A man with extremely large earlobes, and Death Metal as a Horror medium

by Joe

Deathcore has pretty much taken over the past week, most obviously in the form of the bands Upon a Burning Body, and Suffokate. Now, I know that me posting metal will probably be met with instant dismissal from everyone, but the video of Suffokate‘s “Not The Fallen”, is worth a peep, just so you can see the sheer size of the singer’s gauged lobes. Seriously, those fuckers are huuuge, like, the biggest I’ve ever seen in any hardcore gig I’ve ever been too. It’s pretty useful in the end I guess, as it at least makes them a meme worthy subject, with the majority of youtube/lastfm comments being either “ewwww, why would anyone do that to themselfs” and “gauged lobes are cool!”, oh yeah, and the music’s some pretty solid deathcore too.

Lobecore!!!

Metal normally works best when it’s going for one of 2 different vibes, straight up gorefuck brutallity, or creepy evilness that makes you think of burying a body in the moonlight on some deserted moors at 3 in the morning. Last House On The Left, as you may be able to gauge from the name alone, taken from the recently (and much worsely) remade 70’s thriller about 2 girls being abducted, is a severe case of the latter. And what’s more, they do creepiness very well.

Shot from the original film: “Last House on the Left”

From the straightfoward yet subtle album cover of “Among Flies”, depicting an illustration of a severed pigs head on a stick, the entire vibe given off by the band is something very unsettleing, but, like a good horror film, most is left to the imagination. As oppose to any straight out gore (in both lyrics and imagery), the severed pig’s head can be compared to some kind of roadside ornament seen at the beginning of films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre or Frontiers, something forshadowing the horrors that lie in wait. Animal death is something that can be used to great effect in setting a scene, it is something unpleasant and at times visceral, but also not as obvious and straightforward as when bad things happen to people. We see mutilated pidgeons and rabbits lying on roads, mass produced gore in slaughterhouses as well as the hung carcasses in butchers and abatoirs (something else which can be used in horror), and so animal related gore is something very familiar and domesticated, in our mind’s eye.

The Among Flies Cover

However, I think that the success in the album cover lies in putting the animal death away from the comfort of domestic slaughter houses, and out of a setting we’re used to. Imagine if it was a human head on a stick. Would it have the same effect? No, and it would probably just look silly. People, in horror films and death metal, are meant to die in nasty ways and have their heads put on sticks, and so it would just be more of the same. Also, with people, you have to give them human faces, which means giving them gender, hair, features and all other kind of clues as to them as a person, and even why they are decapitated and on a stick, which can often misdirect attention. With the pig however, we can’t tell any of this, and it is simplifyed to just a pig head on a stick. Something that was alive, but is now dead, no more information, and no more clues as to why. Another good example of this in metal covers is The Haunted’s “One Kill Wonder”, which shows a body tied up and wrapped in plastic, another example of improving effect by removing all the humanity, and reducing the entity to just a template, a mysterious and forboding clue.

One Kill Wonder

And surely isn’t that what an album cover should do? The pig’s head is literally the same as the dead animal on the road at the beginning of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. The pig’s head on a stick is a taster, showing the kind of reality the band are trying to create, and all they give you for now is just this one clue as to the nature of it. To truly experience their world, and find out more (invoking the same morbid curiosity that horror films try to summon), you have to go further, and experiance the music.

The music, as well, is full of subtleties as well as straight forward brutality, utilising build ups to increase a sense of tention, while employing some dark sounding melodies to balance the onslaught of the drums, which themselfs are full of interesting little rhythmic subtleties. The vocals alternate between high screeches and deep growls, which are used very well to accentuate the instumentals, the high screeches imparticular lending a very “Horror” esque vibe.

As well as the unique death metal compositions, the album is also littered with short instrumentals, that sound right off the soundtrack to A Nightmare on Elm Street. In the midst of all the brutality, these highen the tension before the next song and further increase the unnearving horror film vibe, a trick not utilised nearly enough in the scene.

I think my appriciation of the band stems from a love of both death metal and horror, and so my interpretation is probably far removed from that of a normal fan of the genre (and I mean a deep appriciation of horror films beyond the recent hollywood attempts of the last decade). I saw a band photo actually in which one of them was wearing a “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” T shirt, so I’m pretty sure that all this horror vibe and inferences Im picking up is just as intentional as I percieve it.

And for this reason, I belief that in making good death metal and good horror lie very parallel values. In both cases, straight out gore/brutality can work, and be extremely fun, but to go beyond and truly get into the human psyche, you have to appriciate tension, subtlty, and the imagination more. And putting the emphasis on this, instead of blasting at 300 bpm for a whole album ala Ingested or Brain Drill, is what makes for truly brilliant death metal, insteal of merely “brutal”.

Lyrically as well, the band are obviously using their versing of horror to inspire them. Instead of ham fistedly narrating revenge, murder or torture, they instead set stories or scenes of imaginative horror like sinisterness, my personal favorite being opener “Forever Dying”, which takes the voice of a man recalling how he killed a girl “Mari”, presumably in a crime of passion, hiding the body under an icy lake. Most of the prose focuses very minally on the actuall deed itself, and instead concentrates on the guilt still felt years later, as he is yet again reminded of her by the eyes of a dead pidgeon hanging in his dog’s mouth. “Forever Dying” refers to how in his mind, she will always haunt him, as he repeatedly relives watching her death by his hands. She lives forever in his mind, but only in her final dying moments.

And so last house on the left is ultimately a band that sounds very sinister and unnerving, breaking new ground in the scene, with influences of black metal, death metal, metalcore and even moments reminiscent of plain classic metal. Their songwriting and unabating horror vibe creates a forboding sound which makes you feel like something very very bad is about to happen. But you won’t know untill it’s too late.

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4 thoughts on “A man with extremely large earlobes, and Death Metal as a Horror medium

  1. digging the metal/horror paradigm

    personal favourite of mine would have to be Fantomas’ cover of Rosemary’s Baby (also one of my fave horror films

    x

  2. Oh yeah, I love that cover, and that film, after I saw it I instantly listened to “Praise The Name of Satan” by Akercocke.

    Pretty fitting after the ending of a room of people shouting “praise satan”

  3. Pingback: Summer Lovin’ « The Music Diaries

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