PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Andy Winter: Incomprehensible

Norwegian metal guitarist teams up with a lot of guests.

Andy Winter


Label: The End
US release date: 2013-01-22
UK release date: 2013-01-22
Label website

I blame Venom.

I may well be wrong—it's happened before—but for me, Venom is where the decline began. Back in 1985 or '84, I bought Venom's album At War with Satan. I bought it without knowing a thing about it; I bought it because they were metal, and I was a metalhead, which at the time meant that I listened to AC/DC and Black Sabbath, Judas Priest and Iron Maiden. Bands, in other words, that employed plenty of loud distorted guitars and histrionic shrieking vocals, but which still remained recognizably rock and roll.

The first sign that Venom was different came even before placing the album on the turntable. There, on the bottom of the record sleeve, was the famous anti-home-taping logo that the recording industry was hoping would deter consumers, and illegal copiers, of music. Beneath a cassette tape lay a pair of crossed bones, Jolly Roger-style, with the dire warning: "Home taping is killing music. And it's illegal."

Except that Venom's warning was different. Theirs read: "Home taping is killing music. So are Venom."

Sure I laughed. Who wouldn't laugh? Then I put on the record, which was my first experience with what would soon be called death metal, or doom metal, or thrash metal of whatever it is now. To be entirely honest, I haven't made much effort to keep up with metal's subsequent ever-more-incremental splintering. (Though I will admit to curiosity about things like "symphonic Viking technical death metal" and so on.)

Anyway, this was my first experience with music that was so intentionally grim, and it's why I blame Venom for what so much of what metal would devolve into: the record album as endurance test. Unpleasantness as artistic design. Gloomy-gloom lyrics. Music as a fun-removal tool. Call it sulk 'n' roll. It was the first record I heard that made me think: Hey, maybe my parents are right. This really is just noise. I was twenty-one.

So what does any of this have to do with Andy Winter's new album, Incomprehensible? On the face of it, not much. Maybe it's a connection that only I can see. After all, Incomprehensible isn't a death metal album, nor is it doom metal, or thrash or sludge or technical death or… well, it's hardly metal at all, really.

Which is odd. Winter, who is known for his work with Norwegian metal bands like Winds, assembled numerous guest musicians and recorded a series of tracks over several years. With different vocalists on each track, the prevailing thread is his dextrous guitar playing. He is a skilled technician and he knows his way around a fretboard.

This is not to say that the songs are particularly interesting, however, and I can and do draw a line straight back from this record all the way to that Venom album back in the '80s. For starters, the songs here share that adolescent preoccupation with gloom and existential angst that passes for profundity among much of the metal world these days, although it eschews Satanism. "I feel I'm getting closer to being insane", sings Paul Kuhr in "The Transversal Conjecture", "after all I'm only human, not humane." Clever, sure. Get back to me when you've listened to an hour of it.

More egregiously, this music utterly fails to tap any sort of verve or momentum; hell, it fails to rock, which is odd, given the musical credentials on display. Tune after tune just sort of mopes along, reveling in complex time signatures, slow tempos and dreary faux-angst. It's more prog or, hell, jazz than anything else. There's a drummer back there, tapping out intricate polyrhythmic patterns on tunes like "My Illusions Are My Own" and "Back to Square Two", but after a while you just want to shake him into pounding out a simple 4:4 beat with a little fucking groove to it.

The same is true with the guitar: there's a lot of busyness here but hardly any riffs. Call me old fashioned, call me a dinosaur, say I'm stuck in the [insert decade here], but a metal album without riffs is a… well, it's a head-scratcher, really.

With guest musicians like Agnete M. Kirkevaag of Madder Mortem, who contributes vocals on the engaging opener "Reversed Psychological Patterns"—the best song here—and other input from members of Agalloch and The Devin Townsend Project among others, there is presumably a ready audience for this material. It remains a mystery to me as to why, though. But then, there are so many things I don’t understand, like why anybody ever listened to Venom, or why so many other people tried to copy them. Or even why other people who aren't trying to copy them, like this crew here, are nonetheless so hell-bent on taking all the fun out of heavy music.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.


'Waiting Out the Storm' with Jeremy Ivey

On Waiting Out the Storm, Jeremy Ivey apologizes for present society's destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists in the future and whether people still get high and have mental health issues.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.