Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stray thoughts from last week - A mental health nightmare

This was a horrifying week. As you could read in my previous post "Retox", I had an outpatient psychiatric nursing service visit me once a week for a few years. Well, about a year ago, there was a problem between the social welfare office which pays for the service, and the service itself, about, as always with the social welfare office, "documents not being handed in completely".

First of all I had no money for all of November for that same reason. Bureaucrat assholes. Second, the social welfare office and the nursing service came to an agreement that the payments would continue, but work would only continue on the social welfare office's terms. And in their infinite wisdom they decided that work should no longer be done by nurses, who in Germany have no college education generally, but by social workers, who studied social work at university. Now I had a very good relationship with my nurse (hi, Harold! (not his real name)), but they decided it wasn't good enough. So a social worker was sent instead.

This week I kicked out the social worker. She kept whining my lovely dog would bite, because my dog barks at strangers. I told her again and again that in over five years my dog has never bitten a human being once, not even another dog. Nothing. No biting. She said it was too dangerous for her to have a barking dog that could bite any second (fuck you, asshole) around, and wanted me to dump it off at my parents' place every time she comes. I told her no. She told me, well, no other worker for the service will ever want to be in that extreme biting danger, either, since my dog has apparently bitten more than half the population of Germany. I told her to fuck off and closed the door. Emailed the service about a replacement who has more than two brain cells in her skull, no response.

So that's it? They cancel a vital service to me because a paranoid lunatic raves about my dog biting, when my dog has never bitten anyone? That's a fucked-up way to treat a human being in need. But I hated her anyway. She kept talking to me in baby language, like I was too stupid to understand a single word she said. I can't handle that. Either treat me as a smart human being with an illness, if I talked to you like a smart human being, which I always did, or get the fuck out, or I'll talk to you like someone from a trash talk show because you deserve it.

No idea what to do now, but that's what you get for life as a mentally ill person in Germany. I have committed no crime, I am certainly not retarded, and yet I am treated as both. Because I have a few panic attacks occasionally but otherwise am like every other normal human being. Going to tear this country apart with my bare teeth one day.

Alcoholism: A love story - Part IV: End of the line - Part II: Retox

With detox done in 2009 as detailed in my previous post, I entered a - by my standards - pretty long period of sobriety, initially with the intention of keeping it that way for the rest of my life. Mind you, alcoholism has a relapse rate of around 95%, but at the time I was confident I was done with the subject because I felt I had enough for a lifetime.

What happened after detox was a long period of attempting to heal. Trying to get my life in order again. Get out of depression and anxiety and panic attacks, start a job, maybe some day a family, anything. I must say that at the time were a number of things. There were my parents who one month after detox showed at my front door with a tiny black puppy and told me they think having a dog would help. It really did, and I love my dog more than anything. Another thing that helped at first was an outpatient psychiatric nursing service that visited me once a week and helped me try to learn doing normal things in my life again.

I went to an inpatient psych ward for two months in 2011, which didn't help one bit, but I met two of my friends there. Went to a day clininc in 2012, which at first helped a lot, but turned out to make me miserable because they left me with nothing to continue my progress with afterwards. I met a very nice girl there I briefly dated, and that's sort of how it started.

She liked to drink alcohol. She never asked me to drink with her or anything and respected my wishes, but at the same time it really got me thinking that I'd really like to be able to drink with people again on rare occasions. So I did an experiment, bought two cans of pre-mixed Jack Daniels and coke, and two bottles of beer, had them for a nice evening just to see what happens. Got a nice buzz, but what I was really curious about was whether or not the next day I would yearn for more, and I didn't. Not the next week, either. They told me since childhood that as a sober alcoholic, you drink one drop and you're all back in full on addiction. That didn't seem so likely anymore. And I talked to doctors about it, and they also told me I could drink normally if I didn't overdo it, and that the whole "one drop and you're back"-thing is nonsense.

So every now and then I would be drinking. About once a month at first. Then occasionally I did more than once. It took about a year of that to realise that there are still times I could go completely out of control and drink heavily for days. That's when the whole thing started to scare me. I will right into a clinic, the schizophrenia ward I have written so much about. But they didn't want to talk about alcohol, to them I was schizophrenic and nothing else.

After the schizophrenia it continued as before. Sometimes once a month, sometimes every week, all normal. Until a few months ago when things began to completely spiral out of my control. That was when the worst thing I ever did happened. I went to a bar with friends in a neighbouring city, planning to go home the same night. But I fell asleep in the bar bathroom, woke up there the next day, and continued drinking. The reason this was the worst thing I have ever done was because all the while my dog, which I love more than anything, was still at home without food and more importantly without walks. I have felt so rotten ever since, and I cannot live with it.

I still continued drinking, for about two months, but that's gonna end for the time being. My dog is just fine in case you wondered it got hurt. But I'm not fine about it.  I can't continue hurting someone I love, and I will try everything in my power to do differently from now on.

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part III: Slayer - South of Heaven

Slayer is one of those bands that is simply great enough to be included in any line-up of greatest bands, yet make it incredibly difficult to pinpoint an album that stands out the most. Sure, the general consensus is that everything from Seasons in the Abyss onward can be washed down the sewers with no one shedding a tear. But that still leaves you with a total of four classic album among which you have to pick out which one is the Slayer album, the one that ascends above the other, the one that soars into the highest heavens of lowest hellishness.

Since you already know my pick from looking a few lines further above, let me give you a quick rundown why the first three did not make the final cut. Show no Mercy certainly has riff after riff (and no mercy) to show for itself, but I must say that, simply put, it is just too upbeat for me. Too "moshing metal maniac" and too "throw the horns and drink the beer(s)". It's fun, yeah, when you're a teenager and just discovered trading recommendations with strangers at concerts where everyone's in leather and spikes, in between the merch stands. That's the kind of album it is, the kind of atmosphere it has to me. A metal party album with not much more behind it. Hell Awaits certainly is evil, and dark, and sinister, and I understand why it is so many people's favourite. But to me it is the polar opposite to Show no Mercy. The first one has all the riffs and none the atmosphere, the second one all the atmosphere but none the riffs. Either of course is an exaggeration, but it gets across my general feeling about the album. Finally, Reign in Blood goes too far on its gimmick to be the fastest thing ever, and aside from select songs has relatively little in the field of memorable riffs or memorable atmosphere. Sure, it's fun to blast and hate the world when you're in the mood, but honestly, because of that one-dimensional character it is my personal least listened to among the classic four.

South of Heaven, in turn, has everything. Everything I ever wanted from a Slayer record, this album has it. Every single note on it seems to be crafted to perfection. The album reeks of riffs, but never seems upbeat. And the album reeks of evil atmosphere, but never lets you down on intensity. Neither is the anger of its predecessor lost on it.

Slayer, here, simply know how to create perfect Slayer songs. It's like they looked at the first three albums and said "okay, we did riffy, we did dark, we did fast, now let's do Slayer." Because if "Slayer" was an adjective, it would describe the entire album. The songs are so incredibly well crafted, taking a good number of different bits for each song and just lining them up as a cohesive and ultimately decimating whole. They do it with such a way that if, for example, a song starts with an evil bit, and it segues to an aggressive one, the evil never fades away. Rather than part-after-part that you'd find on most thrash albums, everything flows into each other perfectly, everything becomes an integral part of a whole. And the whole is ultimate Slayer. The fictional adjective. And the noun.

And it's not like they just did bits and pieces of their previous works into some kind of mosaic of the past. The amazing thing is how the whole thing sounds completely refreshing simply by how much it transcends earlier outings. Here, they create an atmosphere that has never been there before, with a large set of riffs that showed a whole new side of them, and that probably no one expected.

This band's first four album should however be enjoyed as a whole, as each single one is essential. But if you are looking for utimate Slayer, this is your go-to record.

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part II: Mayhem - Deathcrush

In an ideal world, no list of best metal records of all time should go without a prominent mention of Mayhem's debut mini-album, because its overwhelming quality is not a subjective impression but an objective fact. A record of this magnitude hadn't happened in its field until the point it was released, and it certainly was never reached in quality and impact, neither by the band itself nor the thousands that followed. Like an alignment of all eight planets in the solar system in one straight line, this record is one of the rarest of occurances where just the right elements were combined by just the right people in just the right way at just the right time. If perfection in black metal had a name, Deathcrush would be it.

There is something uniquely feral about this mini-album, as if the musicians involved had been set out into the wild at early childhood with a set of musical instruments, and this record was the result of their channelling the lifeforce of the rugged Norwegian landscapes and the essence of the hardships endured trying to survive in such an unforgiving environment on next to nothing with only their primal instincts and an iron will to endure as tools at their disposal. This record typifies the strength of character necessary to survive in the Norwegian outback far away from civilisation far more than any release made by a Norwegian band in the 1990s or later, because it is so much more primitive in nature, and much more in tune with just how inhospitable Norway is away from human settlements.

And they really couldn't have picked a better introduction for the savagery they would unleash. "Silvester Anfang", as many of you know, is a piece by experimental/noise music pioneer and former Tangerine Dream member Conrad Schnitzler, who was contacted by the band for an introduction, and submitted this piece as his unique interpretation of the type of music they play on this mini-album. The result not only emphasises the feral nature of the music as a whole, but gives it a character far darker than the imagery I painted in my previous paragraph, as if this is not the work of human children set out in the deep forests for the entirety of their lifetime, but orcs from a fantasy realm such as Tolkien's, or, far more accurately, Morlocks from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, living in the bowels of the Earth as the most brutal of savages, feasting on the flesh of their fair counterparts that once were their fellow human beings.

The thought of feral Norwegians recording a mini-album with no human contact prior, with the savagery of Morlocks, it gives me the chills, and so does the music found on this release. There is no other drummer in metal who's drumming I can describe as "tribal" as Manheim's, like the pounding in a death ritual of some rainforest tribe on Borneo. There's a certain marginally off-beat quality to it that makes it sound more like a group of individuals playing one part of the kit each rather than one person playing the kit alone. This tribal feeling is amplified by the heavy use of the toms, as well as the quality of the drum recording which has a strong feel of being done in a dense forest in the middle of nowhere. This really sets the tone for the feeling I described in earlier paragraphs, and it perhaps one of the defining characteristics of this record.

It is perhaps most fitting that the bass sounds like a form of war drum itself, having a quality more pounding and percussive than you would expect from a string instrument. Rather than a backing provider of melody as you'd find on any regular metal album around the same time in history, it punches the rhythms through your eardrums as if the instrument of a great orc army aiming to pound fear into the hearts of their enemies on the eve of battle.

The guitars themselves provide all the melody, and they are likely the element of the music most in tune with the analogy of feral children left deep in the forest with only a musical instrument and nothing other but their wits to survive. They grind at you like both the anguish felt by being abandoned and not knowing whether or not you'd survive each new day, and the triumph of having overcome this challenge. They are more than mere metal riffs, they are raw expressions of that raw, feral anger felt by such an abandoned child, and the strength of character it has built through mastering this most hostile of environments. In such a way, they are the most true metal riffs ever written, the most honest, the most brutal, the most unforgiving, and the most triumphant.

Vocally we are treated to shrieks and howls which round off the whole experience. Almost like an afterthought, they integrate smoothly into the inhuman inferno unleashed by the instruments they are backing. Like celebrations of the glory of the ritual performed at the hands of these inhuman creatures. It is the combination of all these elements into one grand performance that really matters. Something that transcends anything civilised, anything with the classic understanding of trained musicians in a disciplined environment. This is how music today may sound if all higher culture had never came to exist, and merely the technology for musical instruments had advanced.  Music that forgets the last thousands of years of musical development and instead celebrates a ritual of the utmost primitive, and thereby utmost primal.

Of the vague top ten in this review series, this is easily a contender for the top spot. One of the brightest (or darkest) beacons of what metal music is capable.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Alcoholism: A love story - Part IV: End of the line - Part I: Detox

Back in summer 2009 when my drinking habit was so extreme and the physical dependency so bad that each day was constant suffering, I reached this point at which I decided life like that was no longer worth living. So I committed suicide. Well, actually I didn't, I'm still here, but I did the next best thing: Decided it was time for a change.

Getting into a detox clinic is actually easy as pie. You go to a doctor, say you need to go to detox, get a referral to a hospital, then call there, talk about what you need for a few minutes, then call every day before 10am or so to ask if a bed is available. I did that for about a week, then the nurse at the phone told me to pack my stuff and come over. It's actually kind of amazing that I remember the daily phonecalls, as I don't remember getting the referral or packing my stuff, but I know I did those two things. Life was extremely weird for my memory back then, something either stuck or it didn't. But I digress. I sort of packed stuff and asked my mother if she would kindly drive me there, though not before I had a good number of morning drinks, because I was scared and needed to calm myself. She agreed, and off I went.

I know somehow I ended up in the hospital and some talking to the nurses was done, of which I remember nothing. I do remember I was tested with 0.25% blood alcohol, which seems accurate for my mornings. Had I arrived in the evening the number might have been a tad more over the top. I know I somehow got into the room I would sleep in for the coming two weeks and my stuff ended up there, too, but again memory of that escapes me. After that, things began to clear up a lot though...

...and I don't mean that in a good way. For alcohol, you can quit cold turkey, but there is a risk of death because withdrawal simply overwhelms your body. So it is generally recommended to use a mix of drugs to help keep your body somewhat settled so that you can quit without the risk of death. This mix of drugs does not actually make the withdrawal any less excruciating (despite the generous amount of sedatives), but it keeps you alive, and at the time I sort of thought that was a good thing. The big problem is that these drugs also interact with alcohol, so they are not supposed to be given above a blood alcohol level of 0.08%. And THAT was the really hard part. Because as you know, I suffer from heavy panic attacks already, that's why I did the drinking in the first place, and alcohol withdrawal strongly amplifies the panic attacks, which is why I wanted to quit drinking. But the time span in between the 0.25% I came in with and the 0.08% I needed was one of the worst times of my life, because I literally thought I was dying the whole time. I couldn't breathe worth shit, and I couldn't feel my heartbeat, my head experienced the strangest sensations and numerous parts of my body went numb at irregular intervals. Add some serious chills to that and you just know this is what you feel when your life comes to a slow and horrifying end.

When the time came for me to get the mix of drugs, which felt like eternity and left me feeling like a wreck, it was quite a liberating experience, because while the sedatives didn't do all that much, the mere fact that something was given to me had a very calming effect for me at the time. I still had bad panic attacks after that, but the most horrifying part was over, I felt like I was being taken care of and not left to die. That kind of describes the rest of the day after the excruciating first hours: A lot of  panic attacks, but a somewhat calming feeling of being in a hospital and being taken care of.

The next few days were more of the same but in different intervals. The panic attacks were no longer as frequent as to completely prevent me from going outside for a smoke and talking to other patients regularly, which made things a lot easier, and while my drugs were gradually reduced I got the feeling of my body settling down into a state that could be managed. The only big issue was that the doctor at the ward clearly didn't know what he was doing as he prescribed me 10mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) for my panic attacks, which I know now is the most ridiculously low dosage of one of the most ridiculously ineffecient antidepressants.

The remainder of that week got a little better every day, still with panic attacks, but no longer those extreme ones you get from alcohol withdrawal but the "standard" ones I as a person with panic disorder just have. Then after a week we had one of those days you just don't want to experience in detox, with a suffocating 37C with high humidity. That's really bad timing, nature! Unfortunately for me that ended up in my having an epileptic seizure. You know, it's not uncommon for people in booze detox to experience seizures, but when I first talked to the doctor when I got into the clinic he said it was prevented in 99% of all cases. So yeah, I'm officially a one-percenter (just had to do that reference). For me, it was really no big deal, I don't remember it, you never do. But it meant staying another week, and it sure as hell frightened my mother who was visiting when I had the seizure. They did a lot of tests on my brain anyway, and I am told that I am not epileptic and that I will probably never again have a seizure, and to this point I never did, so all is well.

Really, overall it was mostly a boring experience, so for all of you who are reading this and currently drinking heavily, but too scared of detox I can say it really isn't all that bad. The big catch really is the first day, and you just know a day like that feels like eternity. But if you would rather kill yourself slowly than make it through one horrible day, that's kind of a backwards logic. I think dying from liver failure might be a tad more awful than one day of a continuous and horrifying panic attack, besides the fact that the latter is indeed horrifying, it is over the next day and you're alive. I wouldn't want to repeat the experience, but it certainly was a thousand times better a decision than the alternative.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

A punk rock story - Part II: In memory of Erdélyi Tamás

So yesterday it happened. Erdélyi Tamás, better known as Tommy Ramone, the last remaining founding member of The Ramones, has passed away following a hopeless battle with bile duct cancer. You know how way back in the early 80s Crass claimed that punk is dead, and how The Exploited quickly and rightfully countered that it is indeed not? Well, yesterday things have edged a little closer to Crass' side, as punk has died a little, suffering the loss of the last remnants of a vital organ that was instrumental in pulsing life through every fiber of its body in the very early days, long before I was even alive.

If you asked me what my favourite Ramones song was, I couldn't answer. I hardly even know a handful of their titles, they never struck a chord with me. But I know very well that without them, countless bands I love and cherish would never have been the same. It's like as a lifelong metalhead I know hardly anything about the proto-metallic hard rock band of the late 60s/early 70s that were instrumental to the development of great acts such as Black Sabbath or Judas Priest, it is enough for me to know the legacy their work has inspired. The Ramones in turn were so instrumental in shaping a whole loud, raunchy and rebellious subculture by never stopping short of hitting harder than anyone else in their time, that to not appreciate their legacy you have to be either deaf, dumb or blind.

When Joey Ramone passed away in 2001, Jello Biafra dedicated one of his infamous spoken word pieces to how he first attended a Ramones show at a young age. No one thought anyone could be this loud or positively off the hinge as they were at their peak, and the mere impression alone of showing a young generation how you can take loud and rebellious music to a new level unlike anything heard before was enough to shape a generation of young musicians that would themselves revolutionise the passive and sedate idea of counter-culture the hippie movement left prior. Peace and love was over, it was time to desecrate the status quo.

As someone who is a lifelong and perpetual metalhead, and who views punk rock not as a personal lifestyle but a force of nature metal itself owes an eternal debt to, it may not be my place to say what it means or doesn't mean to the subculture itself, but it can very well be assumed that without the initial impact of The Ramones, and the further explosion destructiveness delivered by those directly influenced by them, so many of the greatest developments not only in extreme metal - starting right there with Metallica, who may or may not have ended up sounding more like Deep Purple and Judas Priest with added speed - but in subversive art in general could never have happened the way they did. Whether your drive to rot society from the inside to make way for a new world comes from Napalm Death, Slayer, Darkthrone, Demilich, Godflesh, D.R.I., Morbid Angel, or hell, even Burzum, none of that would ever have come to be the way it did without The Ramones breaking so many of the barriers so long ago.

So today, after the last remaining founding members of this great band - not a personal favourite, but great nonetheless - has departed from this world it has bid to pound to dust, let us all remember what a great debt we owe to these guys and show our respect for their work, their legacy and the sheer power of what they did. Rest in piece, Tommy, along with your three long-gone bandmates, we'll keep it loud and heavy for you today!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Ten of the best metal albums of all time - Part I: Sempiternal Deathreign - The Spooky Gloom

Many people track back the origins of death/doom metal to either or both Paradise Lost's slowing down the ugly death metal that swept over from overseas on their debut and Winter's apocalyptic deadening-up (opposite of livening-up, if you've never heard the term before it's because I just made it up) their massive Celtic Frost influences. And rightfully so, these two bands really got this sub-subgenre kicking and provided a template for following bands to expand and transcend, or in some cases merely imitate. That does not mean, however, that there weren't some early pioneers going for a similar approach. These must not be considered more influential because they did their stuff earlier, like some historical revisionists would have you believe, but looking back from the mid 2010s to the late 1980s they can give you a good insight into how young musicians approached the idea of coalescing death and doom metal influences into a new style of music.

Alongside Americans Dream Death, who basically took a Celtic Frost template and injected a little more of a death/thrash type of aggression into the heavy parts while slowing down and expanding on the slow parts, Sempiternal Deathreign from the Netherlands is most likely the closest to proper death/doom metal the 1980s ever came. They might actually have had their share of influence on later bands, as a whole slew of Dutch death/doom bands would follow in similar footsteps, and it is possible that even Asphyx might have been familiar with them and drawn ideas from them. Outside of the Netherlands, however, I don't know if there were all too many people familiar with them before the rise of the internet made them all the more accessible.

Sempiternal Deathreign, completely lacking any advance knowledge of what death/doom metal was supposed to sound like by 1990s standards due to their limited psychic abilities, crafted a sound that was unlike anything else at the time and is unmatched to this day. Not content with simply slowing down parts of the death/thrash that was so prevalent in the underground in the 1980s, they are one of the few examples of bands to play what I call "literal death/doom", as in literally taking influences from both death metal (in its mid-to-late 1980s shape and form) and traditional doom metal, rather than just the former with an emphasis on slow parts. In fact, the traditional doom metal influences on this album have such a strong 1970s sound to them that they couldn't be further from "slow death metal". It's kind of hard to pinpoint the exact sources, as my knowledge of 1970s music is thankfully limited, though Black Sabbath is always a safe bet. But quite frankly, many note progressions in this album's atmospheric doomy parts, such as the guitar solos in the opener and closer, or the opening riff of "Devastating Empire Towards Humanity" (after the intro), remind me a lot more Flower Travellin' Band's Japanese interpretation of Black Sabbath's sound. Whether this is a direct influence, or whether the Dutch and the Japanese simply interpret Black Sabbath in a similar way (with the Dutch you never know), I do not know, but it's the closest comparison I can make. Some of the more meaty doom parts in which the rhythm guitar dominates also have a Pentagram feel to them, and there are a number of bits and pieces that might not have looked out of place on a Witchfinder General album.

But no matter what their direct influences were, they most certainly succeed at giving this album a unique hazy feel, like something you would hear in a morbid hippie commune intent on murdering Hollywood stars, had the hippie movement extended its reach into the 1980s. What really drives this image home is the sheer viciousness and malevolence of the equally important death/thrash type of parts. Sort of a cross between early Slayer and Possessed after one too many cups of coffee, they rampage through your speakers like the Tasmanian devil on the worst choleric fit of his life. That the band is not as tight as aforementioned American professionals (though not sloppy in any way, either) further enhances this feeling, as if the whole band is literally releasing all the pent-up rage of a lifetime. What really helps drive this point home is that the vocalist sounds completely off the hinge in a way that was far ahead of its time and probably is without match to this day. I can sort of compare it to Pestilence's/Asphyx's Martin van Drunen or whoever does the high-pitched vocals for Macabre, but much more honest and far less gimmicky than either. I can't help shake the mental image of the crazy, long-haired guy from Police Academy when I listen to his performance, he literally sounds like he has all screws loose in his head, and a few extra in his pocket. The way this is laid over the frantic blasting of the drums and the often nearly grindcore-like buzzsawing of the guitars makes these parts deliciously barbaric.

However, it would matter little how great the doomy parts and the fast parts are individually if they were put together poorly. And this is really why I praise this album so highly, because the songwriting, the crafting of a uniform whole from the disparate parts is impeccable and nothing short of amazing. There never is one transition which does not exhibit a coherent flow, parts go from one to another seamlessly and show an effortless talent for musical storytelling, taking the listener on an emotional journey from low to high and back again without any of the shifts in mood ever feeling abrupt or out of place. The forgivable horror camp of the lyrics aside, I feel myself transported into the world of prehistoric barbarians, with scenes of battle and scenes of pre-religious spiritual experiences showing different sides of their lives.

In essence, this is a perfect album to lean back and enjoy the experience. But it does not end there, as it is just as perfect for many other purposes you would want a metal album for, such as having a few beers with friends, or living out some pent-up emotions, or simply appreciate just how amazing this form of art can be. It is one of the most "complete" metal album I know in this regard, as there is not a time or situation in which I would find it inappropriate to play. An absolute classic in metal history, and the history of death/doom metal in particular. And an essential purchase, should you find a decently-priced copy. If not, be glad that we live in a time in which every classic is being reissued, and that this album may hit the market in an all new version soon!