Tau Cross’ second album ‘Pillar Of Fire’: contemporary history of the world in 2017 as hybrid Metal music

In June 2015, I published a reflection on multinational ‘supergroup’ Tau Cross’ (with members of Voivod and Amebix) eponymous first album. To me, it appeared to be a reflection of the world in 2015, which already knew developments of crisis in economies, politics, migration scenarios and many other areas of culture and their discourses. I coined their music a brand of ‘new music for a new age’ – but, this phrase and description was followed by a question mark. I was not effectively sure, from a cultural historian’s point of view, whether and how their postulate of ‘newness’ in music, meaning most of all cultural innovation, was really producing innovative patterns of culture.

My uncertainty stemmed from my analysis of the band’s music and discourse. Actually, I came to the conclusion that Tau Cross created a new form of music, and celebrated an innovative cultural-historical discourse. Yet, they used known and well-known elements from different subgenres of Rock and Metal music to create their own hybrid sound. This comprised artistical elements, in both music and lyrics, from Thrash Metal, Punk and Hardcore Punk, Crust, and Folk Music.The most distinctive and hence element that ‘bracketed together’ their music and discourse together were Rob ‘The Baron’ Smith’s unique, monotonous rough vocals.

This cultural mode of production in Metal music, hybridizing elements from Thrash Metal, Punk and Hardcore Punk, Crust, and Folk Music, writing apocalyptic and doomy, most dark lyrics, gave birth to Tau Cross’ own message in discourse. Their singer’s rasp voice was the perfect medium to perform and tell this picture and allegory of the world in 2015: basically, this message was one of hybridity and mélange – to cope with the difficulties of 2015, meant to perform an eclectic set of mind in the construction of identities.

According to Tau Cross’ discourse of cultural history of the world in 2015, to live positively, or to at least be able to survive, one needed to construct an identity which accepted and tolerated facets of belief, behavior, rules, ethics and politics from very different sources. It was a message of existential postmodernism, of relativism, liquidity and an ever-changing flux of identities in which their discourse saw a fitting modus vivendi for 2015.1

However, this was their discourse  of Metal music in 2015. In 2017, Tau Cross released their second album ‘Pillar Of Fire’.2 Again this is a very allegoric and metaphorical title which can be intepreted in many different, positive and/or negative ways. Taken that their debut from 2015 was a statement to cope with the then world by promoting hybrid identities, what is their current discourse about, analyzed from a cultural-historical point of view? The years since then have changed the world – we face Donald Trump as the president of the United States, the ongoing negotiations on the ‘Brexit’ in Europe, globally the rise of right-wing populism and the spread of terrorism.

Is hybridity, or maybe an even greater relativsm and hybridity, in the shape of irony or nihilism, today’s message in ‘Pillar Of Fire’s discourse? At the moment, because of the record’s very mythological and metaphorically open lyrics3, and its very recent release, having only gotten a part of its expectable reception, we do not know exactly. But we can assume that the album’s title track, for it is the song that performs the album’s title-message, contains its discourse’s main narrative:

Oh no, they’re burning their Gods again, the sacred and the profane
A pillar of fire

My my, its crawling beneath my skin. The visions are crowding in
My Heaven and Hell
From the garden of the dawn, to the ocean night

All is said and all is done
And nothing new beneath our sun
All we built and all we knew
Is turned to dust, just me and you
Falling through the universe

Hey hey, the Gods have all gone away
The people have learned to pray
To a pillar of fire
And these dark cathedral spires, point like fingers to the skies
Accusingly accusingly, accusingly, the question always why

I’m looking down, at a body on a table looking up
I’m looking down at the body on the table…looking up
And all we are is held by silver thread
Sewn into the earth, sent back to the dead.4

The lyrics open with the phrase ‘Oh no, they’re burning their Gods again, the sacred and the profane. A pillar of fire (…)’. So, a pillar of fire, is a fire which burns the world’s gods. Gods can be conservative and overcome policies, morals, religions, in a nutshell: worn-out identities. Supposed, in 2017 our culture seems to burn its old identites, it afterwards has to generate new ones. How to find or construct these new ones, in 2017’s world of terrorisms, fear, populism and crisis? Maybe we just have to read on to find the answer, according to Tau Cross:

All is said and all is done
And nothing new beneath our sun
All we built and all we knew
Is turned to dust, just me and you
Falling through the universe.5

If there is nothing new beneath our sun, there are only old and used things of culture – like Thrash Metal which has been there since the early 1980s; like Punk, Hardcore and Crust which stem from even the decade before; like Folk Rock which became succesful in the 1960s. Yet, again Tau Cross hybridize their elements of identities very conservatively – again Rob Miller’s vocals shape their discursive leitmotiv. What does that mean? In 2017, still and even more radical, Tau Cross emphasize postmodernist ‘hybridism’ to be the way of cultural choice. We have to build a ‘pillar of fire’ in which to burn our old identities – just to build new ones from new ways of combinations.


  1. Cf. Zygmunt Bauman, Liquid Modernity, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2000. 

  2. Cf. Tau Cross, Pillar Of Fire, Relapse Records, released 21/07/2017. 

  3. Cf. ibid. 

  4. Source: ‘Pillar Of Fire’, released on ibid. 

  5. Source: Ibid. 

Metal Music Studies go global: academic boundaries, ties and identities

From June 6th to June 16th 2017, I had a rather long travel: from Graz, Austria, to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; then heading over to Norwich, Great Britain, and finally going back to Graz. In Victoria, at the University of Victoria (UVIC), I had the immense pleasure to be a part of the International Society for Metal Music Studies’ (ISMMS) 2017 conference, devoted to the topic of ‘Boundaries and Ties: the Place of Metal Music in Communities’. Over three exciting days, scholars, musicians and practitioners from all over the world, had intriguing talks on different facets and aspects of the liaison dangereuse between the local and the global in Metal culture.

Many talks focussed on Extreme Metal culture. My own talk took up the topic of one of my blogposts from 2016. I tried to conceptually come to the terms with the relationship between globalization and localization in Metal culture, taking the Metal on the Hill 2016 Extreme Metal festival as an empirical example. After the conference on Metal in Canada,  I flew straight to London, passing on to Norwich where I had a talk at the annual conference of the Research Network on the History of the Idea of Europe, devoted to the subject of ‘Europe and the East: Self and Other in the History of the European Idea‘.

(Re-)Reflecting on this ten days, flying almost over 20.000 kilometers and having scientific talks on two very different topics, on two continents, in front of two very different academic communities, I do not want to analyze or present my talks themselves. Much more, to me, the interesting aspect of this (rather exhausting) trip is how it happened: a cultural historian from Graz, Austria, who normally teaches und publishes on European Union Cultural History, left his European (home-)continent to fly to another continent, Northern America, where he gave a talk on his local Metal scene.

After this ‘breaching’ of my used geographical, thus spatial and temporal, even topical boundaries in academic discourse, I went back to my home-continent (after the ‘Brexit’, I still consider Britain to be a part of Europe) to have a talk on my home-topic of EU studies. I feel, this is a very interesting combination of spatial and temporal structures of discourse in itself. What happened?

As a scholar of the rather ‘conservative’ and ‘established’ field of EU studies, I left behind my used academic  territory of the ‘EU scholar’, also leaving the continent linked to this discourse (Europe). By flying to Canada, I spatially and temporally ‘stripped’ myself of my ‘EU scholar’- videntity and literally dressed up in the clothes of a ‘Metal Music Studies scholar’: when speaking in Victoria, I wore a Metal t-shirt of German band ‘Tranquillizer’.

1

In a nutshell, this on a first glance rather mundane process of breaching temporal, spatial and identitary boundaries can tell us something important about scientific discourses in general, and Metal Music Studies as a discourse of its own. (1) First, it shows very clearly that scientific discourses (like EU studies) are closely linked to spatial and temporal contexts. Most of all, EU studies as a discourse, takes place in Europe itself, and the identity of the ‘EU scholar’ is tied to his subject-continent.

(2) Second, Metal Music Studies as an  emerging scientific discourse had the power to make me break my usual boundaries in academia. It made me go to North America, leaving Europe behind, and somehow even forced me to strip off my used scholar’s identity. This is a very symbolical hint at the often subtle transgressive power of Metal: it pushes forward to transgress existing boundaries, something Keith Kahn-Harris tried to capture in his concept of ‘Metal beyond Metal’.

This leads to a simple yet exciting thought and argument which needs much more further reflection and work on it: Metal Music Studies implements the globalizing and identity-shaping potential  of Metal (‘Metal beyond Metal’) into academia. It is not only mere scientific reflection and writing but the construction of a new global research identity, having practices of its distinct own.

However, this means this new field is not very conscious of itself yet – it needs a lot more of theoretical self-reflection. For example, it would form an exciting project to edit a volume on different theoretical approaches in Metal Music Studies, shaping its subject from the various involved disciplines’ (musicology, cultural studies, sociology, anthropology, history, communication studies, business studies, gender studies) perspectives.


  1. The author giving his talk at UVIC’s conference on ‘Boundaries and Ties: the Place of Metal Music in Communities, 11th June 2017, potograph by Anna Chilewska. 

‘Metal On The Hill 2016’: A ‘Thick Description’ of a Cultural Historian’s Imagination at an Extreme Metal Festival

The context

One week ago, on 13. August 2016, being a Metal music fan, I attended the ‘Metal On The Hill 2016’1 festival, a festival of Extreme Metal, organized by a Styrian Heavy Metal label, which took place on the ‘Schlossberg’ and its ‘Kasemattenbühne’ in the city centre of Graz. The location is an old vault with brick walls, which used to be the storage of the town’s castle since Renaissance days.2 It was re-functioned as a ‘Freilichtbühne’, an open-air arena under historical auspices, in recent time. There, at the historical centre of the regional area of Styria, for the first time, an Extreme Metal festival took place.

This is not only another indication that Metal reaches the cultural mainstream but it means that, spatially and metaphorically, the performance of Extreme Metal music reached the heart of an old – historical – Austrian and European city. Graz, being the second largest urban area of Austria, having about 250.000 inhabitants,3 is, thus, a kind of a cultural ‘avantgardian’ of Austria and Europe: it integrates Extreme Metal into its cultural narrative. For sure, that Napalm Records,4 the label which organized the festival, originates from Eisenerz, Styria, favoured this process.

What I want to reflect on in this article, is the imagination and experience of a cultural historian, at the same time a Metal music fan, attending this festival. I want to employ the theory of ‘thick description’, developed by anthropologist Clifford Geertz in the 1970s,5 on this imagination and experience. I want to do a thick description of a cultural historian’s imagination in Extreme Metal music, at a certain place, at a certain time of contemporary history.

Coming to the arena: a conservative experience

On the day of the festival, 13. August 2016, I arrived at the Kasemattenbühne at about 2 p.m. There was already a rather big crowd. My first impression was that it was going to be well received and well attended. The location was situated beneath a modern roof, but, actually, it was a place of history, of ‘old Graz’ which I grew up in:

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Like this, coming to the arena of Kasemattenbühne, I felt to be a part of Graz’ and Styria’s history and the imagined community of Metal music, at once . This is a rather peculiar and new, almost innovative finding of research: so far, Metal music and its cultural discourse has claimed to be emancipative; a transformative force of culture.7 Being at the Metal On The Hill festival, for me, was a conservative experience: it was an experience of Heavy Metal music happening within the ‘old’ framedwork of my regional belonging and history. It was a conservative experience – but still there was the imaginary and culture of rebellion, anarchy and ‘being against the establishment’ that forms the cultural core narrative of Metal music.

Experiencing conservative anarchism

The billing of the festival featured many long-standing successful bands  and ‘newcomers’ in Extreme Metal: Moonspell, Mantar, Satyricon and Arch Enemy were some of the main acts.8 Too, there were some bands which one could call Alternative Metal or Rock: And Then She Came  from Germany and Italian group Lacuna Coil were this side of the festival. The festival lasted from about 2 p.m. to 10:30 pm. Hence, it was  about eight hours of dense music and images of Metal culture, most of all Extreme Metal discourse:

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Taking a look at these pictures, makes very clear that the festival, as experienced by myself as a ‘metalhead’ and cultural historian at once, but by many other people in the ‘crowd’, too, was a a classical Heavy Metal experience; in terms of sound, sphere and imaginary. It was loud, it was crowded, and it was full of symbolism of riot, of revolution, of satanism and anti-christianism (Satyricon), as well as mysticism (Moonspell). It was a mixture of brutality and mythology.

That was the feeling of the metalhead in me. But, the cultural historian in my head acknowleged something else. At Metal On The Hill 2016 festival, Extreme Metal (noise, brutality, satanism, mysticism, crowdedness, Extreme Metal identity) took place within the space of common Styrian history. Its discourse progressed to the heart of Styrian regional and local history, spatially embodied by the Kasemattenbühne on the Schlossberg, in the city centre of Graz. So, for me as a cultural historian, I imagine the festival to be a discourse of conservative anarchism.

A thick description of conservative anarchism

So, looking back at my personal and professional experience at this festival, it is a form of memorial and cultural imagination of the past which can be called a ‘thick description’ of conservative anarchism. We have to be aware of the very fact, also in the case of this festival, that Heavy Metal is marching into cultural mainstream. This process changes its identity and discourse. It makes its discourse become attached to conservatism but at the same time Heavy Metal and Extreme Metal stick to their imaginary of anarchism and other ‘blackisms’. Thus, when trying to give a cultural-historical description of the 2016 Graz  Metal On The Hill festival as a cultural event, it has to be seen as a play of conservative anarchism. It was an event where old and new, regional history and Heavy Metal culture met: what we do have to expect from that rendez-vous, I do not know. But, it is very likely that it will change both – conservatism and Metal culture.


  1. Cf. http://www.metal-on-the-hill.com/, retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  2. Cf.  www.graz.at., retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  3. Cf. ibid. 

  4. Cf. https://shop.napalmrecords.com/, retrieved 20.08.2016. 

  5. Cf. Clifford Geertz: Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”. In The Interpretation of Cultures: Selected Essays. New York 1973, 3-30. 

  6. The Kasemattenbühne; photo: Peter Pichler.  

  7. Cf. Jeremy Wallach e.a. (eds.): Metal Rules the Globe. Heavy Metal Music around the World. Durham & London 2012.  

  8. Cf. ibid. 

  9. And Then She Came; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  10. Mantar; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  11. Moonspell; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  12. Lacuna Coil; photo: Peter Pichler. 

  13. Satyricon; photo: Peter Pichler.