Forward into the past

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Revolver published its list of metal bands who define the future of metal, and naturally people are a bit taken aback. The dominant trend on the list: metal bands that look like 90s bands who play with more distortion.

They come in several types: Marilyn Manson style hard rock goth, lite-jazz merged with Dream Theater riffing made technical in the math-metal style, black metal hybridized with shoe-gazing soul-searching solipsistic indie rock, tepid stoner rock, and the descendants of nu-metal who have mixed elements of the above in to hide their rip-off of hip-hop melded with bouncy radio rock.

In short, the list reveals a dearth of ideas, and instead of forging forward, these bands are heading backward toward past “successful” genres and mixing them together with a few metal riffs to make the claim to be the future of metal. Like the great metalcore revolution, and Napalm Death’s attempt to go indie with Words from the Exit Wound, this will succeed with the audience the industry has cultivated and fail with the wider audience for metal.

Metal thrives when it tackles the forbidden. In any civilization, that excluded taboo is the nihilistic approach of literal reality: the inevitability of death, the vast unknowability of our role in the cosmos, the necessity of war and violence, and the innate hatred that exists in humanity as some individuals break away from the herd and try to rise above. Metal is naturalistic and feral, aggressive and amoral, violent and morbid. It is everything we fear in life.

On the other hand, this new list presents nothing we fear in life. Tattooed hipsters in sweaters and goofy cartoons of uniforms do not induce fear. They induce tolerance and a shrug. They tell us nothing we do not hear from the many media outlets and rock bands of past. Unlike Black Sabbath, who dived bombed the flower power circlejerk with their own dark vision of the evil within us all, and the necessity of conflict, these bands offer us what Good Housekeeping might if dedicated to the quasi-“edgy” urban culture of guys with media jobs looking for a purpose so they can be unique at the local pub.

If you want to find the future of metal, go to its roots. Metal does not change because humans do not change. We fear death and the possibility of it coming for us, so with the aid of social conventions we exclude terror from our language so that we can exclude it from our minds. This is what metal rebels against, and its philosophy originates in rejection of this denial in order to discover what lies beyond the realms of sociability and polite conversation. The future awaits there at that horizon, not safely within the boundaries of existing culture.

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Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued

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Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.

Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.

Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.

With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.

This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.

  1. Whitechapel
  2. Rites of Blood
  3. Out of the Abyss
  4. Return of the Old Ones
  5. Black Cauldron
  6. Midnight Meat Train
  7. War in Heaven
  8. Slaughterhouse
  9. Helicon

For more information:

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Interview with techno-slam-deathcore band Cuff

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The metal scene is not a static thing. It goes on, and you either participate or accept it as is. For this reason, many of us are looking into newer styles of metal.

Cuff combine Cryptopsy-inspired deathcore with slam and a Voivod-inspired technological fascination. Comprised of only two guys, Bob Shaw (vocals) and Zach Smith (all instruments), this band has bashed out an incredible number of albums.

Zach Smith took the time between beard agriculture and research of tortures to answer our questions:

You’re a two-person band with one person doing all vocals and the other doing all instrumentals. How does that work out? Do you collaborate on the songwriting or contribute roles as you can?

Mostly the songs are written by me, with input from Bob as to where or how the song structures should be. I think it works well the way we do things, at least it’s worked for the last 8 years We both write the lyrics , so it’s pretty equal what we do as a band.

As a Canadian band, you have a rich history to live up to… including both Cryptopsy, for your general musicality, and Voivod or Dead Brain Cells perhaps for the sci-fi lyrics. What made you choose to go in this direction?

It was an obvious choice to us to go with the sci-fi stuff, it felt like it matched the music and tone of the band perfectly.

The French metal scene is amazing, we made a trip out to Montreal last year and were met with open arms by some of the coolest fans/bands on the planet.

As for our influences I think we borrow more from American brutal death metal than anything Canadian, but Cryptopsy is an obvious candidate for an influence.

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Inevitably your album will be compared with West Coast technical gore-grind but other influences seem to be there. I hear Cannibal Corpse, and notice at least one of y’all wearing a Dying Fetus tshirt. Can you tell us what your other influences were?

My influences vary between styles of music, anything from Zeppelin to the Beatles and back to Devourment. It’s a whole mish-mash of interesting things indeed! Bob’s influences include of course Dying Fetus along with Wormed and Jenovavirus.

Transient Suffering Through the Ergosphere is your third album. What were the other two like? Is there a continuing storyline between them? If so, what part does this third album tell?

Well actually it’s our 8th full length and 24th release in total!

The album is a continuation from our last album from Gore House Productions called Forced Human Sacrifice to the New Gods of Earth. We have plans for a third album in the storyline somewhere down the road but try and keep that between us!

With only two men in the band, it doesn’t seem like you would have the advantage of being able to jam on this material. How do you compose? Are mathematical formulas, laser pointers and graph paper involved?

Lots of riffs and demos in the recording process, and we rehearse with our drum machine named Montgomery a few times a month. We’ve played live with a lot of bands as well over the years. Almost played with the legendary Anal Cunt but Seth had to kick the bucket right before the show was drawing near!

How do you describe the music you make?

Our music, to me, is organized chaos. It has a real dark vibe to it that stands out among other little things like sound design and song structure. We’re heavily influenced by Jenovavirus, Dying Fetus and Devourment mostly for their ‘slam’ elements.

Can you tell us about recording this album? Was it a challenge, where did you do it, and did you achieve the sound you wanted? Were there any production hacks necessary to make that come about?

We recorded it in a little building down the street from our houses with a good friend of ours Ken Coul.

The studio is called Black Cloud Recording Studio and we did get the sound we were looking for and more. It’s our best sounding album to date with the most crushing slams and fastest grinds we’ve written. No frilly production was used other than amp presets and some reverb. It’s all natural!

What’s next for Cuff?

An EP, a new full length, new merch and definitely a tour are sometime in the near future. We really need to get out there to our friends across the world (and also to please our label GHP! Haha).

All in all, we’re keeping busy and that’s what matters.

You can check us out on Facebook and our Bigcartel sites.

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Parable of the poseur

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One day, a man decided he wanted to be a lion, so he went to a local costume store and bought a lion suit complete with a mask and gloves that looked like lion’s paws.

The man then went out into the city telling everyone that he was a lion. One citizen approached him and told him that he wasn’t a lion, but a man in a lion’s costume. The man responded in protest: “I am so a lion! I have the paws of a lion, I have the face and body of a lion, and I can roar like a lion too!” The man then let out a roar that attracted pedestrians to the two debaters.

Eleven of the onlookers saw how much attention the man-lion was receiving, and they wanted to be lions too. So, they went to the local costume store and bought lion outfits and masks for themselves. The skeptical citizen was severely annoyed, and issued a challenge to the man-lions: “If you truly are lions, go then and live with them in the wild. Join a pride of them and we shall see who the lions are.”

The man-lions accepted the challenge, and the twelve of them went into the wilderness to live with the lions. They found a pride and wandered towards them on all-fours, imitating lion behavior, but the wild lions snarled at them. One of the man-lions got too close, and was struck by a lions claw. The wounded man-lion ran away, throwing his lion mask into the air as he dashed off. The remaining man-lions approached with caution, but were halted by a whistle a quarter-mile behind them.

The skeptical citizen had been watching them the whole time. He approaches them and reaches behind his head, unzipping and removing his human costume, revealing that he was a lion. He walks over to his pride and is greeted warmly. The eleven man-lions stared wide-eyed at the returning lion as he says:

“I heard word of a lion in the city, so investigated in disguise. I was annoyed to discover this ‘lion’ was a pretender and that others are following in this deception. You are not lions, you are men in lion suits made by men, and you are not welcome here.”

If you are a false, do not entry!

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Metal documentary The Distorted Island release planned for December 18, 2014

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Heavy metal documentary The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico will see release on December 18, 2014, at an unveiling at the Museum of Art of Puerto Rico in Santurce. Tickets are limited to 300, but free of charge, and can be acquired from the organizers.

The Distorted Island: Heavy Metal Music and Community in Puerto Rico explores the birth and growth of the metal scene in Puerto Rico, zooming on on how local bands have survived for three decades thanks to strong strong community ties, while highlighting the cultural and historical challenges faced along the way. The film is the brainchild of Dr. Nelson Varas-Díaz, professor and director of the Puerto Rico Heavy Metal Studies program, and fellow academics Osvaldo González-Sepúlveda, Eliut Rivera-Segarra and Sigrid Mendoza.

Local artist Kadriel Betsen will release a new promotional poster each week until the film’s release, with each image showcasing a different angle of approach to the topic matter. These posters will familiarize the public with some of the individuals interviewed for the film and set the mood for an appreciation of Puerto Rican metal. For updates, see the Puerto Rican Heavy Metal Studies Facebook page.

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Rigor Mortis – Slaves to the Grave

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The job of a record reviewer embraces nihilism in a way most people will never experience. Much must be removed — nostalgia for the musicians who shaped much of your teen years, sympathy for a musician who died far too young, desire for metal to awaken from its slumber — in order to clearly analyze the music and answer the basic question all reviewers should ask themselves: if I were a casual to moderately involved fan, on a limited budget, would I buy this record?

With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis returns after a challenging history. The only speed metal band with death metal influences to get signed to a major label, the band unleashed Rigor Mortis after which band politics forced out the vocalist almost all sources agree was their best, Bruce Corbitt. The band surged forward and released its instrumentally most exciting material on the Freaks EP, but completely lost direction with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth, which reflected the band members pursuing their individual directions and losing a cohesive sound.

Now after band members have spent time in Ministry, Warbeast, and Gwar, Rigor Mortis re-form to re-take the stage and carry on where they might have picked up after that first album. Stunned by the lugubrious death of guitarist Mike Scaccia, the band soldiered on with this crowd-funded album release, still facing its greatest struggle which is that “its strength is its weakness,” and having many strong individual performers means finding direction and balance is a challenge. Slaves to the Grave takes the fast tremolo speed metal approach of Rigor Mortis and slows it down to give it the rhythmic approach of bands like Kreator, Sodom and Destruction which makes it very catchy. Into this, the band members drop varied influences from other music of the period and contemporary metal. This is not really a followup to the first album; more likely, it is an attempt to do what Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth tried to — modernize its sound and find balance between technicality and rhythmic hook choruses — but with the original lineup.

The problem with Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth is that, while it contained some of the greatest songwriting to emerge from this band, it was completely disordered, both as an album and as individual songs. Band members seemed to wander on stage to contribute their specialties, then vanish into the background as the band zeroed to a mean in order to preserve the integration of each song. With Slaves to the Grave, Rigor Mortis assert much more control over their work, but try hard to include all of their strengths. Vocalist Bruce Corbitt writes hook-heavy choruses that are highly motivational, where Mike Scaccia specializes in melodic guitar. Those two are in tension because guitar jams like to expand, where rhythmic hooks require keeping flying speed and then hitting it with dramatic tempo changes. On this new work, the band separate the instrumental bits from the song itself, creating a kind of “oasis” within the song arrangement where the guitar can unleash itself.

Slaves to the Grave takes on a number of influences. From modern metal, it inherits the trope vocals that chant in cadence with the guitars and drums in the style that Pantera (nice guys, but the death of speed metal through norming) picked up on and metalcore really took to the wall, but luckily this does not happen at full intensity very frequently. The band uses its classic technique of overloading verses so that they have two parts, a simple placeholder and a texturally more intense second half that prepares for the chorus. This gives the music more of a theater and lets the hook of the chorus integrate more with the song as a whole. Unfortunately, someone decided that mid-1980s German speed metal drums would be essential here, so most of the percussion emulates this style which not only becomes overbearing but is too simple for this music. A little Dave Lombardo influence here would improve things quite a bit. These songs fit together tightly like ancient walls and there are no random, rambling or irrelevant discursive bits, which shows the professionalism of this band.

If we went searching for a spirit animal for this album, it would probably be mid-1980s Iron Maiden. Many of these chord progressions and the general rhythms used resemble those from the speed metal years of Iron Maiden, but also, the arrangements of these songs mirror the tendencies that the NWOBHM band developed. Songs blast through verse-chorus pairs, work themselves up to a break, reprise their main theme and then launch into instrumental cool-downs. This balance allowed Iron Maiden to stay hookish but also work in the depth they knew would keep their albums from being essentially aggro-pop, and it worked for them for many years, so it is intelligent of Rigor Mortis to pick up this vein. Other influences are Testament and earlier Rigor Mortis itself, which is cited through similar but distinctively altered chord progressions and melodies. “The Infected” for example shadows “Die in Pain,” “Poltergeist” shadows the break return in “Revelations” by Iron Maiden, and other fragments show up repurposed as new riffs. Unlike earlier works, the melody in Slaves to the Grave is built into the chord progressions, giving the songs more harmonic space. Scaccia takes advantage of this with numerous instrumental passages. These show a greater study of tone than earlier works, but lack the frenetic architectures of his lead guitar on Freaks and drifts closer to the rock, metal and jazz influences of Rigor Mortis vs. The Earth. This allows songs to slow down, expand a bit, and become more distinctive because they release less on pure rhythm and more on melody.

This album offers well-composed songs that straddle the line between the raw fury of early Rigor Mortis and the instrumentally-advanced but compositionally disintegrated material of its later works. The most death metal track, “Curse of the Draugr,” and the first half the album deliver the greatest punch. The concluding ten-minute instrumental on the topic of Roman gladiators could perhaps be left off without damaging the album at all, since it is sparse in context and driven by vocals instead of guitar composition. The instrumental track sounds like the instrumentals from the later years of Death, but with less focus on pure theory and more on an emotional side to the music; metal fans will be lucky if future metal-jazz hybrids heed this direction. On the whole, Slaves to the Grave shows Rigor Mortis at its healthiest point in two and a half decades. For those who want the first album done again, it will not satisfy, but this will be more of a hit with melodic speed metal and technical metal fans.

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Skepticism to record new album Ordeal live in Turku, Finland

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Funeral doom innovators Skepticism plan to record their fifth album, Ordeal, live at Klubi in Turku, Finland on January 24, 2015. This marks a departure from their normal process of recording in studio but enables the band to record the album and video simultaneously for release on their new label, Svart Records, having transferred from Red Stream Records.

Visitors to the live show will also receive a re-issue of the first Skepticism 7″ EP originally released in 1992, which will be unavailable to the public. Skepticism formed in 1991, and recorded through the 1990s before unleashing their first full-length, Stormcrowfleet, in 1995.

Attracting fans for their ability to merge melody, theatrical song structures in the Celtic Frost style and abrasive slow and ponderous riffing in the best doom-death style, Skepticism took doom metal to the next level of slow and grinding music creating a pervasive sense of dread and resistance.

With their 1995 album Stormcrowfleet, Skepticism defined the funeral doom genre as entirely separate from the warmed-over rock of stoner and mainstream doom and, along with Winter, showed an entirely different direction for the future of that style. Since that time, Skepticism have released four full-length albums and two EPs to enthusiastic response by a dedicated fanbase.

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