Ad Hominem – Slaves of God to the Gallows

ad_hominem-slaves_of_god_to_the_gallowsIf you can imagine an industrial band using metal riffs, but instead of relying on the Godflesh style of machine-like industrial restores in itself the older EBM style, you have a decent idea of what Slaves of God to the Gallows is like.

Ad Hominem make easily listened to industrial pop with metal riffs peeking out from beneath the sequenced keyboards, drums and samples, including vocals howling out distorted tempests of chorus. It is more repetitive than metal, and not atmospheric at all; like a pop song, it directs your attention at its focal point and then forces the dots to connect.

As a result, this is somewhat inarticulate compared to metal, despite being able to understand the vocals which I admit is a new experience. Imagine Nine Inch Nails but with more of ceremonial vibe to the keyboards, much as they’re used on a Rotting Christ album, and you have Slaves of the God to the Gallows.

While I’m not the world’s biggest industrial fan simply because it is closer to the repetitive trope function of rock and pop music, this is enjoyable material that hides its intensely repetitive nature as best it can. You may find yourself humming these songs as you go through life, wondering where your brain came up with such viral grooves.

Strangelight – 9 Days

strangelight-9_daysThe spin on this one is that it was recorded in nine days, so they gave it the mentally catchy title. Sounds very indie rock, no? That’s exactly what this is. Strangelight sounds like a more technical cross between Mudhoney and Sonic Youth.

In fact, I’m baffled as to how this made it into a metal distribution list. It’s indie rock. There’s not even appreciably more distortion. It’s nicely done, with reasonable guitar melodies and vocal support, but it’s highly repetitive.

9 Days also illustrates another problem with indie rock which is that all of it expresses a single mood, which is a kind of depression mixed with wistfulness. I guess it seems profound to Tori Amos fans, but to me it just sounds like people who haven’t yet learned to approach life like they’re alive.

Strangelight do have some interesting influences. In particular, there seems to be an affinity for both British electro-pop and the stream of guitar bands from the 1970s that predated the hard rock and metal explosion. Nothing here is bad, just not particularly relevant.

Azure Emote – The Gravity of Impermanence

azure_emote-the_gravity_of_impermanenceAlthough there’s a very noodly and “progressive” surface to Azure Emote, what lies beneath the skin is a mixture of speed metal and alternative rock. That gets layered in metal riffs, jazzy guitars, industrial-style vocals and complex percussion.

The Gravity of Impermanence despite having a cool-sounding name delivers almost nothing of what we want from progressive metal, which is puzzles. Games. Brain witchcraft. Interesting twists and turns that make us look forward to another day of being alive, again.

Instead, Azure Emote deliver relatively consistent surges of volume in vocals and drums, and “unpredictability” that’s so predictable it’s like watching a dancer so bad she lunges in exactly the wrong direction at the wrong time. As if sensing this is paltry, the band experiments with extensive vocal weirdness and frequent build-up/break-down types structures.

Perhaps looking for some underground cred, Azure Emote throw in every third riff as something vaguely death metallish in the Nocturnus-Obliveon spectrum of technical riffs. However, without the context to support it, it becomes random instead of interesting.

Interview: Markus Stock of Empyrium

markus_stock-empyrium

The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.

Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.

Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.

We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.

Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

Interview with Markus Stock of Empyrium

markus_stock-empyrium

The mysterious entity known as Empyrium has attracted its share of attention over the years by upholding the strongest nature-mystic tradition in metal, and dark ambient into which it migrated.

Like other nature mystics in metal, Empyrium expand the metal lexicon with lush dark organic soundscapes and dynamics that more represent the whims of nature than the mechanical sounds of city or ideology.

Into the Pantheon shows Empyrium in a live setting, both with a concert DVD and a documentary film made about the band and this event. Eagerly awaited by fans who remain loyal to this publicity-shy act, Into the Pantheon delivers a subtle but powerful live experience.

We were fortunate to be able to catch up with Markus Stock of Empyrium for a quick interview.

How did Empyrium come about? Did you have a concept when you went into this practice, or did it develop naturally?

When we started Empyrium back in 1993 we were just 15 year old kids and didn’t have a detailed plan or concept whatsoever at first. We just followed our heart and made music that came naturally to us…now, 20 years later, we still follow that rule, but of course we are much more experienced and skilled these days.

Were you influenced by past metal bands who’ve used acoustic instruments among the distorted guitars, like Cemetary and Pyogenesis?

Yeah, we were. I loved the first Pyogenesis MCD (on Osmose) when it came out. Big influences also were My Dying Bride, early Paradise Lost, very early Cradle Of Filth, Darkthrone and Emperor (especially their unbelievable split with Enslaved).

Some have hypothesized that metal is in a slump, and for it to break out, it’s going to need to get closer to genres like classical or folk music where there’s a greater range of instrument used, thus more musical possibilities. Did you have a similar idea in your own path?

Actually, no. Today I don’t view Empyrium as a Metal Band anymore. We have influences from many, many genres and styles of music. I think the whole “let’s mix our metal with folk/classical/hip-hop/funk/whatever” went a little overboard and today I enjoy Metal much more when it retains some purity of the genre. Nothin wrong with some classical elements or keyboards but the electric guitar and the pounding drums should be the centerpiece of a Metal Band.

Into the Pantheon is an immaculate concert with high technical performance but also emotional intensity. How did you practice for this? And how much did you just “wing it” to keep the mood strong?

We practiced alot. I wrote a score for each live musician involved so they could prepare themselve at home and then we rehearsed about a week in a smal venue that was rented for us. It was important to me to be well prepared.

Do you see an affinity between yourselves and other atmosphere based metal bands like Summoning?

Oh yes. I loved the whole Summoning stuff. I hear they made a new album I need to check that, though I find it hard to retain this kind of 90ies atmospheric today.

Most would identify your style as some kind of doom metal, like My Dying Bride or Paradise Lost, but at the pace of a funeral doom band, like Skepticism or Winter. What made you choose the tempi at which you play, and what does it suggest, artistically?

Like mentioned earlier I can see influences and similarities to bands like Paradise Lost and My Dying Bride in our very early works but Skepticism or Winter? Definitely no.

Empyrium has a reputation for being secretive. Are you secretive? If so, why?

No I am not. This is because we haven’t played live in more than 15 years of band history. But, I am not lurking in a cave, deep in the woods, pondering in solitude and silence over my future plans.

Metal bands seem to have this life cycle where they start out with fresh ideas, and then become more like their influences, then get big and quality plummets after that. Have you observed this? How will Empyrium beat this cycle?

We have actually finished a new album and with a break between the last album and this one of almost 10 years – believe me, if you follow your heart and do the music that comes out of you it will be fresh again.

In addition to the live concert, there was a DVD made about the band. How did this come about? What did you think of the final product?

I think it’s a nice addition to the live part of the DVD and was a lot of work. Personally I can’t see myself talking over such a long period of time but fans will definitely love the detail and the work that went into this documentay,

Once this DVD and documentary hit the stores, there’s going to be a reaction. How much does it influence you? Will it inspire you to tour, or release more music?

There will be no tour with Empyrium. A few selected live appearances but no tour. As mentioned earlier we have a new album in the pipeline to be released maybe early next year.

What are your non-musical influences? Are there works of art or literature that capture the vision you’re trying to create in sound?

Of course. Movies, literature, paintings – everything I consume inspires me. Nature and landscapes have always been a big influence on Empyrium. Past, present and future.

It must be challenging to integrate so many instruments and voices of such different loudness and timbre into your works. How do you compose your songs? Do you start with an idea, or a melody, or a riff?

It usually starts with just one theme – a small melody or a riff…from there we go and build up a song. With newer Empyrium material it’s is often that a song is based on one single theme and we go from there and build it up, let it collapse again, change small details etc. to make the theme work over the period of the song. You’ll hear that when the new album hits the streets.

In your view, what is heavy metal “about”? Does that change for doom metal?

Heavy Metal is about energy to me. Wild, touching, deep and archaic emotions at the same. As mentioned earlier, I don’t see Empyrium as a Metal band – we are more about the silence and the thoughts that come to you in silence. It’s much more introverted versus the the extroverted spirit of Metal.

Funerus – Reduced to Sludge

funerus-reduced_to_sludgeComing from the tradition of thunderous American death metal that incorporates doom passages, Funerus write European-style melodies through their songs and as a result create an architecture of moods that gives us song a distinct presence.

Reduced to Sludge uses rolling rhythm riffs, upset by longer fretboard-walking riffs that set up a more complex rhythmic expectation, and then as these riffs repeat modifies them to bring out a melody. Often this is a simple riff that, like a rebuttal, speaks back to the verse-chorus arrangement and expands its two and three notes into a whole melodic phrase.

Funerus shows its influences strongly from all over the map. The easy ones to pick out are Asphyx, Cianide and Entombed, and it’s foolish to expect this band to avoid some influence from Incantation from which its guitarist is loaned. Its faster riffs are simpler and evoke more of a NYDM feel, while its phrasal riffs sound more like the Incantation-Revenant-Profanatica-Demoncy spectrum of cavernous occult doom-death.

While Reduced to Slude demonstrates a range of powerful death metal riff archetypes, its vocals emerge straight from the early days of death metal, sounding both gruff and breathless without being fully guttural while also avoiding the rasp of black metal. These guide the onslaught of riffs when intense, and as it slows the textures meld, creating a sonic veil from which the listener gradually emerges.

Although Funerus stays with a classic death metal sound and thus does not offer a quirky or unexpected aesthetic, the result is that Funerus stays true to its roots and has a voice it is comfortable with. The result is an album of shorter songs that feel like longer songs, and despite being rudimentary and using similar techniques, avoid boredom by staying true to their essential mission of creating a dark and thunderous mood.

Why I am a douchebag elitist

black_metal_in_quotesSince metal is caught within the regime of popular entertainment, it speaks the language of socialization exclusively. Thus, if you have an unpopular opinion, it’s because you’re mean or a douchebag. Thus it is that people frequently refer to people who have standards as “douchebag elitists.”

Listening to a release by what I’ll call a respectable band, I was reminded of the reasons for my douchebag elitism. This CD is after all mostly right. It has all the right elements, knows the conventions of the genre, and has a number of sentiment and somewhat obvious but effective riffs. Should be good, right?

Except that it’s not good enough. It’s close, but not the same. Where Graveland — its primary influence — had a unique personality and a clear direction, this respectable band is derived from Graveland and Darkthrone and that basis is audible. The basis for Graveland was reality itself; the basis for the respectable band is music.

As a result, it misses on what black metal was. Even more importantly, it misses out on a standard of quality that lets blackmetal be of that level. When we are elitist, and admit only the bands which have a distinct and amazing perspective on the world, we see the genre as it is: the product of independent minds with purpose.

When we let that purpose fall, and allow those who simply want to partake of that vision to be part of the genre, standards plummet. Those bands are imitating from outside and trying to reproduce what was, but in doing so, they’re losing the most essential part of it, which is its motivation as a whole.

For a band to be black metal, it needs to discover the motivating ideas that made black metal what it was. Then, it must have its own take on those ideas, and in addition to that, do what everyone can do these days, which is play well and have good production.

It’s interesting how few people are actually required to make a genre. Graveland is immortal; while Woodtemple sounds good at a distance, and I know from the word of close friends that the person behind it is a good fellow, it would be an adulteration and sacrifice of what black metal is to endorse this album.

Derkéta – Goddess of Death

derketa-goddess_of_deathIn the winding genealogies of East Coast death metal, Derkéta shows up as the band that connects others but never had a release of its own. To fix that, a few years ago the band compiled all of its recordings to date onto a single album named Goddess of Death.

Like most compilations, Goddess of Death is better suited for fan listening than a casual introduction because there is heavy repetition of songs since each showed up on more than one release. The good news is that you can listen to these songs “grow up” and refine as time goes on, which is why it might make sense to listen to this CD from finish to start instead of the usual method.

Derkéta bill themselves as doom metal, which may be true since doom metal isn’t really a genre but more a description of bands that play slowly with morbid feeling, but the underpinnings of this release are pure old school death metal, with the feeling of the hopelessness of the industrial city merged with a mythological sense of human mortality. Like other doom-death bands Derkéta specialize in thunderous, resonant, slow and brooding chromatic riffs which build up to a mood of darkness with an inner core of sentiment.

Goddess of Death will most appeal to someone who appreciates the charm of the era, which includes rough production and musical theory that has more of “winging it” than reliance on formality. The riffs are slow, but inventive, and songs while utilizing standard structure are prone to sudden breaks and twists. The result is a shuddering wall of sound that projects its mythos of mordant sensation through radiant sound.

After this compilation, Derkéta went on to record a full-length that showed more influence from the melodic side of doom but those influences are also audible here, just in more subtle and tentative form. Combined with some uptempo riffing, a little bit of primitive death-doom drone, and just the right amount of panache, Goddess of Death satisfies the old school death metal urge.

Zemial – Nykta

zemial-nyktaFrom the way this album was promoted, a reader would anticipate an underground metal onslaught. However, outside of growly vocals that are just a shade removed from Motorhead, there’s nothing underground here. This is good old fashioned mid-paced speed metal in the early style that Onslaught and Exodus pioneered.

On Nykta, you’ll find choruses so infectious that the CDC is already tracking them. To offset that, you will find trudging riffs in the style of slower speed metal, with some nods to the catchier moments of heavy metal crossovers like Manilla Road and Cirith Ungol. There’s some decent guitar work experimenting on top of it, but the basis of this music is a steady procession of thoughtful primitive power-chorded riffs.

Luckily, Zemial know when to vary this up and so despite the heavy emphasis on hookish choruses, there is riff variation and transitional material that calls to mind the heavy rock bands of the mid-1970s like Deep Purple. On top of that shredding is tasteful and melodic, accenting what is otherwise a constant droning saw of guitar.

There are nods to the German speed metal scene as well, especially in percussion and its tendency to keep a pulsing beat with somewhat awkward tempo transitions that magically work once the momentum of the next riff picks up. Oddly the growly vocals, being semi-whispered and half-spoken, act more like a tour guide on a trance tour through hell than functioning like traditional vocals.

While this style may deserve a trigger warning for people who dislike repetition, Zemial acquit themselves well by knowing when to break the trope with abrupt transitions or melodic extensions of the riff idea. The result is simultaneously a new mapping of the past and a gentle tribute that keeps an ancient culture alive.