Deadhead Fanzine #6 out now

Several copies of Deadhead Fanzine #6 stacked on top of each other
Afterlife Productions has recently released the latest issue of Deadhead Fanzine. This Malaysian label (calling themselves “Asia’s last stand for conservative metal literature”) has compiled an substantial quantity of metal literature into a package that’s apparently more like a paperback book than a simple magazine. Besides the usual reviews, articles, and etc, the major selling point is likely the dozens of included interviews with both well known and more underground metal bands. Morbid Angel headlines, with former members Mike Browning and Richard Brunelle talking about the band’s earliest days, and the latter also makes his way to the front cover. Deadhead Fanzine 6.66 also understandably devotes some space to Malaysian underground metal in particular, featuring interviews with bands from all over the country. The sheer quantity of content here could make it a very tempting purchase, and it is available from Afterlife’s website.

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Taphos Nomos – West of Everything Lies Death (2015)

Taphos Nomos - West of Everything Lies Death (2015)

Review by Maxton Watchurst

Taphonomy is the study of fossilization. Interesting that a death metal band would utilize this in their lyrics.

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Taphos Nomos is a very young band that comes hammering with their lyrically-fitting brand of death metal on their 2015 EP West of Everything Lies Death; the music takes on a very dry and decaying atmosphere, which feels just as if the music itself were slowly and painstakingly fossilizing. Besides the aesthetic it generates, the instrumentation itself shows clear influence from both Incantation (whilst thankfully staying away from the usual ‘cavern-core’ cliches) in addition to bands from the Swedish scene such as Unleashed and Grave. The clean vocals and some accentuation in the melodies are reminiscent of what one would find in ‘traditional’ doom metal bands. An interesting combination, but does it come to a cohesive whole? Thankfully, yes. It’s not the utmost zenith of creativity, but it’s a satisfactory style nonetheless.

Across the entire work, the music develops in ways that are decently dynamic; despite there not being many distinct instances of interplay between the members, there is a sense of momentum generated that keeps the overall musical narrative flowing. Canyon Shifter (real name Nick L) is generally the source of the interplay on this release. To elaborate, his layered guitar work (multiple voices, not pointless aesthetic walls) makes use of recurring themes to advance the narrative of the music in addition to having a clear idea as to how to build tension, especially in the case of some sections where the various melodic voices build some basic yet effective polyphonic phrases. That being said, there are some parts that hold back the music from flourishing. Taphos Nomos’ sense of rhythm doesn’t match the momentousness of the guitarwork. This doesn’t mean that the rhythm section cannot keep up, but when listening to this EP, it’s clear that your focus is going to be directed solely towards the melodic aspect.

The overall result is somewhat memorable, but with the previously stated issues, it becomes evident that only certain aspects stay in mind post-listen. The music’s quality itself may not be truly exceptional, but in both competence and  stylistic integrity, Taphos Nomos show clear signs of potential on West of Everything Lies Death.

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Celtic Frost’s To Mega Therion turns 30

Celtic Frost - To Mega Therion (2015)
It might not be as important to the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer legacy as its immediate predecessors, but To Mega Therion is still a fine work of metal 30 years (and four days) after its release. Many early underground metal recordings are noted for stripping their musical content to a bare minimum of function and simultaneously exploring new methods of arrangement and songwriting. To Mega Therion, on the other hand, takes a step towards refining the new standard, with more elaborate instrumentation, production, and songwriting than the EPs that came before it. It’s still more restrained in its aesthetic exploration than anything else Celtic Frost released, but listeners can easily hear how some of the more obvious experiments here (timpani, occasional female vocals, etc.) anticipate elements that would become fixtures in the band’s later works, and furthermore in the plethora of subgenres to follow.

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Swarming streams “Hideous” from Cacophony of Ripping Flesh: Recordings 2010-2012

swarming_-_cacophony_of_ripping_flesh_recordings_2010-2012

Swarming brings together experienced old school death metal personnel from Finland and Sweden to slash out a putrid, raw, grinding and crusty form of death metal that borrows as much from Autopsy and Carcass as it does Demigod and Dismember. For Halloween, Dead Beat Media has released Cacophony of Ripping Flesh: Recordings 2010-2012 which collects the complete works of the band during the first two years of its existence.

Check out the exclusive stream of “The Hideous Incantation” right here:

Storming death metal riffs gain support from an underpinning of melody balanced by the sickening, dragging and decomposing riffs that like the unsteady hand of a drunken surgeon dragging scalpels through flesh, induce a mood of hopeless darkness and perverse enjoyment of the world’s suicide. Demonstrating competence in both the technicalities of death metal and the intricacies of rock guitar, Swarming show death metal at its most engaging and yet repulsive.

Biography

Swarming (formed in February 2010) is a Finnish-Swedish collaboration with Lasse from Hooded Menace, Phlegethon, and Ruinebell, and Rogga from Paganizer, Ribspreader, and Humanity Delete. The guys share the same passion for raw and filthy music and that is what they are here to deliver with Swarming. Downtuned and putrid, grinding, crusty death metal!

Swarming Cacophony of Ripping Flesh – Recordings 2010-2012 compiles tracks recorded during the band’s existence so far including the two tracks from Swarming/Zombie Ritual split (Doomentia 2010). Cover artwork comes from David of Extremely Rotten Records. The album was mixed by the band and mastered by Mikko Saastamoinen (whose other works include Hooded Menace, Ruinebell and Vacant Coffin).

Thanks to Jill at Dead Beat Media, we are able to offer you this exclusive album track stream on Halloween 2015. As you are gorging on candy and cider, take a moment to vomit purulent blood with Swarming!

    Tracklist

  1. The Hideous Incantation
  2. Reeking of the Bowels
  3. It Came From the Graveyard
  4. Hacksaw Holiday
  5. Feasting on Drowned Flesh
  6. Amputation Frenzy
  7. Convulsing Into Eternal Doom
  8. Premature Embalming

You can find the CD and cassette at the Dead Beat Media store at deadbeatshop.bigcartel.com and keep track of the band through Facebook pages for Dead Beat Media and Swarming.

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Hades Almighty – Pyre Era, Black! (2015)

Hades Almighty - Pyre Era, Black! (2015)

Review by Daniel McCormick

According to the FBI, 90% of arsonists are male, and usually white. Studies show that these perpetrators are young, angry, and often acting out of a belief of revenge. The founder of Hades Almighty, Jorn Tunsberg, was 22 when he decided to make a “statement to breakdown Christianity” and proceeded to torch the Åsane church in Bergen, Norway on Christmas Eve in 1992. This flair for dramatic communication, based in anti-Christian sentiment and pride for heritage, is still forging quality metal after all these years. Enter Pyre Era, Black!, the first album released by Hades Almighty in nearly a decade and a half. This EP clocks in at just under twenty minutes and consists of three tracks with rather ambiguous titles. Because of the ambiguity I didn’t know what to make of this prior to actually hearing it, but I was skeptical. Luckily, upon my initial play through, I was happily surprised while also finding the direction had gone somewhere unexpected.

The music is reminiscent of prior Hades material, but with a diminished black metal feel, and a greater focus on cleaner texture and ambiance that lends a modern body to the traditional Hades sound. This is embellished by a well mixed depth in the structures that actively engages the listener, and by building within the repetition via a variety of ideas that keep the experience from growing dull. This is backed by a crushing rhythm section that is a perfect fit to the style. The vocals on the album are consistent, well laid out, but done in a mostly folk/viking style with very little in the black metal voice of old.

Of the three songs the final track seems the most interesting and developed, and I hope to see Hades advancing more in this direction. It differs from previous works of Hades by incorporating greater accessibility, a more stylized tonality, and also by incorporating a sense of abstraction into supporting ideas. Despite its less than ingenious title this track has an extremely creative mixture of things going on: from stand out bass work to well dispersed acoustic/ clean guitar to a peculiar industrial break to oddly melodic screaming etc. I find my tongue nearly tied to explain the diversity, there’s a progressive, folk, black, viking, original thing going on here that is just beyond the scope of a great number of generic modern acts. Which is more to say that it doesn’t try, but is; a sound denoting inspiration not aspiration. The arrangement seems an orchestration with an ‘inner law’ as Nietzsche defines, “relative to an individual culture.”… …in this case, to true Norwegian metal. Particularly in the main portion of the final track, running from about 01:00 to 07:00, one finds a mix of nontechnical riffs with hammering aggression in accentuation, and an emotional, black ponderance arising in the revolving tonic chord which therein is impressed with a number of tension inducing, numinous evincing, foreground embellishments.  A fine example of song writing prowess, and the best track to check out to decide if you should pick up this release.

Overall, I’ve been a fan of Hades since ’98/’99 and I’m proud to say this heathen is still one. So go pick up this record now(!), blast it on eleven, and burn down a church for the glory of Odin.

 

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Cryptopsy – The Book of Suffering (Tome 1) (2015)

Cryptopsy - The Book of Suffering (2015)

Would it be too brief to say that The Book of Suffering is like older Cryptopsy, but not quite as good? Probably not. Cryptopsy’s legacy after 1996 appears to be one of steady decay and loss of focus, although you could be forgiven for placing too much importance on the aberration that was The Unspoken King. Bands that aren’t able to jump to a new trend successfully often retreat to what they know, hence this utterly safe and sterile EP. It’s almost as if Cryptopsy wasn’t merely imitating None So Vile, possibly with some brief intrusions from more recent albums, but that the only song they’d heard by previous band lineups was that album’s introductory track (“Crown of Horns”), and that this EP was an effort to imitate that specifically.

Cryptopsy wastes no time in trying to forge the appropriate links in your brain. The spoken intro to “Detritus” (which is so obviously self-referential that it will probably insult you) made me suspect that the band was about to blast and scream, and from then on not a moment passed that wasn’t analogous to something off None So Vile. The overall effect evenly splits between being more orderly and more chaotic than this EP’s obvious inspiration. 20 years of studio experience understandably make for a more precise performance, as does the apparent use of a template. On the other hand, the Cryptopsy of the past had a better understanding of how to glue riffs together to create narrative and contrast in their songs. This incarnation of the band isn’t quite there yet and often uses breakdowns laden with pinch harmonics instead. Furthermore, None So Vile drew on a greater palette of musical language; part of this is that Lord Worm was a more versatile vocalist in his prime than Matt McGachy; a greater part is that Cryptopsy wasn’t relying merely on themselves as a template. Funny then, that this problem should also happen to another one of today’s reviews

In summary, the main problem with The Book of Suffering is that it’s uninspired, more than that it’s pseudorandom. Cryptopsy knows how to sound as if they are about to collapse into random noise at any moment without actually doing so, but they don’t do much of interest with this approach. Maybe if they hadn’t burnt themselves playing with the metalcore fire, this wouldn’t be a problem, although the amount of people looking forwards to a second The Unspoken King has to be rather less than those who will nonetheless accept The Book of Suffering as a continuation of form, if not necessarily substance.

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Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne (2015)

Grave Ritual - Morbid Throne (2016)

Review by Corey M

Grave Ritual released their debut album, Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death, on Razorback Records in 2010. I picked up the album after a cursory listen online and have been steadily listening ever since. It is based on the sort of whirlwind style of composition in which contrasting, visceral riffs are injected in rapid succession into the listener’s stream of consciousness, but the band keeps just enough pressure on the brakes to keep the songs from becoming haphazard and disorienting, and they know when to reign in the multi-directional melodic excursions and wrap up their exploration in a satisfying resolution. Grave Ritual are a well-oiled machine who are foremost concerned with playing death metal just the way death metal is “supposed” to be played. That is the strength and the weakness of this band.

Five years after their first release, Grave Ritual have given us Morbid Throne, which begins with an unnecessarily long intro track (“Baleful Aversion”) that is evidently designed to ease the listener into the aural aesthetic of the album. This is not a bad musical technique necessarily, but I find that being tossed right into the fray of warped chords and unexpected rhythmic shifts of traditional death metal is a much better introduction to the hopeless terror that is death metal’s specialty (aside maybe from an unironic ’80s-sounding synth). Listening to “Baleful Aversion” feels like I just exchanged a ticket for access to a “haunted” fun house and am leisurely strolling down the walkway that leads to the entrance, hearing electronic sound clips of spooky bat squeaks and creaking floors, passing “DANGER!” signs stuck in the nearby ground intended to give the appearance of haphazard placement and long-term neglect, but obviously carefully placed and maintained. Meanwhile the opening track of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten gives me the sense that I’ve been strapped into an unguided rocket and the engines have just ignited. In other words, there is a sense of carefulness on the part of the band to avoid getting “too crazy,” and this is the overall sense of the entire album, usually for the worse.

At the risk of using the “it’s 2015, we should be past this by now,” argument, Grave Ritual seem to be doing themselves a disservice by sticking so closely to established death metal tropes. The album is evidently supposed to sound like it was recorded in 1992, including the guitar, drum, and vocal techniques. We need only reference Immolation or Atheist to see that there isn’t necessarily an established canon of techniques that define that era; rather, it was a time when bands were pushing the limits of metal in terms of what was physically feasible to play on an instrument, and what sounds were psychologically jarring without going to the point of unlistenability. Grave Ritual play riffs with the same intervals and scales and power chords that the death metal bands in 1992 used, but they play them like rock riffs, which at some point need to cycle back to the original chord that began the riff in order to resolve. Grave Ritual, however, instead of truly resolving a section of music and allowing the next section to develop, will just drop a riff after it gets played enough times (before you can get bored with hearing it, to the band’s credit) and a new riff arises out of the same scale but in a different rhythm or at a different tempo, to give the appearance of motion and development. This means that, if you listen closely with attention paid to the beginning and ending chords of each riff, you’ll notice that the guitarists will stay on a single chord pattern for a very long time, occasionally switching up the speed or pattern of notes but only changing how the notes are played, not what notes are played.

Grave Ritual use an effective but dated method of riffcraft: 1. Pick a dissonant interval. 2. Play some scattered, atonal riff to jump between the two notes. 3. Play basically the same thing on a different place on the neck, but slower. This worked very well for Incantation, but Incantation’s music is grounded by an intuitive sense of motion and tension, probably because the guitarists knew that they had to move on to a different riff and aimed toward it, rather than milking each riff for all its worth by cycling through indefinite rhythmic mutations before the riff expires. Meanwhile, the two-chord back-and-forth riffs on “Morbid Throne” do not build tension as they are repeated over and over; their main purpose seems to be providing a rhythmic hook to anchor the rest of the inoffensive-but-generally-unremarkable two-chord riffs that make up the meat of most songs.

And hooky, they are. The best parts on Morbid Throne are very cool sounding; imagine Autopsy riffs played at half-speed while authoritative drum patterns are augmented by a very deep and grisly voice chanting spells of suicidal vengeance. It’s a dependable aesthetic formula because it has held up against the scrutiny of generations and has continued to sell in a rapidly shifting industry for over thirty years. Unfortunately Grave Ritual’s dedication to this aesthetic has made them a slave, rather than master, to it. One prime example is the guitar lead that comes in just before the minute mark in “Lewd Perversities”; we hear string bends and rapidly tapped melodies, but that’s all there is to hear. It’s just an exposition of technique. There is nothing being expressed through the technique; the only expression is of the technique itself, which is a backward way to write and play death metal.
The best death metal albums work by pairing musical sections that are unlike on the surface (being in a different key, or of a different rhythm or tempo) and then eventually tying them together by offering more transitions and comparisons until the listener’s stubborn insistence that unlike sections conflict is broken and he submits to the song as a whole rather than a collection of contrasts. Grave Ritual understand that pairing incongruent riffs haphazardly makes the music an incongruent shuffle. This lets them gracefully avoid the two major pitfalls of modern death metal; one being that overwhelming percussive impact will convince the listener that they are hearing something extremely “brutal” and the other being that “atmosphere” is the goal of any album and bizarrely-voiced dissonant amelodic progressions are the most appropriate take on a death metal “atmosphere”. For this, they are to be commended. Yet in the end, this album has no teeth. There is no sense of danger or tension throughout. The product is a death metal album designed for easy listening, and in this way, it succeeds.

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THEM releases the first single from Sweet Hollow

Them - Sweet Hollow (2016)

October is indeed the season for Mercyful Fate, or at least pretenders to its metallic throne. Earlier this month, we saw two members’ underwhelming reunion in Denner/Sherman. More recently, THEM, composed of an unrelated group of musicians despite likely being named after King Diamond’s 1988 solo album, has released a track from their own upcoming attempt to capture something of that band’s approach.

Sweet Hollow is a concept album very much in the vein of King Diamond’s projects; at this point perhaps most notable for featuring members of Symphony X and Suffocation. The single (“Forever Burns”) resembles an exaggerated, more technically ambitious take on KD’s melodramatic heavy/speed metal sound, to the point of including a great deal of falsetto singing. Even if the final product turns out to be any good, this may scare some of its potential listeners away. Currently, Sweet Hollow is planned for a January 2016 release.

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Deathrow – Deception Ignored (1988)

Deathrow - Deception Ignored (1988)
Guest post by Maxton Watchurst

We live in an alienating society. I speak not of mere platitudes referring to ‘the elite’ or ‘the powers that be’, for they are mere symptoms in the overall system. Whether it was born with intent or unconsciously, the modern individual is mentally thrown off by paranoia, surreality, and above all else an apparent lack of purpose. This is not to say the past holds what we seek. On the contrary, nothing has quite changed in this regard, but it has become distorted and confused to such an extent that all we can wonder about when considering an actual meaning in our world is… why?

The underlying story of Deception Ignored is more important to understanding the album than one might realize. Each song details a different aspect of life, linearly progressing in time, that has been assaulted by this society’s entropic alienation all from a nameless man’s perspective. It would likely be best to lay out a brief explanation for this supposed macrostructure, would it not? Thus this lays out the ‘journey’ of the nameless man through the unconscious order of the world:

  1. Inception: Immersion in society’s paranoid mindset
  2. Depression born from inability to end this alienation, but overcoming desire for death
  3. Contemplation on the self’s meaninglessness versus holding onto an ideal within sleep
  4. Internalization of routine and coping with the world
  5. Comprehension of the world’s apathy
  6. Defeatism through distracting oneself from the events of the world
  7. Finale: Realization of the breadth of the system and struggle to change

A rather depressing story, eh?

Beyond just the conceptual outline of this album exists its wonderfully constructed music. Despite repetition of lyrics within the tracks, the unconventional construction makes it apparent that these tracks do not simply follow a cyclic pattern. Through-composition integrated in with the unorthodox chorus usage renders the choruses’ purpose as a means to express the thematic development; it is not so much a mere return to a section as it is reintroducing melodies for the next section to work off.

Uwe Osterlehner, who joined the band in 1988, is responsible for much of this. Prior to then, Deathrow’s sound was stylistically within the Teutonic thrash metal scene, albeit with their own quirks here and there. Uwe played a role similar to that of Alf Svensson (of At the Gates) for Deathrow, acting as a guiding hand and showing the true potential bound within them as a group. His intensely neoclassical compositional style, bringing the music to the utmost technical extents of thrash, was essentially a transcendental conception of that which is speed/thrash metal. Melodies are interwoven in every which way across each point within the overarching structure of this work; each song expresses a theme, develops it in seemingly every way possible, and brings it all to a conclusion. Yet it seems as if the songs themselves don’t have traditional climaxes, eh? The overarching structure is quite important to recognize. Just as Alf Svensson talents transcended ATG’ abilities through taking command up until 1993, Uwe Osterlehner was the mastermind behind Deception Ignored.

“Triocton” itself deserves a mention. It is the third track, and despite its instrumental nature, the music speaks for itself and contributes to the narrative. The complexity of the album is brought to its zenith, and it bestows on us an inimitable display of thematic interrelationships. To the listener, this may appear at first to be a ‘riff-salad’ due to the seemingly ridiculous amount of thematic introductions within this track. Disregarding it as such a meaningless term would be foolish, however. Several thematic melodies all centered around one overarching melodic phrase which is constantly subject to variation itself. Such a labyrinthine structure is truly daunting.

Uwe, as the primary guitarist and songwriter, and assisted by the other guitarist Sven Flügge, used a heavily nuanced and technical melodicism in his compositions that expressed simultaneously two predominant emotions found within the story: a sense of mechanical alienation and the triumphant will to overcome. This dual embodiment gives a feeling of uncertainty across the album, but not in the sense that it’s directionless. The narrative is in fact enhanced by this emotive confusion as the two emotions embodied in the melodic elements carry each other through each passage, as ebb and flow, to demonstrate the complex emotional structure inherent – a fine balance of order and chaos.

The basswork of Milo (also the vocalist) and the drumming of Markus Hahn provides far more than simply an adequate rhythmic backing to the complex melodicism acting above. Myriads of time changes, winding exchanges between the dueling guitars and the underlying rhythmic patterns, and (even beyond mere technical aspects) the tremendous aggression expressed all show the sheer power underlying the melodies within Deathrow’s sound. The cryptic time signature changes do far more than the typical progressive metal band does with such things; the time is constantly altering itself to suit the emotional context of each present moment and to develop each track’s narrative. Far from technical masturbation, Deathrow utilizes the utmost technicality to express far more than sterile proficiency.

Bizarrely enough, Deathrow (likely not including Uwe) disowned Deception Ignored. Despite its sheer immensity, they perhaps felt that Uwe’s direction was not what they desired. It’s a shame since his genius resulted in this masterwork, even if their talents allowed Uwe to express his ideas. It always confuses me when bands disown their works…

Regardless of this nonsense, Deception Ignored stands high as a daunting yet beautiful expression of both alienation and will within the framework of metal.

 

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Overkill working on new studio album

In a review with SkullNBones.com, Overkill’s frontman (Bobby “Blitz” Ellsworth) revealed that their next studio album is intended to come out by October of 2016. This might be something for fans of old speed metal to look forwards to, especially if the band continues in their current vein. While Overkill always tended towards the earlier, more punk inflected forms of the subgenre, they pulled it off in a versatile fashion with some room for experimentation and elaboration, as evidenced by their famous work in the late 1980s. Overkill also has recently released a box set of their middle period work; entitled Historikill: 1995-2007, it showcases the band repeatedly trying to reinvent themselves for a new era by imitating the more rock-like (Pantera-like) material their genre inspired. It also stops short of the band finally succeeding in this regard with Ironbound, which proficiently built off their early work and made it onto this site’s best of 2010 list.

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