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.

Convulse – Evil Prevails

convulse-evil_prevailsAs has been said countless times before, the worst record review is a waffle: “It’s OK for what it is, if you like that.” This corresponds to someone neither moved to ire or adoration by a work; in other words, it barely registered. Convulse is not like that. It is a band to both love and hate, but at the same time.

Evil Prevails should be loved for the rare moments of clarity in which riffs are glued together to reach a conclusion that makes sense out of them, causing a sense of rising above the confusion of life as the various dots connect. Themes add up and then grow, and this is where the band shines. They develop beautiful riffs from less interesting ones, and in those riffs, have a sublime sense of how phrase corresponds to emotion.

On the other hand, the dark side of this release is twofold. First, many of its riffs are simplistic in an American football death metal way, reminiscent of Carbonized or Grave but less enigmatic. Second, when riffs aren’t galloping across your forehead, the band likes to work in random rock, blues and jazz influences that don’t fit with the whole. These are not only incongruous, but relatively undistinguished.

Some might say that this in itself is an unorthodox aesthetic. By making a grab-bag of parts, Convulse is exuding deconstruction or nihilism, in other words. However, more likely, this mirrors a committee. The average is bad, but occasionally someone has a flash of inspiration; in the meantime, dramatic people who are good at what’s normally accepted are busy getting in their moments in the sun, showing off and getting promoted.

As a result, it’s hard to like Evil Prevails; it’s a mess with some nuggets of gold. If you like plodding bands like Gorement, the brutal riffs will not disappoint; if you like incomplete-synthesis bands like Afflicted you’ll enjoy the guitar fireworks. But more likely you will background the music until a nugget appears, have an “Aha!” moment, and then forget it as the churn goes on.

The Black Moriah launches “Trail of Texas Terror” tour

the_black_moriah-trail_of_texas_terror_tour

Following the Housecore Horror Film Festival, speed metal/math metal band The Black Moriah will embark on a short tour of Texas to showcase its most recent album, Casket Prospects. Formed by a former Absu member and experienced metal musicians, The Black Moriah attempts to bridge classic and modern metal.

Casket Prospects shows the band integrating the indie-metal styles in black and death metal with classic metal hooks. Droning dissonant riffs compete for space with speed metal riffs, heavy metal choruses, and complex conjurations of song structure underneath the modern metal “surge style” vocals.

While the alternative metal stylings may not appeal to the average Absu fan, the technicality and frenetic intensity of this release may satisfy in its stead. The “Trail of Texas Terror” tour shows the band reaching out to a new fanbase more on the alternative/indie side while attempting to keep its core fanbase in more traditional metal.

The Black Moriah – Trail of Texas Terror tour 2013

     
October 17 Dallas, TX The Wits End
October 18 San Angelo, TX Penny Pub
October 19 Amarillo, TX The Wreck Room
October 20 El Paso, TX Alumni Bar
October 24 Austin, TX The Dirty Dog
Housecore Horror Film Festival

Grave unleashes Morbid Ascent EP

grave-morbid_ascentToday classic Swedish death metal band Grave releases its comeback EP, Morbid Ascent, featuring four tracks of death metal and a cover of a Satyricon song. The US version of this release is pressed on mustard-yellow vinyl and can be purchased Century Media.

Known for their debut album Into the Grave from the early 1990s, Grave introduced the rudimentary form of the Swedish death metal sound to a new generation who appreciated the raw intensity of their primal music. Joining a small circle of European bands who were as poundingly violent as their American counterparts, Grave became a staple before fading away in the late 1990s.

Morbid Ascent shows the band resurrecting itself in the present era and attempting to adapt its classic sound and improved technical performance to the demands of a new time, following their 2012 release Endless Procession of Souls. If you’re in Europe, you can catch Grave live on October 5 at Zombie Fest II in Oostenede, Belgium.

Side 1:
1. Venial Sin
2. Morbid Ascent
Side 2:
1. Possessed (originally by SATYRICON)
2. Epos (Risen From The Tomb – Remix)
3. Reality Of Life

Exhumer releases Degraded by Sepsis and embarks on European tour

exhumer-degraded_by_sepsisExhumer will release their second album Degraded by Sepsis on October 15, 2013 through Comatose Music. The Italian deathgrind band embarks on a full European tour with Psycroptic, Hour of Penance and Dyscarnate starting this Friday. Tour dates follow.

Degraded by Sepsis presents an efficient and well-executed take on standard deathgrind. Guttural blasting abounds, underscored with melody, emphasizing a buildup to a vocal and percussion tirade that brings the song to its peak. Song development is minimal and mostly verse-chorus.

While this may not win any points with those who demand innovation and profundity, Exhumer’s second work shows us material that is deliberate, with no extraneous parts hanging around like at a poorly-cleaned morgue, and tasteful in that all pieces fit together and the song experience as a whole is enjoyable.

Psycroptic, Hour of Penance, Dyscarnate and Exhumer European Tour 2013

 
September 20 Aarshot, Belgium JC De Klinker
September 21 Essen, Germany Turock
September 22 London UK Electrowerkz
September 23 Dublin, Ireland The Pint
September 24 Glasgow, UK Ivory Blacks
September 25 Cardiff, UK Bogiez Rock Club
September 26 Margate, UK Westcoast
September 27 Paris, France Glazart
September 28 Lausanne, Switzerland Metal Assault Festival
September 29 Zurich, Switzerland Planet 5
September 30 Munich, Germany Feierwerk Kranhalle
October 1 Kosice, Slovakia Collosseum
October 2 Ostrava, Czech Rep Barrack Music Club
October 4 Rotterdam, Netherlands Baroeg
October 5 Copenhagen, Denmark Beta

Gorgoroth to release Instinctus Bestialis in early 2014

gorgoroth-black_metalNorwegian black metal band Gorgoroth have announced a tentative schedule for their new album, Instinctus Bestialis. In a recent interview, the band stated that their goal was to have the album released by the early part of 2014, later adding that the demos had already been finalized.

This will be the band’s first release with this lineup; having replaced vocalist Pest with Atterigner, vocalist for modern black metal band Triumfall. In 2009, Gorgoroth released Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, which saw the band furthering their post-millennial style of playing black-flavored heavy metal, relying primarily on verse-chorus arrangements.

Most relevant for their ’90s work, the decade saw Gorgoroth perfecting the style of melodic narrative metal, linear yet intriguing in its possibilities. Simultaneously unsettling and inviting, Gorgoroth bridged the gap between the progenitors of the genre and the many bands that would later follow.

The band will be touring in support of Instinctus Bestialis, starting in March and beginning in Europe, with Hoest from Taake on vocals. No tour dates have yet been announced.

Incantation – Mortal Throne of Nazarene LP re-issue

incantation-mortal_throne_of_nazarene_lp_reissueThe good thing about the transition to two decades of operation is that a genre may benefit from advances in technology and funding to re-release its classics in restored or originally-intended form. Through this channel a burst of classics on vinyl has emerged over the past five years.

Mortal Throne of Nazarene is Incantation‘s most controversial album. People either love it or hate it, and a huge part of this is the simple fact that it’s impossible to follow up to Onward to Golgotha. That album walks the earth like an ice giant or Norse god, crushing all in its path. How to top that?

Part of what makes this album so controversial was its original production which captured a searing guitar tone but also managed to blend the vocals and guitars to create a stream of noise that often made it impossible to discern chord changes. It wasn’t terrible, for the time, but it made it harder to listen to the music under the vocals.

The LP re-issue of Mortal Throne of Nazarene fixes these problems. Not only are instruments clear, but the vocals are also present with great force. Not only that but the warmth of vinyl is put to good use preserving the color of distorted guitar, bass and drums, which fleshes out this album. It does it all without losing volume, making this an intense compacted flow of sound.

As far as the album itself, my supposition is that the controversy will never die. It has its inspired parts and flashes of genius, but large portions of the rest feel incomplete, like they got sketched out but never fully adjusted and shaped to serve at optimal power. Much of those are lengthy chromatic connective passages that seem to repeat where they would have branched on earlier releases.

It’s reminiscent of Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn in that way. For confirmation, listen to the Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish EP which follows this album and adjusts details of many songs such that they work together instead of divergently. Several LP songs are on that shorter release at greater effect.

What this re-issue of Mortal Throne of Nazarene will do is to fan those flames of controversy by letting us hear this album with a production on par to that of Onward to Golgotha. This means that with this LP re-issue, the band separate controversy over production from controversy over composition, and let the underground see this album in a new light.