Murky and obscure like the style itself, a definition of doom metal proves elusive. Proponents of doom metal uphold it as a qualitatively discrete sub genre within metal on the grounds shared set of aesthetic, formal and ideological particularities that binds together a seemingly disparate conglomerate of artists and styles.23 Comments
Music analysis and judgement (of any of its attributes or as a whole) can be done from different vantage points and with different emphases. Generally speaking, there are a few main approaches that are common in pop and metal reviews. Some judge it by its production qualities and its popularity, that is, mainly as a marketable commercial product. Others that are inclined to “feeling” the music will base their reviews on technically uninformed emotional impressions of the music. Others with a limited but comprehensive understanding of the technical will judge music as if it were a contraption, even being able to separate emotional impressions from material achievements of music. These are broad categories but individual reviewers usually fall in grey areas in between them with stronger tendencies towards one or another.
DMU’s approach has traditionally been one of judging music as romantic-era (19th century) literary and music critics would: an attention to evocative results as a function of technical means with a holistic emphasis. What this means is that what is most important is the final and total result and not the individual merits. Additionally, we focus on the lasting evocative power arising from a layered and technically (at the composition level) competent work that moves beyond the technicality itself while not disregarding the musical balance it provides. In music we see the construction of Gothic cathedrals and not modern skyscrapers.
A useful analogy can be made between detailed music appreciation and reverse engineering in software engineering. Some might jump at the thought of comparing the two since “music is not a computer program” but these are nonsensically reductionist complaints. Anyone who truly understands how an analogy works knows that the source of its power arises from the insurmountable distance between the two obviously disparate objects being placed beside each other. The distance and disparity only serves to bring to the fore and underscore the characteristics we are interested in, achieving greater clarity by a negation of the irrelevant. The objects are not equated, they are superimposed. More precisely the main object under analysis is transposed into the space of the second one being used as an analogy.
To understand reverse engineering we must understand the order and direction of original construction. A vague idea is conceived usually behind a foggy screen since the builders have not yet figured out the details of how they will bring this into reality. Then, a step a time and usually with deviations from the original concept, the “material” shape of the concept comes into being. At the other end, when we are presented with a piece of software to reverse engineer, that is to say, to analyze and understand in terms of its parts, what we can see is the materialized concept only. The first step is to understand what this piece of software exactly does as we do not know how it was built. We get to understand what it does by categorizing input and output relations, which direct us towards an understanding its behavior in different situations — different contexts. The result of a successfully reverse-engineered software program is a piece of code whose compiled object behaves the same as the original one in every conceivable way possible. This code is most probably different from the original one, but this is irrelevant since the importance of this code is the understanding and reproducing of the final piece of software. Original software building moves from details and into the solidification of a vision. Reverse engineering moves from the solidified vision and into the details.
In other words, what matters most is the total end result (as in music or software engineering) and not the judging of parts for their own sake (but only in relation as to how they affect that end result). This is why it is important as an analyst to move in a backward manner. But for this to be valuable, the person must understand this holistic result first, and this is only achieved through study and knowledge. This is comparable to the analyst of software who needs to not only see the input and output relations but understand higher-level concepts and probabilistic tendencies derivable from those. In the same way the analyst of music must through his own lenses and knowledge grasp a picture of the whole in its relations between harmony, rhythm and melody derive a map of sequences of movements and balances.
Going from the general to the specific enables us to keep a holistic view in focus. It helps us place the sum of the parts over the individual parts themselves. Trying to pick out the traits first and then judging the whole by making a recapitulation of these is not only obfuscating the whole which some with a more limited understanding judge to be impossible to put in objective terms but can be deceiving of just what the true quality of this work actually is.
To illustrate this point we can observe how appreciation of many so-called progressive acts is carried out. The positive reviews of these usually entail a shopping list of traits to be filled. Tempo changes, signature changes, contrasting moods, variety of instrumentation, instrumental competence, catchy and captivating melodies perhaps, too. An album like Dream Theater’s Images and Words fits these requirements to the letter and yet the result is a messy carnival train wreck that expresses nothing in particular precisely because there is no view of the whole in mind as a musically-balanced entity, but only as a sequence of cool moments.
This phenomenon can also occur through ignorance of what music constitutes. This happens in pop and the so-called symphonic metal, which I will re-baptize with a more honest name: metal-like pop, or just metal pop. In this vein, an album like Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful is received by its fans and judged primarily in terms of how catchy it is. How effective its hooks are and how much they will like its melodies. Arguably a more musically honest affair than the pseudo prog of Dream Theater, this reduces music to only one of its many aspects and judges the whole by its effectiveness.
Finally, I would like to mention the often mis-appreciated Obscura by Gorguts. Ignorant and pretentious journalist twats like Anthony Fantano spewing almost nonsensical and musically irrelevant descriptions such as “intense technicality”, “noisy surprises” and “dizzying structures” of Gorguts’ music in Coloured Sands represent the epitome of the post-modernist hipster’s appreciation of the band’s music. While popular arguments in favor of Obscura include how “technical” it is (while most fans barely even grasp what this actually entails, they think it has to do with how difficult it is to play or hear), how foreboding its atmosphere is while remaining “brutal” (an obviously superficial judgement of quality) or even worse, how “original” (by which they mean different) it is. They’ve basically reduced a masterpiece to “difficult to play and listen to, brutal and quite different from most stuff out there”.
The merits of Obscura are far more subtle than that, as are any real merits resulting from true excellence. The degree to which it sounds superficially different comes from a use of the riff that I would call mystical. That is to say, the riffs and their harmony here no longer represent what they traditionally do, but they remain significant in terms of the operations they build in the context of their neighboring riffs. They stop being translucent symbols that show the way into a harmonic and melodic conclusion and they become opaque, acquiring new meaning — a specific musical function dictated by their author– determined by their positions at different moments that instead causes the mind to reach that conclusion on its own through coherent indirection and dissimilitude of expression within a consistent language. In this, Obscura is the death metal counterpart to Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger.
Stepping away from the dynamic picture that music is and listening for the total results and relations in the big picture enable us to know exactly what to look for as explanations for these. In a way it implies focusing on an interplay between the subjective (our impressions of the whole) and the objective (the music structures themselves) to locate music — itself an expression of beauty, to which the dichotomy of objective and subjective is inapplicable — somewhere in between.15 Comments
Tags: 2015, Anthony Fantano, Coloured Sands, darkthrone, dream theater, gorguts, Images and Words, metal pop, music analysis, Nightwish, Obscura, progressive metal, pseudo-prog, reverse engineering, Transilvanian Hunger
Today we will visit the works of two great composers in their own right who were also the teachers, directly or indirectly, of other composers who are considered musical geniuses. These geniuses were Mozart and Beethoven after Haydn, and Webern and Berg after Schoenberg.
In a way, Haydn and Schoenberg represent opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of the relation between composer and society. Haydn was employed by the Esterhazy family for many years, serving as personal composer for their events and whims. An honored servant, making music in the styles fashionable to the aristocracy. Schoenberg, on the other hand, was a product of a much different era, a century and a half later, when composers had attained a position of independent eminence and power as a result of a process that had started in Mozart’s time and made more clear with Beethoven. Schoenberg’s attitude and music widened the gap between an artists pursuit of perfection and the audience’s taste and preferences. This, of course, was a result of larger historical processes and not the work of a composer; Schoenberg was a result of these, not a cause.
Franz Joseph Haydn: Seven Last Words of our Saviour on the Cross
Originally written for a classical orchestra as a commission for the Oratorio de la Santa Cueva in Spain, Haydn reworked this music intended as accompaniment for the mass as a string quartet at the petition of his publisher. Irrelevant here, but it is worth mentioning that the composer later adapted this work as an oratorio as well.
Arnold Schoenberg: String Quartet No. 2
Powerful and particularly lyrical in its melodies, this quartet is unusual in its use of a soprano in its last two movements. About this quartet, the composer says:
“I was inspired by poems of Stefan George, the German poet, to compose music to some of his poems and, surprisingly, without any expectation on my part, these songs showed a style quite different from everything I had written before.” – Arnold Schoenberg (1937)
The work uses a wide array of work tools, starting with a very late romantic feeling and moving into atonal experiments; the last movements in which all chromatic tones are used.4 Comments
The audience for this album are the same people who are fooled by magic shows at carnivals, speak in tongues at revivals, buy the latest iGadget sight unseen, and smoke in bed. If you claim to like this album, you are either not paying attention or merely a fool. Like every sell out, it is designed to cater to the lowest common denominator, which generally recruits idiots.
Thantifaxath combine trivialist “progressive,” minor key black metal riffs, and indie rock to make what they call “depressive suicidal black metal.” Songs start with basic black metal-ish riffs, but instead of featuring a varied internal texture, these are uniform with an equal number of strums per chord and chords generally changing on the beat, creating a drone effect. The band then play “progressive” riffs that amount to showy but not all that complex guitar and sonic technique used as distraction, and then get to the main point, which is minor key indie-rock riffs that feature the hook to the song. If you can imagine LSD guitar practice plus a basement black metal band ending up in a cover of someting off Daydream Nation, that is the sum total of Thantifaxath.
While the sin committed by Sacred White Noise is insincerity, its musical failing comes from being essentially contentless and relying on fireworks or pop techniques to fill in the void. What does this album communicate? According to people who claim to love DSBM, they find an emotional rush from this in realizing how horrible life truly is. But how is that different from emo? Late 80s emo achieved the same thing but it kept the pop more visible, so it could cry through the tears, as the saying went. This band wallows in its sadness and then plays random music over the top to distract from how fundamentally simple it is.
Thantifaxath use questionable “black metal” riffs. The riffing is essentially static such as that which bands like Nile or Necrophagist used, where the point was to play a chord in a certain rhythmic pattern and then add an extended fill so it seemed like a death metal riff, despite having more in common with Elvis or Lynyrd Skynyrd than death metal. These parallel the “progressive” playing, which seems to focus on finding a whacky guitar technique (whacky: odd, ironic, rarely used — because it is useless for expressing anything but musical confusion) and repeating it at different notes quickly and erratically. Sometimes this becomes comical when these patterns resemble familiar phone numbers or radio jingles. Its indie rock is clearly its heart, because the full melodic hook comes out here, but it does not distinguish itself from thousands of other bands in this area.
In summary, Thantifaxath create directionless melodic wandering at a slow pace with a hookish atmosphere in three styles, doing none well and fooling only those who have no particular ability to pay attention for prolonged periods of time. At its best, its melodies resemble the wandering style that Celestia brought out, but this style owes more to lack of purpose than to any idea or feeling it communicates. An astute observer will notice that for all of its supposed variation, this album expresses only one mood and it never changes — only is interrupted by distraction — and that it applies technique uniformly to create sonic wallpaper from even the most “different” pieces. To its audience, who apparently are so deep in self-pity that “depressive suicidal black metal” seems important, I have a word of advice: cut harder.41 Comments
William Burroughs often wrote about the “edge,” or the liminal threshold between states. The last real edge year for underground metal was 2009 when strong contenders and new voices united to defend extreme metal against the onslaught of imitators making Potemkin village metal from hipster flair and lite-jazz fireworks but underneath it, nothing but disorganized songwriting and an absence of something to express. As the underground has come back with a vengeance, it has begun to displace the imitators because their music simply does not measure up. This has created a backlash as the hipsters defend their territory with guilt, ostentation, pretense and surface-level novelty. On the other hand, the underground has produced some strong contenders. And so we move forward through the past to the future, remembering that what is true is eternal, and trends, novelties, fads, hipsters and other transient moments pass quickly away…
Blaspherian – Demos (Compilation of Death)
Compilation of Death Records has re-issued the a classic demo and rehearsal from a band of recent vintage but oldschool origins, Blaspherian. Their thunderous death metal sounds like Incantation and Obituary covering Deicide but has a voice of its own and unique perspective. It also carries forward the old school sensibility of building intensity and contrast in a morbid mood that is not self-echoing and redundant. Songwriter Wes Weaver (Imprecation, Infernal Dominion) avoids solos and other adornments to focus on tunneling riffs that are distinctive and create interplay with others in each song to give every song a unique feel within the lexicon of symbol and emotion that death metal addresses. Like the bands that inspire it, Blaspherian aims to create an immersive atmosphere of doom and morbidity in which it can bring forth other emotions in layers, such that the “mixed emotions” feel common to much music is not something achieved at the peak of a song, but is a constant in which the emotions mixed vary like a texture, revealing new combinations under the shifting striations of darkness.
Blood Urn – …of Gory Sorcery and Death (Terrorghoul)
Death metal of the classic style fascinates this young band who write music much like the early years of death metal but with more of an emphasis on melodic bridging material, avoiding the pitfall of using melody as essentially a production technique and instead causing it to highlight songs that come alive with a ferment of conflicting riffs. Vocals use the old-school method of shadowing riffs and the salad of phrases itself fits together and creates a deepening mood. While on the heavier and slower side of death metal, this demo is varied enough to touch on all areas of the genre, assembling rich textures as a means to develop depth to the emotions in each part of the song. Unlike many newer bands, Blood Urn decided not to follow a single identifiable influence but instead sound like a study of European and American death metal rendered by someone approaching it with a fresh vision.
Cenotaph – Riding Our Black Oceans (Chaos, re-issue)
A re-issue of this album restores it to its rightful place in the death metal canon. After the immensely powerful Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows, the thunderous Mexican death metal band Cenotaph changed their style to an airier and more intense high-speed melodic death metal sound. Unlike contemporary “melodic death metal” this style embraced the vigor of death metal by expressing it through sequences of tones that added melody without obscuring structure and darker moods, and Cenotaph displayed its customary acumen for songwriting by keeping each track centered around an idea that came forth not only in the whole but in the shape of its riffs. In the years following Sentenced North From Here and At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours, many bands attempted this newer style but few made it as vicious and uncompromising as Cenotaph.
Conquering Dystopia – Conquering Dystopia
Conquering Dystopia creates instrumental mental that hybridizes death metal styles with progressive heavy metal and some of the newer progressive styles like that of At War With Self. The result often sounds a lot like Joe Satriani’s older works in that clear theme is expressed and highly repeated, but varied with other instrumental detours which strengthen it as the song progresses and all the pieces fit together more an in interrupted linear way than the geometries of pure death metal. While this is like most commercial rock indulgently emotional, the underlying music is good and the technique interesting without leaving service to what each song needs, which keeps it not only topical but interesting.
Dead Congregation – Promulgation of the Fall (Martyrdoom)
Although this band gets mentioned as the foremost in the “Incantclone” series of bands inspired by streaming columnar detuned tremolo underground metal in the style of Incantation, Demoncy and Havohej, Dead Congregation draws influence as well from the subtler structuring of older Immolation in its use of melody to underscore is otherwise a thunderous series of chromatic rhythm riffs needing a center. Although songs vary in completeness throughout the album, generally these storming high-intensity dirges fit together well and produce an encompassing atmosphere which both crushes and awes the listener. If anything, this band could let up on the classic technique and float more of their own aesthetic ideas now that they are established.
Demilich – 20th Adversary of Emptiness (Svart, re-issue)
Back when death metal was viewed by just about everyone as an incompetent genre of malcontent losers who would go nowhere and who were complaining about our new consumer+hippie paradise, a few bands emerged who saw the emerging genre not as a style but as an artistic voice with unlimited possibilities. One of these, Finland’s Demilich, created an album so circuitous and bizarre that the metal press basically dropped it and ran in fear, as did many fans. For those who discovered it however, Nespithe presented unlimited potential as to how death metal could adopt technicality and yet not be mastered by it and forced into the type of generic jazz-blues-rock theory that served to actually limit what musicians could conceive of and execute. With its twisted passages and seemingly erratic rhythms, Nespithe resembled a strange machine risen from the bowels of earth to conquer humankind. Instead, it inspired generations of fans and musicians to visualize death metal as a broader language than many wanted it to be. This re-issue pairs up older works with a handful of newer songs to make for a complete experience of this distinct voice and its concept.
Desecresy – Chasmic Transcendence (Xtreem)
Desecresy combine Swedish death metal, doom-death metal and atmospheric influences from black metal to create towerlike scenes of dark moods in collision. With Chasmic Transcendence, the band update the formula with more easily separable rhythms to riffs and use of melodic transitions to intensify the building sense of doom. It builds grinding tension and discharges it in lengthy melodic passages which expand beyond their origins into new landscapes. Add to this a tendency to use lead melodic rhythm guitars over its power chord riffs and this makes for a haunting listen that resembles a descent into the underworld. With this third album, the band shows not only its staying power but the depths of the well of its creativity in not just re-inventing older styles but finding a new combination of them and using that to express a perspective which elaborates upon the basics of the genre and gives them new elegance and power.
Enthroned – Sovereigns (Agonia)
Famed for their high-speed melodic black metal, Enthroned take the populist approach of middle-period Dimmu Borgir — before it went into its final stage as warmed-over hard rock — and craft it with greater urgency and the instrumental approach of older black metal. The result more resembles the later Bathory albums where heavy metal, proto-black metal and post-Slayer death metal influences merged to create a potent ferment. Sovereigns does not achieve the vast contrasts and epic sense of loss of earlier black metal, but upholds a battle-spirit and pushes it into song with strong melodies that do not lapse into the cloying saccharine world of “feelings” — personal observations based on personal perspective — but instead appeal to emotions, or the shared sense of importance and value to certain things which might be eternal. This album breaks up the formula slightly with slower songs as the album expands, in the style of Hypocrisy Penetralia.
Entrench – Violent Procreation (War Anthem)
Following in the steps of Merciless, who could be seen as the stylistic ancestor of this band, Entrench craft speed/death metal with melodic underpinnings and a frantic but strident voice which guides riffs much in the way Dio narrated his own songs. To the Merciless formula of adroit ripping riffs concluding in both ambiguity and alignment, Entrench adds a Kreator style of finality to both vocal and guitar phrase, making these songs less emotional but more solidly violent. While speed/death hybridization usually ends badly, here the essence is speed metal riffs played as if by a death metal band in the context of a rhythm more like that of death metal. The result is satisfyingly impact-oriented but for it to take the next step to where Merciless is, it will have to coordinate its melodies and cultivate ambiguity both for it to resolve and preserve to keep the dark sensation produced by the riff-style of death metal, minor key melodies and mentalities outside those of the herd.
Heresiarch – Wælwulf (EP, Dark Descent)
Attempting to forge a niche for itself in the Incantation/Blasphemy inspired style that has become a de facto underground currency during the past few years, Heresiarch create a muddier and more obscure version of their previous works, focusing less on tunneling riffs and more on simple two-chord riffs introducing songs that expand to greater degrees of structure with the slightest hints of melody. The band, in hoping to take war metal to the next dimension, probably consider their work to be unstudied and arising on impulse, but these songs show a clear pattern of development from the grinding to the structural and as a result, take the listeners with them on a journey of finding beauty in darkness and coherence in chaos. The violent slamming intensity remains but by lessening its consistency the band achieves a greater sense of contrast, like raising a sacred object higher above the marble floor to ensure that when it shatters the pieces are irreducible.
Kever – Eon of Cycling Death (Dark Descent)
Perhaps one of the most inspiring releases this year, Eon of Cycling Death wears its old school influences in Suffocation and Morbid Angel on its sleeve but without imitating them in pale imprint of their technique without understanding their essence. Instead this band forges on with a kind of fantasy death metal that shows them living an alternative and parallel timeline to these bands, developing the basics they innovated with a voice specific to these individuals regardless of what time they are born into. Percussive riffs give way to an ensemble of death metal styles united by rhythm and space which convincingly outline the ideas of each song and then give them depth through internal dialogue. On top of it, an abrupt and croaking vocal gives new life to a very familiar technique with its guttural but carefully sculpted sonic enunciation.
Massacra – Enjoy the Violence (Century Media, re-issue)
One of the great classics of death metal, long passed-over for more dramatic acts, gained new life with this re-issue. Massacra created their early music in the style which stretches from Slayer through Morbid Angel and emphasizes fast strumming of rapidly-colliding riffs which emphasize ambiguity and openness over the kind of certainty that works well with more percussive styles. Enjoy the Violence is like a rollercoaster between extremes where all things lead back to the same point, but the experience is changing enough that it is almost unrecognizable as the same. With the remaster, some of the weaker sound from the earlier recording is corrected and bonus tracks are added, giving new life to this under-recognized classic of the genre that was more highly influential among musicians than fans, and took on new life in the bands it influenced.
Massacra – Final Holocaust (Century Media, re-issue)
This foundational album of death metal by Massacra has been re-issued by Century Media with bonus tracks and a booklet rich in information. That provides a good introduction to this view of the death metal style, which instead of attempting to be “heavy” aimed for shock and awe with fast riffs and convoluted songs that somehow emerged into an almost peaceful calm after chaos and combat. Massacra derive their strength from the ability to write fast-fingered riffs that capture the thrill and terror of being alive into a single moment and use this to make basic clashes within life into a mythology of trying to conquer empty spaces with the will and sensibility of a warrior wandering a dystopian wasteland. While this album was forgotten in the day mostly due to its mids-heavy (in contrast to bass-heavy) production and relative availability through distribution contracts more circuitous than its riffs, it rides again in new form.
Massacra – Day of the Massacra (Century Media)
Century Media compiled several early Massacra demos into a single disc, paired it with extensive liner notes and pictures, and remastered everything for an insight into the rise of the Massacra sound while it was recognizable as what would emerge on the first two and most influential Massacra albums. These recordings show the band merging its early influences into a style and then finding its own voice within that beast, allowing it to compose distinctive and evocative songs immediately including several pre-album tracks with some duct tape still visible. While this might appeal most to Massacra maniacs, it also serves as a useful introduction to new fans who may appreciate the heavier production and more aggressive primitive approach here as a means of transitioning to the albums that follow, which focused not so much on slamming impact as a kind of sky architecture of riffery.
Nausea – Condemned to the System (Willowtip)
Straddling the line between grindcore, crust and old-fashioned hardcore — which are inches apart as it is — Nausea return with this recording of older and newer tracks alike. Carefully pared down to incorporate only necessary elements and keep energy high, Condemned to the System demonstrates the simpler style of punk composition with all of the riff power of early grindcore, including several tracks (and pieces thereof) that later made it to the first Terrorizer album, World Downfall. The listener who can forget that heritage however will discover merely a crushing, efficient and streamlined album of enjoyable but hard-hitting punkish music that will not win awards for extremity or technicality, but shows care applied to songwriting so that a listener does not feel lost in a sea of riffs or drone, but can isolate each song in the mind and appreciate its individual attack.
Nunslaughter – Angelic Dread (Hells Headbangers)
While some may be tempted to categorize Nunslaughter as dinosaurs, the fact remains that this band takes the raw ingredients of power metal, speed metal and most death metal and makes a stripped-down, hardcore-punk style ripping version of this that remains highly listenable even if not particularly distinguishable on a song-to-song basis. Like other collections of many short songs, such as Dead Infection or Carcass, Angelic Dread operates like many small insights into roughly the same idea. Somehow, what this band creates never gets old, in part because they understand their riffs as a language from the same basic source, and in part because like a thrash band their song format carefully fits the particular clash of the two riffs (with a few budget transitions, and sometimes rhythmic variations, Nunslaughter uses two riffs per song on average) and the need of presenting them in the best light. The result is compelling and enjoyable and upholds the best tradition of riffcraft and expressive violence in underground music.
Oppression – Sociopathie & Gloire (Preposterous Creations)
Merging Oi!-style punk with some enhancements from black metal, tracks are short (2-3 minute) affairs. Melodies are catchy, yet wistful lines grounded in simple guitar and bass riffs, with vocal alternating between manic shrieks and an idiosyncratic, youthful attempt at melodic singing. Using the more linear style composition of punk, as opposed to the riff-stacking song construction used by much of black metal, each song contributes a sense of motion that builds the album up over successive tracks. Production values are what one would expect for this style of music; clear enough to make out each instrument, but raw enough to preserve low-budget ethos. This is a release that is not attempting to invent a new genre, but rather one which seeks to renew genres that had collapsed under their own entropy. The strange aesthetics may be off-putting to some, but if those can be sublimated into the spirit of this album, a refreshingly honest work will open itself for enjoyment.
Personal Device – Microorganismos del Mal
First there was the faux 80s crossover thrash revival with party retro-thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, then bands like Birth A.D. bounced back with actual thrash and reformed the genre. Now Personal Device take it a step both further and in a different direction by being a classic hardcore band that informs itself with early speed metal like the first Metallica and Nuclear Assault albums. The result is bouncy fast and precise punk like Ratos de Porao or even middle-period Bad Brains that is thoroughly enjoyable with riff breaks that resemble “The Four Horsemen” or maybe even “Live, Suffer, Die.” Their guitars are remarkably precise which creates an unusual sound for punk that by making it mechanistic makes it seem more inexorable than like protest music, and the result is a more testosterone-fueled and warlike approach. Mix that with the surging chord changes of speed metal and the fast repetitive chanted choruses from thrash, and you have a high-energy band. Its flaws are that experienced listeners may find this a bit too transparent, and that many of its rhythms are similar, but the band has administered its style with an editor’s red pen handy, cutting out any lesser parts, which gives it more staying power than all but a few albums in this stylistic range.
Ripper – Raising the Corpse (Underground Defenders)
Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.
Sorcier Des Glaces – Ritual Of The End (Obscure Abhorrence)
Flowing dark melodic forest black metal band Sorcier des Glaces burst onto the scene as any appreciation for this style of Graveland and Immortal influenced black metal fully waned as the initial loss of momentum in the genre caught up with its inertia. Since that time, the band has continued its path of making naturalistic long-melody black metal with the distinctive wandering tempo and phrasal development that many of the French bands also explored. With Ritual of the End, Sorcier des Glaces present their vision in a more focused style that nonetheless preserves the inconclusive nature of their earlier music, becoming like a vision of the woods at twilight equal parts promise and ambiguity, revealing the continuous nature of life through its inability to achieve finite endpoints. When metal mistakenly went toward faster/more extreme variants of the past, it lost the majestic beauty which inspired imagination as well as aggression, and Sorcier des Glaces return it.
Varathron – Untrodden Corridors Of Hades (Agonia)
One of the original Greek black metal bands, Varathron returns with higher speed and more dominant melody in a style that approximates what Borknagar and other later black metal bands tried to do, with some nods to music since but fundamentally a sensibility closer to Rotting Christ Thy Mighty Contract. Keeping energy high with frequent changes but return to theme and focus on a melody or progression at the heart of each song, Varathron expand their repertoie and craft an album that speaks enough of a contemporary language to dominate that style with the vocabulary of the older era, invoking both a return to and a continuation of the past. While the influence of the present time makes itself known, it remains under control of the guiding forces behind this band that seek to open the imagination instead of gratify self-image, and as a result more possibility emerges here than in other contemporary works.
Witchblood – Hail to Lyderhorn (Aurora Australis)
Attempting to uphold the values of classic black metal while introducing to them some of the more recent developments in tradfolk-inspired music, Witchblood combines the catchy attack of Venom with riff technique from mid-90s black metal and adds its own voice, which consists of equal part narrative bardic style and an idiosyncratic ability to make memory-haunting tunes. The result features a range of techniques from the history of metal, including NWOBHM-inspired riffing right alongside streaming tremolo picked melodic riffs, but this band makes it work by keeping focus on an essential melody in each song paired to a vocal rhythm designed to deliver a foot-tapping chorus, as bands like Sodom or Destruction did years ago. The result takes the Venom school of metal, upgrades it with black metal, and restores it to a 1980s delivery that is both clear and dark and then infuses that with the type of ancestral identity and epic sensation of purpose that arises from folk music. Through this, Witchblood creates its own form of metal that shows clear roots in much older traditions.
Woodtemple – Forgotten Pride (Sacrilege)
Showing more of an influence from Following the Voice of Blood era Graveland, Woodtemple return with a more focused version of their flowing black metal. In the past, the music more resembled flowing hills in a landscape of vast breadth, but now greater internal contrast makes what is portrayed closer to a mountain range with ragged crags over deep valleys. The addition of floating female vocals and gentle keyboards allow the band to put more aggression into guitars and bass, keeping vocals semi-backgrounded which produces the effect of reducing the “human” feel to the music. As a result, songs come together with more focus, making this the clearest statement from Woodtemple yet made. Like most metal in this style, Forgotten Pride creates an effect of distance from the human world, isolation and a focus on the larger picture through a lens of large leaps in time, but now creates another hypnotic effect in a distancing from humanity itself. This band, while not a Graveland side project, features Graveland composer Rob Darken on bass.
Album of the Year 2014
Sammath – Godless Arrogance (Hammerheart)
Godless Arrogance features nearly constant high-intensity rhythmic riffing and finally has a production to match which emphasizes internal harmony but projects vocals and guitars to the forefront, creating an enveloping wall of sound. Drumming is violent martial battery without the happy kickbeat tendencies of overly rock-trained drummer; percussion here is more like punk, hard-driving intensity to channel the guitars, which alternate between abrupt chromatic confrontation in the Demoncy style to gentle unfolding melodies much like were found on Strijd. Bass folds into the guitar, and vocals are the high-volume bluster that reduces distorted vocals to a sound like a whisper spoken close to a microphone in high wind. The result is incessant and unrelenting but also has an inner life of melody that gives it depth and allows it to manipulate riff context like a death metal band while evoking ambient atmosphere in the best tradition of black metal. For resurrecting the black metal spirit of great beauty hidden within massive aggression and alienation, Godless Arrogance deserves to be seen as the best album of 2014.
- The Best Underground Metal of 2013
- The Best Underground Metal of 2012
- The Best Underground Metal of 2011
- The Best Underground Metal of 2010
- Resurrecting the best of the underground
- The Best Underground Metal 1999-2009
Tags: best of, Black Metal, blaspherian, blood urn, cenotaph, conquering dystopia, dead congregation, death metal, Demilich, desecresy, enthroned, entrench, Godless Arrogance, heresiarch, kever, massacra, nausea, nunslaughter, oppression, personal device, ripper, sammath, sorcier des glaces, varathron, witchblood, woodtemple
Preposterous Creations put out a split between reclusive act – – – and by their own description, long-standing but frequently interrupted American band Dawning, who re-recorded their signature song “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof.” The result makes for interesting listening and aims to be obscure and withdrawn, which for the most part enhances the experience.
– – – are clearly aiming for the Deathspell Omega crowd, but using a more traditional heavy metal attack that might draw comparisons to Cradle of Filth and early Dimmu Borgir. However, what this band has over the art-rock crowd is that they believe in songs that still move with a sense of purpose toward clarifying a repeated rhythm and melody. This both brings them closer to rock, and away from the overly-configured aesthetic of later black metal. Most of these riffs would fit on a Fates Warning album and count as both heavy and interestingly melodic, but its melodies are a different story entirely and would be at home on a Celtic rock or world music album. The mixture of the two results in less of an oil-on-water fusion than heavy metal mixes normally do, mainly because it sticks to a solid basis of 1970s post-NWOBHM riffing technology.
Dawning brings out one track, but it’s a long and epic one; this is basically funeral doom metal with a 1980s Gothic influence. I realize that all 1980s is new again since there are similar political, economic and social conditions, but “Divine Arrival of the Massive Hoof” seems like it comes by this influence honestly. The result is dragging guitars under ringing keyboards that move into riffs with a covert groove that expand into more battle-drawn riffing. From this lighter faire, it returns to the dark and accompanies it with keyboards of the Vincent Price-meets-Summoning variety. As a result, it creates a dark atmosphere with the explorative inner nature of Gothic and industrial.34 Comments
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
- Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
- Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
- Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
- Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
- Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
- Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
- Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
- Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
- Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
- Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
- Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
- Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
- Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
- Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
- Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
- Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
- Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
- Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
- Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
- War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.25 Comments
Tags: abhorrence, Angel Witch, beherit, best of, Black Metal, Dead Can Dance, death metal, demoncy, derkéta, desecresy, Drawn and Quartered, faustcoven, grave, imprecation, incantation, lord wind, master, profanatica, terrorizer, thevetat, timeghoul, war master
Metalbolical Compilation Volume 1
1. Equinox – Night of Churchyard Watcher
Florida death metal with a tiny bit of groove, like a cross between Massacre and Cadaver, this track grows from a a verse/chorus loop with infectious chant-rhythm vocals into Exodus-style speed metal. The rather straightforward nature of these riffs may make it hard for this band to carve a niche for themselves.
2. Seeking Obscure – Battle of the Undead
Reminiscent of a slower and more brooding Deicide, this one-man band writes strong but non-distinctive riffs that would echo the infectious vocal rhythm, but this in turn reduces internal tension between instruments in the song and consequently, development of the song itself over time.
3. Waxen – I Claim Your Throne
This unabashedly sentimental heavy metal cloaks itself in death metal, then black metal, and finally brings out its true soul, a Dissection/Judas Priest style band with lots of lead rhythm guitar riffs showing off chops that get lost in a song that does not develop much beyond its initial ideas. Add to that the vocals that resemble a chihuahua with a head cold and you can see how confused this approach is.
4. Unburied – Domicile of flesh
Coming to us from the death metal styles of the mid-1990s, this song is half bouncing riffs reminiscent of a more organic version of what Six Feet Under does, and the other half is charging two-chord riffs. If you can imagine a sped up, groovier and more porn/gore-obsessed version of Mortician, the essence of this band takes form in your mind.
5. Archaic Winter – Colors of Despair
This band is at its peak when it sticks to fast death metal riffs that come in clusters of two complementary phrases and a melodic fill, and while the song structure doesn’t evolve much, it varies just enough to bring the mood to a closure. This track suffers from some confusion as to how to stick to the style at which this band is best.
6. Toby Knapp – Polarizing Lines
If you took Joe Satriani and Dissection and put them together in a goofy, over-the-top package like Iron Maiden, you would see the essence of shredder Toby Knapp’s style (he’s also in Waxen). The entire song is like a solo divided into a series of motifs that evolve briefly and then repeat, leaving us without the sense of vast emotional conflict and resolution that made Satriani’s solo albums reviewer favorites. Knapp might do best with some supporting musicians to help shape his raw energy with less musically precise riffing.
7. Dyngyr – Scourge
Reminiscent of other carnival metal bands like Tartaros, this raw black metal with keyboards band manages to keep a basic surging rhythm but throws in too many divergent impulses to tie them all together, creating a riff salad that because its riffs are so similar in rhythm, represents a rotation through different views of the same basic idea. The result is a fun roller coaster that is not particularly memorable afterwards.
8. Onward – Beyond the Strong
As if anticipating that only a few years later, men would stand on stage in tights with guitars and sing about Odin as part of the folk-metal movement that birthed out of black metal, Onward get out there with the old school NWOBHM and speed metal riffs and a soulful, bittersweet vocal track. This is well composed and unabashed in its worship of metal past, like a more hopeful version of In Battle but too pouring out its soul for most power metal listeners to take at face value.
9. Serpent Son – False Hope for Survival
This credible death metal offering aims to throw out many different riffs without them becoming divergent, in the style of bands like Demigod or Pestilence, and succeeds to a degree although many of its melodies use too many connecting notes to unleash their inner atmosphere and subtlety. Instead of throwing in everything but the kitchen sink, they need to refine what they have so its interplay keeps the song intense and growing throughout.
10. Fetid Zombie – Pleasures of the Scalpel
Reminiscent of where Deceased took their music, this band works hard to disguise old school British heavy metal as American guttural goregrind. It’s pounding, chortling, gurgling, burping, crepitating madness until you realize the underpinning riffs are jaunty melodic middle fingers at common sense, similar to Gwar.
11. Nepente – Red Suns
Raw riffing meets interesting combinations of those riffs to make a dark atmosphere that submerges us in repetition made unexpected by changes in context. If you ever wondered what a hybrid of Von and Mortem might sound like, this is a good candidate.
12. Unearthed Corpse – Stench of your Decayed Blood
Ultra-basic death metal in the older style like Master meeting Malevolent Creation, this simple but catchy song uses a few riffs to good effect, pounding out a very similar verse/chorus pattern and then opening a sonorous transitional riff like a wormhole. Reminiscent of early Insidious Decrepancy.
13. Killing Addiction – Thresholds
This theatrical take on the mayhem of old school death metal combines slow necrotic riffing of the style Morpheus Descends made with the upbeat variations of post-Suffocation percussive death metal bands, challenging themselves with tempo changes that remind me of cats leaping between vehicles moving in different lanes of a superhighway. Like their undernoticed “Omega Factor” from 1993, this track has potential but suffers from dominating vocals and messy production.
14. Unit 100 – Bring Me the Circular Time Collapse
Of all the Toby Knapp projects in existence, this one provides the most interesting outlook because it mixes metal genres so fluidly, pacing Fallen Christ style chromatic riffing against avantgarde stylings reminiscent of Supuration. It’s enjoyable to see how the band hold them together and then blend them, creating a confusing musical experience that lingers in the mind after it has passed by, even if aesthetically the mix of stadium rock, Iron Maiden, death metal, crossover and progressive rock is too much of a buffet and not enough of a main course.
You can get this comp for $2 from Metalbolic Records. This is an older compilation, and volumes 2-3 are now available as well for the same price.No Comments
Being a music reviewer is like playing a neighborhood game of softball. Most people just toss the ball at you in an underhand heave, figuring you’re probably too incompetent to hit it most of the time. Every now and then one comes in at a crazy angle, either because it’s the one kid who can pitch even if he’s tossing you a giant rubber ball with the aerodynamics of a bison turd, or they let the retarded kids play. Either way, that crazy pitch is one in a hundred, and I live for those. Either it’s the rare CD that has some intent behind it, and some feeling to it as a result, or it’s some immaculately oblivious basement dweller here to amuse us with failure. The rest fail just by being ordinary, unexceptional and therefore, completely forgettable.
Kayo Dot – Coyote: This King Crimson tribute project likes to use diminished melodies, atonality, and chaotic combinations of instruments, but at its heart it is pop music with a simple variation on a common theme — instead of using pairs of riffs, the band assemble their phrases in groups of three so that you can shift between them and feel a sense of motion without unnecessarily complexity intervening. Many songs rely on long passages of “building up” harmonic energy through texture, which are like fun jams that then dissolve into structured song again. Songs vary enough to keep interest but are aesthetically unfulfilling as they aim for an aesthetic of randomness and barely remaining organized, which flattens the emotional dynamic possible because every moment is a cliffhanger. In addition, the vocals are like a really bad version of Sigur Ros and will annoy most people who like aesthetically coherent experiences. The most common mistake in making progressive music is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the pot and hope it sticks, but the best bands always worked from a very simple plan and then spun layers of detail off of that. The horns dominate and guitars are relegated to rhythm and noise. Individual instrumental performances are excellent however so if you are a basement guitarist hit this like a cuffed protester.
Aggression – Forgotten Skeleton: If you crossed Nuclear Assault with Dissection, and gave it punkish choruses borrowed from Cryptic Slaughter, you’d get Aggression. Lots of classic speed metal riffing that will delight anyone who really loves the period after Metallica but before the Dark Angel/Kreator/Destruction/Sodom influenced morphed into death metal, and linear riffing that’s reminiscent of Powermad. On the whole, it’s somewhat random like Destruction and the chanted choruses over the offbeat kickhappy drums sometimes makes me want to make origami out of an IQ test, but this is a credible effort. I just don’t want to hear it again.
Daughters – Daughters: If you crossed Mindless Self Indulgence and Talking Heads with the Beastie Boys, you might get this whacky indie band that uses drums like an industrial band and keeps a theatrical, almost vaudeville level of hysterical intensity with lots of background noise. The vocalist half-talks half-sings and the guitars follow a song structure of extended versions textured in found sounds and different guitar riffs but essentially like all good dub following the same rhythm. Unfortunately, it’s also abrasively annoying because it is essentially simple with many distracting sounds packed into its core. “Daughters” has a spacious sonic profile and weaves some catchy riffs cloaked in noise throughout it, delighting those who thought post-rock should be weirder than slowed-down shoegaze/emo mashups.
Battalion – Winter Campaign: I keep a clay pigeon launcher next to my reviewing station, and when a disc irritates me beyond all reason, I send it flying out over an oblivious world. This is bounce metal, this Battlion stuff, which means it’s like Exhorder crossed with something jaunty and stupidly hard rock like Motley Crue. Although they use a lot of death metal riffs, the majority of playing time goes to riffs which are straight out of the most cliche days of speed metal: chuggachugga chuggachugga chug chuggachugga chuggachugga chug, chug . It is so obvious you have to hold your head up to avoid slumping into a stupor. Not sleep — who can sleep with all of this noise? — but a stupor as if you had someone present to you a 19-hour lecture on how to pick your nose. Mundane is the word. Throw this out as fast as you can find it.
Grave Miasma – Exalted Emanation: There’s a recent spate of these “simplified Incantation/Demoncy” bands. The only one I like so far is Cruciamentum; they vary just enough to be a solid B level death metal band. Teitanblood and Grave Miasma are so obvious it’s just painful to listen. Grave Miasma in particular seems to draw inspiration from Grave, who would use basic chromatic progressions in the most obvious way in rhythmically very basic ways, such that the boldness of it made you want to like it, as with early Napalm Death. But then you’d reflect on it and realize there wasn’t much there unless you really enjoyed the guitar tone. So it is with Grave Miasma: standard song forms, plodding progressions, little harmonic or melodic development, and not particularly compelling rhythm — unlike Demoncy and Incantation, who used minimalism creatively, this is just minimal. I’d like to love this, or I’d love to like it, but I don’t want to listen to it again.
Zs – New Slaves: Tribal drumbeats with metallic noises for harmony, deconstructed sound and effects, and a wailing saxophone make up this experimental band that uses the dub structure of layered sound. The beat established early in a song almost never changes, although it may cease at strategic moments, as in a primal ritual; within the spaces between beats, additional percussion instruments lend their timbre as an electric guitar and/or saxophone make repetitive oddball sounds with minor textural variations, giving the sensation of the album slowly surrounding you like chocolate icing. While most will not have the stomach for the abrasive wall-of-noise technique, the ritual rhythms and ceremonial pacing to each song make it an enigmatic sonic wallpaper for the background, reminiscent of the K.K. Null/Merzbow project “Absolute Null Punkt” if hybridized with The Electric Company.
Diamondsnake – Diamondsnake: This band cracks me up. Well-known ambient dude Moby created it with some of his friends from non-succeeding metal bands. It sounds like middle period Motley Crue done by pop punk brats Blink 182, with lots of extra cheese and sleaze, more with tongue-in-cheek irony than attempting to really provoke a parent or legal guardian. For hard rock listeners, this album is about as clear as anything else in the genre, and has some retro appeal with its very “Quiet Riot 1985 turned up to 11” sensibility. One oddity is that the production is so thin and designed to resemble a pop band, because the reedy hum of guitars cannot compete with today’s louder and thicker sound. However, it captures vocals, which with infectious four-note melodies are what really drive this band, since the riffs are if not generic at least cut from historical archetypes. Like most popular music, it’s children’s songs — really basic 3-4 note patterns repeated as “melodies” — but it’s catchy, fun, and not half as bad as most of the trve kvlt releases we get here.
Catapult the Smoke – Unearthed: Stoner metal is about half Black Sabbath, with the other half being filled by the rock heritage that comes into metal through bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. This CD contains competent stoner metal with unsteady wailing for vocals, but its essence is rock ‘n’ roll wrapped up in a bunch of metal riffs. In fact, it could well be a case of regression to the mean; this band is not substantially musically different from the Night Ranger clones of the 1980s, but they used lower tuning and have a greater vocabulary of metal riffs, namely Candlemass and Cathedral. Song structures are very much radio rock and these songs suffer greatly because there’s no emotional dynamism in them, where we feel a sudden change in difficult emotions that has the effect of stepping onto a three-story water slide and riding out of control. Instead, these songs claim a space and fill it, but there’s not much internal change or feeling of any emotional conflict, so they end up being more like leaving a fan on at night for comforting white noise.
Vuohivasara – The Sigil: Sounds a lot like Niden Div 187, namely fast melodic violence with lots of chromatic fills and a basic riff/chorus construction. Not bad, not as good as Mythos.
Trauma – Daimonion: Metalcore-influenced modern death metal, reminds me of a cross between Pestilence and Eisenvater, but it does the thing every bad metal band does which is repeat a basic rhythm through everything. Vocals/guitars synch and chant. Riffs are very similar too.
Master – Slaves to Society: Paul Speckmann is a genius of metal who sometimes leaves things half-finished as he does with this album. Riffs are similar, and guitar wankery fills in the gaps. In addition, his chorus-chant heavy metal just makes for repetition. There are some awesome moments but it’s not Master’s best.
Beherit – Unholy Blessings: Compilation of demos. The early demos sound like the first album, the second album demos sound like the second album played hastily, and the live set is chaotic and brilliant but not really something you need recorded. Blasphemy cover is a nice touch. I love this band but don’t see the point to this bootleg.
Skeletonbreath – Eagle’s Nest, Devil’s Cave: I like this because it reminds me of what Carbonized attempted to do on their second and third albums, which is leave rock music and jazz behind by giving songs a pattern of development more like that of a movie soundtrack. Using drums, adroit bass, and a violin, Skeletonbreath create carnival-esque longer songs that resemble soundtracks for the greatest movies you’ve never seen. These songs have clear theme and develop through a series of melodies that comment on one another, creating a real sense of atmosphere and through change, emotion. One of the more interesting CDs I’ve heard recently and musically, head and shoulders above the rest.
Xasthur – Demo 2005: Xasthur is easy to like, at first listen, because it’s actually musical in the formation of its riffs and use of vocals. The problem with Xasthur is that songs don’t go anywhere; this is the same problem every “Burzum-influenced” band has, which is that it’s much harder to string together riffs into an atmosphere than maintain it with one riff and a few breaks. This demo represents the furthest evolution of Xasthur in that songs vary between several moods, like how in your average house, you end up in one of three rooms most of the time. It’s very pretty but doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings.
Wiht – Wiht: First track sounds like a cross between Capricornus and Celtic Folk; it’s very bouncy and very intense on repetition with layers of simple technique on it. Sounds a lot like early Abigor mixed with Samain and early Hades. Not bad, but needs more direction.
The Austerity Program – Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn: Melodic punk music interrupted by extended periods of bass/drums while some dude sings a faux Jim Morrison/David Bowie melodic ramble which is not so much directed as responding to itself. The chaotic result is really abrasive for the most part but has its moments of beauty. I’d like to like this CD but it forgets about the listener and has made a theoretical object instead. Most people will as a result find it annoying.
Antediluvian – Under Wing of Asael: This is like a death metal version of war metal. Take some of those two-chord rhythm riffs that Blasphemy made big, add a musically unrelated fill, and make it a song… then repeat. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s on the low side of good but too repetitive to listen to again.
Pyramids with Nadja – Pyramids with Nadja: Often when reviewing failed black metal projects, my thought is that the musicians involved are simply in the wrong genre. Our personalities determine our ideologies, and from that what we find good and what we find bad, and if those don’t match up with the genre, we’re out of place. Nadja the shoegaze emo black metal band is insipid crap; here, however, with personnel from Pyramids as well, the Nadja people are in their element and a great album results. This most reminds me of Mick Harris’ Lull fused with post-Godflesh project Final, if supervised by My Bloody Valentine, because it is layers of organic sound like distorted guitar usually not even playing notes so much as skimming strings and using vibrato directly; they use bass as percussion much like Final does, and layer their distorted waves like My Bloody Valentine, but the sense of songs arising out of silence through chaos into pleasing drones is pure lull. Piano serves here as a guiding voice that brings the surging noise back onto something resembling a melody; voices can be heard, like a Greek chorus in distant space represented by reverb, filtering through. The result is pure texture like noise music, but it’s a texture that takes harmonically related notes and builds from them a fullness that is gentle and intricate enough to hold the attention. This is where these musicians belong; burn your Nadja CDs, because they are nothing in comparison to this.
Aosoth – Ashes of Angels: This is very similar to Anael, in that they use a couple of additional power chord shapes to fake a sonic tapestry. Dissonant chord, consonant chord. Always a binary, like a nu-metal band: here is soft and sensitive, and now it collides with rough and tumble. This technique is as old as 1987, which is when I first heard it and these chord voicings used by emo bands. This release doesn’t understand the spirit of old school death metal, or how it’s composed, and the result is a boring, lukewarm, soulless and repetitive listen.
Cleric – Regressions: Metalcore mixes hardcore, emo and metal into music with the compositional style, pacing and chord shapes of hardcore, but often throws in metal riffs, textures and vocals. The result is like a bag of kittens, each one scrambling to be nearer to the top, and the result is pure chaos. Cleric throw in some droning guitar feedback that’s quite pretty, some odd pauses and lots of prolonged open chord strumming, but musically this is no different from 100,000 other bands since 1987.
Apostasy – Sunset of the End: This album inherits the worst of speed metal, which is lots of strumming in the background while drums race to keep up and some dude “white guy raps” over the top. They’re good at their instruments, and know that intersection of riffing between Artillery and Destruction that is so fertile, but it doesn’t hold together. My head hurts.
Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II Dialogue with the Stars: When an album like this comes out, Mossad should be dispatched to the homes of the perpetrators to find the “Black Metal Paint by Numbers” kit they used to make this. Even the worst band made by 15-year-olds is preferable because in its randomness, it is not predictable. This is entirely linear and pulls every trick to sound black metally. There is no direction; it’s a school assignment, “write a black metal album.” And it takes forever to end.
Angel Eyes – Midwestern: Alternating between droning higher-end sound that resembles a siren Doppler test through a smoky sky, and a very basic hybrid between sludge metal (Eyehategod) and stoner doom (Sleep), Angel Eyes create a post-rock opus that almost escapes its roots in indie, emo and modern hardcore. Songs unfold like a rambling house with rooms of different sizes built onto one another in a gradual process of accretion. There’s a room for spacy electronics and heavily reverbed guitar throbbing across a mostly empty sonic platform, and there’s a room for metalcore riffing with about 50% more indie rock taming it from incoherent raging into sensible sound. There’s even the room — shows up frequently, like a storage room linking two wings — for a lack of distortion while simple sweeps echo radiant through the ears. Much of this material succumbs to the linearity of non-linearity, where it both tries to be out there and because it needs to be listenable, shapes its deviance around a very simple core. However, many songs develop in interesting and poetic ways. The weak spot in this band are the predictable elements it inherited: the metalcore riffs are predictable and don’t add much to the song, and the vocals are really pointless. Dropping those would let these guys do what they’re good at, which is designing sound like a playground, with interesting nooks and slides and tunnels and bridges to explore even though you know you’ll end up back at the sandbox eventually. If you want an example of post-rock you can believe in, this would be it.
Cenotaph – Saga Belica: Bands commit suicide after albums like this. The interesting facet is that it’s a cross between later speed metal, like Destruction, with symphonic metal like Emperor or Therion. That means lots of Testament-style riffing that bounces around a chord while vocals rage all over the place, then the verse/chorus slurry runs straight into a pause and keyboard fill, then accompanying guitar/keyboard melodic run. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds, and this album is as directionless as you might imagine. Sad as this was a once-epic band.
Harvey Milk – A small turn of human kindness: This music is really obvious. It’s really stylized, but really obvious. I don’t think anything else matters. If you fall for this, you like listening to first-turn-off-the-main-road variations on metal riffs from the 1970s which, because they’re in a dramatic format full of lots of high school drama student Pauses, are assumed to constitute songs. But songs don’t happen here. Loops of riffs do, and then there’s a bunch of noise and something that sounds like a Walrus on PCP howling, and then the song “peaks” by being super-chaotic then smooths out into normalcy, which is the usual boredom. If you were fooled by Boris and Opeth, you might like this, but otherwise it’s just a treacle of boredom tugging at your heels.
Cerebral Effusion – Impulsive Psychopathic Acts: This is straight off-the-shelf deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, pauses, lots of long battery runs with blastbeats. Not incompetently composed but the style is so painfully blockheaded that it’s hard to want to hear.
Dark Half – Reborn: Standard punk music played with metal flavoring, namely a minor key and some metally riffs. For the sense of tempo alone this band should be shot over an open pit, but the completely shrinkwrapped standard black metal riffs dumb this down even further. For bonus points, it’s half speed metal so you get the same hackneyed fifteenth-rate ripoff riffs that have been around for thirty years. Songs go nowhere, but you guessed that by now. If this band were an individual, it would be on the police blotter for stealing empty safes. People waste their lives trying to make themselves like crap like this.
Desexult – Demo II: For your convenience, we have compiled all of the blockhead riffs from the first month’s practice of every metal band ever created. It’s like Hellhammer, but without the insightful incompetence; it’s just sort of part of the ride. I can’t imagine why anyone would keep this around.
Disaffected – Vast: Painfully predictable technical speed metal/death metal. Obviously, these guys listened to a ton of Testimony of the Ancients, but never got their act together to find a style or direction. Lots of speed metal riffs and “wait for it” off-time paused-based riffing, like Pantera on a Dream Theater kick. Plenty of shredding but little going on. Save yourselves before it’s too late.
Disgorge – Consume the Forsaken: Standard totally incomprehensible deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, chug-a-lot, blast beats, gurgling vocals and very similar riffs. In fact, this band seems to specialize in the non-riff, or the linear chord progression played with different rhythmic emphasis. It’s a real brain drill, this CD, as you try to remember what you were thinking before the incessant chug-gurgle-blast invaded your mind. What was I saying?
Eradication – The Great Cleaning: Much as I stand behind the idea of killing off the stupid, this band missed at least one, which is this album. Predictable melodic black metal with dramatic pauses and blasts. The result is insipid because it recycles the past without a direction, so you feel surrounded in make-work interpretations of other, better bands.
Ereshkigal – Ten Years of Blasphemy: God is safe from these blasphemers. Really, really safe. This really lukewarm black metal merges the truding mid-paced sound with the goofy, placeless keyboards that Master’s Hammer could use to effect but Ereshkigal manage to use like some bizarre punctuation that intrudes wherever, somewhere, a retard shits himself. It’s not even interesting enough to be random. How did they not fall asleep when writing, or recording this stuff? Oh well just send it to the pressing plant, someone will like it. Anyone… anyone…?
Execration – Syndicate of Lethargy: Guys, you didn’t forget anything. You didn’t leave anything out. This brutal blasting death metal incorporates melody, Gorguts-style odd timings and melodic fills, and New York style harmonics and stop/start riffing. The problem is that it’s disorganized, so you get a ton of unrelated crap that has to streamline into the linear to complete itself. And then it’s boring.
Exmortem – Nihilistic Contentment: For a metal band, it’s easy to confuse “frenetic” with “has content.” This very busy — “chaotic” — thrashing madness has constant clanging bass, battering drums and whirring guitars. What it doesn’t have is any particularly unique or insightful view of the world, or an aesthetic experience that rewards consciousness with an expanded view of life. Instead, it’s like cramming your head into a tiny box and then beating on the sides with your tiny impotent fists.
Fatalist – The Depths of Inhumanity: Oh fucking awesome, it’s just like the early 1990s when the Swedish death metal gods ruled the world. Except that somewhere along the way, Fatalist lost its soul. They’ve aped the sound of the guitars, and play derivative riffs at the same pace, but the songwriting is a mess. Sure, all these riffs are in the same key, but they don’t relate to each other that well and aren’t that interesting. To compensate the guy doing the vocals rants in a really predictable cadence. The result is mind-numbing and lacks all of the interesting song structures, melodies and atmosphere of the original Swedish death metal, or any music more competent than jingles in commercials for cleaning products. If you wanted to know what it’s like to be a retarded child, listen to this extensively.
An Albatross – The An Albatross Family Album: This CD tries to capture the experience of taking bong hits while you flip through a random selection of cable TV channels, with a metal CD going in the background and something really intense on your mind. They patch their songs together from metal, punk and indie riffs broken up with sound samples, keyboards, and radically sonically different interludes and transitions that resemble the intensely emotional conclusions of nature channel documentaries. Much of this music plays with being on the edge of deliberately super-annoying, and so will fail the “do I want to listen to this again?” test, but as an exploration of pushing the limits of style, it raises some interesting issues that someone else could develop in a more coherent and expressive way.
Faust – From Glory to Infinity: Very linear music, embellished with technical metal frills, but this cannot disguise the basic blockhead approach and lack of aesthetic opening that defines this music. Reminiscent of a faster and harder version of later Rotting Christ, this is melodic metal trapped in the middle of absolutely predictable overractive rhythms. It’s a mishmash of speed metal, Meshuggah, and death metal riffing that ends up just wearing you down with its insistence. This band really needs to just step back and figure out what they’re expressing. This is a highly competent mess.
Faustcoven – The Halo of Burning Wings: This is hiking music, meaning that it keeps building on a single two-step throbbing rhythm and hopes you follow along. I’m sure there are tasty granola bars, and maybe topless female hikers at the next rest stop, but this is boring as hell. Trudge, chant sing-song verse, then chorus and dick around with some riffs before you end the song. I’m trapped in that two-dimensional mirror thing they used to store bad guys in the Superman movies. LET ME OUT
Child Abuse – Cut and Run: The postmodern music of the late 1990s onward has confused cause and effect. When music is unique, the cause is a unique view of life and a burning desire to express it (put it into symbols and sound). When music is not unique, you cannot make it unique by dressing it up in everything “different” without making a mess that’s both chaotic and annoying. Child Abuse sounds like what would happen if a nu-metal band decided to make grindcore with math-metal and metalcore influences. Lots of odd noises, weirdly bent guitar riffs, and then standard grind/punk riffing while vocals shriek and feedback imitates the stall warnings of a 747. This really is not a path to success.
Faustrecht – Demoniak: Now that every metal band has an intro, let’s be sure to include one. Make it especially wandering and pointless. Then speaking of wandering and pointless, let’s put together high-speed Venom-style riffs and Donald Duck quack over the top. Even better, let’s keep it as verse/chorus as possible. Minimalism is like being closer to Satan. Then a really catchy chorus, but don’t make it too distinctive, or it might offend our advertisers (lobotomy wound care products, no doubt). So it ends up insipid, but that’s convenient, because so is the rest of this disaster of an album. I’m sending it to the Large Hadron Collider people because “Demoniak” is so bad it will make time itself slow down. Hope you’re not feeling your mortality while you waste irreplaceable seconds on this turd.
Fear Factory – Mechanize: Staying true to the title, I think they outsourced this album to a Perl script. It does that annoying white boy rap thing for the verses, and then choruses are the dude howling three syllables over and over again. It’s like the worst parts of Godflesh and NIN, but they added VNV Nation style techno touches. But we’ll be DIFFERENT and throw in some singing to make you know hey, it’s not like the other brick-stupid obvious stuff out there; there’s SINGING! Did we mention the SINGING? Still it’s so driving yet invariant and depthless that it’s good for nothing more than driving your parents, if you’re deaf and so immune to this wreck. I think they clearly designed this for people new to music who don’t mind really obvious and prosaic music so long as they get the message. And with this degree of high volume repetition, there’s no way to miss it.
Fractal Gates – Altered States of Consciousness: This sounds a lot like early Nuclear Assault to me, but with death metal vocals and uptempo. Good melodic hooks, riffs are obvious but not out of place, and there are some pleasant melodic diversions. Very Gothic in its use of melody, like a short bus version of Gehenna or later Rotting Christ. I wouldn’t call it profound, and as a result, wouldn’t listen to it again, but it’s far more “together” than most of the shit in this review pile.
Funeral Moth – Funeral Moth: The good thing about a gimmick is that you don’t have to work on the content of what you do. Let the gimmick sell it. You’re a Japanese doom metal band; what else do you need? Never mind that Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism all did the very slow riffs thing better and they did it by developing those riffs. Just get totally linear. No one is going to be listening anyway, because they’re too busy talking about how you’re a JAPANESE DOOM METAL BAND. Exotic, dude. Pass the PBR, and continue half-listening to this insipid hipster nightmare.
Gammacide – Victims of Science: You wanted some chaotic speed metal? Good, because this is pure chaos. Fast riffs flow into faster riffs and then they get into the staple of 1980s speed metal, the trudging riff that’s basically a lot of fast strumming of a recursive but rather slow progression. Chanty vocals with jaunty rhythms are par for the course too. But there’s a reason this band never really took on the world. This stuff has personality, but you wouldn’t say it really nails it, or expresses anything interesting about life. It’s there and it’s metal.
Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt: Droning misery. Constant drumming. Harsh background screams with predictable rhythms. If this is Satan’s music, I’m getting a Bible. Interestingly, other than the fast strumming, this music is identical to the mediocre crap that came out of the late speed metal era, including the riffs that are based on Slayer patterns but, to distinguish them, random notes get tossed in. When you think it can’t get any worse, they do a “dramatic” pause and then start up, or throw in melodic black metal riffs that are about as new as erosion. If you are busy doing something really difficult, you won’t notice this background noise is pointless and boring. But listen to it? It has the soporific effect of a televangelist’s sermon.
Grabnebelfursten – Schwarz Gegen Weiss: It must be that Reader’s Digest is offering a series of helpful articles on handy home repairs and making symphonic black metal. These riffs sound like the guitarist is feeling them out and just trying semi-random stuff as he goes, and the composition modus operandi of this band is to find something they like and pound it into the ground, then toss in something totally different so you don’t get bored. The result is circus music that’s comedic in how little it relates to itself, or anything else. Vocals are also of that ptomaine poisoning hurl that sounds like the vocalist is straining to keep up with the random clatter beneath. I think they should refer to this as “suicidal black metal” because unless you have the option to turn it off, death may be your only deliverance.
Gravferd – Demonized: Hi everyone, I’d like you to meet my Down’s syndrome child, Gravferd. He sits in his room and practices stuff he knows other bands have done, and then vomits it back in a random order so that there’s enough for an album. Any time he gets confused and starts to cry, we just double the tempo and then he starts barfing out incomprehensible lyrics recycled from a giant pile of cliches we keep in the diaper room. You might recognize intense moments from the last twenty years of black metal, stripped of all context and power, rendered incompetently. But he’s my tard, so I’m going to put a gold star on this fucking thing and publish it. File under G for “glazed over.”
Greymachine – Disconnected: People love ambient music because you can turn on the drum machine, start jamming over a simple progression, and by dumping layers of noise, found sounds, keyboards, vocals and guacamole on it you can gradually shape it into a song. Then you turn off the tape machine and mail the thing to your record label, who start talking about it like it’s the esoteric holy grail of lost musical genius. Let’s dial it back to reality: this is very stoned people dicking around in the studio, and it shows none of the genius that occured on Streetcleaner all those years ago.
Holocausto – Campo de Exterminio: You have to get this, it’s a classic! Undiscovered cult metal from the early 1980s… and there’s a reason it was undiscovered. Do you remember those record players they made in the 1970s for playing Disney records? They were all plastic and had cartoon characters molded into them. This album belongs on one, because it’s kiddie music. It’s super-basic, not in a profoundly disturbing way like Discharge or Sarcofago, but more like a cross between old Sepultura and Anthrax. Like Anthrax, it’s simple-minded. Like old Sepultura, it’s fast and blasphemous with incomprehensible vocals that sound like tearing Kleenex. Like much of 1980s speed metal influenced material, it has the uncanny ability to kill time by hanging out on a very linear, obvious series of variations on a rhythm. I really wish this was buried treasure, but it’s not.
I – Between Two Worlds: Predictable hard rock, meet black metal vocals. Yes, it sounds like a toad on meth, and the riffs that came out of the 1970s but now come at you twice as fast just make the ludicrous more painful. Even worse, the increased tempo means that there’s no breathing room, just constant cliche at top volume. Then when you think you’ve heard enough, the shitty guitar solo comes in to make you long for peaceful silence. Unless you’re a moron. Then this must seem like it was made just for you.
Homicide – Dale of Lost Souls: Here come the police — where can we hide this collection of stolen ideas from the FAIL file of bad 1980s speed metal? Oh look, we can stuff them into this blackened death metal band and no one will notice. Mainly because no one is listening because this sucks. It’s all over the place and to hide the fact they have no idea to develop a song, the musicians here rely on repetition to remind you which song you’re listening to. It’s the one with that borrowed, dumbed-down Exodus riff. Oh wait. That didn’t help. It’s the one that’s a microwave TV dinner version of Devastation… that won’t help either. Throw this out.
Ignivomous – Death Transmutation: I wonder how these musicians memorize these songs. Since the riffs fit together in tempo and key only, and make no sense as a metal tune, and the only transitions possible are dramatic pauses, it’s likely they have a mnemonic to this. Probably something like GDHJJKFLX because the whole album is incoherent. Good guitar tone, zero on the content, and like all shitty metal bands they have to shout it at top volume to try to distract you from the suck. The best course of action is to go do something more stimulating, like mow a lawn or punch out gargoyles.
Impurity – Lucifer Vomiting Blasphemies Over Christ’s Head: No, it’s Impurity vomiting inconsequential noise over your head, and over your wallet, if you bought this. This noisy foray into basic death metal sounds like war metal, which is to say that it’s near constant tempo incoherent riffing with a drunk guy gurgling while the drummer does basically whatever he wants because no one is paying attention. You can do better than this, probably with a pair of castanets and a broken fan to howl in the background. This album is the comical disaster that your parents would imagine upon hearing the title. Well, at least it presents itself accurately.
Infected – Crawlspace: Sometimes, when you get infected, you get a bad headache and you lose 20 IQ points. That’s what happened to this band. This is stop-start “wait — I’ve got to crap — look — some open ground” style semi-skeltonic brain-absent chanting over recycled riffs from failed Exhorder clones who perished in prison where they got sent for ripping the warning tags off of mattresses. The total failure of imagination, or connection to what makes music good, gets us this headache which has zero flow and zero appeal.
Inflabatan – Wanderer of Grief: Every melodic black metal album, boiled for 12 hours to ensure no flavor remains, served with peas steamed in dishwater and a tasty glass of fortified wine gone to vinegar. It’s not bad, it’s far from good, it’s just there. Kind of like when you have a late assignment so you write I ATE MY OWN ASS AND LIKED IT on a sheet of paper and hand it in so you at least don’t get a zero. It’s not a zero, but maybe like a 36.
Inquisidor – Inquisidor: You know, disco had its moments. It had melody. The songs often were distinctive, and sometimes, reminded you of a moment in life where you felt clarity and got excited about what was to come. Inquisidor is “generic” in the oldest meaning, which is that it fits into its genre dead in the middle and is exactly what you’d expect. Fast Kreator riffs, in songs structured like those of Sodom, with urgent blasphemous vocals. If it were the first of this type I heard, I might like it but find it a little boring. Now I just flee.
Inquisition – Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer: I can see why people like this — it’s competent. The rhythms fit together, and riffs work together. The problem is that it’s composed in an idiotic style, and is as a result limited. This is the fusion of war metal and Judas Iscariot-style slow ambient black metal, so you get (a) more repetition than you know what to do with (b) simple riffs on a bouncy rhythm and (d) detached, disconnected vocals. It’s about two riffs per song, often variations on the same theme. While they all fit together, and the result is pleasant to listen to because these guys are five times as competent as the average black metal band, it’s still boring. Nothing happens: what is going on when the song starts is what happens when it ends. That result doesn’t feel evil, or challenging, but kind of dance-y like later Napalm Death.
Wreck of the Hesperus – The Sunken Threshold: Imagine an indie-metal/doom metal hybrid. What you’re imagining even with half a brain is what you get with this release. Slow limbs of chord progressions rise and crash while drums keep a busy, jazz-inspired distraction going. Songs move slowly, verse/chorus, then conclude in a trailing out to insignificance. If Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism did it too well for you, here’s a generic version.
Vektor – Black Future: Hipster music. I say that because it’s dressed up (ironically) like Voivod worship on the outside, but it’s pure aesthetics; there is no understanding of the composition or content that made Voivod great. Instead it’s standard war metal, slowed down by 1/4, played with some of the chord voicings Piggy used. Songs are standard format, very busy with lots of chaotic drums and messy riffing, but no concepts that tickle the brain or even amuse the gut. On the surface, it’s Voivody. Beneath, it’s the standard punk/metal/rock that hipsters like, dressed up in a unique way. Watch this band disappear quickly.
The Shadow Order – Untold: This is probably the best Burzum clone I’ve ever heard. If you can imagine Burzum writing songs that transition from state “A” to state “B” directly, you’ve got roughly what’s going on here. It’s simpler, similar in spirit, and slightly more ear candyish (e.g. confines itself to conventional consonant voicings) but on the whole is pleasant to listen to. It’s unlikely to stand up to repeated listens well, but will occupy a position like the first Infernum album of being a reasonable alternative.
Inveracity – Extermination of Millions: This is a good solid release in the Deeds of Flesh/Suffocation percussive death metal style. It’s more linear than Doug Cerrito’s inspired riffing, but has a good sense of putting together a basic song and stacking up parts that contrast each other, so doesn’t fall into the monotonous camp of most material in this genre. While it is good, it falls short of exceptional and thus radically distinctive, so it’s always going to lurk in Suffocation’s shadow until it develops more of its own voice.
Insect Warfare – World Extermination: If you crossed Terrorizer, Assuck and Nasum you’d get something a lot like Insect Warfare. This is grindcore that sounds like some very energetic people dropped whatever they were doing, rushed to their instruments, and bashed out short but furious songs. These songs are well-composed; however, they’re also extremely basic and rely on riffcraft that alludes to much of extant grindcore. As a result, it’s kind of a neat album if someone hands it to you, but hard to want to reach for it when much more personalitied and diverse offerings like the early Terrorizer material exist.
Kaamos – Lucifer Rising: Pure speed, awesome Swedish(tm) production, and intriguingly blasphemous sound titles cannot compensate for having depth to your music. Kaamos is, like almost everything but the original wave of Swedish death metal, screamingly obvious. These riffs are almost entirely linear and capture no melodic or harmony; not only that, they aren’t shaped into interesting phrases rhythmically. The result is a CD that instantly descends to background noise. It’s pleasant-sounding but empty.
Liturgy – Renihilation: Get the hipsters out of metal. If you like emo-style melodies played really fast over chaotic drums, or the former hybridized with riffs from old Metallica clones but played in a kvlt black metal style, you may like this. I find it really obvious, although clearly musically more erudite than the trve kvlt types. The problem is that despite all of these interesting elements, the songs express nothing, and chord/note progressions are very similar from track to track. The frenetic drumming and vocals only accentuate, not conceal, this deficiency.
Malign – Divine-Facing Fireborn: You and I would really love to like this. It has all the promise of older black metal: a cross between Sarcofago and Merciless, interpreted through the filter of later Mayhem (lush chording, odd slow tempo changes, murky sounds) with the viciousness and yet very pop sense of melodic hook that all the Swedish black metal bands wield. Yet, that’s it. The surface traits are all; what’s underneath is unmotivational. So you end up with black metal wallpaper and an empty soul, but also, a bored one.
Maim – From the Womb to the Tomb: These guys have an interesting approach, aesthetically, in that they try to be Autopsy but mix in the speed and pacing of older Entombed. Sonically, it’s a great approach but not much changes in the song between the beginning and the end. It’s less like a big loop than a spin cycle: you start looking at something, then rotate around it and hey, there it is again. In addition, riffs are really basic variants on forms we’ve seen before from Kreator, Destruction, Atrophy and numerous death metal bands. They are very basic, very interchangeable, and lack the feeling of having been designed to fit together into something distinct with a meaning of its own. That depthless nature to these songs makes this album an endurance contest.
Perished – Seid: Strip away the death vocals and fast drumming, and this is plain boring hard rock like you might find on a Motley Crue record. Aesthetically, it sounds like Immortal, but without the greatness of personality that made At the Heart of Winter a great album, or the spark of insight that made earlier Immortal even superior.
Pathology – Incisions of Perverse Debauchery: Cross Deeds of Flesh with Dead Infection, and you get this gurgling deathgrind which is relentless and not bad, but also not exceptional enough to merit a re-listen. In particular, songs are streams of thudding riffs and relatively similar textural shifts, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them, although the radically varying production helps. I respect this more than most bands because it has a simple goal and fulfills it, although it’s hard to want to go through the experience when there are more interesting listens out there.
Pantheist – Amartia: If Paradise Lost and Skepticism had a baby, it would be this ponderous doom metal band. Songs are glacial with melodic underpinnings and a bit on the pop side, although they love their sonic dynamism and intense distortion. It’s competent but not particularly compelling in form or content, and the vermicular pace does not help us get over that.
Overthrow – Within Suffering: It’s a hybrid of Beneath the Remains era Sepultura and early Sadus, and it’s well-executed but not a standout in that these songs follow fairly cookie-cutter speed metal patterns. Riffs: you’ve heard their archetypes before. Vocals: they do that thing where they chant on the beat as the kickhappy drums crazy go nuts next to some chugging guitars — fucking annoying. On the plus side, they change riffs like Dark Angel so that there’s always tempo, harmonic or phrasal motion (or when disordered: commotion) going on. And lots of solos that sound like later Nuclear Assault going hog wild on the pentatonics. Ultimately, I find this really annoying but if you would let Sadus mount you from the rear, you’ll love it.
Pensees Nocturnes – Grotesque: This promising band confuses aesthetics and content. They’re good songwriters, with an apt grasp of the technical side of the music, but because they have never found an aesthetic “voice,” end up piling random types of stuff on top of one another hoping that summing up parts magically makes the whole bigger. This sonic collage features crashing slow metal riffs which give way to fast melodic riffs reminiscent of Enslaved’s Frost, and are periodically interrupted by transition material with piano and string instruments. On top of this, some guy is bellowing like he is getting raped by an elephant. While in general I’m all for overlooking aesthetic dislike to get to the core of a band, in this case the lack of aesthetic ties an arm behind this band’s back as far as songwriting is concerned — too much is lost as they try to conform to this bizarre format. In addition, they’ve picked up some of the chord progressions and bad habits of post-rock bands, with huge parts of this album resembling the lost Maudlin of the Well “Dave’s got the purple shrooms” sessions. When they are able to put together an aesthetically coherent part of a song, it flows well, but then drops back into their bad habits and crutches. My advice to Pensees Nocturnes is simple: standardize your vocals, become a doom band, and use other instrumentation at strategic points in each song instead of as a general technique — look at the first At the Gates album. Less is more, if that less is more organized than the more. But use more oboe.
Prevalent Resistance – Dynamics of Creation: I’d like to like this because it’s easy to listen to, is pleasant and comforting. Patterned after Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (the first version, with the video game music) and a smidgen of early Dissection, this album is candy for the ears. But that’s the problem. There is no tension, no moral conflict, no desire even for pointless destruction. It’s trying to make friends. Like a warm puppy nose on the leg. In fact, it resembles the indie rock of the last decade: slick, studied, and very good at writing a melodic hook into the end of a three-step phrase so that it gets that Hallmark(tm) “uplifting” feeling. I think if I wanted smoke up my ass, I’d just listen to indie rock. Musically this is adept, artistically it gives blowjobs for $10 at streetcorners.
Diabolicum – The Grandeur of Hell: I have tried to like this 1999 album for literally 11 years. It has all the right elements, and it starts well, but becomes shapeless in the middle. I don’t think this has anything to do with how industrial it is. I think it ran out of steam in terms of songs and what they are about. Typical of Swedish bands, Diabolicum write great melodic riffs and then have no idea how to develop them, so end up in circular song structures that leave you unsure of why a song ended; it just ended, when it did, semi-arbitrarily. The result is that there’s no reason to keep these songs in your head other than as a pleasant distraction.
Oxbow – Fuckfest: This music is both spectacularly annoying, and good but fairly standard. If you took a Motorhead/Black Sabbath crossover, made it more rock ‘n’ roll early friendly, then chopped it up with fast rhythms and dissonant syncopated riffing, you’d get this. The vocalist howls like he’s in the Bad Brains but with little of the musicality. I think they believe this is revolutionary. Musically, it’s not terrible but aesthetically it’s like a screeching siren in your head, making you wish the world would end.
Die Apokalyptischen Reiter – Licht: Most people are going to identify this band as a heavier version of Rammstein, but that’s only half the story: this ostensibly industrial band is a three way hybrid between pop punk, melodic death metal and very danceable industrial. They write their songs like At the Gates, with several riffs cycling during the verses after the first introduction, and they shift between these like rally racers taking shortcuts through the old neighborhood. Vocals are very pop punk, with a rhythm similar to Bohse Onkelz or other brainier punk, and riffs are often power chords staggered in the death metal style with an emphasis on the stop/start rhythms that industrial, speed metal and rock favor. However, this is in a very literate musical framework where subtleties emerge from what are initially very basic melodies, and songs develop around this melodic core and end up being quite beautiful and infectious. After about ten minutes, you no longer hear the heavy riffs, and you feel like you’re listening to a more touch-and-go version of Wolfsheim on guitars. This isn’t my type of music, but I respect it — which is more than I can say for most versions of most genres.
Droids Attack – Must Destroy: We were chilling on the porch trying to figure out what to call this new style, not yet quite a genre, where they put bands like Red Fang and Droids Attack. It’s like fast, bombastic, hard attack versions of stoner doom songs; this CD, “Must Destroy,” sounds a lot like the first couple Sleep releases: bluesy, hard without being aggressive, bounding party rock. It’s like they took the Detroit underground rock/punk sound from the 1980s (before The White Stripes) and merged it with Motorhead and the MC5, and got out of it this entirely rockin’ style that isn’t metal but borrows a lot from it, and isn’t punk but attacks with the same sheer verve, but then sticks into the heavy bounce of guitar rock like Grand Funk Railroad or Iron Butterfly. It’s easy to listen to but more motivational than techno, even, so makes great music for partying or cleaning the house. On this CD, the style is expertly implemented with lots of space between bounding riffs for introspective parts, like the calming parts of the ritual of a rave, so that you can listen without getting washed out by pure bombast. I see a great future for this style and this band as people get sick of the twee effete hiding-in-basement styles that have been popular for the last decade.
Nun Slaughter – Goat: When most people talk about old school metal, they’re thinking of bands like this that combine the barebones essentials of heavy metal (Venom), death metal (Master) and speed metal (Nuclear Assault) into one high-energy package. What propels this CD is its ability to keep momentum. Riffs follow each other logically and transfer energy like a locomotive hitting a truck full of bowling balls. This energy conservation is harder to do than one might think, because if a band just plays really fast, it doesn’t happen. It takes an awareness of the music and a love for the metal craft of putting riffs together so that they talk to one another and keep kinetic inertia. Clearly this band know their metal, as the riff forms — the basic phrase and arrangement upon which these riffs are based — descend from all generations of metal, but have been adapted to fit the song and NunSlaughter’s trademark crude but adept songwriting. Most songs are verse/chorus riff cycles with discursive bridges that lead back to triumphal restatements of theme, but given the rawness of the music, nothing else would really fit without making this a modern animal. If you like bands like Onslaught, Sodom, and Merciless, this band stays within the same range but is immediately distinctive. Like fellow midwesterners Cianide, they hide their subtlety and distinctiveness underneath a desire to make a riff language out of metal’s heritage and use it to sing of their specific experience, which seems to be a conglomeration of Satan, rape, blasphemy, violence and sodomy. Given this framework, however, it’s clear this band is a thoroughly enjoyable ripping ride through the dark recesses of human visceral emotion, and no matter how much people wail about it being derivative or lowbrow, it’s great stuff.
Morser – Two Hours to Doom: We should christen this band the German version of Human Remains. They play in the modern metal, or proto-metalcore, style innovated by those founders, meaning that they put metal riffs in punk-style songs. The result is an emphasis on individualism through deconstruction shown through the juxtaposition of random images, which if you think about it is the origin of all modern art. Instead of continuity and order, they show you many individual perspectives which don’t agree, further isolating you in yourself. 1980s crossover thrash on the other hand tried to make radically different riffs fit together like a storyline. While this style provides unbalanced listening as a result, it exceeds the competence of its genremates by making these songs fast and to the point, even if that point is a binary song with a fairly random third option introduced in the last third of it. Later on, bands took this style and threw technical death metal done in one dimension into the mix, but for now it’s honest punk borrowing from every style under the sun in a fast and precise but not show-offy fashion. You’ll hear the blues riffs, funk bass, prog trills, and even quotations from soundtracks and ethnic music, all done at high speed in blisteringly distorted guitar. It’s no wonder this release has, for a flavor of the day genre like modern metal, stayed in demand over the years.
Black Funeral – Vampyr: If you put a simplified Emperor/Ancient hybrid to Darkthrone percussion, it might sound like “Vampyr” — an unknown quantity of death metal rhythm, and ambient black metal made with the flourish of symphonic metal, but in the simplified and abraded sound that also qualified early American bands like Havohej and Demoncy. This is a very American thing, both North and Sound hemispheres, to simplify song structures to a standard form like in hardcore, where much of what made early Nordic black metal beautiful was that song structure was defined by content — in the way that early American phrasal death metal like Incantation was. While this album makes for more recognizable listening, and is clearly the musical peak of this band, for artistic reasons a discerning listener may prefer other works.
Chthonic – Seediq Bale: This symphonic metal band from China sounds like Dream Theatre melded with Cradle of Filth, as played by later Therion. More focused than any of those acts, it takes advantage of compiled conventions from the various constituents of this genre, and makes a distinctive version of them. If they more seamlessly integrate this with the indigenous music of China, it could be a powerhouse; for now, it’s a better option for Dimmu Borgir fans.
Blazemth – Fatherland: This short release charms the listener with its beauty, brave pasted-together emulation of black metal heroes and honesty in expressing something of significance even if at times the methods are crude. In essence, this band is a hybrid between early Emperor and Graveland, hoping for sweeping melodies interwoven with keyboards and spoken/acoustic dirges, creating an atmosphere that it then delights in breaking with riffs sounding like they come from the melodic heavy-metal-influenced black metal of Rotting Christ and Hades. This band specializes in contrasting textures of riffs: a mostly open simple riff will abrade when a flowing tremolo melody follows it, and chromatic death metal shredding offsets windswept sweep picking. While the individual parts are less graceful than their archetypes, they are nonetheless beautiful in the same way early punk was: individuals captured in their striving for an ideal that they may not achieve, while enjoying the struggle.
Blazemth – For Centuries Left Behind: Template driven from the early works of black metal, this band achieves an ambient black metal sound by attempting a simplified version of Emperor and other early black metal bands. Riffs are simple, production distorted enough to background guitars into a roughly harmonized blast of noise, and keyboards unite the rest into a smooth flow of sound. Emblematic of this album is the spoken introduction with which it begins; this is a guileless take on black metal that is not afraid to be ridiculous, but because it is earnest, never irks like the commercial cluelessness that followed. Its strength is an immersion in mood, but its weakness is that individual parts ape classics like Emperor and Burzum, just in an interpretation specific to this band. Although this will not blow anyone away with its breaking of ground, it remains more convincing than most post-1996 black metal because it has a clear ideal in mind and pursues it making creative use of what techniques and elements are within reach. Their followup, “Fatherland,” reflects more development; on this short CD are themes you have heard before, done uniquely in the homebrew style by this straightforward and committed band.
Jodis – Secret House: You have to have a high tolerance for slowness with this album. A chord plays, rings out, the distortion crumbling as the sound loses its solidity; then, two notes jangle with the seeming discordination of a snapping clothesline or the slow decay of metal in abandoned factories. Someone bellows. More noises, feedback zoning in and out like lawnmower noise across the street as you try to nap your way through a summer day. More bellowing. The songs are like hailstones, formed of layer after layer deposited upon the last. If you unfold the surface it forms a great linearity, like a giant strip of paper covered in words that blur together. Time goes by unheeded. You get up and change the CD.
Nihill – Grond: Standard uptempo Darkthrone black metal clone with really emphatic, dramatic, emo-style vocals still done in the guttural end of black metal sound, Nihill is technically competent but makes binary songs, meaning that they alternate between two moods until the vocals are done ranting and the song can end. When Darkthrone did this, it was to great effect because their songs centered around a contrast that conveyed a greater sense of mystery or discovery. Nihill is just cyclic and offers no hope, only a sense of inevitability. I could see this appealing to fans of Judas Iscariot.
Eradication – The Great Cleansing: An attempt to merge “Following the Voice of Blood” era Graveland with “Ugra-Karma” era Impaled Nazarene, for the most part this album works. The randomness of its melodies and the drone-strum technique from the Graveland side gently obscure some of the rough edges and more obvious riffs, which feed nicely into the full-speed-ahead woodchipper riffs from the Impaled Nazarene side. It’s a solid B+ for content, maybe a A+ for technique for being both original and nuanced enough to give this band its own voice.
Vile – Depopulate: If the Deeds of Flesh style second-wave percussive death metal bands simplified things a bit to the level of the first Deicide album, and chose very basic bouncy riffs with melodic accents like Brutality, you could well end up with Vile. It is both good and bad; it is good insofar as it develops, but it is bad because that’s often two steps of thinking away from a double-strum on an E5 chord. Chortling vocals battle it out with gurgling rasps over pleated sheets of power chords where the offtime notes are played in a muted strum, giving this a pirate shanty bounce which is then torn apart by drums like a multi-legged battle robot scrabbling through the ruins of a city. There are messy leads, and often ludicrous “my attention shifted suddenly when I noticed the shotgun” song structure deviations. While they do what they do well, this style of death metal limits itself too much for repeated listening.
Gifts from Enola – Gifts from Enola: Someone crossed Kyuss with uptempo indie heavy metal and threw in the developments in the last ten years of stoner doom metal, creating a jazzy and fluidly composed album that moves about at the pace of early Black Sabbath. With very little intervention from vocals, the band jam in this style with droit, jazzy changes and variation in riff types from psychedelic lead-picked atmospheric to droning power chords to harmonizations on par with what Iron Maiden did. These songs are relatively linear, with breaks and resumptions, but form a kind of sonic texture that is easy to absorb, comfortingly varied, and most of all — unlike most post-rock — pleasant to listen to because it contains an internal balance and musicality. If you’re familiar with the jazz fusion of the late 1970s, nothing here will be a surprise musically, but it’s in a new form with more force behind it and the crossing over of the loud and abrasive with the subtle and beautiful gives it an elegance jazz fusion could never hope to have.
Urna – Iter Ad Lucem: Cross Ras Algethi with a post-rock band and you have this mess. The chord progressions are typical of that emo, shoegaze and indie rock fusion that is “post-metal,” which in most cases but not all has nothing to do with metal except that thanks to black metal’s extremity, it’s what the angry activist life-did-me-wrong failures are listening to these days. The worst sin here is that nothing really goes on in these songs. A few notes go up; a few go down. This is repeated with layers of vocals, a la Teitanblood but more artsy, and drums that keep busy outside the main event like those in a doom band, but ultimately songs don’t evolve and only gain structure through linear variation on known themes. In addition, if you step back and listen to this, it’s ludicrous. Like Krallice, it’s soft rock trying to be evil and as with all paradoxical and half-witted goals, has instead made a squirting fecal mess of it.
So there you have it — like a cheap buffet lunch, mostly FAIL with some tasty nuggets stuck in there, only half of which will come out whole in your stool. If I had to design a record-shopping trip from this, I’d pick up the Nunslaughter and Gifts from Enola and call it a day.No Comments
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So much of what we do in life is politics. Telling people things they want to hear and making warring parties proffer the olive branch. But metal should not be about politics. Metal should be about pure spirit, both inside of us and in the world at large, meaning that we know ourselves and we know reality. With that kind of background, we don’t need politics. We don’t need drama. We don’t need to be flattered. We want adventure — musical adventure, preferably with tragedy and triumph, violence and vengeance, sodomy and satisfaction! Meet this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews, where sacred cows get sodomized and we find satisfaction in the diamonds among the cluttering turds.
Fenriz’ Red Planet/Nattefrost – Engangsgrill
We’re going to talk about the first band here, Fenriz’ Red Planet, because Nattefrost is forgettable 1970s punk rock dressed up as early 1980s black metal. This band is a hybrid between doom metal, 1970s heavy guitar jam, and what they call stoner doom now but was recognizable in St. Vitus, Pentagram and Sleep for many years. The production approach and song style is closest to 1970s heavy guitar rock, like Cream or even Led Zeppelin, in that songs are verse/chorus works with a big fat diversion stuck in the middle that may run through a couple of riffs but comes back into key and rhythm so the cycle can spin again. But over half of the riffs are straight out of old school 1980s doom metal, and that would be St. Vitus and Pentagram but also late-blooming NWOBHM with a doom edge like Witchfinder General and Budgie. It’s not exciting; if anything, it sounds like a demo where the band hasn’t yet finalized direction and aesthetic. However, it is good; these songs have character and a spirit to them which you cannot get anywhere else. You can hear a few lifts from Fenriz’ folk/metal project Storm and one or two similar themes to Darkthrone, but this CD doesn’t need to namedrop to stand on its own. They named it “Engangsgrill,” which apparently is a type of disposable barbecue, which fits exactly the kind of sloppy rock/metal hybrid you have here: pickup trucks headed to the country with a keg, a bong and some friends, followed by a weekend of the best neighborhood bands jamming, society gets forgotten until on Monday morning you drive back with a mouth full of ash and the kind of diluted hangover that comes from cheap beer in constant consumption.
Baroness – The Blue Record
Oh neat, an emo/stoner metal hybrid with lots of indie and punk rock touches. If you can imagine Neurosis and Jawbreaker making sweet love with newer Sleep, and throwing in tons of stuff from the heavy metal and indie rock canons, you’ll have a good image of what this cheeseball release has to offer. From the way the labels and the big industry reviewers — who have about five minutes to hear each CD, and put them on in the background while socializing for two weeks, then forget about them — went on about this CD, you’d think it was the second coming of innovation itself. Instead, it’s stale and completely loses what’s good about metal and punk, converging on a mean that’s closer to your run-of-the-mill hipster band. This is awful.
Despised Icon – The Ills of Modern Man
Metalcore is rock songwriting with technical death metal technique, and a desire like punk music to string together radically “different” riffs as if it can surprise us, and since it’s random in structure, built around what’s left: vocal phrases that end on the expectation of the offbeat like a sales pitch. Despised Icon is as a result about 80% the fratboy-pleasing, gurgling, blasting, very simple riffs played in difficult time of technical death metal, like Immolation, and the rest is bouncy moronic rock music that I got into metal to escape. Consequently, it has no attention span and cycles like carnival music between different styles and tempos, then crams it all into a barely-disguised verse/chorus structure. What is the point of typing this all out? To point out how to fail at metal. This is the abyss of music and is every bit as stupid as your parents claim your music is. If you want to fail at life, try listening to this random accumulation of parts — each part is in itself OK, not great, but together they add up to a conversation made by borrowing a phrase from 30 works of literature — and as a result project a scatterbrained, neurotic, pointless and non-constructive view of the world. No wonder people hate metalcore; it’s the nadir of underground music.
Cryptopsy – The Unspoken King
This is what’s left of the band that made None So Vile? The neatly structured, compact death metal has been replaced with blasting metalcore. Metalcore, as you may know, is kind of a garbage plate for underground metal and punk. Based around the interpretation of technical metal into punk structures that Human Remains showed us, metalcore loves randomness in circular song structures, so you get ten minimally-related riffs linked by a breakdown and a few slow chants, and then the whole thing repeats, and then the song ends. It’s music for a fragmented mind and as a result, has the IQ of a headless chicken watching daytime TV. Cryptopsy utterly fails to make coherent music out of this style as their countrymen Neuraxis eventually did, and instead defecate this collection of random riffs based around an egodramatic vocal track. It’s total garbage for morons.
These Are They – “Who Linger”
Imagine Iron Maiden doing a simplified version of 1990s Demigod or Amorphis. This CD is unique in that it successfully applies both (a) the old school death metal style and (b) a heavy metal, harmonized-guitar, bouncy riff style — and does it by coming up with a melodic phrase and answer, and using these to make layers of verse and chorus. Play riff; play notes of riff in variation of rhythm; harmonize guitars and repeat, then cycle. The choruses do the same. Nothing sounds out of place, and the deep guttural voice guides it along, but it seems entirely out of place when the heavy metal riffs and trills come into play. In addition, the riff salad of death metal isn’t here; like rock or indie, this rides one pattern for verse and one for chorus, and much variation is not to be found, which probably places this out of the range of old school death metal fans. Still, these are quality riffs and excellent use of basic harmony, which makes this easy listening and because it is not random, a great improvement on the metalcore-heavy stuff we hear daily. For albums like later Bolt Thrower, which tried to make a heavy metal/death metal hybrid, this is probably the best so far.
Vreid – Milorg
Black metal was about writing unique melodies and building song structures to fit them. Vreid is about mimicking the past with more intensity in each riff, but relying on predictable melodic strips and linear song structures in circular repetition, resulting in songs that are binary like nu-metal: a softer part, then a harder part, then a response to that which softens the hardness, then a restatement at full blast, fade out and win. Most of these riffs come from the 1970s and 1980s generations of metal and get a “black metal” treatment, so end up sounding like rock music in its Sunday black metal evil clothes. The music is driving by a chanting vocal which rides the beat like the shouts of the drummer commanding the slaves to row. Every now and then they launch into an extended melody like a pentatonic version of early ancient, and they have the raw rhythmic power of an early Marduk or Zyklon, but it doesn’t add up to more than most rock music, and considerably less than the formative works of Nordic black metal.
Black Funeral – Az-i-Dahak
Throbbing notes rhythm a rhythm that then reverses, examines a portion of itself in detail, and then picks up in a new direction which dovetails with the old; the throb remains, like symbols etched in the air with a torch caught on the slower memory of film. In this way, Black Funeral achieves an odd ambience similar to that of Impetigo, where a higher note is strummed repetitively at an offset rhythm where most bands would hammer a lower note on the beat, but by the nature of the larger melodic structure of the riff, this throb does not bounce jauntily like a rock rhythm; it hangs, like a reminder of mortality. Vocals are chant-ish black metal rasps and the mechanistic pedaling of the drum machine fits this sound like a glove, getting further inhuman as it distances us from musical expectation and clean aesthetics. Like the humming beeps of an alien machine exploring the night, this album rediscovers humanity by removing it from the picture and showing us the empty space in which we must construct as inevitable death closes in. While most experts agree “Vampyr” is the height of this band — and who am I to disagree? — this perhaps less proficient album is more haunting and bizarre, yet fits it into a pattern similar to our reminiscences of isolated nights when the future angled away from us like the shadow of an unknown doorway.
Decrepit Birth – Diminishing Between Worlds
If the recombinant album name and band name didn’t clue you in, here’s the skinny: this band is totally postmodern, meaning that they fit together all sorts of random influences and then link them together with the basics of rhythm and harmony. As a result, it’s like a fast ride at Disneyland: constant changing stimulus of radical difference so much that after a while you lose any idea of where you are, and end up thinking you’ve come very far, when at the very end as the buggy slows you realize you’ve been circling around the same relatively small space. Unlike most bands of this type, which I’m going to call crypto-metalcore because it’s (a) without death metal’s style of organization, preferring instead the hardcore method of having riffs have as little in common as possible and no narrative (b) of mixed riff styles and (c) depends on rhythmic buildup/breakdown for tension because you’re not going to get it in contrast between riffs, Decrepit Birth is good — it’s like an Iron Maiden album hidden in Deeds of Flesh with Blotted Science and Negativa offering critique. However, I can’t listen to this carnival music; it breaks down concentration and replaces it with elaborate versions of territory trod long ago.
Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams
What happened here? Eight years ago — before old-school “revival” was even a blip on the radar — this band had the apparent potential to give proper life to archaic death metal form. Their first album/demo was a brooding, infectious and grimly cohesive piece of work, enough so to make this sound almost brazenly cheap by comparison. Toss in every imaginable death metal riff style coined between 1989 and 1993, lay them out on a rhythmic smorgasbord and put them through enough mood changes to make a pregnant teenager blush and you’ve come damn close to this; add enough embarassing Bloodbath-sounding material (listen to the opener) to something otherwise “authentic” and you’ll never want to hear “old school” again. – kontinual
Star Fucking Hipsters – Never Rest in Peace
There are some of us who believe that rock and roll music, instead of being a thing deliberately created, is an aggregate of what was left over when we tested everything else against a captive audience. Star Fucking Hipsters prove this by carefully absorbing everything they can into the great sponge of melancholy indie pop. These songs usually start off with fast punk or speed metal (Slayer) riffs, and then pass through a few exciting transitions borrowed from anything industrial, black and reggage or between, but then we get to the core: darkish, self-pitying, somewhat helpless indie pop. True, it’s in pop punk format like The Descendents meets Blink 182 with Jane’s Addiction advising on behalf of the emo CIA, but basically, it’s pop. And when we get to that point we see this album is like a confused and lonely person in the city, covering themselves with newspapers or whatever fashions they can yank out of the wind, hoping no one will ever get a glimpse inside. If that’s its goal, this is supreme art, but more likely it is the emoting of such people hoping we’ll justify their existence for them. As pop, it’s not bad, a little toward the “poignant” side of minor key melodies sliding into major key to give you a sense of hope. But it’s really the same old thing, or the latest incarnation of it in whatever styles have stuck over the past twelve years, and so I can’t imagine why you’d listen to this instead of any of the 100,000 other albums this “good” in the rock style.
Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans
Funeral doom of a style similar to Skepticism if merged with Esoteric, with a tiny bit of Paradise Lost or Sleep in the wings, Ahab is a studied take on the slow and depressive atmospheric music that many people seem to enjoy. Stylistically, it is probably the most advanced of its kind; musically, it is perfectly competent; artistically, it is not particularly compelling. Its melodies have less of a sense of mixed emotions than do those of Skepticism, and its songs develop in predictable cycles within cycles, leaving us with atmosphere by default once all else has been blocked out. Like American rock bands, Ahab also has to throw in that sense of “contrast” where any dominant idea gets a contrarian voice thrown up against it, where bands like Skepticism bear down with enhancement and variation inside their major ideas. Few want to be the voice to stand up and say this, but most doom metal is boring, and not just because it’s slow. Ahab, while better than most, falls under this umbrella.
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype
Purists will kill me for this, but this is Biafra’s best work — it’s musical. Where the Dead Kennedys sounded disorganized and messy without really building on that as an aesthetic, he’s slowed down to a pop-punk combo that uses hardcore riffs (Discharge, Exploited) to balance its melodic lead picking (Circle Jerks, The Plugz). That, plus Southern Fried guitar solos and lead guitar noise, forms the underpinning for a more interesting Biafra performance than has ever been heard before. On this CD, Biafra develops his vocal lines both melodically and in timbre, giving the performance of his life with verve and energy. You’ve heard these riff types before, and many of the note progressions are “pop culture” stalwarts that show up in movie soundtracks and commercials, but here Biafra and his band develop each into a song that’s half-rock and half-hardcore, creating a foundation that will introduce a new generation to the sounds of hardcore punk.
Akitsa – La Grande Infamie
Most of us love the idea of black metal: a few totally socially alienated people, armed only with the truth, pick up guitars one weekend and make a simple mind-virus that helps slay all of the vastly powerful illusions that make our modern world miserable. The problem is that this is far from the truth: most of the people who have made great simple black metal were expert players or at least savants who self-schooled themselves in a unique and powerful style, and their work is very deliberate and designed to make us enjoy life as much as convey some idea. But as in all things, each generation picks up where the previous generation appeared to leave off, so the source of the idea is always lost. Akitsa sounds like a cross between The Exploited and early Dark Funeral, with simple melodic riffs offset against sawing basic power chording; the melodic riffs are too candy-sweet and the power chord riffs are too much of a style we can get anywhere. “Silence” appears to be heavily influenced by “Thy Winter Kingdom” from the first Behemoth CD. The rest of the CD is alternating Burzum influences with later model droning melody. It is both not bad and not really compelling enough to want to hear again.
Orthrelm – OV
I wish this album were a joke, but like most modern and postmodern art, it’s an attempt to “demonstrate” an “idea,” and that idea has no correlation to the reality of an artist both entertaining and informing his listeners. Instead, you get a lot of fast chromatic playing over serial drumming with occasional breaks into jazz-style breakdowns that are either sloppy or misinformed about music theory. The result is a dissonant atmosphere after the band lulls you into contentment with repetition. Over time, the basic pattern increases in a period-doubling format, creating a linear expansion on a basic idea that resembles holy books that write about the universe expanding from a breath, except here the expansion leads to nothing but a reflection of itself. When Burzum did this with Det Som Engang Var, it built a mood that gained resurgent power of time; here it is purely deconstructive and fragments the listener’s attention span by forcing it through a narrow slit of musical awareness. People will like this because it’s unique, and talk about how genius it is because no one else “dared to be different” to such a degree, but as a work of meaningful art and a listening experience, it is worthless.
Blood Mortized – Blood Mortized
This band claims “active” status in the early nineties, with zero material to show for it. It may very well be true; current personnel have some of the more run-of-the-mill Stockholm bands to brag about in their ancestry. Excited yet? This falls somewhere between Amon Amarth and Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, smothered in the “soft” mimicry of the Sunlight sound that seems so common for these fence-sitting bands. The plod is painful and simple and the song development as bluntly screwball as the song titles, lending an air of crafted irony to the whole presentation lest somebody seriously stack it up against any of its predecessors. One wonders whence this stuff keeps coming — I’m wont to call this the “Swedish mid-life crisis” and leave it at that. – kontinual
Junius – The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist
What is post-rock? For most, it’s slow atmospheric rock beats with emo, punk, indie and noise riffs slowed down to provide texture. On this CD, Junius blend in a modern taste of the ancient with a Dead Can Dance influence. The result is like a river, winding around obstacles to rejoin itself, but only suggesting a topography. This music is comforting and melancholic, but not really exciting. It is pretty, but will find it hard to escape a lukewarm rock underpinning that reigns in its tendencies to escape for the outer limits. A reasonable comparison might be if Danzig decided to do a space rock album: you can appreciate it aesthetically, but sense how the voice isn’t really there, and how as much as these guys want to be ancient, they’re stuck in a modern paradigm.
Virus – The Black Flux
For the last time: if I wanted indie rock, I would have gone to a different part of the record store. Take your Sisters of Mercy gothic vocals, your bad indie rock open chord guitar riffs, and your basic song structures interrupted by dramatic outbursts, and put them there. I don’t want to fall into the old trap of saying “this isn’t metal,” because what I really want to say is that this is indie rock and should be integrated into that genre for the modicum of black metal stylings and ideas it still possesses. Sure, they’re going to call it a “post-rock” influence, but other than a little flexibility of rhythm, what’s going on here is the same stuff emo, indie and shoegaze bands were pumping out in the early 1990s.
Mefisto – The Truth
This CD resembles death metal in no way other than the vocals, which are the kind of reverbed whisper shout that made the first Sepultura EP so memorable. But the music… well, it’s stranded in the 1980s. Throw a lot of Metallica, Kreator, Slayer and Destruction in a blender — like every other band from that era — and you’ll get this mismash of riffs very similar to both the aforementioned bands and a huge heritage of heavy metal. To their credit, this band string them together well rhythmically but otherwise seem entirely random. Before someone convinces you this is a forgotten classic, ask them if classic means “good” or just that it was around in the early 1990s.
Sarke – Vorunah
We all want to love anything with the enigmatic Nocturno Culto on it. In fact, many of us were hoping he would pull off a Nemesis Divina where his skills converted an unexceptional band into a relative masterpiece. Not so on Sarke — his performance is phoned in, mainly because these songs are sparse, undeveloped, and entirely derivative of their influences in a 1989 way. In fact, the whole CD has the vibe of a collection of songs that have been kicked around since they got written in the 1980s, finally put onto vinyl years after the genre has passed them by. You’re familiar with these chord progressions and general rhythms, since many of them come out of punk rock and hard rock, and you’re probably not unacquainted — unless you’ve been under a rock labeled BLACK METAL GO HOME for the last two decades — with Culto’s interpretation of them. It’s all quite vanilla; nothing to really be appalled at here except how little you care about this flat regurgitation of the past.
Drautran – Throne of the Depths
We live in a time of fools. Given no real truths to chew on, they raise themselves on lies, and make competing lies so they can be heard. Then they tell us what metal bands to listen to, and they cannot tell the difference between good music and derivative shit. They will, for example, convince themselves that Drautran is folk metal, when really it’s indie rock songs dressed up in black metal chord forms with a little extra violence. Unlike metal songs, where riffs fit together and make sense, these are rock songs with some metal riffs dropped in between the sing-song verse chorus. They take their riffing inspiration from Enslaved’s Frost but none of the compositional coherence is here. Listen to this if you want to distract yourself, fragment your concentration and dull your possibilities of ever understanding the difference between good music and crap.
Moëvöt – Abgzvoryathre
Every now and then, people who lack direction in life and so pay attention to surface features more than anything else, hoping to use these to justify their emptiness, will try to tell you how good a band is because it’s unique and nuanced. Usually this includes some kind of infantilism, like extreme minimalism or incoherence. This tedious little recording fits the bill. People like it because it’s obscure, kvlt, whatever… the truth is that it’s melodically simplistic, goes nowhere in song development, and showcases no really unique ability except to waste your time. They try to eat up as much tape as possible with intros, chants, and very basic keyboard melodies, but basically there’s nothing here. Maybe that’s the artistic point — emptiness — but then again a blank tape would have been more effective, and pleasant.
Black Vomit – The Faithful Servant
Interesting approach by this Mexican band: take a more technical version of the full speed burst style semi-melodic black metal that Sarcofago made, and intersperse it with flowing keyboard-enhanced choruses in the style of countrymen Xibalba and Avzhia. The result suffers from the radical shift between two very identifiable poles, but the music although very basic develops gently through this style, and as a result is more credible than most of what we get sent here at the Dark Legions Archive Metal Reviews and CD Recycling Center. This is a band worth keeping an eye on.
Archgoat – The Light-Devouring Darkness
I’m convinced that a lot of death and black metal is music designed for children, because not only is it painfully simple and repetitive, but it also uses gentle rhythms of chord change — while playing at top speed. It’s like listening to a fan slowly playing an early Mozart piece. This album is similar. Sounds a lot like Blasphemy meets Impaled Nazarene, with the lower register production and slamming tempo changes of Belial. So as a retrospective of Finnish metal technique it’s great, but for anything else, it’s kind of a droning lullaby. What excuses it is that this CD shows purpose in its songwriting, and captures a mood, but for many of us the droning outweighs its significance.
Cruciamentum – Convocation of Crawling Chaos
During the past two years, underground black metal shifted from emulating the early 1990s — fast melody — to emulating the late 1990s, specifically Demoncy’s “Joined in Darkness.” The Convocation EP does its best to revive that sound, with an injection of Finnish death metal and possibly American doom/death like Incantation, Winter and Infester. Although it keeps its goals limited, which is appropriate for a demo, this release shows promise in songwriting in that (a) every piece works together (b) together they create a vision of some idea, experience or emotion we can recognize from life itself and (c) while a good deal of it covers known death metal archetypes, it does so without borrowing straight from one source and so gives us a sense of exploring these ideas from a new angle. Low rasp voices, downtuned rigid guitars, and drumming that sounds like it’s straight out of drone/hardcore punk fusion gives this CD a sense of growing out of the past toward something even more ancient.No Comments
Tags: ahab, akitsa, archgoat, Baroness, black funeral, black vomit, blood mortized, Cruciamentum, cryptopsy, decrepit birth, despised icon, drautran, jello biafra and the guantanamo school of medicine, junius, mefisto, moevot, orthrelm, sadistic metal reviews, sarke, star fucking hipsters, these are they, virus, vreid