Death Metal Underground

Comeback albums you can forget

March 20, 2009 –
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We all know the syndrome: old band with a recognized name pops up, and we think, their old stuff was good; it’s great they’re back!

What they’re thinking is that they don’t want to go back to working at Target, so here’s a chance to cash in on the old name. They no longer hope to get big, but now, they just want six months or a year of something more interesting, and they’re going to use you toward that end.

Of course, they’ve forgotten that even though most of the metal audience are dunces at this point, the rise of MP3s means that we can hear the stuff in advance, and pitch it in the bin for being junk. So their comebacks fail.

Pestilence – Resurrection Macabre

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you streamlined the dry production of PESTILENCE’s Testimony of the Ancients to meet modern standards, and kicked around substandard versions of some of the band’s backcatalog riffs into mind-numbing ABABCAB cut-and-paste architecture? What if the illiterate jazz was jammed in every song in the form of the guitar solo? Nary a song passes without hammering the one- or two-word song title home as chorus in some manner; the bafflingly sophomoric lyricism is merely occasionally deferred. Just another testament to the pervasive laziness of this entire affair, and revealing of the pathetic scheme they are implementing in trying to sucker in the most ancient of the longtime fans. Without that motive, it is nearly incomprehensible that a band would return from a giant sabbatical to cobble together this rubbish.

Absu – Absu

There’s no polite way to say this but: this CD sounds like everything else out now. A whole lot of power metal riffs, a few death metal structures, and some melodic parts borrowed from the new wave of Swedish black and death metal bands. What does it add up to? Randomness. No one cares except the kids who’ve invested themselves in being metalheads and so pretend to like this stuff. For serious listeners, this is a waste of good musicians on disorganized, repetitive, obvious material.

Suffocation – Suffocation

Yeah, this is an oldie. I mention it not because it’s incompetent. It barely changed styles, and all the rules are still followed. It just has no soul. It’s a hollow album that you can listen to for several weeks, then wake up and think, if it left my life, would I care? And then you realize that if Pierced from Within left your life, you’d shit bricks. It’s in the “A- and why bother” category, which is sad given the vast potential of this band. I think after the style they invented got appropriated by Cannibal Corpse, who took it to vast popularity, they got bitter and have been trying for revenge by success ever since. Doesn’t work that way.

Seance – Awakening of the Gods

This is every bit as painful as the Pestilence, but less cynical. I think they tried to figure out what The Kids Today like, and so made a product, but it ends up being unsubstantial, yet not catchy enough for the kids who are buying the real idiot fodder. So they’ve both alienated their own audience and failed to gain the big-time audience, which makes this album an uber-fail. Banging drums and super-loud distortion run around my head in circles, riffs are made like Soulfly without the bounce, and the whole thing is a grab-bag of influences and half-finished ideas. Next, please.

Lots more death metal bands are up on the block. If they didn’t have the presence of mind to keep going after the 1990s metal boom, they’re probably not going to fit today’s audience, which means that if they’re writing an album, they should simply target the old schoolers and do what they do best instead of trying to fit in. Also, they should know that any self-reference title, or reference to resurrection, rebirth, awakening, etc. means the album will blow ass because they are thinking of nothing but themselves. I expect none of them will figure that out.

The best metal albums continue to be those composed by intelligent, thoughtful, realistic people who make music that they think they would enjoy. Not surprisingly, other people of the same inclination also enjoy it; it gets lost in the flood of music for drones, like emo, nu-black/hardcore/shoegaze, carnival music, bad heavy metal, and other stupefactive nonsense.

PESTILENCE — or — The Failure of Revival, Pt. II

March 18, 2009 –
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The Failure of Revival, Pt. II

(Part of a LONG ongoing series, I’m afraid. Don’t even bother to download this album.)

PESTILENCE – Resurrection Macabre

Did you ever wonder what would happen if you streamlined the dry production of PESTILENCE’s Testimony of the Ancients to meet modern standards, and kicked around substandard versions of some of the band’s backcatalog riffs into mind-numbing ABABCAB cut-and-paste architecture?

No?

What if the illiterate jazz was jammed in every song in the form of the guitar solo?

To give you an idea how unfathomably unimaginative this album is, the vocals on the first two songs begin by repeating their respective, inane two-word titles immediately after the opening riff. In fact, this happens on no fewer than five out of the eleven tracks on the album. Nary a song passes without hammering the one or two-word song title home as chorus in some manner; the bafflingly sophomoric lyricism is merely occasionally deferred. The vocal delivery is so dispassionate that it persuades you they know exactly the kind of boilerplate tripe they are spewing.

Maybe even more convincingly braindead: they’ve introduced a sequel to a song in Dehydrated II (how does that happen a second time?). They’ve cleverly lifted the opening riff from the original track and inverted the melody in order to buy themselves another three minutes (inverted old-timey riff, chorus riff, inverted old-timey riff…etc.) Unfortunately, they’ve also revealed their entire comeback formula by failing to come up with only one more clich

Nocturnus – Thresholds

March 3, 2009 –
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Nocturnus - Thresholds

Thresholds, the second offering from Mike Browning’s (ex-Morbid Angel) sci-fi death metal tour de force, is an uneven, messy, fusion-inspired, lurid and occult death metal album. The best bits on here such as the sparkling, baroque, Mozart-ian lead guitars on “Aquatica” and the super-addictive chug and rhythmic chant on “Climate Controller” will stick to mind but at times the observation leaps through that Browning & co. are nowhere near the composers that for example Azagthoth & Brunelle were. The polyphony of the looming synthesizers is mostly awkward atmosphere building instead of solid thematics incorporated with the guitars. Browning does have an uncanny primitivistic yet accurate touch with the drums, one he obviously is going for, even naming a track “Tribal Vodoun”. All in all, it was probably a disappointment for many who bought it back in the day simply because Trey Azagthoth was always wearing a Nocturnus shirt in promo pictures. Nowadays as a rare and seldom heard item it has both nostalgic cult value and alongside the equally fusionistic, strange but compulsive “Spheres” by Pestilence shows imaginative directions where death metal could have followed if it hadn’t been abandoned to the blind flocks with their “brutal chugging” and “melodic wanking” trends.

-Devamitra-

On the Importance of Hardcore/Punk

March 2, 2009 –
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Guest post courtesy of Tyler Gebar

If one were to closely examine the foundations of death and black metal, they would most likely notice the thematic composition passed down from Romanticist composers like Bruckner, Brahms, and Schumann immediately. However, there is one other genre that has been a major influence to the structure of extreme metal: Hardcore Punk. One may wonder how musicians so tightly interconnected with the classical realm could possibly draw inspiration from the dogmatic mire of punk music, but the aspects of punk in black and death metal are extremely obvious particularly in the area of phrasing.

It is common knowledge amongst most fans of punk music that hardcore punk had an extraneous goal beside simply making music. This goal was to completely alienate their style of music from that of the bland cosmopolitan music that dominated the radio waves. One must ask themselves, though, what intent was placed behind this goal, and what did hardcore punk hope to achieve through its alienation?

During the 1980′s there was a large obsession with hedonistic “glam metal” (a marketing term for image-based rock). This music was a full-flowering of the excess generation beget by the previous hippie generation. The egalitarianism espoused by hippies had passed down a me-first attitude to their children which confounded them despite the fact that their selfish children were products of their own ideology. It seems that the idea of promoting equality amongst everyone and everyone believing their desires should be met without opposition or criticism are unrelated in the eyes of the jaded 70′s counter-culture. Music reflected this attitude by encouraging the pursuit of immediate gratification as a viable path in life. After all, the was is over, a global community is on the rise, and we’ve reached a level of technology so advanced that fear of survival has been eliminated; do whatever you want! It’s not going to hurt anyone!

Punk musicians of the time sensed this loss of purpose, or the loss of spirit if you will. Although they may have not always been articulate, they reflected their desire to rail against this lack of conflict and excitement in life by creating music that exemplified the brevity of an individual’s time on earth, and the explosiveness of war. More so than punk that came before or after, hardcore punk obtained a balance of perfect representation in music. Their refusal to compromise song structure or sonic aesthetic enabled them to compose more dynamic songs, which although didn’t reach the classical level of using several themes to create a transcendent journey that resolved in an affirmation of life, resembled it in it’s desire to speak to a person’s senses through art.

Predominantly this could be seen in the way that chords were used. The main staple of hardcore was the perfect fifth, or the power chord as it was commonly known. This chord did not imply a major or minor tonality (hence being “perfect) regardless of pitch, unless a third (or numerous other tones) were played along with it. What this chord did was enable hardcore punk groups to write lengthy phrases that were not inhibited by tonality. Mainstream rock bands were dynamically opposed to this style of writing because they restricted themselves to using open chords that were required to dwell within their key in order to remain pleasing to the widest audience possible. Along with tonal restrictions, the chords were often merely used as back dropping to the dominant vocal melody which was focused on to shift attention to the lyrics that reveled in the self-serving perspective of the day, thus supporting people’s banal desires to do as they will which they latched onto wholeheartedly.

Speaking of vocal melodies, hardcore eschewed the popular method of gritty gospel-based blues vocals and instead employed a harsh shout that simultaneously moved focus away from the voice and used it as a rhythmic exclamation mark to the terse melodic sentences that were bashed out or fluidly strummed by the guitarists.

In terms of cadence, melodies played by the guitars were aimed to be as unconventional as possible. To achieve this hardcore punk musicians simply refused to compose anything that was rhythmically oriented by not using the drum beats as a guideline. Rock however reduced music to a bodily function by centering chord cadences around constant 4/4 drum patterns (which were easily digestible as the time was split into simple three and four bar phrases) interspersed with tiresome fills that were only amounted to pointless displays of technical talent. Hardcore drummers usually battered out a d-beat (an off-time rhythm that sometimes would not variate through an entire song) or sometimes used more conventional rhythms along with the occasional blasting. What this did is create a rhythm section that was more of a percussive tapestry that underscored the melody as opposed to becoming a simplistic egg-timer like most drummers of the day.

Metal most definitely adopted this form of riff writing, and expanded upon it to feature several melodic themes per song; where as punk often displayed one major theme in an explosive fashion. Despite its quick-hitting nature, hardcore punk was a very relevant influence upon future generations of artists who sought to grasp onto the lagging sense of meaning in this world. Unfortunately, the youth of the suburbs who were always looking for a more radical statement to use as their source of catharsis before they were assimilated into the back-breaking rigor morale of modern society quickly converged upon the art-form of hardcore. Before long they created a formulaic sound by bashing unimaginative three-interval power chord riffs in an attempt to merely sound extreme, but use that extremity for absolutely nothing.

In spite of its unfortunate demise, hardcore punk proved that unrefined youthful rebellion can sometimes transcend its origins, and proved its own point by self-destructing, in a fashion. The music was probably the most beautiful and well-written punk music out of the entire genre, and closest to the classical spirit of art (although the artists themselves certainly weren’t aware of it). The mark of these great musicians will echo throughout time, as in an age where most were content to say nothing… hardcore screamed at the top of its lungs.

“Lied to threatened cheated and deceived
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing
Led up garden paths and into blind alleys
Hear nothing see nothing say nothing ”
- “Hear Nothing, See Nothing, Say Nothing” by Discharge