete, not even for this year, and I do not mean to cast criticism on anyone by their lack of inclusion; these were simply selected for their boldness of execution and for the fact that I have them in my immediate possession by some fortune of happenstance or another.

For instance, some I didn’t have proper lyrical access at time of writing (Wayfarer, ‘Nation of Immigrants’) or others which buck convention as pure incident (Panegyrist), the extensive catalog of labels such as Blackened Death Records, or very recent or even upcoming things such as Neckbeard Deathcamp and a new Zealotry on the way. Indeed there are also a great many others who released solid material last year (Body Count, Dawn Ray’d, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, Al-Namrood to name a few), and of course all are subject to my alarmingly unpredictable tastes!

So what do you think dear readers? What have I missed? What albums do you enjoy that really seem to stand out as being true beacons of brave inspiration among the fogs of normalcy in this year 2018?

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