Monday, July 14, 2008

Metal and Ritual

...Ritual sacrifice, actually. It's a Nachtmystium song. You should check them out. They rock.

All joking aside, I got a couple of new Zombi albums today, which I am TOTALLY stoked about. Zombi aren't REALLY metal; they're weird, spacey synth-rock that has more in common, musically speaking, with Jean Michel-Jarre or Vangelis than with Agoraphobic Nosebleed or any of their Relapse Records labelmates and contemporaries. Nevertheless, you have to respect a band who are dedicated to reviving the sound of early 80's Giallo horror soundtracks their due as being totally metal, just because they love a genre of horror that is SO weird, you KNOW that they have to be metalhead geekbots.

Anywas, like I was saying, rarely am as excited about new music as I am when I get new vinyl. There's something about purchasing vinyl, especially the way I do it, that is more exciting to me than buying albums on iTunes or even going to Best Buy to pick up a new CD. I think that the experience of vinyl, for me, is about the specific ritual involved with its purchase.

My typical vinyl order starts with a mail-order catalog. Vinyl still exists; it just hides in funny places. Some of these catalogs don't even have an online store, meaning you either have to fill out an old-fashioned catalog mail-order slip (something I haven't done since I was a kid and ordered things out of comic books), or you have to call and speak to a (GASP) actual person, who is inevitably a huge vinyl geek and is as excited, if not more, than you are about your impending vinyl purchase. A representative conversation between me and a mail-order guy follows:

"Hi, I'm calling to order a couple of LPs. I'm looking for Pig Destroyer's 'Prowler In The Yard' and the gatefold Glow-in-the-Dark version of Zombi's 'Cosmos'."

"Oh, really? BITCHIN! Dude, you are going to love this Zombi record. I saw them in Pittsburgh right after 'Surface to Air' came out and the were AWESOME."

"Great man! I also am looking for the red and black spatter pressing of..."

"...'Painter of Dead Girls?'"


"I knew that when you said Pig Destroyer, you'd be looking for that. Everyone is."

"Great! Do you have it?"

"Nope! But I have this sweet purple vinyl pressing of..."

And so on and so forth, until both parties collapse under the crushing pain of nerd aneurysms brought on by too much excited bloodflow to the brain.

Anyways, following this there ensues a period of intensely excited waiting. This is sort of like when you are a kid and you send away for a toy on the side of a cereal box. When that box finally gets there, you rip it open eagerly, discarding packaging materials willy-nilly to get to the precious cargo contained within.

Seriously, I go nuts over new vinyl. It's immediately removed from its shrinkwrap sleeve (which, over time, will shrink and warp the vinyl), and placed lovingly in an upright position next to my vinyl player.

A word about my turntable: The turntable and amplifier that I have are fixtures of my youth. Both belonged to my father and have been around my house in positions of honor since before I was born. As a child, because I was three and basically broke everything I came in contact with, I was absolutely FORBIDDEN to touch the turntable, following an incident wherein I broke the needle while attempting to emulate my father, who regularly played albums by Dire Straits or Bob Seger in the days before CDs were the norm. I was not allowed to touch this piece of equipment again until I was 12, and no longer broke things regularly, and was looking for music that hadn't yet been re-issued on CD. These were years where my father and I would scour record shops looking for first-pressing Frank Zappa LPs or mid-period Rush discs. Hence, the amp and turntable, then relegated to the basement, replaced by newer digital equipment, became a fascination during the awkward throes of my early adolescence.

So now these happy remnants of my youth are in my home, where they are treated with the utmost respect and care, given that they're burgeoning antiques by now (I also have a sweet pair of Koss headphones that have been around since roughly 1975, but those are literally falling apart as the foam surrounds disintegrate with age). Cueing up a new record is always a thrill: carefully placing the disc on the turntable, gently putting the needle down, watching expectantly as it catches and then softly backing away to avoid skips.

And then, the glorious sound of it all! Crackles and bumpss, giving way to a brilliant and vibrant spectrum of sound, the likes of which digital can only emulate, at best. The little imperfections are endearing, like a three-year-old who can't pronounce their "R"s correctly.

I could easily jump on iTunes right now and grab the entire Zombi discography in minutes, but the feeling just isn't the same. There's nothing to hold, no ritual involved, just the click of a mouse and the clatter of keys as I enter a password. The thrill of vinyl is in the ritual: the hunting, the feeling of finding something only a select few know and love, the practiced motions of cueing a record, are all things that I have seen done by my parents and emulated myself for years. This is ritual in the classic sense, handed down from generation to generation.

I've been thinking, though, that maybe why I love metal so much is because of the set of rituals involved with it; that the acts of going to a concert, of buying a new album from a mail-order distro, etc. are all intensely ritualized actions. In the next couple of blogs, I'm going to write about some of these other rituals and attempt to dissect the nature of ritual in metal*. Right now, though, I'm going to go listen to my new Zombi albums.

*Anthro people, feel free to help me out on this one; I'm sorta in the dark here, but I'll do my best. Don't fault me if I'm completely off-base in my observations; I went to music school. I barely know how to spell.


Maddy said...

Ritual exists to deliver humans through transitions in life. I think it's pretty telling that in your last two posts about how important music is to you, your awkward adolescent years are featured prominently. Puberty is one of the most powerful liminal states out there, man.

That's my take, anyway.

caito said...

This isn't the appropriate venue to express this thought, but I really miss you guys right now.