October 24th, 2009 – AMON AMARTH, ENTOMBED, The Academy, Dublin

October 30, 2009 –
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In what was what I would call a ‘mixed bag’ of a gig, Entombed were the disappointment, and Amon Amarth the pleasant surprise. The Academy was a packed venue, nearly full and with a decent enough set-up, good acoustics and an intimate setting, the stage not being isolated from the proximity of the audience.

Entombed played a set that disappointed, and this was partially due a lack of their better material being played. Much of the setlist consisted of numbers that were lifted from their third full-length, Wolverine Blues and then onwards, with a lack of attention given to their more pioneering work that was put out on their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Songs were less death metal than they were an aggressive take on stoner rock, songs being much more inclined to the verse/chorus school of rock songwriting, the rhythms more inclined to provoke the shaking of hips and the tapping of feet than they were to bang heads. Whilst this was all good and competent, certainly the great soundtrack of an alcohol fueled evening in the capital of Eire, none of these works, as far as the reviewers opinion is concerned had the violent charge nor the momentum that characterized their legendary debut. Some credit will be given to the vocalist, whose onstage presence and frantic onstage manners gave more depth and urgency to songs that otherwise were devoid of it, and the guitarists tone was brilliant, the same buzzing, ‘chainsaw’ like tone that they helped pioneer back in the early nineties through maximum amplification. Entombed concluded their set with a brilliant rendition of Left Hand Path the staple and title track of their debut album, and it put a redeeming conclusion to what was an expertly performed, yet borderline mediocre set on occasions. It would be wonderful to hear what paths could be treaded if they realise the urgency that made their earlier music essential.

Amon Amarth played an excellent and intense set, mostly consisting of the melodic, fluid and anthemic traditional metal that they have come to be easily associated with. Infectious melodies and precise, double-bass lead drum rhythms bring to mind a hybrid of Blind Guardian and late period Immortal, whilst the muscle and simplicity of their music brings to mind fellow countrymen Unleashed in both the subject matter and the simplicity of the song structures. Musically Amon Amarth have an obvious strong commercial potential, sound highly accessible by the subgenre’s standards, and whilst they are not exactly breaking any new artistic ground, they are still workmanlike and this shows in what was a very well received and well performed set. Johan Hegg is a good front man and throughout the set uses the opportunity to incite the audience to terrace chant amidst his bellowing, whilst taking turns to consume from the mead horn that is his custom to bring on stage with him. Admittedly I would not consider these to be an act of the highest caliber, though they are unique in that they have one foot stood in the primitive and barbaric, with one firmly in the ability to reach out to a large audience. It was a privilege to be involved among the audience that night.

-Pearson-

Hypocrisy – A Taste of Extreme Divinity

October 29, 2009 –
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Like the previous Hail of Bullets, Pestilence and Seance albums, the new Hypocrisy is an attempt to retain old-school death metal cred while putting out an “updated” and “contemporary” style. If you cut through all the marketing and bloviation by inexperienced fans, you’ll see this for what it is: Behemoth-style metalcore.

A Taste of Extreme Divinity, like most things that rank appearance over content, uses a formula which is designed to wow you with its slick style so that you fail to notice it’s a collection of random riffs that sound good if you’re not paying attention to the rest of the song. Fast melodic riff, then a doubletime stomp, then a breakdown with a Gothenburg riff, than nu-hardcore style rant and blast; repeat in random order.

Add rattletrap triggered drumming that overplays its technique every time, and wrap the whole thing in semi-synthesized “digital whisper” vocals. If you look at how this music is composed, you’ll see that it is “embellished” verse/chorus constructions where the band designs two riffs of radically different types to serve as verse and chorus, then adds in slight rhythmic variations and purely random diversions. This style of composition is the basis of rock and punk, but not death metal. In fact, it’s the opposite of death metal, which tries to make a series of riffs express an expanding similarity even though they appear radically disparate.

The oldest con in the world is mixing some even older stuff into the old, repackaging it and calling it new. With this album, Hypocrisy are trying stuff that was old even in the days of extreme death metal, but people figured the audience was too savvy for tricks that didn’t even work with the hardcore kids. But now, few remember that old spirit, and those that do get shouted down by a new audience that’s delighted with anything new and easily digestible.

This CD is easily digestible. It is easily listened to. Nothing requires more commitment than putting your brain on hold, and paying attention to only one riff at a time. That way, each riff sounds kind of interesting. It’s only when you try to put them together into songs you realize this CD is like computer-generated text: it makes sense grammatically, but says nothing.

They finally found a way to assimilate metal into rock music. Get rid of the structure, dress up the production and really hammer out the violent riffs that just scream “metal!” even if they’re more closely related to Destruction and Exodus than death metal. Then convince everyone this carnival music is extreme because it’s random, fast and loud.

But we the discerning listeners — who value our time, and know that we get only one life so we take our music like every other aspect of our lives quite seriously — find ourselves nodding off. This is like Britney Spears on meth, repeating the same few lines over and over again until we all rush to escape the room from sheer existential boredom.

In other words, it’s metalcore.

October 22nd & 24th, 2009 – Calling of the Satanachian Storms

Hellfires were set loose in Helsinki, Finland last weekend by a horde of black metal maniacs from all over the Earth. Profanation, an intangible feeling of myth, alignment of spirits, pervaded the atmosphere. Let me remind you that while the gig situation concerning underground black and death metal in Finland is rich and fertile, every so-called cult band appearing on stage is no longer going to change anyone’s life to something more mysterious and powerful. Maybe the younger audience sees the matter differently, but I believe they are becoming jaded also. This weekend was something different however. The main event was the 2-day Black Flames of Blasphemy fest, on 23rd and 24th, the Friday night featuring Taake and Horna, among others, but I wasn’t attending, on one hand because of a lack of interest regarding the bands, on the other because I could use one spare night between the “pre-party” on 22th (aptly called “Unholy Night to Remember”) and the Saturday explosion featuring bands of the caliber of Blasphemy and Revenge from Canada.

The dark side of Finland

So, it all started on a rainy and windy Thursday night, in a small Helsinki pub called Darkside which I had only visited once before, when it was empty. No-one was expecting a large crowd because normal people would have jobs and studies to attend to, but the place was crowded and intense. Demonos of Barathrum, the drunken bastard, was shouting at the doorman and people were consuming beer like it was the eve of ragnarók. In that one room of a few hundred cubic meters had been compressed all the dreams and neuroses of Finnish black metal since its very beginning. Even Pete Helmkamp came around to see for himself what the fuck was going on. Ofdoom, a Blasphemy clone from Hamina whose members are barely 18 years old, played a reasonably aggressive set of uncannily familiar sounding songs. I am thankful that at least the cover song choice was “Christ’s Death” by Sarcofago instead of something from the war metal scene. Many of the old school maniacs I met applauded the energy and sincerity these young guys brought to the evening. However, I was more thrilled by the Goatmoon set that saw the audience become a rioting mass of fists and headbanging. The garage punks of Finnish black metal, Goatmoon unleashed a set of familiar songs from their albums mostly resembling a triumphantly melodic cross of Dimmu Borgir demos and Absurd, not to mention an enormously provocative cover from Finnish RAC band Mistreat.

But the real reason why everybody was there that night, the crux of all the anticipation and nervous violence was the return of the infamous Azazel on stage, an early Finnish black metal coven lost to annals of history but fondly remembered by everyone who breathed the air of 90′s Finland, when worship of darkness was still pure and cold… clad in spikes. Stories about Azazel and their infamous frontman Lord Satanachia are equivalent to an inverted saga, one of madness and devotion. For a decade the band was forgotten until suddenly it seemed to have reformed in alliance with some members from young occult metal band Charnel Winds. It all seemed unbelievable and to see it with one’s own eyes… triumph!

It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that an Azazel gig might prove to be a disaster, in normal sense. Enveloped in the mists and throes of an ancient curse, the guitarist’s malfunctioning equipment threw the disorganized band from the brink of a metaphorical cliff into the abyss, to be carried upon the wings of Death. While Demonos threw himself from the audience into the stage in an alcoholic spasm, wires were torn, microphones were ripped and fists started flying. Part of the equipment was mute, the rhythm section was confused and Satanachia’s croaks were barely audible chants and incantations of demonic names. A morbid pall descended upon Helsinki. In anti-arranged structures of primitive, broken black metal, Azazel mocked everything and everyone. Brilliant and beautiful riffs, performed at variable and confused speeds, interlocked with rhythms and blasts whose randomness remained cryptically problematic. No-one knew if the songs are actually like this or have all the members gone insane. The most sensitive part of the crowd was devastated and ultimately impressed. Others were bored and drunk. Enough said about that evening except that I doubted even Saturday can give a more authentic black metal experience, because for the rest of the night and the next day, Azazel’s psychosis was still deeply within my heart.

The church of blasphemy

Saturday night was again cloaked in the weather of Jack the Ripper’s London. Through the rain we approached the ominously titled Dante’s Highlight, converted from an old church on whose steps Mannerheim and Hitler had shaken hands in a pact of war. It served as a normal nightclub until a few years ago it became one of the prominent metal bars of Helsinki. We have no knowledge how much blasphemous intent influenced its current use, but it was something to see candles and torches lighting the altar (stage), bestowing a comforting, cavernous gleam upon the high ceiling and reflecting from the chain-wrapped wooden posts adorned with gasmasks. The gig organizers par excellence Kold Reso Kvlt had taken lots of care in making this event perfect, as it was also the destination of a veritable exodus of German, French, Italian and other foreign black and death metal fans.

Proclamation from Spain launched into formally perfect, yet somehow vague and heartless Blasphemy aping primitive death metallic sounds and while the gig was technically the dream of your standard NWN forum fan, it raised apprehension that this is going to be an evening where every band sounds the same and everyone plays a Blasphemy cover! There was still some space to move around the building but despite three floors, it was rapidly becoming claustrophobic and difficult to breathe. The gig had been sold out ages ago. Black Witchery from Florida, USA, specialized in repetitive high speed exercise of redundant riffs, which despite its great marketing value to black metal consumers lacks the spiritual depth and intellectual convolution of the high masters of the genre. To anyone who has heard a Black Witchery album or two it was easy to guess what the gig is all about and for their fans, they probably did deliver the goods. I liked a few of the atonal, destructive, confusional parts that reminded me of the greatness of the Australian disbanded legend Bestial Warlust.

By the time the third band, Archgoat from Turku, Finland, commenced their set, the full force of the Finnish metal scene had already coalesced upon the building and for anyone who knows people or is known himself, much time and attention had to be spent on greetings, handshakes, throwing the horns, mock fighting and the like. However, the atmosphere was also rapidly gaining a more intense, expectant and noxious odour. Screams, blood and bursts of madness spattered the overcrowded club. Between pockets of peace, chaos reigned, the passing of souls from one layer of Hell to another, brother and enemy united in prayers of profanation. While for some people the grinding, organic and physical malevolence of Archgoat marked their best gig ever, I say the 2005 comeback gig after a decade of silence still holds the scepter. Heavily influenced by VON and Sarcofago, Archgoat was the first band of the evening to capture a cold, theatrical melody and frame the counterpoints of primitive death metal riffs with heavy, well placed doom. It was the only performance of the evening whose spine was not hardened by monotonous speed. Instead, it slithered up the walls like a serpent of abomination.

Nature’s revenge

Amidst beer, guts and blood, headbanging Italians and Finns going mad over the controversies and abstractions of the night’s leading band (“Are Blasphemy real, do they really exist?” “Is that negro over there Caller of the Storms?”) everyone who was ever famous in Finnish black metal walked entranced amidst the crowd, as one with the spiritually dead. Black metal skinheads went out for a smoke and traded with kebab and banana merchants around the corner. Someone’s face was fisted and another got a kiss from a new girl.

Revenge, the Canadian commando force, was for some members of the audience the main event to witness here and for a good reason. By the unholy candles’ light, between the walls built to serve God, James Read attacked the drumkit like a voodoo priest releasing magick vapours of steaming ether, in a sharp and fluid tribute to grindcore percussion masters. In a battle position, in the attire of a right wing street fighter, Helmkamp’s fingers tore thrash influenced phrases from the trusty bass guitar as he used to do already decades ago in Order from Chaos, while his sharp intonation revealed the lyrics be less a narration, more a ritual chant of words whose meaning and connotation have been obvious to warriors for millennia: “traitor”, “victory”, “blood”, “conquest”, “force”, “survival”. The robotic, inhumanly precise ability of the three musicians to control chaos resulted in the most impressive technical display of the evening. It caused uncertainty and fear. What can even the mighty Blasphemy do after this 100-percent martial art display of perfect war metal kata forms?

Luckily we didn’t need to wait very long until Black Winds and co. gave us the answer. As a storm of the angels of apocalypse and doom, this noisy but influential group of Canadians were far from any kind of perfection in their music. They appeared as in constant battle, a crackling terror of violent audial force, ripping and rending the soundscape of world without end. Dramatic and physical, it seemed as if the walls are about to collapse. Black Winds seemed at times lost, at others frenzied and focused. Strong war screams arose from his throat in defiance to heavens. Caller of the Storms didn’t play his guitar, he molested its corpse. A gargantuan sized session bassist filled the forefront and provided background vocals. Ryan Förster of Conqueror played second guitar wearing a gasmask. Original drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity pulsed, leaped and attacked with his beats as lightning that strikes amidst a raging storm. It wouldn’t be correct to say the band was in top form, or something. The band was a force of nature, a mission of war that happened on stage. It didn’t compete with the musical precision and finesse of Revenge. It maimed the listeners with its droning and anti-sacred frequencies into submission, obeisance and ultimately an intuitive sense of the laws of nature. Cosmos, life, nature is about war. That’s what war metal and Blasphemy is about. The order of things, as it is, revealed in chaos. The highest principle of art, which is truth. Rarely, in years of seeing the finest of the bands perform on stage, have I been filled with such a calm, inspired joy as in the midst of this night’s rendition of “War Command”.

Thus, I have witnessed two of the finest evenings of black metal this year. I give my highest and sincere thanks to individuals who year after year, day after day, spend their attention and hard work to organize cultural events of the highest magnitude, even while they will never be as celebrated for their work as even mediocre bands are. Flyers and ads already promise interesting happenings for next year, so for now, I still very much enjoy living in this Northern land of bloody lakes and corpse-strewn woods!

Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-09

October 18, 2009 –
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God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.

Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.

Evoken – Antithesis of Light

From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.

Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga

Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.

Hopewell – Good Good Desperation

Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.

Caspian – Tertia

Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.

Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse

With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.

Lugubrum – Winterstones

We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.

Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell

The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.

Land of Kush – Against the Day

After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.

General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis

It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.

Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings

In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.

The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars

Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?

Drudkh – Microcosmos

Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.

Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution

Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.

Teitanblood – Seven Chalices

After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream

Tragedy – Nerve Damage

People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.

TheSyre – Exist!

This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.

Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception

Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.

Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness

This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.

Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst

Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.

Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven

This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.

Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis

If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.

Incest – Misogyny

This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.

Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown

People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.

Actors and Actresses – Arrows

This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.

Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies

Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.

Gorefest – Rise to Ruin

Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.

Voivod – Infini

No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.

Dawnbringer – Sacrament

While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.

Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude

Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.

Cryptic – Once Holy Realm

This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”

Textures – Drawing Circles

Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.

Amorphis – Tuonela

This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2′s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.

Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore

It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.

Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms

Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.

The Syre – Resistance

By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.

Demolition Hammer – Epidemic of Violence

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This well-respected album from the early nineties is a lethal injection of pure destruction enough to satisfy anybody’s lust for laying waste to humans and their buildings. Preferably while they are still inside them so the bricks and mortar can rain down on their skulls and shatter all bones, leaving human remains indistinguishable from the rubble. I doubt this experience varies much for each listener as this album has been engineered precisely as a soundtrack of de-construction. Heavily shredded riffs reminiscent of Beneath the Remains-era Sepultura are tightly packed into a Death Metal container more appropriate for the time. This is obviously characterised by the frantic, relentless tempo of the music. More important however, is the interplay of drums and vocals as synchronous rhythmic overlay to the jackhammer guitarwork. The results are precise blows punctuated by piercing, animalistic vocals. Each riff is like something maleable or just fucking ugly for the battering drums to lay waste to like an instinctive response to something undesirable. This mechanistic attack then gives way to climaxes of lead guitar or more prolonged and guttural growls. Ecstatic brutality. It is unashamedly extremely one-dimensional music, but does not lack purpose nor the energy to violently make its point as an update of the Speed/Death sound.

Interestingly, Epidemic of Violence is the second album to use ‘Lovecraft’s Nightmare’ by Michael Whelan as cover art. I’ll use this opportunity to present it, knowing you’ll recognise who were first.

-ObscuraHessian-

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Until the Light Takes Us: Review

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This long-awaited independent film documentary finally hit London as part of the Raindance film festival, as metalheads and indie pricks alike filled the seats to watch what has been promoted as the least sensationalist take on the all too familiar events surrounding the Inner Circle and that Scandinavian wave of Black Metal. ‘Until the Light Takes Us’ presents the story through the thoughts of some important figures from that scene, most notably Burzum’s Varg Vikernes and Fenriz of Darkthrone, who are able to articulate more of what constituted the worldview of that movement, from two very different perspectives – Varg as the idealist finding himself trapped within his surroundings and Fenriz as a former idealist now trapped within himself. For example, the Count Grishnackh likens his experience in prison to being in a monastery, as it imposes a strong sense of discipline on him, conducive to self-development, engaging with reality at the level of ‘ideas’ and the eternal quest for ‘Truth’. Fenriz, on the other hand, looks pretty directionless and resentful of the events that culminated in his loss of spirit to the extent that he describes his current music with Darkthrone as like petting dogs (the fans) and inspiring them to share his misery, possibly offing themselves as a result.

This film is clearly a chance for those involved to speak about such things after the initial media attention and exposure had long ago infected the exclusivist purity of Norwegian Black Metal. As such, it is not really a film about Black Metal. No clear picture is put together as to be able to explain what Black Metal is, although larger conclusions can be drawn as streams of dialogue intersect and are placed alongside appropriate imagery and Nordic scenery. The anti-Judeo-Christian sentiments of church burnings and the anti-consumerist, anti-westernisation implications of Helvete’s radical ideology are explored with reasonable depth, but there is nothing much said about what they affirmed and found beauty in, which is the real impulse behind many classic Black Metal albums. Combined with what seemed to be the ultimate fate of these artists as some form of social ostracisation and self-destruction (captured by Satyricon’s Frost and his throat-slitting public art display, and Dead’s suicide), Black Metal – whatever it is – comes off as a dark curiosity ultimately yielding fatalistic results. Fair enough, that’s not the purpose of the movie, but for a Black Metal initiate, this film offers little more than surplus interview material. It’s interesting as a documentary, exploring the detrimental effects of media bullshit super-imposed on an ideological and artistic movement that stood well outside of what the media can express in it’s limited lexicon, and provides content for those interested to further research this cryptic genre.

- Written by ObscuraHessian

Death Metal is good for you

October 15, 2009 –

So they think they can keep us blind
We must be aware to survive

- Destroyer 666, Unchain the Wolves

Our friend from Houston wrote recently a piece on why heavy metal is good for you while the Hessian Studies Center relentlessly works to get the Hessian cause and viewpoints matter in society and politics. Everyone with personal experience of death metal bands knows that the musicians are intelligent and often highly educated, so there is no reason the average fan would want anything else than live, join in action and search for knowledge. The intricate and mysterious subject matter of death metal is a conglomeration of the scientific and the occult, inspiring personal and social development and even creating multiple career choices far more useful than a menial job at Wal-Mart, if one is capable of dealing with the intellectual challenge of an academic institution.

Parents since the dawn of time have been skeptical about death metal and convinced that it magically makes youth into losers, because they are not prepared to accept the idea that one can “win” by critical thinking and penetration of the illusion that makes up the world of adults – the unholy trinity of propaganda (in advertising and politics), numbing of mind / evasion of challenge (entertainment and most of work life) and consumerism (egoistic individualism).

It’s probably not big news to anyone that if you fight for the truth, you are going to offend people and you are going to get into problems. Parents, teachers and men of religion spent decades fighting against rock music that was basically about the problems concerning dating and loneliness, until heavy metal came along and changed matters for far worse. The songs dealt with social reality in a dark way and actually incorporated mythology and influence from philosophy. Progressive rock or psychedelic rock (The DoorsPink Floyd…) might have opened the gates for heavy subject matter, but still there was something about Black Sabbath‘s demonic prophecies and Judas Priest‘s irreligious romanticism that was simply too much, particularly for reborn Christians involved in movements. Ironically, when death metal and black metal submerged into more and more extreme symbols, the PMRC and the preachers didn’t care so much anymore – because their agenda was mind control based on paranoia about hidden messages and symbols. Documentaries such as Decline of Western Civilization part 2 paints a picture of heavy metal as unintellectual hedonists, but the chosen interviewees, you might notice, are mostly shock rock and hard rock performers.

Organized satanism and blatantly satanic art didn’t give zealots any chance to exercise their status as messengers of God, who reveals hidden evil. The extreme death and black metal of Hellhammer and Bathory stimulated fantasy, circulated in the underground and was in all ways a separate phenomenon from mainstream youth culture, where always resided the “souls that needed saving”. That’s why WASP and Twisted Sister albums were burnt – they were supposed to corrupt the innocent, while the assumption was that no-one in their right mind would listen to death metal in the first place. The reputation was backed by misconceptions I’d like to examine.

The morbid visuals of death metal, reminiscent at once of Gustave Dorésurrealism and satanic kitsch, were of course portraying the contortions of a soul writhing in the agony of Hell. Psychologists seem almost equivocal about the fact that this kind of feasts of gore fulfill a need in our personalities which can be repressed by formal, robotic upbringing and circumstance in a modern consumeristic society. Some of the lyrical content is focused on depictions of murder, satanic rituals and otherworldly visions. Like religious literature, mystical poetry and horror novels, dealing with powerful subjects seem evil and dangerous not because they would correlate with inspiring psychopaths, inciting youth violence or anything of the kind; the most frightening of scenarios is the journey – being taken outside of oneself to see reality from a cold, inhuman perspective, to grasp the freedom of a mind that exists beyond the boundaries of jurisdiction and morality. In other words, the slave is afraid to escape the master because out there is the world of predators and vastness, with no hand to feed him or slap him; survival requires action, not reaction, so the lazy and the ineffective choose never to test themselves, never to really engage.

The imaginative music of death metal, which incorporates chromaticism, atonalities and wild, untamed structures, incites unease, confusion and even revulsion. As when faced with a reasonably difficult piece of text or mathematical equation, the untrained human mind can develop surprising and irrational excuses in order to not deal with the challenge presented by the information at hand, such as claim that it is ugly or random or that “anyone can play that noise”.

Atheist‘s metaphysical, spatial vision of human existence is only thoroughly understood by the application of theoretical philosophy and psychologyBolt Thrower‘s tactical war metal inspires one to study military history and even national defence. Carcass‘ satirical surgery of organisms is perfect listening when reading for your medical degree exams. Deicide and Immolation challenge the theologist‘s empty dreams and drives to contemplate the images of God and Satan throughout cultural forms. Nocturnus seeks for the limits in astronomy and physics while Napalm Death is pure sociology and economics. Amorphis and Nile practically force you into World History 101.

You catch my drift. Be useful. Study. Develop. Win. Sodomize the weak! The war rages on…

And so the Psychic Saw meaningful ends
Become the meaning of it all
To set the stage
For the fears that will be
To pull the curtain
For the whole world to see

- Atheist, And the Psychic Saw

Portal – Swarth

October 14, 2009 –
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The mystery behind this Australian band as well as their approach to music making has been very appealing ever since they arrived at the scene with their demo back in 1998. The boiling cauldron of Lovecraftian aesthetics, ambient and death metal appears to be potent enough to completely reinvent the genre and this is something we secretly hope for with every Portal release… But it never happens. Well, not quite. There is always something that stands in the way of the pure demonic current: be it compositional flaws, production quality or artwork. The latest release is no exception here.

The servants of Chaos return with their third full-length effort. Following the pattern set by its predecessor, Outre (2007) the songs on Swarth take the muddy path of broken arrangements jumping in and out of focus constantly. The vocals are buried in the mix and thus enhance the overall blurry feel of this sound wall. The jagged, at times almost black metal-sounding guitar backdrop wails and waves over the skittering, jazzy drumming. The band manages to recreate the menacing sonic world of Immolation (an obvious influence here), yet where Immolation weaves their melodies and rhythms into some otherworldly math, Portal attempt at playing “ambient” death metal. These attempts often result in completely vague and non-inspired parts, a gray monotonous sound shimmer. The highlights of the album (“Omenknow”, “Marityme” and “Werships”, the latter being a re-recorded version of the track appeared on 2004’s Sweyy EP) feature some nice half-melodies, “inverted” riffing and conceivable – yet no less chaotic, – rhythm structure. Slowing things down a little definitely helps these Lovecraftian priests to get a better idea of their own conjuring and set up a good involving atmosphere.

An important note: Portal badly needs a good visual artist. With so much of their appeal coming from on-stage imagery, theatrics and general entourage it seems like the obvious Photoshop approach to their album artwork paired with some bad taste comic art doodles is extremely ill-advised. The band pictures are always appropriately evil though. Go see them live at MDF next year!

-The Eye in the Smoke-

Sadist – Sadist

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Many people, upon reading what we have posted here, assume we’re anti-progressive death metal. People note how much we squirt used nutrients all over Opeth, the latest Cynic or abortions of taste like Origin, and in order to justify their outrage, claim we don’t like prog metal. In fact, the opposite is true: we love prog metal, and go hog wild for bands like Atheist, Obliveon, Voivod, Gorguts and Pestilence. We even love classics of alternative progressive metal like Supuration. But what we don’t like is pose-prog, which is music that “sounds” progressive but is actually at blockhead levels of disorganization. Like Opeth. Like the new Cynic. Fake prog is bad prog, and because anyone who tries fake prog is probably a delusional and deceptive moron, is also usually bad music.

Today’s band isn’t death metal, and it’s “progressive lite” like Rush, in that there are difficult techniques and longer compositions at work, but not as much theoretical squirreling around key signature. From Italy, Sadist are a progressive death-ish metal band who love their keyboards, acoustic interludes and longer songs — just like Opeth. And like Cynic, they incorporate a ton of jazz-fusion technique, most notably in drums and bass.

On the whole, Sadist’s self-titled album is a lot like Obliveon’s Nemesis: beaucoups speed metal, some death metal, a lot of prog, some newer (“nu”) influences and then a sound all their own. What makes them different is that they are working in the genre split between speed metal and death metal where bands like Kreator, Destruction, Rigor Mortis and Slayer exist. Even more interesting is that by going progressive, they’ve approximated a sound halfway between older Sadus and newer Coroner.

The majority of the riffs on this CD are straight out of the speed metal canon, but on its rougher, more experimental edge, like those on Coroner’s “Grin,” and although they later merge with arpeggiated clean playing or lengthy keyboard interludes of a beauty not seen since Dimmu Borgir decided to rip off all that video game music for “Stormblast,” the songs follow a speed metal pattern like early Sadus: riff/chorus with divergences, but ultimately, returning to a fist-pumping foot-stomping chorus rhythm to complement the rhythms of drums and guitar.

The first track seems to me a fusion of the first and third Meshuggah albums, and that influences stretches throughout this album which made me at first want to avoid it, but the underlying music is of quality and fits in among other prog speed/death bands like Coroner, Sadus, Creepmime, later Voivod, etc. Vocals unfortunately show influence from nu-core (or more likely, Meshuggah), or all that metalcore-derived stuff (punk with speed metal pretensions and influences from metal, rock and jazz) that demands a ranting vocal rhythm that recurses every four syllables, causing out-of-the-closet assholes like me to wish we could make the vocal track Go Away for the remaining duration of a song.

These aesthetic concerns aside however, the music is quite good. What it isn’t is simplified enough in core, or theatrical enough, to stand out as well as the songs of, say, Atheist, so it’s less memorable. That isn’t to say less bad or less complex; in fact, it has more detail tied toward its core themes, but the core theme isn’t refracted throughout the details.

On the whole, this is a good album from an undernoticed band that has a better overall sense of metal going for it than its obvious competitive influences — Cynic, Meshuggah, Opeth, and Atheist are all influences here — with more of a sense of musicality than the newer “technical” bands that specialize in blockhead riffs at mind-bending speeds. It makes good rainy day listening, when the listener is already in a quiet state of mind and simply receptive, will find all the good this has to offer behind its somewhat cryptic aesthetic.

Why record labels and stores are dying

October 12, 2009 –
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Every time someone is bemoaning the dying state of the record industry, I get in trouble.

I get in trouble because I point out that it’s not just the record industry — it’s also the publishing industry and the movie industry.

What do these have in common? They’re entertainment. And also, since the 1980s and even more 1990s, they’ve become democratized. It’s easy for almost anyone to write a book, record an album, or make a movie.

And how well has that turned out for the industry, I ask. Did it make more Hemingways, Beethovens and Hitchcocks, or did it make more of a mid-1980s punk scene, where every fan had a band and none of them are good?

Because if it’s the latter, I tell people, you’re going to run out of money. You need real out of the ballpark smashes to make it in entertainment. You need a handful of names people can know, and buy, and always get quality. That’s how you build an audience.

If everything’s about as good as everything else, they’ll just download it, listen to the radio, or go without. Because there are no keepers. There are no names worth remembering. It’s sort of like a faucet, you turn it on and stuff comes out, and it’s about the same from one day to another, so it just serves a function. It doesn’t, you know, touch your soul or anything.

The usual suspects — hipsters, Democrats, religious fanatics, addicts of dangerous drugs, denial fiends, scenesters and emosexuals — turn on me at this point and say I’m being severe. No, they say. The reason the record industry is in deep doo-doo is file sharing.

O really? I say. Then what about the publishing industry? Everyone downloading their copies of The Lovely Bones now?

Of course they aren’t. Of course the usual suspects are wrong. Of course the most direct (not to be confused with “simplest”) answer is correct:

The industry is declining because it’s pumping out mediocre material.

…[H]ere are a few tidbits of information shared by publicist Ariel Hyatt about U.S. album sales in 2008: More than 115,000 albums were released, but only 110 sold more than 250,000 copies, a mere 1,500 topped 10,000 sales, and fewer than 6,000 cracked the 1,000 barrier — further evidence that sales of recorded music are not the way of the future for artists. Instead, it increasingly appears that recordings will be more like advertisements for opportunities that actually do make money: live performances, merchandise, licensing to movies, commercials and video games, ring tones, etc.

The Chicago Tribune

Yeah, somehow, I don’t think so. If it were that easy, they’d be doing just fine already.

More likely, they’re running into trouble selling their music, movies and books because they have been democratized: there are too many, and they’re too similar.

It works like this. In the old days, getting a script/book/album out is hard. That filters out most of the crap. Even more, you have editors and A&R guys to filter out more crap. Yeah, sometimes they get delusional with trends, but in general, they filter out most of the goo.

Then those go away.

So now anyone can make a record, book or film… so everyone does.

An upcoming artist looks at this and thinks: you know, whatever movie/book/record I make is going to get lost in the flood. I’m going to business school, getting into performance art, or participating in another type of art to make my name known. Because if I don’t make my name known, I starve.

And that’s the bottom line for artists: everyone you know is telling you you’re a moron for doing it, so you need to avoid starving or they’ll cluck “I told you so!” over your emaciated carcass. Having no ability to immediately separate yourself from the crowd and win on the basis of quality drives away quality artists, leaving the average ones. That means no great big awesome hits but lots of OK-not-great.

There are too many favorites of the day and not enough standouts of a lifetime, and that’s why the music, movie and publishing industries are choking themselves out.