The musician’s life

It’s interesting, at least to me, how different groups of musicians pursue the individual and highly amorphous/ambiguous (relative) idea of “brutality”. What does “brutality” really mean? Like any other word, it has a meaning derived from context and the intent of the communicator (if not, also, the will of the hearer) and thus can be twisted to represent any of several different concepts within that highly subjective and colorful realm where musicians seek to translate ideas, metaphors, reflections, motivations, etc. from abstract derivations into the even more theoretical dimensional plane of musical experience. It can be oddly rewarding or unsettling, in a minor way, to trace the germ of “brutality” throughout death metal’s history and see where the concept originated, was misinterpreted, split into separate parts, evolved into different aesthetic ideals, etc.

Once can of course make an adequate argument for the fact that each isolated group (or going even farther: each individual musician) has its own idea of what “brutality” is and seeks to embody or make manifest that ideal in music that may or may not live up to their ideals. The levels of aesthetic/abstract transference are confusing, being split into the separate spheres of an artist’s ideal, his interpretation and self-illustration of that same ideal (where he may misinterpret his own ideas, not being able to adequately communicate them), the inability to concretely “capture” that ideal in music (limited by skill, talent, imagination, effort, work ethic, outside “friction”), and then the chance for a complete misinterpretation on the listener’s part based on his/her own inadequate understanding, aesthetic sensitivity, or a contrasting (cherished) concept of the ideas in question. What happens when a musician and listener’s ideas of “brutality” do not match? Is there any kind of communication? Surely it is not the type of communication wished for by the musician.

In any case, the ideal of brutality supposedly envisioned by Emeth (and this is just my interpretation) marries a Californian death metal technical labyrinth of stop and start staccato wonderland riffing with industrial mechanism precision percussion and something of a…midrange (for these days, meaning it doesn’t scrape the lows of a Matti Way) vocal presence that quite often calls to mind Jon Vesano’s work on the last Nile opus. Emeth’s music hits the inner ears in short, sharps bursts of white noise and machine-gun rhythmic intensity, a characteristic that is metaphorically suggested by the minute intro where the first song seems to “rise out of” backwards static, or a demo-level production to burst forth in its all digital, inhumanly precise glory. The cold, aseptic, utterly rational and impassionate instrumental sound (especially the sound of the snare drum) opens the way in the listener’s mind for the aesthetic ideals of the music itself – something of a emotionless, machine-like (almost robotic) killing precision.

Emeth are technically skilled and are minute craftsmen…they obviously enjoy sculpting tunes wherein the main movements of metaphor and musical transgression/transcendence happen on a subtle, finely detailed plane. It takes more than a few listens to appreciate the songwriting nuances. This is not death metal writ large, but rather….a collection of technical subtleties and rhythmic niceties that would bolster any argument one could make that the evolution of death metal over the past few years has been towards more inward-looking, introspective, self-referential, claustrophilic exploration rather than a projecting outwards of openly emotive/evocative themes. In this sense Emeth are “brutal” because their music refuses your attempts to empathize with its ideas. The music exists because the musicians are supposedly trying to communicate…what? Something…and yet that final message, those “meanings” can not be reached, can they? Even the music itself seems to reject the messages it is being forced to carry, and your pathetic attempts to interpret it. “Insidious” is an album that just doesn’t like you.