Black Vul Destruktor – Beyond Time and Portals of Death (2013)

black vul destruktor
The Argentinian (Patagonian) city of Neuquén is an important regional industrial and agricultural center, but it’s still in a relatively remote part of the world and probably analogous in some ways to living in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. If this compilation by Black Vul Destruktor is to be believed, knowledge of extreme metal has made its way to the region. The material on Beyond Time and Portals of Death seemingly takes more after the proto-underground; its mixture of stereotypical black and death metal technique marks it as a descendant of the Bestial Devastation school of metal, but more often not trading pure chaos and insanity for some level of refinement.

Since Beyond Time and Portals of Death compiles both the band’s Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos demo (from 2012) and an older demo from 2008, there’s a clear split in sound, but not necessarily in composition. The old material is understandably much rougher in production and mixing (although it’s still intelligible), but it shares much of its DNA with the new material. Both recordings showcase Black Vul Destruktor writing loosely structured and performed songs composed of fluent chromatic tremolo riffs over initially sloppy and later more coherent drumming. Everything’s a bit amorphous at the best of times, but this extremely stripped down method leaves enough wiggle room for the band to experiment with structure a bit. The material seems to generally work better on the more primitive demo, although Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos does achieve a higher level of satisfying rhythmic prowess. Everything feels a bit more charismatic on the earlier material, at least in that ineffable early Blasphemy/Beherit/Sarcofago/good “war metal” way; especially in its vocals, which have little regard for meter or prosody. It’s nearly the exact antithesis of how I compose, but the style admittedly has its value.

The end product is far from original, but it showcases some careful study of what made the simpler, more hardcore-inflected black metal work, and it occasionally throws in some threshold-expanding ideas of its own (see the goofy melodic outro of “Slaves”, or the constant variety of tempo and texture on the later material). It is very much of its scene, showcasing a great deal of techniques and stereotypes I’d associate with the South American underground, but what it does, it does well, even seemingly responding to the common criticism of underground metal (that it’s limited to mere worship and aping of the great classics) by pushing for some innovation within its adopted framework.

This album can be streamed and purchased from Bandcamp thanks to the services of Blood Harvest Records.

Enforcer – From Beyond (2015)

Enforcer - From Beyond (2015)
Enforcer has colonized 1983 and created an album that synthesizes much of that era’s above-ground metal, along with some careful additions from early speed/power metal into a coherent and musically proficient, if not particularly inventive whole. When you take into mind that there was just as much disposable crap being released then as now (at least by ratios), this probably pulls ahead of much of its inspirations for taking advantage of the historical perspective granted by 30 years of hindsight. Whether or not that’s enough to make it worthwhile is one of the questions I had on my mind as I evaluated From Beyond.

In general, my reason for judging Enforcer’s work by this criterion is that many of the bands in their lineage had some affinity for extending and elaborating on their songwriting. Iron Maiden is an obvious choice, with their occasional ’80s diversions into progressive rock inspired content. Enforcer, however, also heeds the call of their more commercial ancestors, showcasing slightly glam-tinged vocals and the occasional straight up rock riff or progression. It seems that the various tracks on From Beyond are separated by substyle – compare fast but simplistic tracks like the album lead-in (“Destroyer”) to the longer and more elaborate ones that end LP sides (“Below the Slumber”, “Mask of Red Death”); this variety between tracks may very well be inspired by a variety of influences, but even Enforcer’s antecedents managed to incorporate many disparate musical ideas into their own works. Enforcer manages to retain some stylistic consistency while doing so, but that’s such a basic requirement that this review would be far more negative if the band failed to do so.

But I digress – From Beyond is ahead of most of the traditional/speed metal revivalists, and at the very least it succeeds as a modernization and synthesis of the various movements in early 1980s metal, without falling too deep into the trap of pandering to its audience. I feel it would be better still if it further built off its style to create more elaborate and varied works still, but based on what they’ve done already I’d put Enforcer on my list of “bands likely to improve over time”. Furthermore, I’d recommend this album on its own strengths – its virile and musically talented performance, its strong production, and overtures towards expanding on the stereotypical ’80s metal sounds, although I don’t know how long it’ll stay fresh compared to the brightest lights of the past.

 

 

Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)

beyondtheredmirror

Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres.  As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.

 

Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.

 

As for the highlights,  the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”.  But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.

 

The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.

Bureviy – Concealed Beyond the Space (2015)

image description

Hailing from Ukraine, Bureviy (Буревій = Hurricane) play a modern take on black metal which makes use of old school sub-styles by keeping them relatively uncontaminated but subsumed under the band’s personal voice. In Concealed Beyond the Space we find the folk-oriented black metal with rock sensibilities of Nokturnal Mortum, the swaying of long melodies of Drudkh, and a collection of strumming, tremolo picking and metal riffing that meld as diverse raw material for a black metal language descended and definitely compatible with but ultimately different from the more uniform black metal of old.

 

This approach is somewhat of a signature among Eastern European and Québécois black metal bands. The phenomenon is interesting when found in albums that manage to channel this almost faceless style into beautiful and meaningful expression. It demands a stricter attention to musical coherence in composition as the link between musical ideas will not be found in stylistic uniformity. Bureviy even makes use of acoustic guitars to decorate or fill passages that at first may feel like misplaced filler. A closer and paradoxically more comprehensive look also shows these passages are in line with the sections they connect and are not gimmicky interludes but articulations, points of exhalation.

 

A single spin of this will pass unnoticed. It is like a dense temperate forest, you need to get close and see the trees, the rocks and the streams. It takes more time and familiarity with the album to experience what it is trying to transmit. Ancient Slavic nature-worship and the mystic contemplation in tune with the proud mountains, the warm hillsides and the powerful rivers is channeled through Concealed Beyond the Space.

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond by Max Cavalera with Joel McIver

my_bloody_roots_from_sepultura_to_soulfly_and_beyond-max_cavalera_with_joel_mciver

With all of the unanswered questions behind Sepultura lurking in the minds of metal fans, it makes sense that Max Cavalera would launch a guided autobiography like My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond. Together with metal writer Joel McIver, Cavalera pens a work that fits within the genre of rock ‘n’ roll confessional-biographies but underneath the surface, a careful hand edited this narrative into a smoothly-flowing storyline that hits the points of interest to Sepultura fans.

Since the fragmentation of Sepultura, fan rumors and lore have obscured the complex dynamic of interacting personalities that made up the Sepultura camp and led to the consequent splintering off of Soulfly and other related projects. McIver shows his prowess in debunking lore by tracing it back to its origins and exploring the context of the time, which tends to show the lore as anomalous, and then making suggestions as to what was more likely to have happened. Cavalera seems amenable to this process.

My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond reads like McIver accompanied Cavalera for months asking him questions about the past and then stitched together the chaotic responses into a single line of thought. The result is both genial and informative, since with multiple choices for any data point, McIver picked the one that was most thoughtful. As a result the text tends to frequently read as a pleasant narrative that suddenly gets serious in tone and detailed when an important point arises but does not, like most rock bios, leave fundamental questions unanswered by glossing over them with a trivial acknowledgment or anecdote.

The result knits together many complex threads in a narrative that has been both shrouded in mystery and inundated in propaganda from multiple warring points of view during the later years of Cavalera’s career. McIver makes the text flow so that the whole book resembles a campfire conversation. He brings out the texture in Cavalera’s voice by allowing as much as possible of his original statements to persist but seems to have re-ordered them and edited them to make them more efficient and thus intense than your average rock interview.

I started using only four strings on my guitar right after Bestial Devastation. My B-string broke at a practice, and we had a roadie, Silvio, who ended up singing for a band called Mutilator. He said, ‘We have a bit of money left, so we can buy a new string or booze,’ and I was like, ‘Fuck the strings, I never use that one anyway, so let’s get drunk.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you take the top E-string off as well and make it four?’ and I was like, ‘Why not?’

I got used to it, and it became my trademark. I never learned to play lead guitar, and I still can’t, to this day.I could learn if I worked really hard on it, and if I just did a simple, slow solo, but I always wanted to be rhythm only. I wanted to take riff-making to a new level. (61)

From this approach comes a wealth of information about the early days of Sepultura, but it is best read in its full form without an attempt at summary here which would miss the richness of detail and character it reveals. Over half of the book focuses on the post-Sepultura years, which for those of us whose interest in this band died with Arise seems like it would be extraneous, but surprisingly was not. I started reading this like any other story and found Max Cavalera a compelling subject as presented by McIver, and was curious to see how the story fully developed. As the story of a musician trying to find his path, it was ultimately satisfying to see Cavalera achieve the commercial success he has desired for years.

While many metalheads shudder at the mention of Soulfly or Cavalera’s extensive projects after that time, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond correctly identifies the origin of this tendency in Chaos A.D. and also shows how this was the fulfillment of Cavalera’s original intent. For him, death metal was a transition toward what he liked, which was the simple roots rock and early punk in which a catchy riff and chorus made the song. Through careful storytelling, this fact emerges fully-documented by the backstory of Cavalera’s early life and musical inspirations, and changes what seems like a sinister sell-out to a quiet disagreement. Similarly, seeing the narrative leading up to the Cavalera brothers Igor and Max feuding in the post-Sepultura landscape explains many of the mysteries and lore that surround them to this day.

Although rock biography is not known for its depth and is generally assumed to be more of a public relations exercise than historical fact-based mission, My Bloody Roots: From Sepultura to Soulfly and Beyond does its best to balance the two and let Max tell the stories as he sees them, while uncovering a factual framework that puts his words in context. Thanks to some inspired interviewing and editing, it is now easy to delve into the fascinating history of the Sepultura experience and how it shaped metal.

Darkthrone announces release of Black, Death and Beyond anthology

darkthrone-black_death_and_beyond

Former black metal, now heavy metal band Darkthrone have announced the upcoming release of a triptych analog release via Peaceville, featuring a retrospective from each stage of the band’s career. Entitled Black, Death, and Beyond, the tracklist is as follows:

Death:

Side 1:

1. Snowfall
2. Sunrise over Locus Mortis
3. Soulside Journey
4. Neptune Towers
5. Nor the Silent Whispers

Side 2:

1. Iconoclasm Sweeps Cappadocia (NRK version)
2. Sadomasochistic Rites
3. In his Lovely Kingdom
4. Black Daimon
5. Paragon Belial

Black:

Side 1:

1. In the Shadow of the Horns
2. Inn I De Dype Skogers Favn
3. Under a Funeral Moon
4. I en Hall Med Flesk og Mjod

Side 2:

1. The Hordes of Nebulah
2. The Claws of Time
3. Fucked Up & Ready to Die
4. Hate is the Law
5. The Cult of Goliath

Beyond:

Side 1:

1. Graveyard Slut
2. Forebyggende Krig
3. These Shores are Damned
4. Pervertor of the 7 Gates
5. Wisdom of the Dead

Side 2:

1. The Winds they called the Dungeon Shaker
2. Grizzly Trade
3. Those Treasures Will Never Befall You
4. Stylized Corpse
5. The Ones You Left Behind

Additionally, the release will be accompanied by a book detailing the history of the band’s career, with input from Fenriz, Nocturno Culto, and former bassist Dag Nilsen, in addition to archival photos and commentary from associated artists and conspirators.

On choosing which tracks to be included on the release, Fenriz described his method, which he calls the “Fenrizolator”:

I never quit my day job; one of the reasons being that I can listen to music on headphones there all the time. To the extent that I rarely listen to music at home anymore, and if I do it’s like I can’t hear it PROPERLY. At work with headphones is where the details reveal themselves and also which songs I can and can’t use in compilations or dj’ing appear quite clearly.

Every time I get/buy a cassette or vinyl I have to transfer them to wav files via a computer programme, then I write a little note to accompany the final burnt disc. But the note first swings by my workplace where I can rate the various songs with a clever underlining-system called THE FENRIZOLATOR. And so passes the days.

He went on to state that following his system, Hans Siste Vinter was the band’s worst track, and The Cult is Alive received the highest score.

Massacre announces Back From Beyond release on April 1, 2014

massacre-back-from-beyond

Crushing Tampa, FL football death metal band Massacre announce today their release of Back From Beyond, a new full-length album for 2014.

The album will be released on March 24th in Europe and on April 1st in North America via Century Media Records. Returning to the roots of their early 90s trademark sound, Back From Beyond was recorded and mixed by Tim Vazquez of CGM Studios, Florida, and features original MASSACRE members Rick Rozz (guitars; ex-MANTAS/DEATH) and Terry Butler (bass; OBITUARY, ex-DEATH/SIX FEET UNDER), as well as Ed Webb (vocals; ex-DIABOLIC/EULOGY) and Mike Mazzonetto (drums; ex-PAIN PRINCIPLE). The cover artwork was created by Toshihiro Egawa (CRYPTOPSY, KRISIUN, DEVOURMENT, etc.).

Formed in the wake of the breakup of an early Death lineup, Massacre quickly distinguished themselves by approaching old school death metal with creative basic riffs but, instead of relying on the percussive chugging or blasting techniques common to Tampa bands, Massacre used a constant tremolo strum and a big burly warm and fuzzy wave of distortion. The result created an otherworldly album that at the time sounded like nothing else, although it has been widely cloned since.

Back From Beyond has a lot of promise, with a caveat. The lineup is good and the clarity about the mission is good. However, self-referential statements by bands usually make for disasters, and while 2012’s Condemned to the Shadows showed much of their older promise but with more of a heavy metal/hard rock flavor. Hopefully the full-length will head in a more OSDM direction.

Line-up

  • Ed Webb – vocals
  • Rick Rozz – guitars
  • Terry Butler – bass
  • Mikey Mazzonetto – drums

Tracklist

  1. As We Wait To Die
  2. Ascension Of The Deceased
  3. Hunter’s Blood
  4. Darkness Fell
  5. False Revelation
  6. Succumb To Rapture
  7. Remnants Of Hatred
  8. Shield Of The Son
  9. The Evil Within
  10. Sands Of Time
  11. Beast Of Vengeance
  12. Back From Beyond
  13. Honor The Fallen

Massacre reveals track listing for Back From Beyond

massacre-back_from_beyond-lineup_band_photo

In March of this year, formative Florida death metal band Massacre will release their highly-anticipated followup to 1991’s From Beyond. On a Facebook post, the band released the following tracklist.

Track list:

  1. As We Wait To Die
  2. Ascension Of The Deceased
  3. Hunter’s Blood
  4. Darkness Fell
  5. False Revelation
  6. Succumb To Rapture
  7. Remnants Of Hatred
  8. Shield Of The Son
  9. The Evil Within
  10. Sands Of Time
  11. Beast Of Vengeance
  12. Back From Beyond
  13. Honor The Fallen

Composed of ex-Death personnel and musicians from nearby Florida death metal bands, Massacre in its From Beyond days was a unique animal in that it was straight-ahead death metal with an intelligent vibe. That is, these songs were well formed to deliver an intense emotional dose and thrill-seeker hairs on the back of your neck standing up at some of the riff combinations. It was like an adventure story through an unknown land.

What made it unusual for the time was that it threw out the chunky/bouncy riffing that most bands were choosing at the time in order to be closer to mainstream metal. Instead, Massacre used guitarist Rick Rozz’s immense tremolo skills and big burly fuzzy distortion to create a sound like thunder through the clouds. The tremolo riff enabled them to join together riffs and keep momentum flowing, rather than relying on the constant interruption-based expectation as chunky/bouncy riffing does, and thus the band was able to assemble simpler riffs into songs with malevolent grandeur.

It will be interesting to see what they cook up for Back From Beyond. Self-referential album titles can work out poorly for bands, although it worked just fine for AC/DC. The band released the Condemned From the Shadows EP last year to some acclaim, and from that work it appears the band may be heading in a more traditional heavy metal direction.

Torchure – Beyond the Veil

torchure-beyond_the_veil-re-issue

Torchure‘s Beyond the Veil, recently re-issued on Vic Records, shows the best of the inventive spirit that hovered at the boundaries of extreme metal.

I say at the boundaries because this release, like early Sentenced or middle-period Therion, keeps one foot in the relatively accepted worlds of speed metal and heavy metal while another remains planted in the underground. Properly described, it’s a doom metal (of the heavy metal variety) hybrid with death metal.

The deathier aspects are embedded in mid-paced passages that show, in an odd twist for the genre, melodic development in both guitar and vocals, creating a sense much like that Dissection wielded of an inner core of beauty to a crashing heaviness. Slower doom riffing resembles both Cathedral and funeral doom bands to follow like Skepticism, although this would be considered uptempo.

Offsetting those elements are a number of harder-rocking numbers that use repurposed heavy metal riffs in a death metal context to deliver charging intensity at a faster pace. Many of these resemble the interstitial music between speed metal and death metal, like Slayer or Destruction. The melodic balances the spacier pentatonics and the crashing chromatic riffs that connect it together.

The result is a highly inventive album that showcases a study of metal riffing from the early 1970s onward, and by maintaining a doomy mood, expands death metal from raw riff interplay to a science of developing riffs in the context of a carefully planned mood shift in each song. This comes at the expense of the more expansive song structures which death metal could adopt by changing riffs every 24 seconds.

Vic Records has unleashed a quality re-release here with sound quality intact and no loss of detail, building on the strength of the original and delivering an improved experience. With luck this will allow a new generation to discover this often-overlooked (probably because of the misspelled name) German death metal band.

Argus – Beyond the Martyrs

argus-beyond_the_martyrs

Inhabiting the terrain that is now labeled power metal, Argus originate in what is perhaps the newest wave in metal: fan-produced bands of any of the numerous true metal varieties. These tend to avoid current trends and focus on idiosyncratic interpretations of the past.

On Beyond the Martyrs, Argus applies its own personality to its influences. These are: Iron Maiden, for fast melodic riffs; Candlemass, for sense of tempo and type of melody; Manowar, for influence on chordal riffs and atmosphere, and a smattering of other NWOBHM and related acts rolled into one. This is a NWBOHM band that composes melodies as if it were a doom metal band.

Vocals alternate between the higher Queensryche-styled ranges and a more masculine, slower and more pronounced voice that’s reminiscent of what speed metal bands did to give their vocals more aggression. Instrumental prowess is demonstrated but not flashily so, and although there’s tremendous similarity between the guitar solos, each manages to stand on its own.

Throughout Beyond the Martyrs, you will hear three- and four-note groups which are familiar from classic metal such as the abovementioned influences and other well-known acts like Judas Priest. This is one of the ways this band stays in tradition without simply aping the past, as each of these melodic fragments is re-contextualized in a new riff or melody.

While Argus may not be for those who wish a “contemporary” sound, they are deliberately carving out a space for people who like the sounds of true metal genres but don’t want clones. This band wear their influences on their sleeves, seem nerdy and unabashed in their pursuit of heavy metal glory, and are probably going to keep doing it for the joy and thrills even if you absolutely refuse to consider buying this album.