Autarcie could be easily dismissed for being assembled from the elements we expect from narcissistic yet generic post-black metal or “modern metal.” Instead, it presents to us a transition between black metal and either assimilation or a new form which is organic and local, and yet while the band does more with the elements of modern metal than that genre, its failure to conquer the modern mindset within precludes it from achieving the ancient sensibility and sensation of black metal, leaving it as identifiably “post-metal” in spirit but second-wave black metal in form.4 Comments
During black metal’s most creatively fertile period in the early 1990s, a handful of Greek musicians forged an alternative musical path noticeably different from that of their Nordic peers. Their efforts would subsequently crystallize into the Hellenic black metal sound or style.38 Comments
The last couple of years have seen a artistic renaissance of a genre that throughout the best part of the mid- to late 90′s, and the early reaches of the millennium, was perceived to be a ghost that had long outlived it’s most glorious moments of artistic clarity. Great quantities of ‘gore’ and ‘brutal’ Death Metal acts have over the last two decades, dumbed down the mystical perversity that gave a genre the likes of Blessed Are The Sick, Legion, Cause Of Death, Onward To Golgotha, Imperial Doom, has in years past given way to acts that aim principally for shock value, sidetracking any of the compositional and dynamic attributes that were the essence of what made Death Metal so vital in it’s 1989-1993 heyday.
It’s great that Autopsy should record such a gem as this, as it serves to vanquish the plasticity and dross that once great acts such as Morbid Angel and Deicide have spluttered forth. Not only does it filter out these negatives, but it also does great justice to many artists who embrace an archaic yet craftsmanlike and refreshing interpretation of Death Metal.
In addition to having put out the excellent ‘The Tomb Within‘ EP last year, Autopsy have eschewed the notion of ‘re-recordings’ or filtering previously released material onto this new record. Instead what we have is a colossal, quite lengthy record, lasting greater than an hour but never straying from momentum and vibrancy.
It wouldn’t be unfair to say that in terms of intricate song structuring, Autopsy have perhaps even upped on what they originally achieved on Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, with a more obvious sense of grandeur. This exhibits itself on tracks such as ‘Bridge Of Bones’ and ‘Sadistic Gratification’, which sound somewhat like a logical conclusion of what was being hinted at on their second album. Eric Cutler’s riffs and modes are the usual tritonal, Black Sabbath meets Hellhammer-esque death dirges, which occasionally recycle patterns and forms familiar in early material, yet also giving the album a renewed sense of consistency. It is this grasp of orthodoxy within the metal genre which always makes for contributing to the collective framework of the artists work, which Autopsy fulfill here.
This is however not to say that there are flourishes of ‘experimentation’. Luckily the band have played a good hand of cards, and have not fallen into the ludicrous corner of ‘evolving for the sake of it’. Particular songs on ‘Macabre Eternal’ show the band using greater song lengths than before (‘Sadistic Gratification’, ‘Sewn Into One’), and also display a greater sense of direct melodicism (‘Dirty Gore Whore’). Whilst Autopsy have never been associated with playing at fast speeds, large stretches of this album are more uptempo.
Chris Reifert is on top form as a vocalist. His ability to evoke majestic visions of dismemberment and perversion seem to contain a greater dynamic than usual, as to suggest that nearly fifteen years of prolonged absence has only allowed his strengths to re-accumulate.
Though certainly not a complaint on behalf of the reviewer, what may potentially put off some fans of earlier material is the production, which is undeniably modern in tone. Whilst Chris Reifert’s drumming is still top notch the only minor complaint being that the compression on his drumkit seems to somewhat nullify the sense of ability, flair and aggression that a more analogous production would bring out. Whilst Macabre Eternal possesses all of the right atmosphere and conviction worthy of great death metal, the more aesthetically orientated listener will notice that the overall tonality is not as analogous as what was committed to tape in the 80′s and 90′s.
In spite of this minor specific, this album is superb, and rightly deserves to be considered a beacon of the revivification of a dark and morbid art form that until the turn of the new millennium, was considered a dead horse. Hail the new dawn. Not only in terms of structural and grandiose perversion does this album triumph, but fragments of it’s lyrical scope only serve further as to compliment the metaphysical and transcendental nihilism that death metal eternally symbolizes.
“Under the sign of a skull faced moon
We rise from abysmal embryotic doom
Existence as torment, yet locked in a grave
A sick fragile cycle from which no one is saved”
Within the recent decade, this is the best ‘comeback’ release that has emerged from any of the elder practitioners of the genre. Undoubtedly, this shall also be a worthy contender for being the best album of the year.
What is life? A mechanistic-deterministic reaction cycle of alkaloids, proteins and nucleic acids? A quantum spell of randomness or the whim of a willing god? Certain purposefulness, subtle intentionality and synchronic magic that leaks through the cracks of everyday reality seems to invite both mystical speculation and transcendental philosophy but elude a fully satisfying rational explanation. The brain-melting reaction to existential, eschatological and essential questions such as the existence of sin and afterlife was both more rational and nihilistic (plus masculine and lofty) in the death metal of Protestant countries of Europe (and USA), while the South European and Latin American manifestation was feminine, instinctive, intuitive and categorically destructive of the social place of human in the cosmos.
The sensual Italian attack in Into the Macabre, enveloped by the scents of leather, sweat and blood, is by no accident a bastard brother of the proto-war metal invocations of Morbid Visions and INRI, while the technical details show that the necro-warriors spent years studying the works of Slayer and Destruction. Most of all, Into the Macabre is an opera of rhythm, of intense vocal timings, stampeding blastbeats and onrushing chromatic and speed metal riffs which warp under the extremely analog old tape production into ambient paysages of ghostly frequency, much like the evil and infectious “Equimanthorn” of classic Bathory. Songs like “Necrosadist” seem to have the structure of a grotesque sexual orgy where each consecutive part tops the previous in volume and hysteria, with short breathing spaces in between to capture and organize the listener’s attention. Like the aforementioned Brazilian albums, Into the Macabre is one of the cases where music is about as far from an intellectual exercise as one gets, into the catacombs of a devil/alcohol/glue-possessed teenager’s brain but for the discerning and maniacal old school death metal listener there is no end to the amount of pleasures, revelations and evil moments that make it seem some transcendental guidance indeed dwells at the shrine of the unholy mystic.
Obscurity, Tyrant and At the Gates
September 3, 2008
After a round of alcohol to suppress the academic background noise from that same day, we took the bus to the shit hole of the south of Sweden, Malmö. Once a great cultural market city, today a polarized ghetto, famous for its sky rocketing crime rates and ethnic segregation. Despite the social decay, Malmö has got a fascinating city life and impresses with its architecture, public events, and first class symphony orchestra. Likewise it’s the center of many metal and electronic acts, and tonight it was none other than At the Gates who would enter the stage at Kulturbolaget. A small, compact club greeted us once we stepped in, while the black/thrash metal band Obscurity was playing uninspiring satanic hymns in the old Bathory vein. The monotonous noise melted in with the screams and laughter from the nearby bar, setting me in a state of mind where the outside world seemed to be just another peripherical dream.
Observing the surroundings, one thing struck me immediately: a small portion of the audience seemed to be old veterans who’d obviously come only for listening to At the Gates, but the rest consisted of the typical Gothenburg crowd, which you’d expect for an In Flames show. Even fat kids with hip hop pants and Slipknot shirts showed up and were more concerned of acting hip and talking in their cell phones, than to pay attention to the music. It gave an unserious impression and made it clear that metal today has become more of a social thing for confused teenagers than being about art, ideals and principles. The next thrash band took the stage one hour late and crossed an abundance of pointless bridges with speed metal riffs and beer drinking. It was hard to take the music seriously, but the nature of these sloppy Bathory-clones made it seem like it was some form of tribute to the early Swedish metal scene, although the quality of the music said otherwise. When the concert was over, I chatted up with some of the people by the bar, most of whom were post-black metal fans, meaning they understood death metal as the aesthetic template found in “Slaughter of the Soul,” but didn’t understand the older material and couldn’t grasp the architectural differences in song writing between death and speed metal.
The people who came for the music were easy to spot, because they spent less time socializing and more time contemplating the musical experience. When At the Gates finally took the stage, the atmosphere in the club changed. The band began playing songs from later albums, and it was clear that Tomas Lindberg was in top shape. Although missing their old guitarist Alf Svensson, Tomas’ desperate screams from the red album, and the fact that the acoustics in the club compressed the sound of the riffs, this was At the Gates with full energy and expression. The feral, creative spirit of the band impressed me, and technically the performance was flawless. Tomas got almost nostalgic over the fact that they’d played in Malmö back in ’96, and now they were here again for the last time. The tour was obviously a dedication to the fans and to the music, revealed by the fact that they’d chosen to play songs from every album released. Songs that made a special impression on me were “Windows” from the red album and several classics from “With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness” and their first EP. It was a fresh experience, like a brutal realist nightmare, containing mental states of insanity:
Windows, sharp, cold
Wrap your psyche in blankets of pain
No more light of day
We’re the windows to your insanity
And the mandatory blasphemy of religious dogmatism:
The beauty in twisted darkness
Raped by the light of Christ
We were not born to follow
We don’t need your guiding light
This is the essence of death metal: a rejection of a morally principal approach to life, and the celebration of the raw, physical nature of mankind. The wild, dissonant power chords perfectly layered like a mental journey, backed by the typical death metal percussive rhythms and bridges, launched a macabre symphony together with the painful vocals, and stirred the crowd into unisonal head banging. Few things offer you the experience of feral freedom, like banging your head in rhythm to the sound of death metal, and feeling that the rest of the social world suddenly is reduced to noise. At the Gates provoked us into such a mood through its atonal riff patterns and ascending harmony, proving that they were still masters of the genre. The band was right in avoiding a sell-out by only playing later songs, but naturally, the crowd liked performances like “Under a Serpent Sun” best.
The reason to why people will always praise “Slaughter of the Soul” as the best ATG album is for the same reason that black metal bands like Dark Funeral, Xasthur, Drudkh and Blut aus Nord today obscure the great classics: it’s a musically shallow template that distils 3-5 years of death metal aesthetics into a neat package, kind of like how The Abyss created the musical template for 98% of all third wave black metal bands to come. We think it’s death metal, until we pay attention to the song writing, which is basically speed metal impregnated with the harmonic riffing and technical percussion that mark the band’s musical legacy. The mainstream appeal of the album makes it easy to understand and grasp, but doesn’t contribute anything outside of its technical concept. “Slaughter of the Soul” is a merchandise product, and the audience clearly enjoyed it. Although my best moments of the concert were performances from the two first albums, possibly something from “Terminal Spirit Disease” as well, the band was energetic and keen on playing later material for the new generation of death metal fans, and in a sense you could feel that what At the Gates was doing with this tour was to prove that the spirit of Swedish death metal was still alive and causing havoc.
The whole performance gave a very respectable, professional and worthy impression, and the band received admirable appreciation from the audience after the finale. When the concert was over, the Gothenburg crowd slowly descended out on the streets, among traffic lights, illegal taxis, and the enormous, clear night sky. The rush of energy, passion and alcohol still boiled in my blood, as I contemplated a new perspective on a band, whose music I’d otherwise reserved to lonely nights when the world had seemed more insane than usual. Death metal, not only as music, but also as an existential passion, was pointing my life in a new direction. Through this concert, At the Gates had proved that Swedish death metal is not a legacy, but an ongoing strife to deal with life intimately and choosing endurance as value in a world reduced to hollow social values. Despite the downfall of the genre and much of its audience, the music continues to emphasize the heavy in life, and the presence of death in our immediate everyday life. “Kingdom Gone” is the scream of mankind out into black space, without response, yet with the certainty that life needs to go on.
– Written by Alexis of SNUS
With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.25 Comments
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