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Editors’ Choice #1: The Future of Our History

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So first off, you might notice how this isn’t in Ian Cory’s voice. As he announced last month, Ian has stepped down from his position as Editor in Chief. Don’t worry, he will still be popping in as a regular around these parts. Instead of figuring out which of us (that is to say, Andrew and Jon) would be the one to fill the spot, we decided it was best to tackle it together. With a new regime and structure, we figured we would restart with a new Editors’ Choice all the same. Here we are, beginning anew with Editors’ Choice #1. Here’s to new beginnings.

Finding the most fitting topic to begin our tenures as co-editors for Invisible Oranges was rough — mostly because we were both bent over the table by our overbooked calendars (and maybe a little accidental procrastination). There is a shitload happening in the music world — to be frank, we don’t really pay attention to mainstream music news (sorry), we just don’t have the bandwidth — so the possibilities are endless when you dig instead of skim the surface. Certainly, we’re not wholly blind when it comes to our breadth, but the true Bread of Knowledge lies deep, buried within the dark alleys and annals and mysterious caverns of the metal scene itself. More specifically, within the individuals who, collectively, make the scene work.

In addition to covering the latest and most cutting-edge metal on the market right now, our goal with Invisible Oranges is to uncover that which makes metal music so powerful, impactful, and life-changing in the journeys of many. This means telling stories.

The future for this venture is impossibly infinite. Right now, though, we’re faced with a beast: the almighty Bandcamp-like entities, crushing us with so much Brand New Art, and so much Brand New Crap. It’s not just Bandcamp, though, but the way we share music nowadays — how we come upon an album certainly shapes our first (and most important) experience with it. A recommendation from a best friend, for instance, should always outweigh the algorithmic suggestion churned out by a massive corporation’s supercomputers.

Where in the fuck are we all heading with this? Are we all so deeply entrenched in our amazing digital music libraries that we’ve lost sight of the social function which helped perpetuate metal in its early stages: always keeping your buds up-to-date on the latest shit? Maybe not entirely, but we, collectively, feel a void. A recommendation takes its power not from the primacy of the friendship, but from the knowledge of that individual: for example, what did Opeth do to Langdon Hickman?

Our passionate hope is that this type of content can help revitalize the bonds we share over the music we love. But again, these recommendations still seem to end up filtered and organized among thousands of other tabs, folders, libraries, etc. Is it that there’s a metal glut right now? Is this scene exploding from the underground and adopting the properties of more popular genres with respect to music consumption by the masses?

As journalists tasked with knowing as much new metal as possible, we’re stuck in a dilemma, too. We can’t always escape back to our pasts and our favorites; that road is oftentimes blocked by the workload of staying abreast. We need to break through it. We need a channel for our personhoods — we need you to know who we are and why we love metal so that our recommendations mean something.

Likewise, we want to get to know you. Use that comment section and tell your story too.

The future may raise thousands of unanswerable questions, so why not look back sometime? It’s not a brand of conservatism, and it’s simply a mental exercise; it’s reflection turned introspection. It’s retroactive sight, the most accurate of them all really. This isn’t about highlighting the fuckton of throwback bands out there, rekindling the noises of yore — do they truly honor the history of how music dissemination used to work? Or are they just soundalikes operating in an overly capitalized system of music consumption that none of us can change no matter what we do?

There are so many questions, really. A lot of them don’t fully matter, but they’re interesting to explore, especially in context of our personal pasts. So, for our inaugural editors’ choice, Invisible Oranges Co-Editors in Chief Andrew Rothmund and Jon Rosenthal will dig into what got us into metal — this unruly and sometimes contemptuous beast to which we’ve devoted our lives and, of course, this special website.

Jon

So this won’t really be about how my taste ended up the way it is. That’s too long a story, too self-aggrandizing. I like a lot of things, it’s true. However, there was a period of time where I didn’t really know enough to like a lot. I tired, but I didn’t know what the hell I was doing. I wasn’t always like… this, you know? The following is less about the long-term of taste definition and more about one single find. The game changer. Something which instilled a new courage and caused a big change in me.

Surprise, surprise: I didn’t have any friends. I would go to school where I would be ridiculed and then go home to my family, my cat, and my box-monitor desktop computer. The Napster age had come to a close and the reign of KaZaA had taken a firm hold on my subterranean battlestation. I’d gone through my brief alternative rock and punk phases (though I held onto Bad Religion), but I needed something to fit my angst. I was alone, angry, confused by a lot of things and not quite used to solitude in a neighborhood full of kids who were all friends. Aside from a few cursory friendships, I was the outcast! By chance, one of those friends (a drummer) I used to jam with from time to time showed me “this cool new band,” and I was met with a barrage of loud noises and people wearing weird masks.

As it turns out, my solace, like it was to so many others our generation, was in nu-metal. Or at least, a little bit of it. I stayed up to watch Headbangers Ball and Uranium on most nights when I could sneak down and watch “super evil heavy metal TV.” Yes, I liked the classics — who in their right mind doesn’t like good-era Metallica, Megadeth, and Slayer? — but my taste gravitated somewhere in the… Slipknot and MudVayne direction. It was heavy. It was angsty. They yelled and it kind of weirded me out, but in a good way. I had never heard anything like it.

I would walk around school air guitaring and lip syncing to such legendary hit collections as IOWA and LD50. I made my parents switch the radio station from Oldies 104.3 to 101.1 Q101 in hopes of hearing the few metal and metal-adjacent songs which would make their way onto the airwaves. I made horrible, horrible mix CDs which resurfaced when I finally moved out in my 20s, even after multiple cross-country relocations. Yes, I, like many of you, was a nu-metal kid. Or at least, I was for about six months.

Imagine a video from one of the aforementioned albums here… but haven’t there been enough nu-metal nostalgia pieces already?

Like the alternative rock and the punk I could find before, nu-metal wasn’t enough for me. It tilted the heavy and emotional scales in the ways I found cathartic, but there was something kind of dumb about it. Dumb in a way that 13-year-old me could notice with a level of delayed ease. Dumb in a way which still confuses me as a late twentysomething. These were people in JNCOs playing songs very obviously about not liking their parents very much. Extreme. I had not-very-cool classmates who acted that way, you know? I mean, I was definitely a bastard to my own parents around that time, but these were adults playing these weird, loud songs. Was adulthood really going to be like that? Surely not — I’d have different problems. Maybe I’d even be misanthropic, but, like, for real. Such juvenile problems seemed like something I could keep in my own AC/DC worship band (we were called OverDriven Distortion. A true classic.).

I’d known the term “death metal” for a while, but it seemed too scary, too violent. The Tipper Gore media monstrosity corralled that kind of stuff into a dark corner of the Internet I didn’t really want to visit. I’d seen the album covers at Record Breakers, who didn’t care to put much, if any, effort into censorship. I distinctly recall the controversial cover to Cannibal Corpse’s Eaten Back To Life being particularly confusing, but in an intriguing “I-just-recently-started-watching-late-night-slasher-flicks-with-also-nudity-and-stuff” sort of way. Gore and exploitation were so alien to me, so different, that I didn’t know how to make heads nor tails of it. However, proto-teenager Jon wanted to be edgy as fuck and really, really cool, or something like that.

So there I was, Googling “best metal scream” or “best yell” late into night, scouring pre-Metal Archives forums for any viable options which would make me quietly say “fuck yeah” into the darkened basement of my childhood home. One such post on a grey-scale InvisionFree forum recommended a song with a title so chilling, so absolutely gross it made me actually worried to look for the song.

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I mean, what kind of 13-year-old blindly looks for a song called “Open Face Surgery” anyway?

I honestly was scared to look it up. But there it was. Three minutes and 45 seconds in, I was met with this… sound. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was inhuman. A bat being hit with a sledgehammer or the bloody misadventures of an electric deli meat slicer. Later research would reveal this Lord Worm character to be one who actually consumed worms onstage. Then I had to take into account Flo Mounier’s breakneck drumming. Jon Levasseur and Steve Thibault’s crunchy, crazed guitar. Martin Fergusson’s weird, weird bass. It all fit together like a puzzle made of viscera: wet, mushy, and near-noncohesive. I was mortified. I loved it. What the hell did I just listen to? It was so fast, so gross, so… captivating.

I was ruined forever.

This was death metal. I was listening to death metal. That thing I was supposed to fear or turn me into a less than savory member of society, and I liked it. This was a weird feeling with which my young mind had to grapple. And that, my friends, is the story of how my first seemingly accidental foray into extreme metal (Metallica and those on the radio notwithstanding) was an early cut by Cryptopsy, screeched late into the basement night on my tiny speakers.

I would use my newfound Internet powers to find more gross music, eventually leading me to different kinds of death metal, and then, with the initial inclusion of Amorphis, Metal Archives was founded in 2004. The world was never the same. These were the stepping stones which led to countless burned CDs, friendships made, thousands of dollars spent, thousands of miles traversed, and hundreds of hours of poorly-recorded music.

All thanks to this one song. Sure, maybe I would have found some other death metal song and still be in the same place, but I still hold this particular one close to my heart, and you best believe I listen to Cryptopsy regularly.

I guess the thing to remember here is simple: we all have our humble, earnest roots. I might be a huge elitist asshole, or so I’ve been told, but everything I’ve written in my ten on-and-off years as a music writer — even my two college theses — have been the ramblings of a young man who found death metal because he wanted to hear the best yelling. It was all downhill from there. So, exercise caution, else you could end up like me: unable to socialize unless you’re talking about metal.

Andrew

If you could cleverly (and using annoying alliteration) define my musical tastes today vis-a-vis metal, you’d say: blast beats and breakdowns. Of course, we’re talking about black metal and deathcore/metalcore here, two total fucking opposite things as far as metal is concerned, but by no means wholly defined by these constituent elements. Certainly, there’s more to black metal than superb swaths of dynamic blasts; likewise, deathcore isn’t just mindless, mastodon-marching malarkey (though unfortunately sometimes it is) and not all metalcore is recycled. Anyway, this duality in my appreciation of metal as a whole, though, has a reason — maybe not an interesting one, but one nonetheless.

First, I got into “the breakdown,” i.e. I discovered Lamb of God around the As the Palaces Burn era, still my favorite metalcore album of them all. Then, many years later, I got into “the blast beat,” i.e. I discovered this magnificent work of black metal artistry (from a MetalSucks review, no less) in the form of Spectral Lore’s III (more on that later).

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There’s no two ways about it: I was a weird and non-traditional metalhead from the start, and I still am today. For one, I hardly dress the part. I was less into “the scene” and more into the music itself (besides, I didn’t have many friends), which I felt existed independently and irrespective of one another. Now, I know that was an incorrect assumption, and I’ve since reversed that thought, by virtue of my role here at Invisible Oranges no less. Music and scene are one, truly — without one, the other cannot exist. And of course it’s not all about the clothes and the symbology and the like; important for sure, but we are the music too. But the actual music-music, to me, always remained prime. To this day, incredible noise reigns supreme in my mind.

I knew it when I heard that Lamb of God album. I knew that there was some type of music out there beyond fucking Smashmouth (yes, I had a Smashmouth phase) which touched on the real darkness I felt inside me. Partially anger toward the world, indeed, but also this cavernous, encapsulating, unnerving fear of death I had before me. Before even realizing what I was doing internally, I was trying to understand the concept of death as best I could, so maybe I could somehow relieve my fear which felt so choking and overbearing and wicked. This fear wasn’t paranoia, or even physically manifested, necessarily, but dreading and existential and totally internal. I didn’t ever want to stop thinking. I never want to stop thinking. I might not want to “live” forever, but I sure as hell would like to retain my awareness. I lack belief in any god or afterlife, hence my dilemma here.

Lamb of God, with that brilliant fucking album, spoke it fucking right and true, and this resonated with me as sure as steel itself. I was especially beside myself with Randy’s harrowing belts and shouts, his apocalyptic poignant poetry turned into sonic machine-gun bullets. And the riffing — my god, the savage riffing — made me want to learn every song on guitar (nerd fact: years later, I still prefer drop tuning due to these songs). What I failed to realize at the time was that other people feel the same way that I feel when I listen to this cutting-edge extreme fucking music. Even with my radical Lamb of God album (and the Children of Bodom albums to follow), I was still alone in my head. But at least I knew there was solace, relief, albeit temporary. And “albeit temporary” was a problem: I wanted more.

Over the following years, I progressed through metalcore, deathcore, then technical death metal (which I still love), and then finally black metal, all while slowly opening my social taps and becoming a more open person. Slowly. What made black metal different, though, was that it not only offered solace like Lamb of God did years back, but, in some way, a cure for my existential fear. It suddenly became all about atmosphere, spiritual-esque experiences, and the appreciation of incredible art — I felt creative, expressive, hyper-emotional, heightened as if on psychoactive substances — and I’d achieved a new level of “awareness” in life, so to speak. Again, there’s no such thing as transcendence as far as I’m concerned; this was an internal development based on the understanding that my rationality and my emotionality needn’t be entirely separate entities. I could define myself with how I feel; I could defeat the fear of death by reimagining myself though a new lens.

I had chosen metal in my mind. I then chose metal in my heart.

I invite you to listen to a simply awe-inspiring song which is the one indeed which changed my musical direction (and life approach) forever. I’ll never forget that first listen, when it finally clicked: atmosphere in music, atmosphere as music. And I’ll be honest, I bask in this one hard whenever I re-listen. Nothing beats a late, lonely light with this roaring through high-end headphones. It makes me feel fucking incredible, almighty, and immense. It makes me feel impervious to death’s icy touch.

This music was so story/narrative-like for me, and being way too attention-deficit to read novels frequently enough, here was my ability to journey in my mind… journey away from the conflicting thoughts, the fears, the existential suffering — all the selfish, inward, personal shit we deal with privately, really. And fuck books on tape, this was the transformation of books into magical noises which make you feel like you’re there. This was storytelling not with descriptions (even good ones can’t suffice here), but with the language of intensities. Think the oceanic roaring we feel inside when something sound just so powerful and true. It’s the thing which makes you want to hold invisible oranges, this site’s very namesake.

It’s not that I can’t still “hold oranges” to Lamb of God, but that was a different, less aware version of me (obviously, I still have much more to become “aware” about in life yet). I’m not afraid of my past, though, in that sense, meaning I’m glad to occasionally relive it just for shits ‘n’ giggles. But it was black metal specifically which put me in tune with how to express my deepest feelings to the world; moreover, it inspired me to do so in the first place. I needn’t be embarrassed. We all feel. We all like to talk about it. I’d like to talk about it to. And as a journalist, I’m genuinely interested in the stories of others. I think that’s how we define metal.

Listening to this song again, right now, makes me feel wonderful. Its rapturous, most incredible climax represents a very recent high-point in an arc in my life. It synchronizes perfectly with my inner noise, as chaotic as it may be. Because through all the inner tumult and introversion and awkwardness and whathaveyou, all I ever wanted to do was find the right heavy metal for just the right heavy moment. Sometimes the immense weights pushing down on us in life can forge incredible diamonds of brilliance which demonstrate the true fact that, yes, through the darkest and bleakest of music, there is hope. Not for anything concrete, not for an afterlife, not for salvation, but just the feeling of hope itself, alone but powerful amid whirlwinds of other causeless emotions and deafening impulses.

I live and write today for this publication with hope given to me by the music itself that we can uncover the true meaning behind this all-powerful force of metal we so dearly love.

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