Mindcage – Our Own Devices

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Heavy metal with melodic vocal lines, Mindcage immediately calls to mind a cross between Queensryche and Candlemass, writing complex guitar leads on top of rock-rhythm classic heavy metal riffs. This allows Mindcage to create verses which showcase the melodic male and female vocals that serve as the lead instrument in these mid-paced songs, but also facilitate the inclusion of more intense metal riffing and soloing that will please fans of middle-period Iron Maiden. The rock-based focus on vocals pulls inside-out the extreme guitar-centric attitude of most metal bands, but with Mindcage, the result stands on its own.

Much of this material resembles 1980s Judas Priest in its mix of hard-rocking verses and metal choruses but song structures mostly stay within a reversed Slayer formula of verse-intro-chorus-bridge, yet vary the length and tempo to fit vocals and so manage to remain interesting. Because of its inclusion of post-speed metal riff styles, this band falls solidly in the “power metal” category but really spans over three decades of metal in a smoothly integrated whole. Those who like the paced vocal delivery of Candlemass and the melodic development of sung lines in the sense of later Queensryche will find some familiar twists and turns interpreted in a new way. While this would not make sense to most doom-metal fans, it maintains a mood that complements the plaintive despair of some doom and despite some fast riffs keeps songs within a reasonable pace.

The strength of power metal closely corresponds to its weakness. It is listenable, energetic and can be playing in the background while conversations happen. This means however that like rock it is intensely repetitive compared to death metal, where riffs vary more frequently and instead of vocals, serve as the lead instrument in composition. Within the framework of hybrid heavy metal and speed metal with death metal technique that is power metal, few are doing as well as Mindcage at keeping musical and emotional interest high without sliding into over-the-top dramatism like nu-metal bands. These songs present themselves in two stages, first appreciating the verse-chorus loop and its variations, and second, recognizing the moment of song development in the bridge or equivalent. This allows the band to keep any radical shifts muted until crucial points in the album, which allows this to be a good listen for being who are not focusing their entire being into the music. You would find it infinitely preferable to hear this at your regular bar than the usual power metal mishmash of theatrics, insistent verses and overly bombastic choruses.

Our Own Devices may not be over-active enough in the dramatic way that power metal has come to be, nor as inspirational and New Age positive as European listeners apparently like, but the solidity of this album lies in, like Queensryche and Candlemass, its ability to build a foundation around the vocals that enhance the mood-sensation of what they present. This creates a space for the kind of epic imagination that metal has always nourished with a touch of the science fiction style of outside narrative reflecting a technology for the soul that has hovered at the edge of power metal for some years now. Although Mindcage offer a different trip than riff-based power metal, Our Own Devices shows that they are one of the higher-quality players in that very specific niche.

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Martyrdöd – Elddop

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Coming from the fusion of d-beat crust, hard rock and melodic heavy metal, Martyrdöd demonstrate a greater ability to write songs than your average underground band, both through musical knowledge and the instinct to know how to complete a song convincingly. The problem that appears out of the chaos is that these are basically all the same song since the band has such a broad approach that making it successful requires narrowing the eventual product.

Songs start over the high-speed Disfear-style modified d-beat that is played more rigidly than its original UK inspiration and so fosters a healthy environment for driving music, which Elddop offers in mixed metal and bluesy hard rock riffs for verses and At the Gates style melodic twists and turns for choruses. Over this the vocalist approximates a decent black metal vocal with varied emphasis except at the end of each phrase where he reverts to hardcore phrasing to emphasize the rhythmic hook. It is not unpleasant to listen to, and thanks to the superior musical abilities of these players is in fact a bit of fun, but it lacks anything to make a listener pick this album up again. Martyrdöd does not nail a certain feeling, a moment, an experience or an idea but rather makes sonic wallpaper of the intersection of ideas in a single experience of vague resistance but basically a desire for some hard rock riffs in a new form.

Naturally this opinion will be controversial because it is hard to argue with the better musical knowledge on this album. But in art, as in music, technical knowledge is a means to an end, and when it becomes an end in itself, it eclipses the purpose of art which is to communicate a profound realization in an aesthetically pleasing way. Elddop nails aesthetically pleasing, but by doing so in the empty aggregate intersection of many styles, creates merely a high-tech form of elevator music with crust and metal flavoring.

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#metalgate SJWs prove their real purpose: censorship

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Let us quickly get rid of a basic confusion: censorship is using social or governmental pressure to remove from view unpopular ideas that are also plausibly accurate depictions of reality. This separates the act of removing someone spraypainting “death to all metalcore” from a ban on articles about metalcore.

Social Justice Warriors (SJWs) comprise the driving force behind the incursion into metal against which #metalgate is a reaction. Metalheads do not want to be told what to think by a self-appointed cabal determining what is “true” based on their ideological agenda. It does not matter which agenda that is, only that it swallows up truth and metal equally and uses them as means toward its real goal, which is power and control.

Our first #metalgate article pointed out that the agenda of such people is inevitably control. Written by Cory van der Pol, the article detailed how political movements assimilate genres like metal, re-purposing them for the movement’s own needs. He followed this up with an article showing how the methods used by SJWs are bullying. Passive-aggressive bullying perhaps, hiding behind the pretense of morality and “good” politics, but nonetheless bullying. Then he illustrated how SJWs are associated with metalcore and indie-metal and are using it to slowly blot out real metal and replace it with this ersatz and inferior substitute. Finally, he predicted that SJWs would deny and conceal their actual goal, which is to censor — see definition above — any metal that does not fit their ideological needs and by doing so serve as a justification for their employment in media, academia and promotions.

He was 100% correct.

Today SJWs mounted a concerted campaign to remove me from the MetPol mailing list, which discusses metal and politics. As of this evening, apparently I have been removed. Here are some of the highlights:

Can the mods please block Brett Stevens / writing an article like the one natalie linked to is not only repulsive it’s misogynist.

We should take stand against this kind of thing. It’s unacceptable. It’s offensive. Especially to survivors of rape and sexual assault. – Rosie Overell

I would feel immensely safer if he were removed. – Natalie Zina Walschots

I am aiming to give #metalgate and its instigators as little oxygen as possible, but am glad Natalie brought this up here and would support the moderators if they chose to show Brett and his sympathizers the door. This is a place where people strive to broaden the understanding of metal, not narrow it, and while narrow views have a place in the world they’re not in keeping with the mission of this particular list. – Beth Winegarner

As one of the people that this piece of shit screen-shot their FB page and posted on his website, I must add that what astounds me – but doesn’t necessarily surprise me, unfortunately – is the lack of comments from both this thread and my so-called metal ‘friends’ on Facebook and Twitter about racism that surrounds the issue. – Laina Dawes

I will say, however, that I have been dismayed by this situation and I remain in awe of Laina’s courage to speak out despite the harassment and terrorization she has received. – Jeremy Wayne Wallach

This is a public list, with public archives that you can search via Google, Bing or the search engine of your choice. They are open to all and can be read by non-list members without a login or leaving any identifying information. These people are voluntarily posting this data to a public list where they hope it will be read for years to come. With this kind of outcry, it is not surprising the moderators chose to avoid damaging the list with more such drama and to remove me. It was the act of the small group — a dozen members out of a thousand — who chose to demand that I be censored and removed.

I have been a member of this list for the past year, entering in discussion about metal and providing links to resources there, without engaging in a single political opinion. To my mind, #metalgate has never been about politics and whether one side is right or not. It is about the tactics of a certain group who, in Cory’s words, use politics as the mantle behind which they assume power. In other words, they are doing it “in our best interests” and against our wishes are educating, enlightening and improving us to make us good citizens of their ideal society.

I’d like to keep this conversation going without hammering on the idiotic obvious. I appreciate the banning, but I’ll echo Olivia by quoting her: “…banning a single individual is not going to solve the problems of racism and sexism in the metal community. These prejudices are within us and among us, and begin with the complacency purchased by our various privileges.” – Sara Sutler-Cohen

My stance on this issue has always been clear: we stood up to the Christian right, then we stood up to the NSBM people, and now we’re standing up to SJWs. Metal has a unique view of life and a unique viewpoint on how to handle certain things, and it benefits no one to have metal start parroting the points of view of other groups. We should have a diversity of approaches instead of a lock-step uniform viewpoint enforced with guilt and threats of censorship and lack of tenure. My participation in this entire event was as someone opposing censorship, and those who can read will note that none of our articles here targeted the beliefs of SJWs, only their methods and motivations.

During my twenty years of writing about metal, I have sought to avoid both political dogma and commercialization. After initial experiences, I did not trust academia because of its long-standing bias in one trend or another. (And if metal hates anything, it is trends.) From starting the first underground metal site on the net, first as FTP and later as a series of web sites, I have always advocated an open mind and open discussion. This apparently is not the agenda of SJWs and despite their initial denial, they proceeded exactly as their dissenters said they would: with calls for censorship and propaganda.

In the meantime, #metalgate is gaining momentum with new articles in the work on both metal and social commentary websites. The SJWs have defeated themselves by becoming the caricature that their critics said they always were. And if we need to look for a silver lining to this cloud, it is the confirmation of that stereotype.

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Dråpsnatt – Hymner till undergången

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Hymner till undergången just misses being the black metal revivalist album that most fans hope for. Combining the low-fi approach of Ulver with the aesthetics of Windir, Dråpsnatt crafts black metal in the style we might have expected 1996-1998 from a band taking influences from the third wave of bands who broke from the past musically but not aesthetically. As a result, much of this album focuses on open harmonies over which keyboards and guitars interplay to create a sense of a busy but peaceful forest scene.

Where this album falls short — without considering whether this style is great or not — is that many of these phrases are too symmetrical or otherwise evident to provide for enduring listening. In addition, much like Ulver or later Enslaved, this band wants to become Pink Floyd, not Darkthrone or Mayhem. What emerges instead are very spacy jams where extremely obvious simple melodic death metal riffs introduce longer space-rock songs based around three notes, which means that the band repeats itself to achieve atmosphere and then goes crazy with a solo or extended bridge. As the album goes on, it becomes more atmospheric, which is a cool deepening effect sort of like the divergence from society in Journey to the End of the Night. The heavy use of keyboards allows some distraction from the pure drone but this often forces the keyboards into the role of lead instrument for extended passages, which quickly begins to approximate the kind of music they play near fountains in malls.

Much of Hymner till undergången gratifies the old-school metalhead, if that person can filter out the exuberant and sentimental clean vocals, the extended open-strum mood pieces, and the symmetrical paint-by-numbers riffing. Clearly this album gets closer on an aesthetic level than almost anything else recently, in part by understanding how to pace vocals and guitars at offset to avoid the modern metal sound and develop depth. It possesses a familiar texture and rhythm, develops about at the pace a black metal fan would expect, and delivers roughly the right moods. It is unlikely to sustain repeated listens in the way the classics of this genre did, and the transition to atmospheric rock halfway through makes it an unpleasant reminder of the fate of all good, hard and valid music in a world that seeks flattery for the consumer instead.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7XTS_aIlZSQ

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Daed – RaEP

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In metal, the “-core” suffix tends to mean a derivation from the endless stream of hardcore-infused and relative similar styles of music. But in electronic music, “-core” implies something different entirely, and in glitchcore band Daed this term takes on its original meaning as music that adopts the strictest standards for its own integrity and rejects the touchy-feely impositions of what the audience thinks it wants. Would you believe an audience survey? Neither do glitchcore artists.

Like metal, this genre — which sounds roughly like someone tuning an analog radio, switching between stations rapidly — takes an idiosyncratic look at life through music that aims to unsettle, provoke and disturb. Deriving its roots from the rapid pace of drum ‘n bass with the hip-hop penchant for sampling widely and forging it into song, glitchcore makes a collage of existing genres and thrusts them through a filter of someone holding down the fast-forward button. Daed takes on this genre by giving it a unique structuralist mindset where the samples and glitchy patterns seem to represent a voice bleeding through a cognitive barrier and manifesting in different forms, rather than many different voices only incidentally in tune. Sampling wildly from chiptunes, classic techno, hip-hop, found sounds and many electronically mangled raw sonic forms, Daed creates the equivalent of walking through a busy cosmopolitan city and seeing all of the different options and chaotic divergences, but through the same eyes.

What makes RaEP interesting is its tendency to pick up all these bits of scattered music and reinvent them, weaving skeins of other influences through the bunch. The Autechre-inspired tendency to find a place of peace after the chaos through which beauty flows, itself derived from one of the seven ritual stages of a techno set, manifests itself in many of these tracks. Some would compare this to Squarepusher without the reliance on fingers to keep up with the urgent percussion, allowing faster motion and more dramatic tempo changes. No vocals mar this style except those which are sampled, processed, re-sampled and distorted again. Like a high speed inner dialogue, this music deconstructs its world and itself to find commonality between these many bits and its own unique, personality-rich perspective.

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#metalgate SJWs fight back

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As you, our readers, know we tackle many difficult topics on this blog. Some involve pointing out what metal is trivial and what is not; others tackle “big people issues” like politics, society and moral questions. One of those has been Cory van der Pol’s recent series of articles on #metalgate, a conflict between “Social Justice Warrior” (SJW) journalists and those who feel that politics should not invade metal.

Death Metal Underground has for over two decades committed itself to truth, meaning those ideas which correspond to reality and imagination at the same time. We have broached many difficult issues and disappointed people from all sides of the political, social, sexual and ethnic spectrum, as well as delighting many others of similar orientation. If you like truth and metal, you will like this blog even if it has a somewhat acerbic style.

It is disappointing to see grown men and women behaving in such a way that there is only one word for them: bullies. Like witch hunters, bullies rely on a perception of social support in order to shame, humiliate and ostracize others. It is one of the lowest attributes of humanity to use bullying instead of the original form of getting anything done, which is honest discussion and debate. In fact, bullying is meant to prevent exactly that.

People such as the SJW above do not want a discussion; they want to ensure one does not take place. It is for this reason that we at Death Metal Underground proudly resist them and continue to run controversial articles by controversial writers. Anything else is preaching to the choir and I see no reason why we should waste your time with such a mundane endeavor.

Cory van der Pol may have another article coming on the #metalgate issue, or he may not. Regardless, Death Metal Underground will continue its mission of providing quality metal information no matter who gets offended and decides we are Satan. We will save you the trouble: we are the Satan to your pharisaic interpretation of God that excludes truth in the name of obedience, and we will always oppose you.

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Stargazer – A Merging to the Boundless

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One of the great divides in metal music separates those who approach album making as holistic artworks in the tradition of European classical music, and those who view an album as a collection of songs in the tradition of old and new popular musics. If one takes the former route a certain artistic liberty is acquired that allows the artist to leave songs that occur in the middle of the album open to the possibility of continuation through incomplete conclusions.

Great Death Metal albums with work-oriented organizations like At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours and Morbid Angel Blessed are the Sick strategically position songs early in the album to serve as introductions to the album as a whole. An excellent and illustrative example outside metal is Ludwig van Beethoven‘s String Quartet Opus 132. Conceptual works also require a strong topical orientation, often including different styles or even wholly different genres which can be united under a topic that is not only general (music has no direct mappings to our mundane world) but also specific (music can evoke precise moods and auras that some might say lie in the world of ideal forms) and clear (so that it is apparent to the listener). Undefeated masterworks in this area are Johann Sebastian Bach‘s Mass in B Minor and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis. This can be seen in the barely satisfactory conceptual realization of the otherwise great and inspiring The Voice of Steel by Nokturnal Mortum, more effectively (and miraculously, given the wildly different genres associated) solidified in Peste Noire’s L’Ordure à l’Etat Pur and more recently in the young Colombian effort of a more poetic nature and epic proportions Nadia by Cóndor.

If a band chooses the more simple song-collection method, it must again abide certain rules in order to maintain any semblance of reason because proper music, inspired, must go through the filters of reason to attain their greatest expression. These are born out of the whole of the mind, not just uncontrolled emotion, but rather harnessed emotion. Songs must be self-sufficient. Each song must be brought to satisfactory conclusion by both harmonic and rhythmic means appropriate for the nature of the song and of proportionate dimensions in relation to the rest of the song so that it wraps up the musical content as the ending of an essay brings the topic to a rational resolve. The song must have a parallel relation to that of the holistic conceptual artwork. The simplest way of attaining this independence is by simple Rondo form, or popular verse-chorus song as Iron Maiden does in unforgettable albums such as Powerslave or Slayer in South of Heaven. Epic Power Metal sometimes chooses to borrow a little of the concept-album emphasis of the former approach and effectively come to one type of middle-road arrangement; a good example of this is Rhapsody’s Power of the Dragonflame.

Despite all their technical competence, like many other modern metal bands StarGazer takes neither of these paths and instead attempts to aggregate random elements without linear order. Stylistically within the metal universe, A Merging to the Boundless draws from the old school technical death metal such as Atheist (especially in the way the bass is handled within the jazz-metal framework, although they let it get out of hand into more explicitly jazz-like outbursts) and pre-Covenant Morbid Angel (a stark reference to Morbid Angel’s Brainstorm can be found in the fourth track of this album, Merging to the Boundless). Under the guise of Avant Garde, which is essentially a claimed right to disavow any of the conventions of the genres from which they derive their music, StarGazer use these genres as a container for unrelated, distracted riffing.

What this and other modern bands fail to realize is that certain conventions are in place as essential part of the genre and are inextricably related to the aesthetics that superficially define it, and when you forcefully rip the latter from the former, you end up with a non-functional husk that can only serve as wallpaper. StarGazer still shows much more local-level coherence and sense than most in its neighborhood and certain structuralist conventions of old school death metal are followed, such as the use of a motif to unite a song, although this occurs only in the first two tracks with looser instantiations in other tracks. The band can be credited with generally being able to fuse influences into the the particular Avant-Garde sound they want to reflect, even if to a connoisseur of the genre the influences are a little too obvious, with the jazz and post rock limbs sticking clearly out amidst the clear and separate death metal ones like a Frankenstein monster whose stitches are clearly visible.

The other major genre that surfaces in this album is a form of lite jazz that results from bringing jazz into post-rock/metal. This is unified under the pretense of making progressive music. This progressive element is sometimes pulled out with a hint of the old (late sixties and early seventies, peaking in bands from England) real prog-rock art of smooth, logical transitions and clear progression (as in track five, “The Great Equalizer”) at least in some stretches of the songs. Unlike the old prog-rock art and the classical music it emulates, StarGazer does not make a clear enough division of main and subsidiary material and thus it sometimes feel like it is lost and wandering in its own compositions. “The Great Equalizer” stacks random ideas and unnecessary out-of-hand variations within the post-rock-sludge territory in lieu of composition, joining a long line of poorly realized music that purports to be progressive. A Merging to the Boundless crosses the line into pure jazz with metal overtones in sections of tracks (“Old Tea” features soloing jazz bass), and in this same thought goes beyond that and into post-rock ambiance which consists of strumming or picking chords once and again. In this same spirit the opening of “An Earth Rides its Endless Carous” is very reminiscent of Animals as Leaders in its plain and unrefined yet very affected obvious use of scales and arpeggios in a way that barely describes theme and melody but rather just runs up and down like a kid playing on a flight of stairs. In the last three songs, the more prog-attempted side of the album are rather inconclusive and feel overextended arising from what I can only judge is sloppy high-level design. After the fifth track, a return to simple, late Morbid Angel-style Death Metal with a pseudo prog twist brought on by interpolating Sinister-style riffs feels like going back to something that was already said in the album. If “Ride the Everglade of Reogniroro” were arranged before “The Great Equilizer,” it would probably only sound slightly redundant with what came before. I have this same impression of the last (poor-prog) track, “Incense and Aeolian Chaos,” that makes use Animals as Leaders plainspoken use of scale that morphs into old-styled prog/tech death metal that is wordy (faster notes) yet not more dense in content.

In the end analysis, A Merging to the Boundless wanders everywhere and thus goes nowhere. Songs suffer from clever low-level (local) arrangement and poor high-level (long distance relations and overall progression) design, which results in their structure being entirely cyclic or not having a clear direction in the long run and being inconclusive. Cyclic songs have rather forced endings while the more prog-oriented ones just dissipate into nothingness. This last thing feels as if someone takes you to a walk in the forest, strays from the past and just disappears, leaving you in the middle of the forest with no purpose or direction.

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Angist – Circle of Suffering

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In theory, Angist play death metal, but in practice it sounds like what would happen if you took a basic 80s glam metal song and dressed it up in brutally distorted power chords and repetitive high-speed rhythms. The essence of this band is droning, insistent rhythms mated to riffs with melodic undertones that spend most of their motion in accidental notes around the basics of the chord progression.

The repetition alone could crush the skull of a listener, but that in itself is not “heavy,” only boring combined with catchy. The result is a feeling of obligation in churning through the repetitive structure and riff styles. The vocals insist on a circular pattern as well which creates a monolithic grinding aura which presents itself well, but then in invariant intransigence proceeds to normalize itself as a backdrone. Fortunately little frippery interrupts the otherwise solid stream of riff but in the end, this acts more like Chinese water torture than death metal: catchy, repetitive, cyclic grinding wears down resistance and then introduces a kind of tedium in which the mind perks up for any variation, only to lose sight of it as it gives way to more of the same.

Were this album to vary its approach to tempo and more selectively use its melody, it might achieve the kind of internal contrast that creates anticipation and release. Instead, it marches onward like the doomed traversing dystopia on their way to some utterly pointless activity. For that feeling, you could just listen to an air conditioner or rough idling engine and get the same effect.

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Orcultus – Orcultus

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Orcultus returns to the days before black metal when NWOBHM band Venom created short, catchy songs but Orcultus runs this approach through a Norsecore filter and adds post-metal riffing for atmosphere. The result is both eminently listenable and unendurable because its simplistic approach misses everything that made the Norse strong, adds too much adornment to achieve the simple pleasures of Venom, and will never be accepted by post-metal because it is not trendy enough.

Songs tend to launch relatively simply in the Norsecore droning riff style, redouble that with catchy choruses, then fade out with either more Norsecore or the patented drunken people waving in the breeze as a sad note sounds and then falls style of post-metal. They then repeat this formula with different Norse riffs matched to opposite corresponding Venom-style rhythms and a slight variant on the post-metal drone. This creates an effect of transitioning through the life cycle of black metal in a single song, which brings up miserable reminders and ends in the nowhere man gentrified urban neighborhood entropy that post-metal uses to make hipsters of us all.

Worse than obliterating the past by ignoring it is to destroy it by adulterating it, and then to let the adulterated hybrid take the place of the original. Yet this is what happens in most cases. Orcultus represents this attempt in the black metal genre, mixing several generations of heavy metal and hybrids into an indecisive and contentless paradigm that produces a sensation of fatigue, ambiguity and confusion, but not the dark and rich melancholic emotions of black metal. As a result, despite having much of the old school in it, this one goes on the black ‘n roll heap and gets consigned to the bit bucket.

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Pact – The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night

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When black metal first hit the big time, my first thought was that the music industry was going to do to death metal and black metal what it did to hardcore music. When I spoke this out loud, people laughed it off, thinking that nothing that close to their hearts could change. Pact proves me right to such a degree that I doubt these people will even talk to me today.

Simply put, this album reduces black/death metal to formula in the late hardcore punk style, after the music industry came in and sanitized its opinions and enforced institutional-style songwriting. It got “professional.” And here we have a band which writes like a cross between later Gorgoroth, later Mayhem and early Impaled Nazarene. Pact carefully edits its material so that no extra riffs clog this album and each riff is roughly the same quality, which is fairly high but not exceptional. The problem is that all songs are template-cut just like the pop stuff you hear on the radio. Once you have heard five minutes of The Infernal Hierarchies, Penetrating the Threshold of Night, you have effectively heard the whole thing.

Pact like modern metal style vocals but write songs like a more literate hardcore band, using verse-chorus pairs to lead into a bridge that returns to the dominant theme. They vary up the riffing somewhat by using longer riffs and contrapositing them with variations on themes, but essentially this album pounds out the same circular formula per song. Tempi do not vary greatly nor do the changes between them differ, which results in the feeling of being trapped in a procedure like a doctor’s office or traffic court. While there are a few moments of insight on this album, as a whole it serves as a standardization of black metal to the point where it is interchangeable and thus is easily forgotten even while you are listening to it.

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