Brazilian speed/death metal band Unearthly have embarked on a tour of the United States which sees them which sees them hit over 20 dates with Krow and Nihilistinen Barbaarisus. Following the steps of Hate Eternal and Nile, Unearthly embrace a technical style of death metal which features the choppy riffs and stop/start techniques of speed metal. Listen to their 2014 album, The Unearthly, below.
Dark Reign, a band most known for its 1980s demos of speed/death metal hybrid high-intensity metal, has released a 2015 demo entitled “Fire Power Resurrecting Death.” A sample track follows, showing more of ripping riffs and thunderous choruses for which this band — which granted members to other Texas death metal acts — has been known and appreciated for during the past two decades.
Italian black metal band Infamous unleashed its third full-length album, Tempesta, on CD-R limited to a hundred copies. This band carved a niche for itself with its incredibly violent music that nonetheless conjured up the naturalistic, feral and sentimental spirit of black metal that confronts reality directly and generates a sense of opposition to decay.
Like the previous Infamous release, Rovine e Disperazione, the third album — as shown by the sample track below — emphasizes better riff definition and the slow emergence of depth of melody through layered composition. With recent work revealing a possible Ildjarn influence, Infamous tread waters of a careful balance between the emotional aspects of melody and the primal alienated violence which was characteristic of older Norse bands, albeit in a style which reflects its Southern European roots. Fans of Greek black metal and the more windblown releases from Graveland and Ancient might appreciate this one.
With any luck, a deserving label will pick up this band and re-issue its discography, a series of recordings which display raw creativity along with a steely-eyed glimpse at the ongoing failure of humanity.
Originally, the “no platform” idea was that when outright neo-Nazi bands scheduled a concert, people would protest and the venues would stop supporting them. While I find this dubious and believe it will backfire against its original intent, it was at least clear and limited to stopping undesired expression.
Now we see that it becomes: forcing all bands to have the “right” opinion if they want to perform. As the Times of Israel writes, a performer is being censored for not being pro-Palestine:
Festival organizers were driven by intense pressure from the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, the reports said. Artists scheduled to perform at the event threatened to cancel their appearances if Matisyahu were to perform because he was “seen to represent Israel.”
The organizers gave Matisyahu an ultimatum, telling him if he would “sign such a declaration [publicly affirming his support for the Palestinians, he] can perform,” according to Spanish daily, El Pais.
Now, I know that people on the internet can get feisty about Israel and/or Jews, but I view this as a mistaken notion. Oddly, what I used to hear coming from the far-right I now hear coming from the middle-left, which is the usual smattering of fears that Jews somehow control the world or are responsible for its downfall. Back in reality, Jews are a small minority that — while disproportionately successful in science, the arts, entertainment and business — act in their own interests which seem to be personal in nature rather than The Protocols of the Elders of Zion-style conspiracy takeover of Earth. It is beyond this article to comment on Israel-vs-Palestine except to say that it is clear that the two populations seem incompatible with one another.
From that point, we can actually discuss the issue. But that is not what SJWs — who are all liberal and should know better as presumed defenders of individual rights, including speech — want us to do. They want discussion to end and only one viewpoint to be heard, which is that of a pro-Palestine anti-Israel outlook. What happened to Matisyahu crosses the line into anti-Semitism. He is not known for a pro-Israel position, nor has he offered one. But he is Jewish… and he performed in Israel… which is enough for his critics to equate “Jewish” with “pro-Israel” and demand he speak out in the issue in agreement with them, even if he has either a contrary viewpoint or any of a number of differing views. It is unclear whether he has any political views at all.
Censorship forms a slippery slope. At first, it is designed to eliminate ideas associated with known social harms, like violence and pedophilia. No one will stand up for those people, so the next generation aims at a broader target. Eventually, it becomes what we see it is now, which is “Agree with us or you will be silenced.” If you want to know what keeps me and other anti-censorship activists going, even if it means speaking up for icky people from 4chan or Reddit, it is that we know how censorship expands from known ills to failure to agree, and we want to stop that process before it starts.
I. A brief introduction
In 1992, At the Gates released their first full-length album after an earth-shaking demo of unprecedented refinement in composition. The full-length, titled The Red in the Sky is Ours, was to become not only the band’s magnum opus but also the greatest achievement of Scandinavian death metal then and since then. Hidden under distinct layers of complexity, ideas at different levels flourish, diverge and converge in ways that are not always easy to follow, throwing the less-than-adamant and less perceptive listener off at every turn and twist of the way. This is not a spurious claim but an observation based on deep acquaintance with the composition of the music in this album as it stands in contrast with the groove-banality of most Swedeath, including favorites of the populace like Entombed Left Hand Path.
According to Anders Björler, this early output was almost entirely arranged by the much aged (about 6 years older than the rest of the band members) founding member Alf Svensson, who painstakingly controlled the process even in the vocal department. To be fair, this debut album is definitely the result of the best talents of all the participating musicians directed in a very concentrated direction by a mastermind. In fact, a distinct At the Gates’ “sound” in this era comes from Tompa’s unique style and the exchange between the quirkiness of Svensson’s style and the melodic clarity and repose of Björler’s, without failing to mention the flexible, stellar and extremely appropriate tailor-made drum arrangements of Erlandsson. Among the often-commented and curious ways Svensson had of getting ideas for At the Gates’ music was playing folk music tapes backwards. The whispers, screeches and screams of the vocals were also carefully gauged by this guy who even pitched certain passages — a very uncommon practice in death metal.
Given the strange appearance and convoluted (almost perverted) character of the music that confirm the topic of insanity and inner journeys discussed in the lyrics, it has been overlooked in the same way that even the great genius of J.S. Bach may be deemed “no more than a composer with a penchant for writing minor-key melodies” by the blind and the ignorant. This complexity extends from technique to progressive structures all the way to motif and idea.
Lyrically, The Red in the Sky is Ours is very poetic, describing scenes and mixing these visions with colored allusions and evocation of feelings, creating a land between the image and the emotion where the two come together and mix, blend and crystallize into one or the other at a different points. This mystic poetry is not only present in the words of the album but is reflected and paralleled in the music. The concept here is strongly integrated and reinforced at several levels that remain elusive enough to create a sense of mystery yet concrete enough to be identified without a shadow of doubt.
The mention of the use of a violin in the album is in order but should not be overemphasized as gimmick-oriented audiences have often highlighted it as if it were the defining or most interesting thing going on here. The violin is appropriately used and adds a very eerie aura through its intensified fretless access to microtones which make the semitone emphasis and augmented intervals sound even more off than they sound on the distorted electric guitar. One can still detect an amateur performance at some level on the instrument, but it is not that notes were missed or that wrong notes were played, and more of a lack of finesse in performance.
II. Apparent influences
At the Gates was formed out of the ashes of Grotesque, a melodic-motif-based, riff-salad-propelled progressive death metal band. The creative and savage impulse of the younger band remains in At the Gates, but filtered through a matured and controlled thought process under the guiding hand of a visionary metal composer. In my opinion, the single greatest metal influence on the band were the Americans from Atheist, whose shadow looms over the fully-formed style of At the Gates in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
Atheist’s trademark is found in its jazz-inspired rhythmic playfulness, ever throwing the audience off balance through ploys in the music that never allow one to feel too at home, always carrying the imagination forth in river rapids that form part of a distinctive greater whole that flows in one direction. As good metal, it is composed and not improvised (though improvisation definitely always plays a role in any composition process, to one degree or another). The stability-instability interplay from section to section follows the Gang‘s and Satz‘s described by A.B. Marx conceptually and through examples of Beethoven piano sonatas.
What At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours took from Atheist was an informed fearlessness in the face of convention that did not destroy the music for the sake of innovation but introduced all sorts of pauses, tempo and time signature changes as well as other creative rhythmic gestures within a homogeneous framework that maintained a clear language that conspired to a strong concept rather than indulging any of the musicians. But the younger band took this further and deeper than veterans even in their masterpiece Unquestionable Presence, creating much more powerful and meaningful gestures by making them varied yet subservient to a layered concept.
III. Creating a language
Usually, one relates a band with a style. This style implies the use of not only certain instrumentation but also musical tropes that the audience can expect. A good reason for a band to adopt a particular style (rather than going rogue and define parameters completely on their own) is intelligibility. Unfortunately, more often than not this is not the reason why bands do this, but rather because they are not gifted in music creation and thus only choose a style as a suit to wear and not as what it actually is: a language to speak.
When it comes to this band’s early works, the first step in understanding just what exactly this style they chose is requires an acknowledging of the fact that At the Gates created a dialect of their own from the firm bases of contemporary underground metal at the time. This consisted in abandoning as much as possible stylistic tendencies in structure or composition and reducing their relation to death metal to rudimentary technique aspects such as blast beats, d-beats and other variations basic percussion patterns when it came to the drums, and “tremolo” picking for melodies, power chords (and absolutely no use of any other kind of chord in a single guitar), hammer-on’s and simple, non-tremolo picking mostly for syncopated passages.
It is not claimed here that all this was precisely calculated by the band, and it is acknowledged that in all possibility, it was the result of the unconscious result of musically talented minds searching for self-expression. The following section illustrates approaches in applications of typical then-contemporary death and black metal techniques in the framework of distinct songwriting procedures in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
IV. Tainting the sky with red
- Motif forms. Motif forms in developmental variation as described by Arnold Schoenberg in his Fundamentals of Musical Composition is a series of melodic patterns evolve from executing transformation functions on a primordial one. As little as two distinctive notes from this first melodic pattern can be highlighted and played upon as the central motif, while the rest is twisted, expanded, contracted, flipped, omitted or changed in any other way in progressively differentiating ways. This is not to be confused with a theme, which is a distinctive melodic pattern that is kept intact in the relative relation between its notes and which in the most extreme cases is played slower or faster, or in a different register. Motif forms allow for a wider range of manipulation that nonetheless preserves a link to a central idea that can be sometimes difficult to see at first, leading relations between sections to sound less than obvious. In the case of The Red in the Sky is Ours, this has resulted in accusations of riff-salad looseness, but these allegations do not hold up in light of the evidence. However, it is true that a degree of intelligibility is sacrificed when flexibility is increased, and these two are one of the so many extreme poles in between which musics attempt to find a certain balance or inclination for their expression.
- Harmonic coloring. After the selection and limitation to a rudimentary “alphabet”, the reducing of building materials to a homogeneous mixture, At the Gates proceeds to define the next layer: their vocabulary. What happens next are the decisions that shape the character and coloring of the music in terms of the relations between the instruments in terms of texture and harmony. Harmony here does not only refer to the horizontal relation of notes at any one point in time, but of the sequence of harmonic implications within or between riffs. In the strictly horizontal aspect, when the two guitars play melody lines, they often play the same, leaving “harmonization” as an afterthought until after the riff has been properly introduced and the listener is very well-acquainted with it. Rather than a way to easily beef-up the music as in Sentenced North from Here, At the Gates makes a much more elegant and measured use of it as if it were a punctuation mark. This is mostly done in fifths, sometimes in octaves and a very few times in minor third intervals. A very few passages make use of short counterpointed melodies of the most basic sort, but inserted in crucial points to a very powerful effect. The use of each of these not as a feature but as part of a set of calculated flourishes is another thing that makes At the Gates rise above most bands. Needless to say, the rhythm-and-lead modality is used by At the Gates very, very little and usually takes the form of something more akin to melody and counter-melody. The second aspect can be noticed in different applications. One of them is playing a melodic pattern in one register and then playing it exactly as it is exactly one semitone above its original instantiation. The band uses this simple technique to expand several riffs throughout their debut and is in line with the music’s apparent penchant for focusing on the semitone as a motif, giving the music a very uncomfortable lingering feeling most of the time as the minor second interval is a very dissonant one only a little step away from perfect resolution. This, in turn, is liberated by the addition of more stable (so-called “melodic” — correct term: consonant) passages that are in turn intensified and elevated by being placed amongst the ever-present hanging melodic, semi-tone dissonance.
- Percussion. As has been said before, the drums in metal should be more than the strict representation of tempo, but they should not run amok in self-indulgent expressions of virtuosity or “feeling” either. In the band’s debut album, Adrian Erlandsson achieves perfection in balance between creativity and functionality in a very technically-oriented style. Like many of the early classics, this technically intense music can go undetected because of two reasons this writer can think of in this moment. The most easily pointed out is the fact that the basic expressions are rudimentary metal techniques which in themselves do not present a challenge to accomplished drummers. But looks can be deceiving as the difficulty lies in the smoothness between patterns, in addition to the right emphasis within and between them in relation to the rest of the music. This is basically metal drumming taken to classical heights and taking technical cues from the only available precedent: old jazz drumming. A very good example is the way the drums complement (rather than mirror) the speed of the notes and intensity of the guitar patterns. Sometimes these two come together and accents are focused, sometimes the drums will reduce intensity and calm down to a very basic pattern in order to give space and highlight to a particularly melodic-consonant guitar melody interplay and yet sometimes it will blast away as the guitars play moderately midpaced and slow notes. These never feel forced or out of place when seen from the point of view of being an expression inside a larger scheme, but may seem a little “weird” when taken out of context. Unfortunately for the appreciation of this album, most listeners cannot go beyond the moment and the riff or the cool drum pattern. The beauty of truly advanced drum arrangement (as opposed to virtuosic display alone) is completely lost on most of the audience.
- Silences and pauses. A subtle but decisive element that elevates the composition in The Red in the Sky is Ours to a place actually besides classical music (as opposed to the many metal albums that are superficially likened to classical music based on this or that pattern in the music) is the use of silences for articulation — yet another device used by Atheist that At the Gates took to a whole other level. Silences throughout the album work mainly as expectation creators, creating an effect of falling through empty space, and as buffers between two different motific areas. It is also worth pointing out that silences do not only occur in total muting of all the instruments. Sometimes the little trick Atheist likes of letting the bass run over a little drum pattern alone only to have the guitars come after it is used. But also, one guitar alone over drums, or only drums, or alternations of all of them (as occurs in the closing passage of “City of Screaming Statues”).
- Orchestration. The bas-reliefs created in The Red in the Sky is Ours thus run at multiple levels, from these plays of harmony, to motif relations, to textural adjustments in between the instruments in which the percussion plays no small role. An analysis of the flow of the music from one section to another reveals a painstaking amount of planning and consideration regarding these elements. The album amounts to an extremely expressive and variable set of statements and arguments from a single voice (embodied by the aforementioned homogeneous-ness from adherence to rudimentary techniques and particular harmonic-melodic inclinations). When it comes to orchestration, the decisions of how and when to let the guitars use this or that picking technique, when to make them play the same or in harmony, when to let the drums lead, when to make the drums fade into the background seem to obey a song-wide plan, and not one in which only the shock or pleasing nature of any one passage is considered. So, it is not which techniques or approaches At the Gates used in their debut, but how and to what ends they did. This music speaks out as if it had sentient and emotional capacity of its own beyond the words or the execution of any single instrument that produces it.
“The term orchestration in its specific sense refers to the way instruments are used to portray any musical aspect such as melody or harmony.”
— Orchestration Wiki
V. Long-range planning
Now comes one of the most exciting and accomplished aspects of The Red in the Sky is Ours: its composition on the scale of whole pieces, rather than in a collection of disparaged cool-sounding passages. Without any assumption of a voluntary or conscious reference by the band to master composers, this writer feels the need to illustrate the outstanding crystallization of advanced thought processes in composition by making a connection between this great metal work to certain general procedures of Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Antonio Vivaldi.
Structurally, the affinity to Beethoven’s method comes first as it refers to the encompassing of motifs and their tying-together by entanglement. The late German master would develop a first main motif, sometimes introducing a contrasting idea that may be mistaken as simple gimmicks for effect here and there. Now, he would not allow these to remain simple dead ends. These initial and apparently random passages that salted the presentation of a first motif would become the seeds for other areas of development, thereby revealing them as hints and vistas of what lay ahead. Like At the Gates, Beethoven sometimes introduced new ideas in a contrasting and almost transition-less manner, and then proceeded to slowly integrating them by interpolating them and already-established motifs, even using them together while always looking ahead in the development. Beethoven’s late quartets display everything one can look forward to in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours in more advanced arrangements.
The reference to Anton Bruckner may not be as pervading and far-reaching as Beethoven’s, but it is still a key aspect of the character of At the Gates’ debut. This is a specific way of reusing and sometimes transforming a motif which works on a different dimension than the developmental variation. This is the attention to the color of a same idea, perhaps a theme or simply a motif in different contexts as it shines through different harmonies and textures. Brett Stevens has aptly described this as prismatic technique, alluding to the effect a crystal has over light going through it and exiting from different angles.
Last comes the most general and slightly elusive comparison to Antonio Vivaldi’s music. The relation of any metal music which has separate guitar lines can be likened to a lot of Vivaldi’s music for two violins, as this revolves around two lines. The best melodic death metal uses this concept to its full potential. Also, the clarity and rhythmic straightforwardness and affirmative character of this pure, Italian baroque music is a template and reflection of good and simple progressive underground melodic metal such as the album under discussion. In the case of this metal masterpiece, I want to especially call attention to an section-expanding procedure in which a pattern is repeated while elements surrounding it add to its texture in increasing waves or in slide-shift manner that quickly takes one idea and juxtaposes it to a second as the second one takes precedence towards the end of the whole section. (Typical in At the Gates’ music -> G1: A A A’ A’ BBB’B’ B’B’, G2: AAAA A’BB’B’ B’harB’har)
Last of all, there is a high-level characteristic that gives this music a very organic feeling, that is how the number of repetitions adjust to the needs of the music, often avoiding sounding too squared, too even. Instead of a lot of the typical “repeat four times” formula we find in metal we find a lot of different combinations that nonetheless favor the even-ness traditional to the genre. What is achieved here is an element that lends unpredictability but does not detract from the music, a small tool used when music needs a little push from un-evenness: odd number of repetitions. This becomes especially powerful when combined with the riff-motif sliding technique just mentioned. A perfect exampled can be distinguished in the middle climax/breaking point of “City of Screaming Statues”.
While most would agree that most death and black metal need to be analyzed with a modal mindset, approaching The Red in the Sky is Ours with this more simple-minded preconception would be doing the masterpiece a great disservice. The powerful way in which harmony, implied or explicitly presented, is used here was unprecedented in its time and has largely remained unparalleled since in the death metal world. Yet it is not this or that aspect what makes it astounding, but the convergence of all the elements and the stacked up layers of refined aspects from playing technique to mind-numbing attention to composition technique in its vertical and horizontal dimensions and in its short and long ranges.
Crafting a unique album in the full sense of the expression, At the Gates gave us an example of how thinking that everything has already been done is just a scapegoat for people who were not meant to be creating artists in the first place. The Red in the Sky is Ours does not introduce new playing techniques or strange avant-garde-isms in strange influences that change the character of the music, but for those with the eyes to see it, they rose above the masses in producing a profound work of art that will remain immortal so long as its objective qualities, at least, are understood. This is an album that stands besides Burzum Det Som Engang Var and Cóndor Duin in showing us how excellent, original and forward-looking music can be created without resorting ignorant attempts at directly redefining paradigms or favoring nonsensical experimentation that results in garbage. Instead, what we have here is sure-footed creativity based on tradition that is carefully gauged through both technical knowledge in its Apollonian manifestation and its inner Dionysian sense to a both logical but unpredictable result.
Burzum composer and mastermind Varg Vikernes has released his latest musical composition, two verses from the Hávamál set to music and voice. This takes a more floaty ambient Vangelis-style approach, spending its time setting scene and then varying texture within it, more like modernist classical than the linear music of today.
While his last few ambient albums have been widely praised on this site, he finds himself in a difficult place: there are many clueless Hot Topic buyers who would love to snap up a Burzum album that sounded like Motley Crue or the Deftones with more evil, a smaller but loudmouthed horde of FMP/NWN tryhards who want only three (chromatic interval) chords and the truth, and then a world music audience which is impossibly locked in its expectation of the same mishmash of Afro-Cuban rhythms with any local tradition it wants to explore. Finding an audience is difficult.
Placing all of his money on the wildcard, Vikernes has decided to appeal to those who have already drifted past all of the above, which are essentially multi-decade trends (no core, no mosh, no fun) that have long become cliché but their audience, being self-obsessed and oblivious, cannot tell the difference. This new track shows Burzum going more into soundtrack-land and trying less hard to please any of the audiences hovering around black metal’s corpse like flies.
In the Death Metal Underground, the promos are reviewed in two separate yet equally important groups: the worthy which are investigated thoroughly and the shelf turds used to test the wounding potential of artillery. These reviews are the latter.
Mastiphal – For a Glory of All Spirits, Rise for Victory (1995, reissued 2015)
Emperor started the mass delusion among basement dwellers that adding dark wave keyboards to random metal riffs constituted black metal rather than loose stool. Mastiphal obliged, stopped jerking off to Sailor Moon, and wrote carnival music around stolen metal riffs and goth rock choruses. Celtic Frost, Slayer, Deicide, and all your other favorites get the Clan of Xymox cocks. These uncut, smegma-encrusted Poles rim that Castlevania cartridge, gape it, and slam their sweaty balls away. The breakdowns are there for pulling out and sword fighting.
Also sprach Zarathutsra : man discovering tools :: Mastiphal : man discovering anilingus
Goatblood / Nuclear Perversions – Rex Judaeorum / Wolves of Apocalypse (2015)
More three chord hardcore punk played out of time by fat hipsters who want to enslave the south side of Chicago. Good luck with that pickup beat. How about a delightful goat curry instead? True island flavor. Only long pig available? It will be delicious. The succulent belly fat from all those PBRs will melt right in.
1. Thoroughly restrain the long pig. Pry off the gas masks and slit the pigs’ throats over a bucket in the Jewish and Moslem tradition. If their faces are too ornamented and disgusting to look at, put the gas masks back on and savagely strike the necks until all heads are severed.
2. Let the carcasses drain of blood for the black pudding. Did you think blood libel was false? Our bodies will naturally turn theirs into excrement.
3. Be sure to cut off all metallic ornamentation. Flay all subcutaneous ink. Scalp the upper part of the body and use your blow torch to defoliate the chest hair. When butchering and gutting the carcasses, be sure to save the intestine and fat for the pudding. Discard the diseased livers.
5. Clean the intestines and cube the meat not too lean.
6. Fry the cumin, coriander, tumeric, and peppers with ghee. You may also use some of the fat obtained from the thighs and midsection.
7. Rub the curry onto the cubes and let marinate for at least twelve hours. This is a smart time to prepare the pudding.
8. Heat oil and cook the mixture in a sauce pan on low heat for hours. Cover and be careful. Do not rush with your dish’s composition but do not worry too much; like war metal, curries play themselves.
9. Serve over rice.
Ithaqua – Initation to Obscure Mysteries (2015)
Greeks broke. Greeks need foreign currency. Greeks see black metal autists who buy everything with bullet belt. Greeks know metal autist like black metal on pro-tape cassette. Limited tape trade Discogs Ebay. Rotting Christ and Varathron most true drum machine sampler Hellenic black metal. True cult early 90s. Cover them on 300 limit copies. Sell all rights of recording to label to buy case of skunky Euro piss lager. Stroke hairy Hellenic forearms. Wish you were cool. Drink away 51% youth unemployment. Kill self.
Fenriz (Darkthrone, Storm) unleashed his band Fenriz’ Red Planet a half-decade ago and on its first release included a song named “John Carter, Man On Mars.” This should immediately send all of you running to your search engines, where you will find that John Carter was the protagonist-hero of a number of books written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of which are available online.
That in turn leads to the larger question of which metal bands have shown their literary influences. If a list were made, H.P. Lovecraft and J.R.R. Tolkien would lead the list from the 1970s onward, but perhaps the influences are subtler. Jim Morrison acknowledged Louis-Ferdinand Céline and William Blake, and this carried forward into metal through thematic elements, some of which have been picked up on by metal bands since. Many of these influences may be subtler than explicit reference, such as whatever gore-drenched literature inspired Carcass and any of the occult fringes of underground metal.
One wonders what lurks in lyrics and song ideas from the vast library of black metal, death metal and grindcore. Science fiction seems to make an appearance with the more technical bands, where the more primitive and violent prefer popular but challenging literature such as Lovecraft. It has yet to be seen whether metal bands can adapt ideas from Jane Austen or Thomas Hardy. But perhaps some are working on it. If you can think of any literary references in metal, drop them in the comments.
Metal rarely got attention from respectable institutions during its early days. As officially designated social enemies and rebels, metalheads were perceived as being antagonists of such institutions who did not necessarily agree with their basic principles like the hippies did. However, with the lightening of metal this has changed, and academics, the corporate world and now the Smithsonian Museum have taken an interest in metal.
Slayer: The Origins of Thrash in San Francisco, CA is a five-minute video which looks at the creation of speed metal as it happened in San Francisco, California, following up on the work of bands like Motorhead, Satan and Blitzkrieg in the UK when hybridized with hardcore punk. It shows the respectable institutions of society recognizing not just Slayer, and speed metal, but that a thriving and viable sub-culture has existed within their society for almost thirty years.
After a little over a decade had elapsed since Abyssum’s debut, the only remaining and the leading voice of the project, Rex Ebvleb, released a full-length album titled Poizon of god. This 2008 offering was both a step forward with a nod to the old material in a conscious effort to be both consistent in the style of the project (this artist has several projects with very distinct voices and writing procedures and inspirations). This album also sees the enlisting of drummer Akherra to the project as a permanent member of the band. Following in the steps of the methodology of Thy Call, this new comeback album follows the general songwriting approach that does not focus on what we would consider the “metal sections”, and rather uses the distorted guitars and drums as one more color in a palette for black ambient music. Overall, the underlying methodology does not diverge greatly from the debut album but there is a greater variety of pigmentation and expression, a more careful attention to detail, stronger sense of movement and a comparatively darker intent in its character.
Synths are used by themselves in a similar manner to Ildjarn’s, and when together with the metal instrumentation in a way reminiscent of Emperor’s In the Nightside Eclipse, though one can clearly see the difference in orientation that implies that the influence is specific and limited to a technique and does not detract from any claims of originality by Abyssum. Vocals are sparse and drowned in an already thin production whose space is filled out mostly by the keyboards. The exquisiteness of this album’s production lies in the clear-cut distribution in layers of the electric guitars and synths, which makes their subtle interplay all the more interesting. In addition to different synth effects that are used carefully and only where they are precisely required in a very conservative manner, an acoustic guitar graces some of the interludes and is almost invisible in the main songs but does make an appearance that fills out the texture to a delightful effect.
The extra-musical (or should I say ultra-musical, because it is beyond rather than with-out) goal is unmistakable in a humble but effective use of music as a vehicle to experience. These are explorations in sounds as pathways to portals, a trait shared with only the most profound black metal albums of a metaphysical nature. Admittedly a technically unrefined affair, this album will not do for a deep technical study but it does hold up. In addition, the balance between evocation and formal music construction preserves decorum while taken to its sensible limits in a very atmospheric-minded creation in which each single moment is virtually meaningless but the sequence of moments adds up to an idea, the sequence of such sections becomes a transformational process and the album as a whole constitutes footsteps to an epiphany. This hanging in the balance of the line between evocation and musical nonsense contributes strongly to its power, but this power is only manifested once the listener stops inspecting and looking for “interesting” musical arrangements or expressions and lets the stream of notes carry him.
The classic black metal methodology that uses repetition in clever ways to channel energies is present in its purest form. The experienced black metal listener knows how to feel the flow of the music and latch on to it as an organism and not worry about how this or that works. The only exception to this is if the music actually fails to do this by presenting disparaged or distracted elements in a disorganized way that tries to pass for “creative”. Abyssum’s use of repetition through changing sections as stanzas in a mantra. The secret of the mantra and the black metal way is that the power lies not in the repeated passage, but in the little variations and truncations that give life to it. The black metal method, its pulse and rhythm in word and phrase alternations, can be seen clearly in the ceremonial telling of a section of The Epic of Gilgamesh:
“(…)he followed the SUN’s road to his rising, through the mountain.
When he had gone one league the darkness was thick around him, for there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After two leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After three leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After four leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
At the end of five leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
At the end of six leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
When he had gone seven leagues the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
When he had gone eight leagues Gilgamesh gave a great cry, for the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After nine leagues he felt the northwind on his face, but the darkness was thick and there was no light, he could see nothing ahead and nothing behind him.
After ten leagues the end was near: After eleven leagues the dawn light appeared.
At the end of twelve leagues the SUN streamed out.”
The mantra’s text is nothing when it is not being vocalized through the inhaling and exhaling of a human medium, occasionally shuddering in the cold breeze of the mountain. In Poizon of god, the cyclic melody is the verse the stanza’s text that is not counted but is pronounced as long as it takes for a certain consciousness level to be reached. The guitars provide some of the meat and variation of this thought, sometimes concentrated, sometimes faltering, sometimes more emphatic. The drums are the lungs and heart and are the representation of organic life channeling the mantra. Spaces and silences, different percussion patterns, different emphases on the same melody, different intensities all describe the flow of living energy. In contrast to most modern black metal, though, Akherra’s drumwork adheres strictly to the purpose inherent to the music and limit themselves to complementing or counterpointing in strict manner. In so-called modern black metal, the introduction of grooves and polyrhythms in contrasting, novel and “catchy”arrangements only work as distractions. The latter are not the sacred meditations or black ceremonies of dark adepts but rather the hedonistic, drug-and-booze-induced forest orgies of New Age youngsters.
It shares with Cóndor Nadia the quality of being very private, presenting an outwardly naive presentation that hides worlds of relations and nuances that escape all those who would barely notice these works’ discreet — even secretive — entrances. In this aspect, these two stand in contrast with works conducive to explicit black magic libations such as Morbid Angel’s Blessed are the Sick or the previously mentioned In the Nightside Eclipse. For Nadia, this is merely a by-product of its concern with a romantic and melancholic topic which to a casual listener may appear as indistinguishable from the most cliched and unoriginal — it hides an invaluable treasure in plain sight, perhaps one too precious for vulgar minds to even recognize. In the case of Poizon of god, this retreating is intentional and is an attempt at creating distance between itself and the vain, empty and pretentiously misguided so-called black metal found in abundance nowadays.
A better picture of how the outside and the innards relate to each other can be had by picturing a decrepit wooden hut built into the side of the mountain. Now imagine entering this humble abode that probably served as cellar and storehouse but is now abandoned. Dust covers everything in a quaint and nostalgic picture of ages past. The visitor who is captured by this and would contemplate this place with different eyes finds that in the backroom under a worktable there is a stunted stone doorway leading into the mountain whose presence is only captured by afternoon sun coming in through the window in a very specific angle. Whether underground worlds with their own forest and fauna or catacombs from time immemorial are to be found depends on the nature of the music as a portal and guiding spirit which allows the cosmic traveler to behold them.