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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Metal & Music Writing

Posted by Andrew R Tonry on Wed, Nov 3, 2010 at 10:28 PM

1salome.jpg

To anyone who believes, because of ease of access to clips online, music writing is inconsequential, I defy you to read Ben Ratliff's New York Times piece on Salome, a sub-genre-crunching metal band from northern Virginia. In it, Ratliff not only offers not only a fine primer on metal's many forms and function, but puts Salome's personality fully into context.

I almost never listen to metal of any kind. This article made me.

The best metal of any kind feels like it comes from below and wants to pull you down there. “Terminal,” in its first track, “The Message,” rises slowly out of silence with underwater sounds: a sonar ping, twisted and looped until the sound degrades and decays. (The pings come back later in the record, as well, tying it together.) The loop speeds up and flies away over Rob Moore’s first guitar riff, two minutes into the song, uneven and heavy and simple and colored in by the drummer Aaron Deal’s short and hard-hitting fills. Then the band quiets down, creating a space, and Kat comes in with her caustic, electrocuted howl, one word per line:

Burning!

through!

Ignite!

Here she downshifts into her guttural voice. The lyric sheet says that the following words are “the visible,” but it sounds more like “eeugheeughawwwww.” In her deep voice the lyrics become completely obscured. When she does it live, she’s not pantomiming, not becoming a character; she becomes transparent, and music flows through her. Put it this way: It’s rare to see someone rock this way, top to bottom, inside and out. It doesn’t necessarily mean provoking your crowd or being an acrobat. It means giving yourself completely to your task.

Kat, 26, whose last name is Katz, grew up in McLean, Va., exploring but not fitting in with the metal scene in Virginia and Washington; in high school she admired Runhild Gammelsaeter, the striking Norwegian woman who sang in the doom band Thorr’s Hammer, and J. R. Hayes, the singer of the local Virginia grindcore band Pig Destroyer. She is a small woman, with small hands. (I bought some vinyl from her after a show; commanding onstage, she looked tiny behind the merchandise table.) She teaches yoga and takes physical therapy courses at a community college. She doesn’t drink or smoke. She doesn’t sing more than six songs in a row — about an hour, max. She says she thinks of her singing as part of her spiritual practice, though she is reluctant to talk about it. (There’s not a lot of spirituality in Salome’s corner of metal. In fact there’s a lot of anti-spirituality.) But she did anyway.

“When I sing, it allows me to be present,” she said in a phone interview. “I think of music as a way to connect. In yoga they believe that emotion is just energy, and if you raise your energy, you can get closer to reaching God.”

Read Ratliff's marvelous piece on Salome, and see if makes you take a listen to Terminal. The entire record is streaming on NPR.

And apparently NPR streams metal now. With a pledge $150 or more and you'll receive a Southern Lord coffee mug and a 100% hemp Slayer tote bag.

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