Serious commentary on horror and how it relates to new bands that matter.


Horizons and Dreams Versus Merchants of Fallacy

Heavy Metal music is rebellious, highly technical, and gratuitously loud. It has survived all the pop-genres otherwise altering the mainstream through the years, almost like a steady electrical current on a different wavelength. Still, it remains the foundational element that provides definition and proportion to those shifting and fleeting trends that would light up the sky for a hot minute, then blow off like tumbleweeds, weightless, skeletal, and forgettable.

Undoubtedly, metal has always been there for the long haul, in the concrete, the substrate, the floorboards, and the I-Beams. It might not make many appearances on the Billboard Top 100, and it could very well be treated as a cheap ghost at the Grammys until the end of time, but one thing is for sure…you can’t stop it, you can’t kill it, and fans will keep coming to those outdoor festivals, all mud and combat boots, hippies and Harley’s, that shit is supposed to happen, just ask WikkedLiss of WikkedChikRadio247, spinning new and classic metal all day and all night like that die hard townie who refuses to let the bandstand in the park deteriorate or the dancehall in the town square get torn down for condos.

Mindshift 1600x800Metal is our constant, our rock (pardon the pun) and common denominator, but this in no way means that it has been stagnant or predictable since Black Sabbath came out with their debut album in 1970 and shocked the world. In fact, anyone who believes “all metal looks and sounds the same” just ain’t looking or listening very hard, and for the sake of brevity I won’t commit here to a comprehensive description or detailed history of the evolution of metal in all its genres, sub-genres, and off-shoots, even though I have my many personal favorites in each and every one of them. More generally, however, it is rather enjoyable to consider the face paint, leather, studs, pyro-technics, quadruple humbuckers, Marshall stacks, masks, chains, tattoos, power chords, long hair, mo-hawked hair, no hair, spandex jump suits, pouty poses, sweet vocals, hard-ass vocals, double drums, multiple toms, boots, belts, skulls, medieval candles, shining Flying V’s, mic stands with silk rags, mic stands with spikes, mosh pits, motorcycles, makeup, and madness.

It’s a show, a celebration that reminds us of the very best of times, when we were young and headstrong and reckless and wired. That being said, there is an awesome and paradoxical dichotomy that often exists within the construct of Metal, in that it draws a certain potency from the reserves of our formative years (whether we are currently experiencing them or looking back), while simultaneously addressing complex world issues we face as adults. On scholarly grounds then, metal lives in strange contradiction and could be therefore seen as enigmatic or even nonsensical. Poetically however, it dares to dance hard and heavy with the thickest of darkness, and this is as universal, ageless, and relevant as you can get. If there is something youthful, impractical, and wild about that, so be it. If you’d rather use music as background to relax to, or space to, or paint lovely background mosaics so things look quaint and posh and pretty and tamed, go right on ahead. The Metal-Heads surely won’t mind. They are too busy feeling the vibe in the concrete, the substrate, the floorboards, and the I-Beams, dancing, shouting, head-banging, and living large, raw, and hard.

Like we all used to do.

These issues considered, the melodic deathcore metal band Mindshift has tapped into youth, naiveté, and a daring world-view with their album “Horizon,” that which brings us to a place of literal and emblematic introspection both beautiful and frightening. Mindshift, one of the newer bands on the Eclipse record label, is made up of Johan Lund on guitars, Marcus “Mao” Uggla on vocals, and Fabien “Fabz” Perreau on drums, and before entertaining more cerebral commentary, it should be said up front that this project is musically outstanding right down where it counts in the trenches, featuring a rhythm section (as is an Eclipse trademark) of guitar, bass, and drums that is air-tight and ultimately satisfying. And the old school metal fans will especially enjoy this particular project’s seeming preference not only for those wicked hummingbird 16ths on the double bass drums, but a thick dose of back beat grooves cut to halves, loaded with “wow,” and bolstered by massive power-chords and power-notes heavy with balls and bottom.

Instrumentally, Mindshift also explores terrain of surprise and variety, inserting clever dramatic pauses (as evident in My Revenge), glorious and complicated fills and breaks (Absolution), and a taste of absolute metal-funk (A Thousand Scars), making listeners feel it “in the heart and the hips,” as label-mate Tito Quinones of Saint Diablo would say. Vocally, there are often background harmonies so ethereal one would swear the audible tapestry reaches a level of spirituality, and Marcus “Mao” Uggla does a phenomenal job meeting what seems the current standard for vocalists in new hard music, executing an enormous, throaty death growl in the verses (mostly) and a heart-felt, traditional vocal in the chorus. It is Mao’s visual presence, auditory stylistics, and lyrics however, that not only set this band apart from other metal projects, but add fresh colors and banners to one of the tragic themes introduced to us by Ernest Hemingway back in the early part of the twentieth century.

To be blunt, Mao looks young and startlingly innocent despite the rough and tumble wife-beater he wears in the “Horizon” official music video and the multiple tattoos he’s pattered his arms with. He is by all means “for real,” but he has a baby-face, complimented by a traditional vocal so pure and adolescent, we might expect at first that we would more commonly hear it fronting projects like The Jonas Brothers or One Direction.

All part of the plan.

To think Mao, the band, and the label unaware of this would be naïve on our parts indeed. Not only have they all created a brand most original and rather unprecedented, but those involved with this bold project are clearly all in, musically, visually, and thematically. The album, as said, is called “Horizon,” used as a signpost for youth and the power and heartbreak of developing world vision, as Mao asks himself in the title track, “What will it take for this horizon to stay?”

Clearly, this is the idealistic voice of the child, not realizing the fluidity (and transience) of this kind of beauty, thinking it dependable and stationary, like an old portrait or favored plaything always returned to one specific place. He will soon realize that the horizon is a mirage, changing with time itself and additionally spawning multitudes of interpretations, literally as the observer himself grows taller, and metaphorically as he gains psychological and societal perspective.

There is also the idea that chasing a horizon is no more than a doomed venture, since every step initiates a new horizon equally distant and unique. And if Mao merely sang about the idea that chasing dreams is a fool’s game, we could certainly appreciate the surface representation. Dreams are wonderful ideas, even essential at times, but one of life’s hardest and most necessary lessons might very well be that one has to tailor aspirations at some point to those that are actually attainable. Again, this rather primary issue in the model Mindshift proposes does indeed make a good deal of sense, causing us to question the real-life possibilities of dreams, and the fact that the way they are promoted often instigates damaging fallacies.

Personally, I have never been a fan of the misleading adage, “You can do anything if you try hard enough,” even though I would instinctively celebrate the idea for its spirit of intent as a sort of general motivation. Still, it is the mathematical absolute presented here and the impossibility of its translating to any sort of logical or consistent fruition that bothers me, especially the way parents and educators seem to use these hyperbolic and unrealistic maxims more to keep kids focused, quiet, and sitting still than projecting the real potential of their actual abilities. Harmless hyperbole? Maybe. But kids take things at first glance and face value, don’t they?

Ok, fine. We all basically knew this anyway, deep down at least, admittedly adding under our breath with every exaggerated encouragement that the NBA might not be a realistic ambition, stardom is not a practical idea, and you might as well stop thinking about Harvard, at least with those SAT scores. We’re not stupid. We provide a blend of advice, some of it story-book fluff and at times nothing other than the hard bottom line, and if Mindshift wanted us to stop feeding kids false motivation altogether, it would be rather easy to shrug our shoulders, say, Yeah, what the fuck,” and toss out the old sayings, start telling the truth about Santa, and break the habit of succumbing to the trendy social pressure that we give out participation trophies and tell kids they are talented when all they really have is a bit of flamboyance.

But that’s not all Mindshift illustrates here.

Lyrics in the title track also claim the representative child here is “Being tied to one special thing like ropes around [his] life.” This is not speaking to caregivers tossing around false encouragement and random compliments. This is a finger in the face. This is about tyrannical parents imposing difficult ideals and their own broken dreams on impressionable offspring, usually in the form of one of those improbable castles in the air reflecting spotlights and stardust: the mother who forces her daughter to take ballet classes even though they make her back ache and her feet hurt, or the father who gets his ten year old batting lessons based on micro-mechanics, then films him hitting three hundred balls off the tee each night in the basement and lectures him for having an elbow a quarter-inch off or letting his shoulder fly open, then signing him up for little league, tournament travel, and two AAU teams that play year round, watching each of the kid’s at-bats with wide eyes and fingers curled tight in the fencing, ready to give it to him hard in the car on the way home and punish him if he strikes out on the same pitch twice or rolls one over to the shortstop because he transferred his weight and committed too soon.

“On these broken legs I stand fighting,” Mao says.

Horizon music video - Mindshift 04 534x800

If we take this to the extreme, it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to connect the idea with the horror movie Misery (1990), where we have the mad (and mothering) ex-nurse literally break her prisoner’s feet with a sledge hammer because he alters the “horizon” she envisions for him (she discovers he had killed off a character in a romance series he was writing, because he felt his heroine had gone stale. It is the nurse’s favorite protagonist, and she forces him to rewrite it).  Of course, on a rather crude and rudimentary level, this works as a figurative parallel. The parent forces the child to stay focused on one horizon, stunting his or her growth and mobility, and therefore erasing variety and choice in terms of hobbies and extra-curricular activities. I would argue however, that there is another aspect to this, a haunting one.

In this module, the idea of breaking the legs and roping one in place links effortlessly with being made to stare straight into the blaze of a horizon (or adulthood) that parents would force their children to embrace before their time, and I am not just referring to ballet, baseball, and romances with or without fairytale endings. I am talking about rites of passage that surpass games and safe works of fiction. Not to pun or play this as coy, I would argue here that Ernest Hemingway’s revolutionary debut work In Our Time (1925) speaks directly to this idea, in that children are not “little adults,” but impressionable beings crying out to their demanding parents that they will only be ready for adult horizons in their own time.

To be textually specific about this collection of short stories and the way it ties in with Mindshift’s paradigm, I would present to you the idea that Hemingway’s lead character Nick Adams struggles to manage his youth while constantly being thrust into adult situations he isn’t quite ready for. As a young boy, he is forced to watch his father perform a C-Section on a Native American woman, and then witness her husband’s suicide (Indian Camp). He is given access to liquor and guns when he is too immature to even look in a mirror and understand the image looking back at him (The Three Day Blow), he is thrown off a train and threatened at knifepoint in the woods when he is too green to be out wandering the countryside on his own in the first place (The Battler), and he is made to go to war when barely out of his teens (Italicized Pre-Chapter 6). The result, which directly connects to Mindshift’s lyrics, is that his legs are made useless, “Nick sat against the wall of the church where they had dragged him to be clear of machine-gun fire in the street. Both legs stuck out awkwardly. He had been hit in the spine” (Hemingway 63).

Of course, a sniper could have gotten him, but the more likely scenario would be that Nick was too inexperienced to be there in the first place, and he was running away, forced into cowardice. The “parent” in this scenario is his country, and while Nick has reached the horizon in that “The sun shone on his face” (63), he was been tragically discarded by this uncaring national patriarch, only to be acknowledged for his efforts by another disillusioned (and wounded) metaphorical child, “Rinaldi was a disappointing audience” (63).

The horizon Mindshift sings about is not uni-dimensional. It is all around us in a terrifying 360, just as the video has the band performing within a ring of ever-changing neon lines, like futuristic prison bars, flickering on and off. We are forced into these arenas of harsh masculinity and overly experienced femininity long before we are seasoned to the task, and we are held to impossible standards by those who have long lost the ability to see the beauty and wonder of youth. And when we finally realize that the horizon is no more than a mirage and a lie we get Mao’s pain and anger, his massive death growl, and like the heartbreaking character of Nick Adams, the boyish voice struggling to be heard in a landscape already luring him into the blur, the status-quo, and the death of idealism.  

Michael Aronovitz has always loved hard rock music, and fronted a heavy metal band that played Philadelphia and New Jersey clubs in the mid 80’s. He is a Professor of English and currently co-hosts a radio talk show linking horror and new metal called “The Wikked Goblet of Horror” with DJ WikkedLiss on her station WCR247 WikkedChikRadio.

Aronovitz’s latest novel titled Phantom Effect was just released February 2nd, 2016 through Night Shade Books.

Past Publications:

Seven Deadly Pleasures (collection), 2009

The Voices in Our Heads (collection), 2014

Alice Walks (novel), 2013

The Witch of the Wood (novel), 2014



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