Voivod – Negatron (1996)

voivod_-_negatron

In the mid-1990s, it became clear that death metal and black metal had run through their formative and matured material and were now in decline, so bands experimented with developing older styles of metal using the new techniques. Voivod dropped Negatron into this period with a fusion of Ministry, old Voivod and Master of Puppets-era Metallica accented by alternative rock vocals. The result came about a decade before the audience was ready.

Continuity from classic Voivod remains present throughout in not the odd riffs, angular melodies, inverted guitar chords and challenging tempo changes but also the overall sensibility, which creates a sense of unease and infinite possibility at the same time as is appropriate for the sci-fi theme of the band. That impulse translates into Ministry-styled industrial-influenced percussion and the complex phrase-based but rhythmically-centered riffing of mid-period Metallica, creating a smooth fusion that can hold its own against mainstream heavyweights like Pantera, who dominated speed metal at the time. Instead of focusing on easy grooves however, Voivod center their music around disruption and order emerging from chaos, giving these alternative-rock style choruses built around the vocal a space to expand and a strong musical bedrock on which to develop. Vocalist/bassist Eric Forrest gives a strained vocal cord performance which adds to the urgency of the material, and creates a sinister suspension of what we normally think of as reality.

The creative riffs of classic Voivod are here, but bent and twisted around complex rhythms and given more standard power chords to anchor them around an increasingly irresistible rhythm. Like most of mid-90s metal, Negatron anticipates the underground being re-absorbed into the larger world of metal, and does so with distorted vocals and death metal strumming techniques mixed in with the progressive speed metal touches from earlier bands. What propels this album forward is its ability to bring out an underlying narrative and reveal a hidden side to the previous explanation for how its pieces fit together, causing — like good death metal, or even Carbonized which it periodically resembles — a sensation of discovery for the listener. Its task was Herculean because the type of listener who likes mainstream power metal will probably find this inscrutable, and underground listeners balked at the Nirvana-plus-Amebix vocal stylings. Their loss, because this album provides solid speed metal with the best integration of progressive and industrial influences yet seen.

Nile – What Should Not Be Unearthed (2015)

Nile - What Should Not Be Unearthed (2015)

Nile’s latest begins topical, with a blastfest themed after the recent years of strife in the Middle East. This is going to date the album some years from now, but from a commercial stance it’s still an excellent idea, certain to create buzz and boost the band’s reputation. They take a pot shot at a common enemy, and continue their legacy of Egyptian mythological themes in standard, professionally produced “brutal” death metal. All in a day’s work for the deathpop industry.

Surprisingly, I am not rehashing my thoughts on Infernus from a few days back like I expected I would when I first began researching this recording. On What Should Not Be Unearthed, Nile contributes to the corpus of accessible mainstream death metal in a broadly similar fashion to their Rutanian brethren, but in a fashion I find far less obnoxiously flat. It seems that Nile’s members have a better grasp of pop songwriting (and importantly, how to incorporate the instrumentation and technique of death metal into such formulas) that could potentially earn them enormous amounts of money if they were to sell their service as songwriters.

Nile’s Egyptologist trappings are one of their big gimmicks and therefore makes necessary discussion whenever they are brought up. The ideas certainly permeate the lyrics, but rarely go beyond that, with the notable exception of the occasional short filmic “Egyptian”/Middle Eastern interludes. There is nothing I can say for or against their authenticity, but few if any of the musical ideas they present in these asides make their way into the metal side of the songwriting. The constant usage of various musical scales and modes, though, might appear to be missing link for listeners not used to the general chromaticism and/or tonal experimentation of your average death metal band. The idea occasionally turns into a Billboard-style pop hook (see the intro to “Evil To Cast Out Evil” for an obvious example), though, and that’s probably good enough for Nuclear Blast.

Dwelling too much on Nile’s gimmick, though, is like only eating the plastic topper off an extremely sugary wedding cake. What Should Not Be Unearthed hasn’t got much in the way of coherent song structures or direction, and that’s why you’ll probably forget about it after a few spins. Judging from the content here, the band members understand on a basic level that they need to vary their parameters throughout a song in order to not come across as a vague buzzing sound. When they try to go beyond basic pop formulas, though, they collapse into stereotypical alternating blasting sections and breakdowns and occasionally make me giggle by, for instance, pitch bending a guitar harmonic chord at the beginning of the title track. It’s nominally better than no variation, but it’s going to take a lot more thought and organizational work than what’s on display here to write intelligent tracks.

Ambition is nothing without preparation, though, and Nile remains strongest (and commercially strongest) as musicians and songwriters when they stick to their basic deathpop. In that regard, What Should Not Be Unearthed is a partial success, and the rest probably… should not be unearthed.

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Order from Chaos – Frozen in Steel (2014)

Review written by Daniel Maarat for DMU

The complete career recordings of unsung underground legends Order from Chaos have been definitely reissued by Nuclear War Now! Productions in five CD and nine and 12 LP boxed sets. These afford listeners the chance to experience the clear progression and compositional refinement from the band’s primitive Hellhammer, Sodom, and first wave beginnings. The LP editions have the usual analog distortion of vinyl and the peculiarities of GZ’s direct metal mastering. Fortunately, the CDs are well mastered with identical sound to the original pressings though the vinyl editions have the bonus of a 124-page hardbound book with lyrics, personal photos, and a biography of the band.

Stillbirth Machine opens with an excerpt from Ligeti’s “Requiem”and immediately proceeds into angular riffed, Teutonic deaththrash. Only intros and outros distract from the aural assault. The guitar tone resembles Swedish death metal with the fully dimed Boss Heavy Metal pedals but the production was marred by the inconsistent levels of a drunk seventies rock producer manning the knobs in an aging studio. The follow up Plateau of Invincibility EP is similar in material but self-recorded onto eight-track tape. This more amateur but consistent (e.g. no noise burst solos) production would continue for the rest of Order from Chaos’s career.

Dawn Bringer continued the compositional elaboration. The songs were more experimental and the melody that characterizes guitarist Chuck Keller’s and drummer Mike Miller’s future band, Ares Kingdom, appears on a twisted cover of Voivod’s “War and Pain.” The martial marching beats of the hybrid war metal sub-genre of first wave black metal and the three chord, hardcore punk side of grindcore was birthed too. Ending everything is the start of the intentional raw noise for which that bastard sub-genre is known as Keller pries off his guitar strings and pickups at full volume to end the album on “Webs of Perdition.”

An Ending in Fire shows the perfectionism that differentiated Order from Chaos from most of their contemporaries in the death and black metal scenes to even the most passive listeners. Earlier riffs and songs were rearranged with completely new material into three epic compositions. The songwriting focused on clever compositional coherency and melodic congruity rather than the random masturbation and showmanship of technical death metal. “Conqueror of Fear” twisted many of the band’s similar, Teutonic works into a flowing five-track declaration of bassist Pete Helmkamp’s existential, social Darwinist philosophy later laid out in his controversial Conqueror Manifesto. “There Lies Your Lord! Father of Victories!” was wholly original to the album and among Keller’s best guitar work. “Somnium Helios” updated the punky “Nucleosynthesis” from the Will to Power EP as the beginning of a requiem for the Earth’s future solar immolation. Order from Chaos broke up after An Ending in Fire’s recording, considering the album as fulfilling the band’s musical vision. The session outtakes were released as the And I Saw Eternity EP included in the set. This is true progressive heavy metal. Speaking more of musical specifics and the evolution of individual riffs and songs is best left for future articles as that would spoil listeners’ enjoyment.

Frozen in Steel is a fantastic value for fans. Purchasing just Order from Chaos’s three albums alone would cost well over a hundred dollars on the secondary market. Nuclear War Now! Productions should be commended for offering all the band’s studio material along with the extra rehearsals and live shows starting at just forty. This is the most significant and well put together anthology of an extreme metal band’s collected works since Demilich’s 20th Adversary of Emptiness.

Kaeck – Stormkult (2015) – Another Perspective

Kaeck - Stormcult (2015); another variant of the cover art

Kaeck has received quite the buzz from other contributors to this site, which was actually how I discovered it. It turns out that this is one of the best black metal releases I’ve heard since Sorcier des Glaces’ The Puressence of Primitive Forests in 2011. It’s not the most accurate comparison since this is a significantly more violent and melodramatic album (Puressence, for all its strengths, is candy-coated), but I digress.

Stormkult belongs to an especially claustrophobic school of black metal, with its bassy production and keyboard soundscapes. Of all the instruments, though, the vocal section was the first to particularly draw my attention. They are all over the place, and the constant variation of vocal technique is effective in distinguishing sections of songs and their corresponding moods. For some, these may take some acclimation; there are some particularly anguished screams and shouts that only avoid coming off as goofy or otherwise inappropriate through their scarcity and correspondence to climaxes in the rest of the songwriting. Since I can’t understand the Dutch these vocalists apparently perform, I have to pay special attention to how they use their voices as instruments, but I am thusly rewarded with the strength of their performances even if I can see some not enjoying the style.

Other parts of the recording are more conventional, although the dense soundscapes and keyboards tend to put me in mind of Emperor’s debut (In The Nightside Eclipse). Despite not being as overtly symphonic, the content here has a similar pacing of riff delivery – slower chord progressions over fast, if relatively unvariegated drumming; percussion is admittedly not the major emphasis here, although the drums are mixed prominently enough for this reality to reach my attention. There’s definitely room for more variety in the drumming without overemphasizing it and thusly creating awkward stylistic conflicts. Some more tempo shifts might’ve been helpful, too, as the album does seem to lean towards a theatrical, narrative style in other parts of its instrumentation, and a few well placed breaks can be very powerful. A more shrewdly degraded production might also help – Stormkult sounds almost crystal clear in spite of its overtures towards low fidelity, which suggests the latter may have been created by something as artificial as slicing out all the sounds above a certain frequency.

The positives here outweigh the negatives by a great margin, though; Kaeck’s approach on this album is fundamentally sound, although there is definitely room for refinement and greater sophistication if they choose to go forwards with future recordings. Those could potentially stand with the god-tier recordings we’ve enshrined here, but that Kaeck comes close to them makes me confident that they could reach that level with practice and effort. I write this knowing I have yet to finish penetrating Stormkult‘s depths, but an album that doesn’t surrender its secrets immediately is better than the alternative.


Author’s note: DMU has had access to this album for some time, but in light of its official physical release, I feel writing about my own experience with it is appropriate. 

A New Editor for DMU

Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire (Ilya Repin, 1891)

I have replaced David Rosales as the editor at Death Metal Underground. Platitudes about how I expect to retain continuity with the long past of the website while keeping quality high and perhaps even bringing my own voice to the site aren’t really my style (although that admittedly just was one), so I thought I’d offer you a bit of background information on who I am.

First of all – my name is Gabe Kagan, and I live in Massachusetts. I’m a historian turned web developer; oriented towards building cool browser-based software with trendy languages and frameworks; I also compose music and keep my own personal music review blog. Compared to those, I expect my content for this website to be more serious and critical, but I expect that my own voice and biases will show up in my writings. Odds are that I end up breezier and less formal in my prose than many of the contributors to this site, but I’m not particularly worried about that. So far, the job has proven to be interesting and challenging, and I expect this to continue as I spread DMU’s various messages and ideals to the masses.

I don’t know how particularly interested the community here would be in this, but one interesting thing I’ve done lately is build my own music creation software. It has its various gimmicks (primarily based on the idea that arranging music data in a fully traversible two-dimensional space opens up new ways of organizing and thinking about its structure), so maybe the musicians of the DMU community might get some value out of it, although due to it being based on sound samples and not having a great deal of sound convolution options, it’s probably not too optimal for metal. That shouldn’t deter you from experimenting if you’re interested.

PROCREATION set release date for new NUCLEAR WAR NOW! collection‏

Procreation - Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen (2015) - Cover art

These contemporaries of seminal Canadian act Blasphemy are seeing another release of their demos. Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen contains both their original demos (1990’s “Rebirth Into Evil” and 1991’s “Coming of Hate”) and was initially released in 2004. This re-release promises improved sound quality and will most likely be of interest to anyone who seeks to explore the Vancouver scene, or simply fans of early “primitive” death metal.

The record label offered this statement:

In the years since its inception in the late 1980s, the cryptically-named Ross Bay Cult has earned a degree of reverence and mystique that is arguably unequaled by other scenes in death/black metal history in terms of its contributions of both music and legend. While the band most commonly referenced as the face of this British Columbian horde is undoubtedly the notorious Blasphemy, others such as Witches Hammer and Procreation shared members and/or stages with them and made significant impacts of their own. Procreation’s morbid tenure in this cult dated from 1989 until 1993, and although they suffered some defections in their ranks over the years, they maintained a steady nucleus throughout and played numerous live shows in the Vancouver area with the likes of Blasphemy, Tumult, Armoros, Nuclear Assault, Anvil, and Forced Entry.

Although Procreation did not survive long enough to unleash upon the masses a full-length album that demonstrated the primitive amalgam of death metal that pervaded their live rituals, they did leave in their wake two demos that were professionally recorded at the same Fiasco Brothers Studio also desecrated by Blasphemy. Both of these recordings, Rebirth into Evil and Coming of Hate (from 1990 and 1991, respectively), provide evidence that the Vancouver metal scene of the time was anything but one-dimensional. In contrast to the speed metal attack of Witches Hammer and the bestial black metal of Blasphemy, Procreation’s demos can best be characterized as a purposefully non-technical, mid-paced death metal that at times resembles a record cut to vinyl at 45 RPM that is being played at 33 RPM, perhaps mistakenly, but to greater effect. With all songs clocking in between the two- to four-minute range and with a dearth of gratuitous guitar leads, Procreation ignored the perceived need that many bands felt to build as much complexity into death metal as possible. Instead, they relied on a simple and straightforward but successful prescription of steady rhythms and riffs that prove their worth by gradually dismembering the listener, piece by piece.

Set for international release on October 1st via Nuclear War Now! Productions, the CD version of Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen includes both of Procreation’s demos in their entirety. For this second pressing, the audio has been remastered by James Plotkin to improve sound quality, while still succeeding to maintain the raw integrity of the original recordings. Additionally, this release once again features the demonic artwork of Wes Gauley, which serves as a fitting visual complement to the possessed nature of the sound that once stalked the Vancouver area and will continue to fester undead with the circulation of this compilation. Cover and tracklisting are as follows:

Tracklisting for Procreation’s Incantations of Demonic Lust for Corpses of the Fallen
1. Intro
2. Morbid Reality
3. Caking Blood
4. Afterlife
5. Darkest Force
6. Tomb of Assyria
7. Darkest Force
8. Rebirth into Evil
9. The Coming of Hate
10. Tomb of Assyria

Temple of Baal details new album Mysterium

Temple of Baal - Mysterium (2015) cover art

Active since 1998, Parisian black/death metal band Temple of Baal will release their next album on October 2nd, 2015 in CD and 12” vinyl format. The current lineup has performed and participated in many other French metal bands, perhaps the most notable of which would be Anateus. They released the following statement:

PARIS, France – French black/death metal veteran, Temple of Ball, has announced its next album, Mysterium, to be released on October 2 via Agonia Records. The first single, “Divine Scythe,” featuring guest vocals by Georges Balafas (Drowning, Eibon, Decline of The I), is streaming on YouTube at: https://youtu.be/gi2yqmKvUtw.

As the album’s title suggests, Mysterium dwells on the topics of spirituality and religiosity. “From the opener, ‘Lord of Knowledge and Death,’ to the closing number, ‘All in Your Name,’ every inch of this record drips with it,” the band commented. “Mysterium can be seen as a collection of meditations and prayers over the mysteries of faith, directed towards the gods of the left hand path.”

Musically, Temple of Baal’s black metal roots are back in full force, allowing the atmospheres to develop through songs of epic proportions, mostly clocking around eight or nine minutes each. Mysterium covers a wide musical specter, from slower ritualistic parts, to furious blasts and thrashy riffs or the surprisingly melodic choirs of “Magna Gloria Tua” and “Hosanna,” each song taking the listener into a spiritual journey, evolving through various climates, keeping the listener’s mind awake. “I never got that much into monotonous, uniform albums,” said band leader Amduscias. “I like music to take my mind from one point to another. Even if I have a strict view of what Temple of Baal should be, stagnation is not something I’m very fond of.”

Paying tribute to its old school roots, Temple of Baal covers Bathory for the second time, with the song “The Golden Walls of Heaven” closing the vinyl edition as a bonus track.

The recording of Mysterium took place in Hybreed Studios with long-time sound engineer, Andrew Guillotin (Glorior Belli, Mourning Dawn), who managed to capture the band’s trademark massive sounding, magnifying it through a warm and organic production. Cover artwork and layout have been prepared by David Fitt (Aosoth, Secrets of the Moon, Svart Crown) and Maria Yakhnenko.

Mysterium will be available in: six panel digipack CD with 16-page booklet, regular gatefold double black vinyl, and limited to 150 hand-numbered copies double gatefold vinyl (including one picture disc and one black vinyl). It can be pre-ordered now through the Agonia web-store at: https://www.agoniarecords.com/index.php?pos=shop&lang=en.
1. Lord of Knowledge and Death
2. Magna Gloria Tua
3. Divine Scythe
4. Hosanna
5. Dictum Ignis
6. Black Redeeming Flame
7. Holy Art Thou
8. All in Your Name
9. The Golden Walls of Heaven (Bathory Cover, vinyl bonus track)

In its 15-plus year career, marked by four full-lengths and numerous split releases, the highly respected French coven, Temple of Baal, has evolved from a primitive black/thrash outfit into a monstrous black/death metal entity of epic dimensions. Verses of Fire, the last album (2013), was acclaimed worldwide as a milestone in the band’s career, allowing Temple of Baal to perform at notable festivals such as Hellfest, Motocultor, Summer Breeze, Kings of Black Metal and Speyer Grey Mass. The formation also played selected shows in France, Finland, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, sharing the stage with the likes of Watain, Antaeus etc.

Stay tuned for more information on Temple of Baal and Mysterium, out this fall on Agonia Records.

Codex Obscurum #8 available for pre-order

codex_obscurum_issue_eight_-_cover_-_pre-order

Codex Obscurum arose in the 2010s to revive the utility and flavor of metal zines from the 1980s, but doing so in an internet age, chose to focus on selectivity over attempting to compete with the flood of raw (and mostly wrong) information. Now this zine is on its eighth issue and has featured most of the classic and new bands of stature which are active in the underground.

The eighth issue promises to have many new delights for the metal reader. According to the zine, this issue features:

  • The art of NecroMogarip
  • Blood Red Throne
  • Noisem
  • Zemial
  • Castrator
  • Blizzard
  • Morgengrau
  • Rawhide
  • PanzerBastard
  • The 3rd Attempt
  • Skelethal
  • Impenitent Thief
  • …and many more…

You can order your copy — they are now shipping — at the following location for $3 plus shipping:

Sammath re-releasing Strijd in 2016

sammath_-_strijd_-_re-issue

Dutch-German black metal band Sammath will re-issue its first album Strijd on Hammerheart Records during the first quarter of 2016. This under-appreciated classic has made fans for its enduring emotional and technical power. As our review at the time opined:

Sammath achieve a vast sonic landscape with this release that merges fast black metal riffing with elegant melodies that rise out of the chaos and return to mesh with its themes and transit to a final state which expands upon the conflict. On Strijd, riffs are heuristics which evolve over time as more texture emerges.

The result feels like a land constantly wracked by war and disaster in which brief moments of intense beauty emerge. The majority of riffing here is consistent with what one might expect from late-1990s black metal, which is a stripped down but highly genre-conventioned vocabulary. Unlike most bands Sammath fits these riffs together into a language that fits each song, and as such there are no random bits floating around for the purpose of being faithful to a template.

The emotional state of black metal is fragile because it is finely delineated and requires a great deal of background experience and understanding to parse. Sammath achieves the violence and yet arch beauty of black metal, a Romantic vision in which the lone thinker takes on the herd and triumphs by denying the human pretense which unites dying societies like our own. Strijd shows Sammath at simultaneously its most emotional and most violent. While not as technical as later releases from this band, Strijd won over fans for its plain-spoken truthfulness and elegant melodies.

A statement released by the band detailed the upcoming re-issue of Strijd:

Sammath to reissue debut LP on Hammerheart Records

In the first quarter of 2016 the long sold-out debut album “Strijd” from Sammath will be re-issued.

“Strijd” delivers black metal in high-powered generous doses but also maintains its introspective side, creating the perfect melancholic warrior album for a dying world.

The LP will be released on gold vinyl and is limited to 300 copies.

Many of us are also hoping for a CD re-issue so that new generations can own this powerhouse in a compact format.

Hate Eternal – Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal - Infernus (2015)

Hate Eternal hits all the notes they intend to. From a technical stance, there’s really nothing missing – an extremely precise instrumental section provides all the velocity and intricacy you’d expect from this sort of death metal. The production and sound is crystalline in its precision, too; all of the important sound frequencies are accounted for, the instrumentation is clear (although like many metal bands, the bassist drowns), and the vocals of Erik Rutan remain suitably midpitched and intelligible for the album’s 45 minute duration. If you wanted to demonstrate textbook “brutal” death metal to your friends and colleagues, a sample from Infernus would leave them more knowledgable about what to expect from the genre, especially if you drew comparisons to Morbid Angel and other well-appreciated bands in Hate Eternal’s long and storied lineage. It’s a shame, then, that such an archetypal album doesn’t make for good listening.

It all comes down to the arrangements. The major problem with songs on Infernus is that they drone where they should instead develop, to the point that Rutan’s guitar parts even contain droning tremolo notes and chords buzzing under riffs, hiding ashamed at the edge of hearing. Consider the album’s dynamic range; when your recording is this loud and insistent, your ability to emphasize any one section of your song over others suffers. As a result, even when Hate Eternal does pull out a relatively interesting riff pattern (like the outro of “Zealot, Crusader Of War”), it’s likely to pass over without commentary or attention due to listener fatigue. Some might argue that the very death metal stylings of this band justify such a constant aural assault, or that the occasional tempo/rhythm shift or sound gimmick that often performs the role of dynamics in this style creates enough variety, but while such points are worthy of acknowledgement, they don’t exactly help the content.

The other half of the drone problem is that songs on Infernus are remarkably conservative about varying their overall structures. I don’t think I’ve heard a death metal band rely on a basic formula so consistently since… well… Death, which had much the same issue with being unable to change up their own songwriting techniques throughout their career, even as their aesthetics constantly evolved. Hate Eternal I am not so familiar with, but the first half of any given track here is interchangeable with the first half of any other. The latter halves offer more room for anything besides business as usual, but if you play a random track, odds it’s going to start by repeating the verse and chorus twice and going straight into a solo. It’s as if the music is not written, but manufactured to government pop standards on industrial machinery… which, in death metal, usually leads to a dismal and forgettable product and makes you more receptive to the next CD on the assembly line.

So if there were a conspiracy in record labels to increase sales by reducing people’s attachment to music (which I doubt, because it would require enormous folly beyond what we as a species can muster), Infernus would be the perfect product. In reality, it’s just a technically competent but flawed and unambitious offering; it’s not as obnoxious as, for instance, the thinly disguised technical exercise death metal wave of the mid-2000s, or the metalcore bogeyman in your younger sister’s closet. Nothing that would scare me off from the concert of a band I was interested in, but not something I can earnestly recommend seeking out on your own.