Borknagar – Winter Thrice (2016)

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Winter Thrice would’ve ensnared me for some time, had it come out in 2009. In my youth, I was more receptive to pomp and circumstance in my music, and if there’s one thing Borknagar’s latest recording does especially wrong, it’s that it never relents from its apparent desire to be epic, even to the point of having its share of contrived quiet sections for obvious dynamic contrast. Restraint is not part of these musician’s repertoire, and it makes for yet another flat (albeit psychically draining) album that I can’t imagine even its most rabid fans having much patience for once the initial blitz of sales wears off.

At its core, Borknagar is descended from the same sort of ‘atmospheric’ black metal that their fellow scenesters and countrymen in Arcturus once made a living doling out to the masses. It’s probably a coincidence (at best, historical understandable in the context of Norway in the early ’90s) that both of those bands have some roots in especially unusual death metal oriented recordings. What degraded these bands (and similar ones) over time was their ever increasing addiction to sonic novelty. While Borknagar was quicker to unify a few elements they liked and streamline everything else into their signature sound (I described the teaser as “melodramatic, pseudo-progressive heavy rock music”), they’ve ended up so dependent on their own aesthetic that it interferes with their ability to develop their songs.

Now, Borknagar is technically proficient, as you might expect from any metal band that sells and isn’t deliberately ultra-primitive. However, only the vocalists’ contributions manage to rise to any sort of prominence. If I strain my ears, I can catch a glimpse of what the instrumentalists are attempting, and I’m sure it’s pleasant enough as a result of all the time that went into writing and recording it, but there’s very little of substance there beyond the ‘epic’ orientation of Borknagar’s songwriting. On top of that are a series of sung parts from three vocalists all scrambling for your attention. These are again skilled singers (and shriekers) to the point that their performance takes center stage, but when the arrangements they perform are so forgettable, does it really matter?

Ultimately, I found Winter Thrice to be so aggressively unmemorable, to the point that remembering just what it sounds like beyond a vague impression of 3/4 time and minor key progressions is difficult. At its best, it sounds good, but this stylish album is ultimately free of substance.

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Conan’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

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Growing up as a ruthless barbarian in a desolate and cruel world born made Conan the toughest around. He is the wet dream of every orthodox power metal fan and the unspoken desire of funderground war metal addicts. This is a list of the 10 underground metal songs that this head crusher chose for us:

10. Blood – Sodomize the Weak

Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

9. Atrocity – Hold Out (To The End)

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

8. Cirith Ungol – Master of the Pit

The riddle… of steel.

7. Iron Maiden- The Duelist

For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm.

6. Bathory – To Enter Your Mountain

He is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, “What is the riddle of steel?” If I don’t know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me. That’s Crom, strong on his mountain!

5. Manowar – Pleasure Slave

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wA-tNjnecog

They’re all sluts! He’s dead already!

4. Rhapsody – Steelgods Of The Last Apocalypse

Crom laughs at your four winds. He laughs from his mountain.

3. Kreator – Carrion

Does it always smell like this? How does the wind ever get in here?

2. Candlemass – Demons Gate

CONAN: You killed my mother! You killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father’s sword!

1. Immortal – As the Eternity Opens

Adieu!

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Folteraar – Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Folteraar’s 2016 release comes to us with a proposal that is very much in vogue in the current metal underground. To any wary of the pitfalls of following trends, this might ring alarm bells almost automatically. But we must not be hasty in this judgement, since even though the establishment and spread of a method may really be, in fact, taken up by a large number of hands who are not up to the task and will undoubtedly produce subpar results, this does not mean that we won’t also find those out there who have focus and vision to make use of pre-defined rules with a sober mind. A clear example of this is Condemner’s Omens of Perdition.

As much as we all yearn for another quality release, however, Folteraar exemplify the rule and not the exception to the avalanche of high-spirited but poorly thought out metal albums that make up the bulk of releases nowadays. Since there is nothing in particular to point out about Folteraar, as it has no particular value or fault but just repeats every cliche of the underground war-metal-noise-garbage intersection, we won’t spend too much time pointing out flaws that have been pointed out once and again in the past in this site. The duty still falls on us to point out the very particular approach Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw brings to the table as a representative of the most blurry instantiations of this line of thinking.

This brings to mind several influences that served to furnish the raw materials for the formation of early ’90s underground metal. These are primarily heavy metal of the so-called ‘doom’ stripe and hardcore punk. It is easy to appreciate a deconstruction of these in this music which seems to be violent for violence’s sake. Worse than that, it seems to ape so much at the tropes it has learned from the past that the music does not seem to build anything else. Folteraar’s music is just a sequence of cliches that build up to no content. Themes do not build up, in either melody, harmony or rhythm. This is just a sequence of loud screams; a hysteric madman in a padded room would make more sense.

Do yourself and the “community” a service and do not put this aside but actively campaign for a distinction between its utter nonsense and the codified communication that is achieved by its betters. The author encourages (and will keep doing so while releases such as this keep coming) the reader to return time and again to Condemner and allow it to rise in his consciousness, as its structures become more familiar and its development thereby becomes evident. Throw most, if not all, war metal such as Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw in the trash bin.

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Voivod releases title track from Post Society EP

Voivod recently released the title track from the upcoming Post Society EP. Its overall Voivodness (in the French-Canadian metal sense, as opposed to the Polish administrative one) supports my previous theory that the band is continuing with the approach that they outlined on Target Earth; in my own previous words, “…an accessible mixture of of their signature late ’80s sound with more modern alternative and progressive rock influences.” The EP is still scheduled for February 26th, and Voivod is still going on tour next month. The good track record so far bodes well for the quality of the involved content, although the fact so much of it having already been released piecemeal may cut into its overall sales.

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Master – An Epiphany of Hate (2016)

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Master, Autopsy, Motörhead –  what do they all have in common? They’re all long running bands that settled on a workable style relatively early and generally stuck with it for decades, gradually refining their craft while managing not to lose control of the forces that initially motivated them. Master is arguably the grandfather of this tradition within the realms of death metal, as they’re the approximate beginning of the constellation of Paul Speckmann projects (since War Cry is allegedly a far cry from most of his work). Given that Master sticks with tradition on An Epiphany of Hate, anyone who’s familiar with Master should know exactly what they’re going to get.

This album belongs to the more elaborate school of Mastercraft that’s come into being in the last few years; while Master has never written especially long or complicated songs, the level of musicianship and organization on display here is a definite improvement from the early days of the band. The production and mixing is also higher fidelity, but improving such is not nearly as difficult as becoming a better songwriter. I’d argue that Paul Masidval’s (protip: Cynic) contributions to Master during his brief mercenary period in the early 1990s must’ve resonated with Speckmann on some level and encouraged this elaboration. An Epiphany of Hate is still relatively sparse in its overall construction; the songs here are built out of comparatively few riffs; if not necessarily the three per song figure that comes up in older discussions. Monophony is still the band’s weapon of choice, but like many of the bands that have… mastered this sort of metal, Master’s musicians know when to keep it up and enjoy their freedom of melody and tonality and when they should instead use some sort of harmonic reinforcement. This expansion without overextension is something a lot of bands aren’t able to successfully pull off, so it does reflect pretty well on them.

I don’t know how much of an advance An Epiphany of Hate represents over 2013’s The Witchhunt, if any, but it’s still a good addition to Master’s legacy and a worthy addition to your 2016 collections.

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Metalgate news – Phil Anselmo wavers on racist statements

Phil Anselmo put a sour taste into the mouth of Dimebag Darrell and Pantera worshipers worldwide by making some white supremacist signs at the end of Dimebash 2016. Much to my amusement, he immediately backpedaled and insisted that these remarks were his idea of a joke. Like most of these incidents, the importance is not so much in what Phil Anselmo actually believes, but in how the people around him react. As a general rule, you people have overreacted. For instance, the good folk at MetalSucks (always a bastion of… well… something) struggled to reconcile their simple belief that racism is bad with their other simple belief that Phil Anselmo’s musical efforts are worthy of their time and attention.

Here at DMU, we’ve learned to deal with the fallout of our idols’ actual, provable crimes, such as the arson and murder of the Norwegian black metal scene to the point that we’re perhaps desensitized to thoughtcrimes, especially since we can’t yet peer into Anselmo’s head and accurately determine whether he’s a racist, or trawling for attention, or some combination of both. What matters is that we don’t jump to conclusions based on the unknowable. Besides, we have enough evidence of Anselmo contributing to Pantera.

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Avantasia streaming Ghostlights

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Avantasia is arguably a notable power metal act and perhaps one of the EU’s most profitable exporters of cheese. Man can’t live on cheese alone, but DMU occasionally attracts fans of mainstream power metal, and sometimes for all its goofiness it’s less idiotic than whatever else is trendy. Ghostlights will officially release tomorrow, but the German entertainment news site Bild (at least I think it’s lightweight news; meine Deutsch ist nicht sehr gut) is currently offering a stream of the album for those who want to preview the album. As is typical for this band, Ghostlights will feature an all-star roster of power metal musicians, and is generally very accessible and poppy; saccharine even once listeners acclimate to the sound. We might give it a review someday; no guarantees.

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Philadelphia councilman proposes registry of bands for “public safety”

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Mark Squilla, a city councilman from Philadelphia, recently proposed a bill that would create a police-accessible registry of entertainers who sought to perform in the city’s venues, with the intent of allowing the police to vet acts and have a voice in whether they would be given licenses to perform. It seems the citizens of Philadelphia weren’t too pleased about this; while Squilla soon claimed that “…this provision is NOT intended to restrict artistic expression or any kind of entertainment, but rather is aimed at addressing public safety and quality of life issues,” opponents of the bill cited various concerns, most notably their belief that the bill would not actually protect the public, and that law enforcement should not be given such wide ranging powers. This sort of legislation, in fact, seems to me like the sort of thing that would result in police trying to keep even slightly controversial entertainers out of their city, or even ones they simply didn’t like if corruption was particularly rampant. If the bill passes in any form resembling its current one, it may create a great deal of difficulty for metal musicians seeking to perform for their fans in the area.

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Human Mediocrity and the Rise of Artificial Intelligence

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Article by David Rosales

As technology progresses, machines are increasingly able to replace humans when it comes to menial jobs such as those that take place inside factories, where often repetitive movements are better done by untiring mechanical arms that do not tire. But the progress of machine work is not limited to mere rote, and now includes not only machines that can make calculations many times faster than any human being, but also any other function that a programmer can reduce to a set of instructions in an algorithm. This spells bad news for almost everyone, even those who work high-level jobs: once computer scientists and mathematicians decode your decision process and reduce it to an algorithm, you are done.

Many think that the last bastion for human endeavor in the future, then, will be the arts, since a machine may be faster, more precise and more enduring than any human being, but it may never reflect the feelings that man possesses. There is this intuition, this unconscious level at which our kind operates that we do not finish understanding. This precisely is that nebulous area which Immanuel Kant defined as particularly problematic since we are not equipped to produce answers to questions which our very nature seems to insist on pushing questions for.

While I am in agreement with such a concept, there is a considerable gap with respect to how the average citizen seems to understand this. The issue is not whether or not machines may replace creative human activity in the creation of art. In music specifically, programs have already been written which can compose scores on the spot that fill out the aesthetic requirements of a Mozart symphony (Editor’s note: These have, in fact, been around for decades. The earliest example I can think of is CPU Bach, released in 1994 for the 3DO). In fact, such a program is not limited to a particular style and has been written such that when given a collection of pieces, the program will determine the style to be used by the approximate differences between the pieces given. This spells very bad news for all those brainless clone bands out there who have no vision between “the riff” or “the feeling”.

What are the limitations of this kind of style-replicating program? Perhaps the most important is that even though it might be possible to redirect it so that it produces a new style if given a seed for random variation, it cannot actually replicate human originality, at least in the sense that humans create art from the unique way in which they perceive the world and manifest it through music and particular expression. The sort of results arising from this human originality may be “objectively” indistinguishable from what the machine produces given X reference styles and a random factor, but there will be no way for the machine to supplant the former, at least until it can also emulate a great deal of the higher brain functions humans use for creativity, which is admittedly a far more difficult task.

So, in a future (present?) world where computer programs produce commercial jingles and pop tunes for big garbage music companies, all those mediocre soundtrack composers will be out of a job. Furthermore, modernist idiocy would be quickly replaced by machines exhausting all the possibilities of that most unnatural “music”. This result is quite interesting, because in trying to get rid of tradition, modernists ran away from what keeps music in touch with our humanity. In the end, the advent of music made by artificial intelligence will not represent a stamping out of human creativity, but an exalting of those who survive the onslaught. I for one hail our machine overlords.

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Cerveceria La Constancia S.A. / BevCo Ltd – Cerveza Caguama (2016)

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As the great IPA trend wears down, people have gone looking for a new sensation and since they like sweet beers, many have settled on “tourist beer”: following the model of Corona Extra, this is light grain-and-honey tasting beer with increasing amounts of alcohol. Dropping into this fray, Cerveza Caguama provides an interesting entry through a 4.6% ABV beer with the flavor profile of Corona Extra but the specific flavors more commonly found in Carta Blanca. It pours out with an aromatic distillation flavor, then quickly goes into the cereal scents which define its basic flavor. Of very light color, this El Salvadorian beer — named after the Great Loggerhead Turtle, as all of their marketing will tell you — drinks easily cold or warm, but the warmer it gets the more a yeasty undertone emerges. Its saving grace is its gentleness which along with its relatively monotonic flavor profile and high alcohol content make it a relaxing afternoon beer.

Price: $2.69 (Kroger)
Value: *****/*****
Quality: ***/*****

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