House of Atreus – The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)

House of Atreus - The Spear and the Ichor That Follows (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick
House of Atreus, a four piece hailing from Minneapolis, are a relatively newer melodic death metal act. 2015 saw the release of their first full length, The Spear and the Ichor that Follows, and the overall reception appears to be quite positive. The lyrics and imagery focus on Greek and Roman  mythology, though, much like the band Baltak’s Macedonian premise, this is not necessarily easily derived from the music alone. I have mixed feelings about this release – it has grown on me a little, but I find there are a few flaws worth noting.

Nearly every review I’ve read cites Arghoslent as a similar artist followed by the obligatory, “but they don’t refer to African Americans as cargo.” It is easy to see where this reference comes from, but I’d clarify that there is a difference in so much as House of Atreus sound more like something polished coming out of Sweden than the American raw, brutal, rough, and bloody variety. Perhaps it is an issue of production, which lends a full presence and solid mix, but take for example the song ‘The River Black’. I’m drawn more towards citing Kalmah, Amon Amarth, or At The Gates over anything I’d actually seek out to listen to. I realize there is a large audience for this type of sound, but as a strident, hateful elitist, I’m left unmoved.

That aside, the musicians are competent, the songs are all accessible, and the album is generally inoffensive. This is aided by incorporating aspects of melodic black metal and modern thrash in the riffing, with an overarching aim towards catchy melodies. Song structures are mostly straightforward; they’re developed and creative, but I’d have appreciated greater diversity to maintain my attention over the course of an entire album. The vocals employed give the dynamics a pleasant emphasis, with thoughtfully constructed patterns, but I do wish more of the context of each song shone with more clarity. The percussion is thunderous and solid, it elevates the progressions nicely and I’ve no real criticism to offer.

I’d like to be positive, to recommend this with gushing enthusiasm out of my affinity for antiquity, but unless you’re predisposed towards fanaticism to this genre you’d likely fail to see what unique niche this album fills. To me it sounds like dozens of other melodic death metal works released over the last fifteen years, few of which actually struck me as necessitated additions to my collection. So I’ll leave you with that, to decide for yourself.

 

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Horrendous – Anareta (2015)

Horrendous - Anareta (2015)
Horrendous is evolving. They’re not content to merely be one of our masochistic metal victims, so they’ve been gradually and haphazardly incorporating more jazz fusion and djent influences into what was previously a Heartwork inflected sound, and what continues to partially stink of it. What entertains me so much about Anareta is how neatly compartmentalized these two styles are and therefore how little they interact, making for perhaps two EPs stitched together and all sorts of increasingly implausible hypotheses about the band’s songwriting and tracking process that distract from the main issue at hand. Neither half of Anareta is exactly a sterling example of what already are difficult styles to pull off well in a metal context.

The “progressive” side of Horrendous leads off the album and appears to occupy significantly more of its runtime. This part of the recording emphasizes its internal rhythms – it is midpaced, replete with offbeats and odd time signatures, and it showcases some complicated interplay with the local guitarwork. I’m going to go out on a limb here and suggest that the band is at least trying to make something interesting and complicated, but there are a couple of problems with their approach. One admittedly trivial (but strangely attention-grabbing) flaw is that they have no idea how to write introductions to their tracks; therefore, many of Anareta‘s tracks begin with a minute or so of pseudo-random gassing. More importantly, the emphasis on surface rhythmic complexity isn’t matched by a willingness to expand the percussive textures that underlie it. Furthermore, the guitar tracks above this, while benefiting from the rhythmic prowess of the band, rarely allow their actual riff content to escape from the traditional metal and rock tropes that hold the band back. At the very least, Horrendous will need to severely edit their tracks and develop a better sense of narrative composition in order to master this substyle.

While it’s pointless to judge whether vaguely “progressive” metal is better or worse than generic melodeath and Stockholm syndrome, the gradual shift in emphasis towards the former over the band’s career suggests that if they keep going, they might have a genuinely good album on their hands in a few years. Anareta definitely hasn’t reached that point yet, being too haphazard and scatterbrained in its ambitions to really hit home, while still occasionally lapsing into straight up generic guitar pop.

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Domains – Sinister Ceremonies (2014)

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Guest post by former editor David Rosales

In the reception of a new work of art (rather than a commercial product), there are two main ways of going about evaluating its worth. The first is to assess its qualities on their own and their overall result as a unitary agent. The second is to consider its relative worth in terms of the time and place when it was produced as well as taking a utilitarian view point that can give a “function” to it. The first of these two is the hardest as it requires technical and philosophical insights working holistically, the background for which is not obtained through casual acquaintance of history or plain repetition of “classics” of the genre. It requires years of internalization of both composition methods and a constant meditation on the powers behind music as pertaining to the human mind. The latter is naturally the common choice by virtue of its extreme relativism, which makes almost any interpretation, whether negative or positive, admissible and excusable.

Sinister Ceremonies came out last year, apparently made some waves and popped up in “Best of the year” lists. While it did not make it to DMU’s own list, this may be more due to a lack of diligence on part of the staff than anything else. But given the limited manpower the site wields and the overwhelming number of records released per year, it is not surprising that even an outstanding record flies by unnoticed, let alone a commendable but unimpressive and ultimately irrelevant effort like Domains’. The opinion of the average metal journalist/critic/blogue means little after all, and their majority support of anything is an indicator of lowest common denominator appeal (fuck democracy).

Taking the simple-minded relativist stance, Sinister Ceremonies comes out with a full checklist as it is both balanced, intelligible, catchy, easy to listen to, and to some, perhaps even “brutal” and “dark”. Objectively, to be fair, the songwriting here is actually sober and very self-conscious. The constructions and composition methodology is clear textbook — but perhaps too clear. Its unimaginative and extremely conservative adherence to proven techniques at all levels from riff execution to build-ups and long-range developments are a sure score with conservative underground listeners with a mid-range attention span but fall short of a complete work. What this means is that while the album covers the basics of metal songwriting exemplarily, the full art of composition — its power to attribute meaning and direction to passages weaving into a story — is something that may be entirely foreign to the band.

Finally, the minor achievement that constitutes Domains’ “solid” composition is only a highlight because of the depressive state of affairs of the modern metal landscape, when mediocrity and capricious nonsense made by non-musicians (“professional” or not) reign supreme. In and of itself, Domains Sinister Ceremonies will garner passing and only temporary attention by some conservative types, but its shallow waters will prove an uneventful disappointment for the more serious listener in search of a dungeon to brave.

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Melechesh – Enki (2015)

Melechesh - Enki (2015)
Back in 2010, Melechesh’s previous album (The Epigenesis) made its way onto our “Best of 2010” list. I don’t know what to make of that, but this year’s batch of Melechesh doesn’t live up to that hype, despite sticking to the band’s signature mixture of streamlined extreme metal with older substyles and (importantly) a Middle Eastern folk garnish. The problem here is a common one – directionless, flat, almost random songwriting. Whether or not this afflicted previous works by the band is hopefully something someone more versed in their past might be able to shed some light on.

That the structural side of this album is so underwhelming is belied by the good first impression that Melechesh makes with their polished sound. They succeed in combining their three aesthetic streams where many bands stumble with two… or less. For instance, the band constructs almost every riff and phrase they use from vaguely exotic scales like the Phyrgian dominant, the double harmonic (“Arabic”), etc. This indicates greater dedication to the aesthetic than, for instance, Nile, and doing something similar in your own work will probably get you further in the long run than merely tossing in some instruments that are culturally relevant to what you’re trying to imitate. Not to say that Melechesh doesn’t add in extra instrumentation, but it’s skillfully incorporated into their sound to the point that it never seems incongruous. The older metal and rock elements, in comparison, don’t make themselves as immediately apparent, but they imbue this recording with a strong sense of conventional musicality that makes it easy to pick up off the shelves and listen to by the standards of its nominal genre.

The deception this entails means it took me a bit to pick up on how little of the content here was actually making its mark. Enki showcases its share of isolated musical ideas with which one could build a song, but arranges them in an entirely haphazard and arbitrary fashion. The general lack of dynamics also helps in building an environment full of interchangeable content – one entirely folk interlude (“Doorways to Irkala”) and some halfhearted soft sections does not an adequate substitute make. It may be that drone and repetition form an integral part of Melechesh’s songwriting, but the best bands to rely on such techniques don’t simply vary themselves through minor variation, but arrange such in a fashion that allows for actual in-song progression. Melechesh’s failure to do so combined with other aspects of their style make for an experience that decays to irrelevance shockingly fast.

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Are you “untrue”?

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We get a lot of comments here, but a frequent type — and they are nearly identical — is this:

This site has really gone to shit. Instead of doing articles about true underground metal, you’ve got all these stupid articles on tobacco, whiskey, SJWs and beer.

This is a variation on an old argument that splits the “No True Scotsman” logical fallacy in half. If you recall, that fallacy takes this form:

Person 1: Christians do not spit on their enemies.
Person 2: The pope just hocked a loogie onto the Queen.
Person 1: He’s not a true Christian, just a pro forma one.

Sometimes fallacies are not fallacies per se but a description of a common trope of language used to deflect an argument. When used wrongly, they fail, such as slippery slope, which is a real argument but is frequently used by ham-handed idiots (“If we legalize heavy metal, people will turn to Nazism next!”). The No True Scotsman argument is a fallacy when used to enforce a broken category, but not when it points out the exception strengthens the rule. For example, most Christians will not spit on the Queen, and that pope might just be out of line.

In the case of metal, trueness exists. It refers to people who understand metal on its own terms, instead of re-purposing it for their own social needs like hipsters do, and uphold that worldview and values system which we might call a “culture.” On the other hand, some are quick to call “untrue” anything which does not fit a selective stereotype of metalheads as being only about music and a certain lifestyle. These types are not scene-policing, but bullying others into accepting lowest common denominator behavior.

Wearing denim vests with patches, drinking trendy beer and buying lots of metal albums is not what metal is about. It’s false signaling to allow useless people to join the community because doing those things is easy, where living and understanding metal — a form of art with its own outlook and philosophy, like most artistic movements — takes some effort internal to the human being. And that is what most refuse to do. They do not want to internalize learning and share themselves and limit their own reckless impulses. They would rather have a surface-level conformity that gains them entrance to the group, and to do that, they need to spit on anyone who thinks metal is more than credit card payments, goofy clothing and being drunk all the time.

I tend to reply to such people with these:

Feel free to send in articles or ideas.

So far, none have taken me up on this. How can results be so consistent? It’s in the psychology: their psychology is not about what they say it is about, which is articles about metal. Their psychology is in putting others down by claiming those others are untrue, only so that they can in turn claim they are true for these token conformist attributes. They will never contribute… because their contribution is angry, pointless criticism. They will never do more than that. You will find whole forums (NWN/FMP) full of such people. They are hipsters of another stripe.

They remind me of another type of person that I call “the California personality.” This type is very common among bloggers. They are equal parts self-promoting and defensive, with a totalitarian intolerance of anything that seems to them to be critical of them or their choices in life. The California personality will always tell you how amazing their life is, and how they’ve made choices that magically worked out in defiance of conventional wisdom. If people think it is unsafe to walk the Cass Corridor after dark, the California personality went there and not only was safe, but met a famous artist and partied till dawn drinking artisanal wine. If people think you shouldn’t build your house on a fault line, the California personality lives in the fault and has a precious, sunlight-kissed bungalow (which is highly energy efficient).

The California personality will fool you for some time. You will look at your own life, and wonder why you don’t get such great results. They, on the other hand, appear to be picked by the hand of God to succeed in everything. But over time, you start seeing cracks in their narrative. The great house actually has lots of leaks, which is why they’re selling it. The artist they met in the Cass Corridor held them hostage until dawn and drank all their artisanal wine. Their statements are not merely rose-colored, but outright lies. A California personality goes through life always justifying their decisions as successes, after the fact, when often they are simply chumps making poor choices but are good at making those choices seem appealing to others.

The same mentality infests the hipsters, tryhards, poseurs and “trve kvlt” types in metal. Their own lives are ruins, but they want to hide that by putting down your life. They contribute nothing, but want to pull down your contributions. Like lifestyle bloggers (especially the odious “mommy bloggers”) they want to show you their great-looking children, quirky recipes and fantastic decorating choices, but are hiding a vast inner despair as their marriages fail, careers stall, and total lack of ideas creates lack of personal direction. These people are not here to do anything, but to partake in the doing of others. It’s why they are best mocked and pushed aside as this article hopes to do.

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#Metalgate: Jimi Hendrix, Nazi collector

jimi_hendrix_-_nazi_artifacts

An astute reader spotted this picture of Jimi Hendrix, and in the spirit of #metalgate showing us the more complex world than the good/bad binary in which commerce and ideology define it, revealed this about what’s going on in this picture:

PC police and SJWs look away now. Apparently Jimi Hendrix collected Nazi stuff. In this Retronaut photo of his 34 Montague Square flat’s wall: Luftwaffe Flying Clasp (unknown mission and grade), Krim shield, DAK/Army pith helmet eagle and national colors shields, and Mother’s Cross. To the right, a fireman’s dress bayonet with portapee. Japanese Samurai sword hilt visible above the bookshelf, too. Reckon Jimi and Lemmy talked about more than just scoring drugs.

‘Scuse me while I sieg this heil, eh, Jimi?

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Malediction to release Chronology of Distortion compilation

malediction_-_chronology_of_distortion

English death metal band Malediction, previously only released on small run vinyl and one live CD on Wild Rags Records, has engineered the issue of a 16-track, 72-minute compilation of material entitled Chronology of Distortion slated for release on Dark Blasphemies records in December 2015.

Covering the period 1990-1994, the material shows this innovative band at the height of its personality. Artwork by Sean Fitzgerald and remastering by Matt Richardson at Full Stack Studios, Lancashire, England promises to deliver these recordings in a better format than their original issue.

Tracklisting for the CD is:

1. Infestation (1990 demo version),
2. Murdered From Within (EP Version),
3. Waste (Remix) [Previously unreleased],
4. The Abyss Gazes Also [Previously Unreleased],
5. Longterm Result (1990) [Previously Unreleased],
6. System Fear (EP Version),
7. Insect in the Infrastructure (EP Version),
8. Dark Effluvium/Weeping Tears of Covetousness,
9. Doctrines Eternal Circles,
10. Framework of Contortion,
11. Longterm Result (“Pantalgia” compilation),
12. System Fear (1993 session) [Previously Unreleased},
13. Mould of an Industrial Horizon (1993 session) [Previously Unreleased],
14. Insect in the Infrastructure (1993 session) [Previously Unreleased],
15. Ruinous Opiate,
16. Waste (Live audience recording) [Bonus Track].

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Manilla Road – The Blessed Curse (2015)

Manilla Road - The Blessed Curse (2015)

Article written by Daniel McCormick

In James Howell’s 1660 Lexicon Tetraglotton one finds the proverb, “When thou hast made a turd leave it.” – advice not heeded by Manilla Road on The Blessed Curse. The biggest issues are twofold: length, and creativity. Yet, had brevity been a predilection, there’s little saving grace, even considering the august bloodline. I must admit that within the first minute thirty I was well prepared to hit stop and attempt to return my album. This is not to say that the music is performed sloppily, or that it’s lacking in merits altogether, but the substance of the music rarely rises above the common or generic, and it comes across more as embryonic than as a well crafted communicative device. It is as if this double album were a construct built from a month of jamming in a rehearsal room.

Therefore, I find this to be the type of album which would have greatly benefited from the group spending another year grinding away, incubating and contriving, and instead of 99 minutes of overextension a consistent 28 minutes could have been wrought. I’ll grant there are well layered harmonies (“Tomes of Clay”), vocally and otherwise, and there is some catchy structuring (“Kings of Invention”), but there is nothing to be found here exceedingly worthy of praise. This sentiment is exemplified by the lyrics, and the odd free form approach taken, because even stanza to stanza there’s a lack of cohesive narrative that leaves the listener lost to define direct intent, outside of cheesy throwaway lines. The vocals present these lyrics with a unique presence, but it is of little benefit when you consider the diminutive range and how the patterns do little to add dynamic qualities. In short, a dearth of vibrance.

This album had great potential to appeal to my tastes, with its folk leanings and rough production, and traditional metal approach, but that was an illusion dissolved like skin drenched in hydrofluoric acid. The folk aspects on this album come across as pop sap (“The Muses Kiss”) in most regards. The production is very well the best quality to my ear, in so much as it presents a purer, retro, feel. The traditional metal approach, though, is very much hit and miss – the verse chorus style grows old quickly when there is too little creativity at base. I suppose I am not so much disappointed as I am confused as to why this was so well received by so many. Perhaps I’ll never understand that. I simply conclude this album was intended for die hard fans who would have been happy with anything, and I do not recommend it.

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Interview: Brutal Art Records (2015)

brutal_art_records_-_logo_tank

A small death metal label zoomed into focus this year when it signed a classic death metal act for a split album. That label, Brutal Art Records is run by a reclusive person who literally lives in a van down by the river, if you do not neglect to mention that the van is armored and its radar and cameras constantly scan the surrounding area. This person was kind enough to put down the H&K MP5 for a moment and answer a few questions about Brutal Art Records…

When did you start Brutal Art Records, and why did you decide to start a label? Had you previously run a distro?

I started this little underground label in the middle of 2013 because I’m a huge vinyl collector and I don’t like the stupid black releases. We all know them: you can buy the black edition of an release everytime everywhere. The industry destroys the dream of every collector, which is to have a limited record in different versions and there will be no repress. That’s why I started this label, only limited stuff and there will be no repress in future. Sold out is sold out ;)

You have released a number of underground death metal records. Why did you decide on this style? Do you think it has a large number of fans?

The reason is the same as in the first question: I’m a vinyl collector haha. Vinyl is more more old school so it fits perfectly with the first bands I released, Obscure Infinity – old school death metal from Germany and Humiliation – old school death from Malaysia. Both are great underground bands and it was a real great project for me.

Every label can release a CD version, it’s cheap and you can sell it to everybody, but only the old school music maniacs also have a vinyl record player.

With your most recent release, you have signed one of the most respected names in the underground for over twenty years: Fleshcrawl. Did you know the band? How did this release come about?

I know the music they did in the past and yes, I like them. It was not my idea to start this project; the founder was Ferli the Men behind Skinned Alive (also member of Demonbreed and Milking the Goatmachine). He is a real freak, a really crazy one, and he told me “let’s start a tape project because I want to release this old school shit.” I agreed and we started to search for a perfect split band. Ferli knows Sven, the front beast of Fleshcrawl, so he asked him and Sven agreed. The work with Fleshcrawl started. The band is really friendly and they’re no superstars. That’s why I love this shit.

There seem to be a lot of death metal releases these days, but almost none have made it to “classic” quality. Do we have too much death metal? Is there still life in the style?

The scene is alive, but there are a lot of stupid bands. We have some really great young bands for the job like Deserted Fear, Obscure Infinity, Demonbreed, Skinned Alive, and many more but also some real old tanks like Fleshcrawl, Postmortem from Berlin and much more.

What is the German death metal scene like? Are there many fans and bands? Do you think it is changing, or will it stay within the classic death metal styles?

There are a lot of both bands and fans. I think the scene splits into the old school and the more brutal one. A lot of bands play the typical old school style like Entombed, Grave or Obituary. The other ones play much faster or more like the doom style so the scene is bigger than in the past. A lot of sub styles were created. For me it’s very interesting.

How has Brutal Art Records grown over the past few years? Do you have a goal for where you want to be next? Will this become a full-time job for you and your staff?

The label was born in the underground and it will die in the underground! It will not be a huge label because it’s only for great underground bands not for the big ones. I don’t have a real goal; I only want to have fun with every band and every release. Thanks a lot for the bands I worked in the past like Humiliation (Malaysia), Paganizer (Sweden), Down Among the Dead Men (UK), Obscure Infinity (Germany), Graveyard after Graveyard (Sweden), Fleshcrawl (Germany), Miseo (Germany), Revel in Flesh (Germany), Skinned Alive (Germany), Mass Burial (Spain) and Savage Deity (Thailand).

Normally its work for a full time job but its only a hobby for me.

In your view, what are the classic bands and releases from German death metal? Are there any that people outside of Germany should know about, but do not?

That’s a bad question because there are too many great releases. Check the German bands like Fleshcrawl, Lay Down Rotten, Sarx, Revel in Flesh, Blood and so much more. I don’t like it to say this is good or this one not.

If people want to learn about you and your bands, where should they go? Are you soliciting demos from bands, and how do they contact you?

We publish as much as we can on Facebook. Every band can write us on Facebook (facebook.com/brutalartrecords) or by email (brutalartrecords@web.de). We are interested in good underground bands but we can’t release everything. Feel free to send us your sickest work.

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Ares Kingdom – The Unburiable Dead (2015)

Ares Kingdom - The Unburiable Dead (2015)
Article written by Daniel McCormick

Over four bitter cold days in February of 1934, there was an uprising in Austria. Tyranny was the victor then, and in the executions which followed, but the killing left its mark on history in the numerous “Unburiable Dead”. Stephen Vincent Benét wrote on the lingering ghost of this conflict, those “Unburiable Dead” in his ‘Ode to the Austrian Socialists’, which carries with it a central theme that I believe a quote from Chuck Keller, Ares Kingdom’s sole song writer, describes well:
“History tells: the veneer of civilization is very thin, and the world remains governed by the aggressive use of force… despite appeals to logic and reason, you get our world—the kingdom of Ares.”

 For while the gilding of modernity instills an inability to fully appreciate to the horrors of history, and we find ennui at the heart of much that is claimed to be injustice in our first world padded cells, the voice, these specters, still speak to us.

Now, turn back the hands of time twenty years prior to the Austrian Civil war and we find ourselves staring down the thick steel of a Vickers machine gun, at the onset of WWI. This is the stage for Ares Kingdom’s third full length album, a concept album of sorts, and a memorial in its own right to the “Unburiable Dead” and the vicissitudes which enveloped nations. From an unprecedented influx in engineering and patents that took place over the forty years prior to the onset of war came the engines of death capable of destruction beyond the understanding of the milieu which bore them. Such misery and violence underlies the imagery of the first four tracks, and, like Zarathustra come down from the peaks, the final three pieces are as songs of experience and wisdom, or is it despondency and spleen? Nonetheless, the album bears a easily followed framework, and one befitting the subject matter.

The music carries a continuity through out the album, and is very much in step with what one has come to expect from Ares Kingdom. Melodic and death stylings seem tied to a steel spine of traditional thrash, and at times verging on an extreme form of heavy metal. Alex Blume performs the vocals with great consistency, and while his range may be minimal the execution is imbued with virile aggression. Alex’s bass work seems solid, and to expectation but doesn’t offer me much on which to build commentary- may be it’s a different story in a live environment? Mike Miller’s percussion does well to accentuate and amplify the dynamics, though I did find myself with the nagging feeling that I was wishing it to go places at times which it never did. With a stand out performance in “Nom De Guerre”, “Demoralize” didn’t seem to indulge my attention in the same way, and overall the drums are greater than sufficient but well beneath virtuoso. A tight backing, as it were, for the main interest.

Chuck Keller’s guitar work, as I’ve come to expect, is the specific reason to seek this album out. If you’ve ever caught one of Ares Kingdom’s live sets, you’d know what I was talking about. Highly creative with technical prowess and gear capable of capturing a dense, traditional, metal tonality, the sound achieved on this album is a paramount effort. The high production values only further the experience. Chuck expressed in interviews that this album was a long time in the making, having begun writing some five years prior to release, and I believe there is much evidence of that. The music communicates – having been well developed, with a harmonious rhythmic body that consistently builds in intuitive and accessible manners, and which drives, with excess, the emoting of phrasing. Essentially, this is a brilliantly written and executed album by a true underground veteran.

This is an epic work, and I give full recommendation. It is astonishing that this comes from such a region of the US so destitute in quality metal music, though all the more reason for lending of support to a lone voice in a sea of banal creations by insipid hipsters and wannabe trash.
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