Cosmic Atrophy – Montis Ex Dementia

Cosmic Atrophy near completion of their second full length concept album, Montis Ex Dementia. Based on the work At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, the album will be available soon on Dark Descent Records, which is connected to the band.

Previous Cosmic Atrophy work sounded like a hybrid of Timeghoul, Demilich and first-album Incantation. Montis Ex Dementia backgrounds those elements to inject a hybrid of Carnage and Cadaver, with a focus on tempo changes foreshadowed by internal rhythm changes, and melodic riffs that complement each other en route to thunderous conclusions.

You can hear a full length song at the Cosmic Atrophy myAIDS. There’s also an interview with Cosmic Atrophy and album close-up.

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Meditations on the Death of Wishful Thinking

To be a writer, if you are any good, is to be a blasphemer. Humanity is an entropy engine because each person decides on what view of the world makes them look the best, and so the constant weight pushing down on us is that of the herd, of a group of individuals united only by selfishness, come together into a mob for the purpose of asserting their right to be different and unique, constantly leading away from an understanding of the world around us and any meaning that can be found in it.

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More on Stormkult

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Following up on Brett Steven’s review of Kaeck’s Stormkult, the present review starts off where he left off: the fusion of styles in Stormkult that are brought together under one unifying banner. The truth is that trying to split this album into its influences is almost pointless as it broke them down to such atomic and almost indivisible parts to build something that is completely their own. We may hear a trace of what Sammath or Kjeld sounds like almost only because we were told that members from these bands participate here. Otherwise, we would be hard pressed to find concrete influences.The previously mentioned review does a very good job at describing the album both in an evocative way, as in describing a picture and by summoning the presence of other bands as to give the reader some idea of how Kaeck goes about building their music, but in no moment does this imply that Kaeck actually sounds like any of them (except, of course, for the fact that they are all black metal).

Kaeck’s “sound” can be broken down into the layered functions that the instruments fill. First we have the drums at the bottom. These are used more like a heartbeat rather than a metronome. A typical background black metal drum pattern will keep the beat with standard beats, but here the drum patterns are reduced in such an intentional manner to something that can only be described as primitive battle drums whose sole function is to drive deep and resounding vibrations in the martial host’s body. Guitars distorted to the poing of disfugurement provide the thickness of the sound, notes and chords themselves being barely recognizable through the fuzz and chaos of frequencies bent to the whims of an unfathomable will. Riding the maelstrom of riffs comes a coarse voice which simultaneously commands us out of lethargic inaction and commends us to embrace the defying and righteous — though heretical — mission of the Angel of Light. A luminescence that, contrary to what the waylayer Paul would have us believe, is in all truth the true essence of that entity shrouded in damned robes of exhile. A garb worn as camouflage to avoid the tyrannical embrace that paralyzes thought from within in exchange for blissful mental atrophy. Echoing across the catacombs that serve as an imaginable setting for Stormkult we can hear a keyboard that outlines short melodic motifs counterpointing and delineating the whole in a loop, only changing with the tempestuous guitar and arising from within its bowels only to go back to them as a lost, desperate soul attempting to escape imminent destiny only be pulled back by a reality that admits no denial.

What we have now, is a static picture of Kaeck. But the enduring power of Stormkult resides in the living movement through temporal dimension that music is. Affirming dominance over the elements of music, bending them in an abuse characteristic of a necromancer trespassing the bounds set by divine order, we hear the violent plight of Godless Arrogance coming to fruition in the reining in of a beast of unnatural origin. The experience through which Kaeck hauls our terrified soul appears at first as an indistinguishable blur. It is only after our eyes have time to adjust in the dim light pushed into corners by an overpowering darkness that we see a pattern emerge in the frescoes on the walls splattered by blood old and new. And from the synchronized layers of sound we hear subtle transformations that a moment ago seemed to comprise only one motif in repetition. Once we latch on to the combat-inciting beats, and the voice guides us over the patterns of the riffs as the melodies produced in the keyboard and a soloing guitar move in and out of our field of view, we start to envisage this humble temple in all the dimensions conceived by its creator: the evolving motifs on the timeline as well as the entities represented in the melodies existing as reflections of the riff itself on parallel worlds.

While any music can rightfully pronounce themselves as comprising all necessary dimensions, seldom do creators actually think fully in all of them. It is usually the case that the whole is forgone to give prominence to one of the elements, no matter what is claimed. When the goal is the whole, all the parts are cared for in an obsessive manner in attention to how they affect the whole and not according to how they stand on their own which often leads to an imbalance in the relation of the parts that obstructs communication, for what is intended by the whole is either distorted or fades into the background to give way to the prominence of egos. These considerations must include the temporal relations of things, it is not just how the instruments in the present riff interact, but how they interact with different parts throughout the song. Balance, then, does not imply a static situation where everything is still as a result of equating forces pulling in different directions, rather, a stable condition is attained without which a clear direction would be very difficult to follow. And although one should also keep in mind that there is no one singular formula to approach composition, each tradition has its guidelines based on conventions without which music would only be what modern popular music wants it to be: personalized pleasure fountains.

Kaeck approach this ideal of balance in all dimensions from the particular filter of minimalist and raging black metal. In Stormkult the tempered voices of the outward chaos of late Sammath and the adventurous impulse of Kjeld are not just channeled but fused and distilled to the point where only the most basic of essentials remains. This is why although we cannot actually hear Sammath or Kjeld in the music (apart from predictable superficial observations like “the vocalist is the same” or “it’s also aggressive black metal”), their approaches to music construction — from the naturalistic violence of Sammath that defines consistent yet distinct riff-writing to the refined delicacy of movement of Kjeld provided by a melding of sections through simple yet perspicacious rhythmic and melodic devices that makes such changes almost imperceptible, Stormkult is the titan born of a god and a primordial monster.

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Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued

manilla_road-out_of_the_abyss

Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.

Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.

Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.

With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.

This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.

  1. Whitechapel
  2. Rites of Blood
  3. Out of the Abyss
  4. Return of the Old Ones
  5. Black Cauldron
  6. Midnight Meat Train
  7. War in Heaven
  8. Slaughterhouse
  9. Helicon

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Cannibal Corpse – A Skeletal Domain

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The best-selling death metal band of all time, Cannibal Corpse maintains its audience by writing rhythmic hooks and cramming a half-dozen riffs into each song in a way that is memorable enough for the average listener. On their 13th album, A Skeletal Domain, Cannibal Corpse sensibly alter just about nothing to their winning formula.

If you can imagine the 1988-1990 period for Slayer and Exodus combined and turned up to 11, the basic idea of Cannibal Corpse will shine through the genre labels such as “death metal.” This music has little in common with early Morbid Angel, Deicide, Asphyx or other founders of the genre. If anything, it resembles 1980s speed metal given the death metal treatment with extremely distorted vocals, absurdist gore lyrics, and a higher dose of intensity in technique and speed.

Songs build themselves around either a chorus or a memorable riff, usually with hints of melody, and the rest of the time create a primitive groove based on an expectation of rhythmic satisfaction interrupted in sub-divided patterns that recombine the same few basic riff ideas. The guitars support vocals which take center stage in a monotone that foreshadows and echoes the dominant rhythms of each piece. Lead guitars sound straight out of the 1970s but played faster and more erratically, and bass while active and precise acts in a support role to guitars. The result delivers a compact sound that displays little internal variation.

When you listen to this album while distracted, after smoking a bowl, or while typing on the internet, it seems rather impressive. Each individual riff makes sense and the riff after also makes sense. The problem is that songs as a whole do not make sense. They fit together, but no internal tension or communication occurs, which leads to a very “postmodern” style where chaos surrounds an articulated foot-tapping chorus rhythm. The lack of relation and relevance between riffs and the whole of each song makes Cannibal Corpse seem like a stream of spare parts, even if linearly riffs follow in sensible order. You will hear a lot of Slayer in these riffs, which is always welcome.

Metal fans love this band and it is hard to see why they would not. It is catchy, extreme and chaotically hilarious. Its subversively discordant attitude toward all aspects of what most people accept as good and natural life makes it the surly kid who sneaks cigarettes into chapel. The best riffs are often the support riffs, which work in melody and challenging rhythms, and often sound like more intense versions of what second-string speed metal bands like Heathen, Atrophy and Assassin used to do. While I can praise what this album does well, and appreciate the ear candy attributes of it, there is no reason I would purchase this with my limited funds and listen to it on a repeated basis.

cannibal_corpse-band_photo

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Death Metal Underground podcast 04-03-13

death_metal_underground-podcastDeathMetal.org continues its exploration of radio with a podcast of death metal, dark ambient and fragments of literature. This format allows all of us to see the music we enjoy in the context of the ideas which inspired it.

Clandestine DJ Rob Jones brings you the esoteric undercurrents of doom metal, death metal and black metal in a show that also exports its philosophical examinations of life, existence and nothingness.

This niche radio show exists to glorify the best of metal, with an emphasis on newer material but not a limitation of it, which means that you will often hear new possibilities in the past as well as the present.

If you miss the days when death metal was a Wild West that kept itself weird, paranoid and uncivilized, you will appreciate this detour outside of acceptable society into the thoughts most people fear in the small hours of the night.

The playlist for this week’s show is:

  • Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
  • Extracts from The Hollow Men by T.S. Eliot (read by Eliot himself)
  • A Transilvanian Funeral – Cold Blood and Darkness
  • Sergei Prokofiev – Night (from Scythian Suite)


Metal music has from its very beginning existed as music outside the normal narrative of popular culture. Refusing to conform to the saccharine hippy outlook of 60s rock, or later the cheap sloganeering of punk, it existed even outside of the officially sanctioned definitions of ‘outsider’ music. It eschewed both post-modern self-irony and the pre-packaged emotions of pop to create a music that was both assertive and esoteric at the same time.

Peak metal genres, death and black metal, essentially grew up in a parallel cultural atmosphere to what was gracing the covers of Rolling Stone and NME magazines or playing on MTV – a culture that only made sense to the initiated and the dedicated, and spoke a language of death, danger and intolerance for the posers who would water down metal’s intensity.

Metal first came in from this wilderness as music that was only an echo of its surface sound. Bands playing loud, distorted guitar rock with a stand-offish attitude were taken up by the media and the public as relatively accessible versions of what had previously been denied either by them or to them by Darwinian means. It had little of the substance of metal but claimed its name.

Metal had been co-opted by people who had neither the heart nor the stomach to understand it, who parodied its most obvious components and fed back into the general perception of what metal was without any idea of what it had been up to that point. Shortly, bands who had been underground stalwarts were picked up by major labels looking for the next profitable act, and together duly proceeded to water down their sound to fit more closely the rock paradigm that suited the market and reinforced the conception of metal created by the co-opters.

Where metal had once ignored how people dismissed it as mindless brutish music, to privately develop its own distinct and even elegant musical language, it now embraced its stereotype, and turned into an angry flavour of the same musical clichés all pop music is based on. Where once it dismissed the crowd, it now was overwhelmed by it.

Whilst its popularity may have soared, hollowed out, the quality of metal went into a nearly two decade-long decline.

  • Dead Congregation – Martyrdom
  • Supuration – Consumate
  • Cosmic Atrophy – Shattering of Terrestrial Reality


Perhaps as an inevitable consequence of generational power shifts, academia is now taking seriously this music that two and three decades ago a diffuse bunch of young people held out to insist was both unique and powerful. Metal seems to be once again coming in from its wilderness, this time however it is being assessed on its own terms. Rather than sanitising or absorbing it into the broader cultural milieu, people from outside of metal are trying to understand it, and discovering the surprising quality of work that can be discovered when one scratches beneath the mainstream-encrusted surface.

It perhaps says something for the morbidity of metal art that it has become a sort of study piece – a museum-worthy curio to sit around chin-scratching and taking notes on. Near-extinct – or, at least, no longer threatening.

The new-found seriousness about metal may prove to be a healthy dose of self-confidence for a much misunderstood genre, too long equated with aggro-rock and/or blamed for any number of society’s problems. Yet still, it remains to be seen whether metal will be creatively spurred by this new-found level of acceptance and recapture anything like the long-gone glory days of the genre.

The dry, sanitary air of academia may not suit it as much as an atmosphere of evaporated sweat, grave miasma and dried blood. For as strong as metal is artistically, it is nonetheless still an art that emphasises outward action over introversion. The capricious nature of inspiration means that art is something that must be lived, not theorised and examined in microscopic detail. Sometimes this means that inspiration comes once in one big unself-conscious outpouring, and then afterwards simply never surfaces again.

  • Candlemass – A Sorcerer’s Pledge
  • Disma – Lost in the Burial Fog

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 7-23-10

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.

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Best metal of the decade 1999-2009

The twee indie hipster ironists at A.V. Club put out their list of the 100 metal albums of the decade, forgetting of course that what we, the listeners, need is”quality over quantity.” We don’t have endless time, money, or even bandwidth to explore all the goofy stuff that seems nuanced and interesting to a reviewer who will listen to it twice in his lifetime, once to write the review and once before he shuffles that promo CD on to Half Price.

This list is not going to make me friends at big labels who want you to pick up the latest dreck by some indie rock band that started playing metal ironically. It won’t win you scene points with the kvlt and trve. It will surely not impress your friends with how open-minded, cool and different you are. What it will do is re-awaken your interest in some of the best metal made during this decade, even if it was so good there was no need to make drama about it, and so it slipped under our radar as the years went by.

Demoncy – Joined in Darkness (1999, Baphomet)

When black metal had just discovered keyboards and carnival music, this lo-fi roar straight out of hell cut through the fat and pared our ears to the bone. Sounding like Incantation and Havohej, its primitive riffs in archly elegant songs retain their power a decade later.

Profanatica – Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007, Hell’s Headbangers)

For a return later in their career, Profanatica took the primal riffing of their earlier albums and worked it into longer melodies like a Swedish death metal band, creating an enduring mood of occult darkness.

Antaeus – Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000, Baphomet)

This album sounds like battle, with clipped rhythms and clashing riffs, but out of that emerges a sublime sense of melody in one of the last albums to really uphold the old school of early 1990s black metal.

At War With Self – Torn Between Dimensions (2005, Free Electric Sound)

Most technical metal is an oil-and-water separation, but At War With Self find a voice that smoothly wraps a progressive/jazz jam session around metal riffs and emotions.

Immolation – Unholy Cult (2002, Olympic)

Immolation achieve a rarity: technical death metal that doesn’t aim for highbrow technique, but a solid slamming songwriting technique that never leaves you in confusion, and on this album, the guitar fireworks match the fire of the stories told by these vivid, evocative songs.

Beherit – Engram (2009, Spinefarm)

As if attempting to sum up the past twenty years of black metal, Beherit makes an album in the style of early Bathory but updates it with quirk and insight, etching a complex sigil that requires repeated listening to decode.

Skepticism – Alloy (2008, Red Stream)

Funeral doom hangs drooping waves of distorted noise upon mortuary keyboards, dragging us through a dirge of misery, but Skepticism make it sound like an interesting mindset we could explore and even enjoy.

Ildjarn-Nidhogg – Ildjarn-Nidhogg (2003, Northern Heritage)

Ildjarn, with its minimalistic riffs and incessant high-speed drumming, is a band that people either love or hate based on how it sounds, but hidden in all that noise are transcendent short compositions that stroke the inner brain.

Gorguts – From Wisdom To Hate (Olympic, 2001)

Gorguts takes their subtly melodic brutal death metal and pulls it inside out to make mechanistic, complex song constructions that followed classical patterns and used multiple themes.

Summoning – Oath Bound (2006, Napalm)

To bring the sound of ancient Hobbit-infused landscapes into black metal, Summoning slowed it down but played at higher registers and faster than doom bands, interweaving keyboards and longer guitar riffs to create an ambient metal sound.

Blaspherian – Allegiance To The Will Of Damnation (2007, Blood Harvest)

Blaspherian prove underground old school death metal is not dead with this music in the style of 1991, but with the wisdom of years of atmospheric metal channeled into these riffs that resemble a subconscious thought with their eerily familiar rhythms and shapes.

Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006, Century Media)

Returning from a recent history of false starts, Celtic Frost get back to their 1987 sensibility and modernize it, mixing industrial, gothic, speed metal and morbid death metal into an energetic but necrotic album.

Graveland – Memory and Destiny (2002, No Colours)

To be epic, black metal needs to transport us from The Now to the vast and lawless past, a frontier that Graveland opens wide with their martial, Conan-influenced black metal.

Cosmic Atrophy – Codex Incubo (2008, Metalbolic)

Just as metal gets codified, Cosmic Atrophy return to put the weird back into metal with a unique voice inspired by Demilich, Timeghoul, Voivod and all other metal bands from the other side.

Avzhia – The Key of Throne (2004, Old War)

Melding flowing black metal with militant fast drums, Avzhia take over where Emperor left off and throw in the new world sense of urgency and gritty, nihilistic, feral and crafty battle.

Legion Of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh (2008, Zyklon-B)

Like the roar of a hunting lion, this album makes destructive sound into a signal to attack, joining raw black metal riffs and melodic keyboards for a dreamlike listening experience.

Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009, American)

After long years of not having an artistic voice, and trying everyone else’s vision by their own, Slayer drop most of the “modern metal” influences and pick up where 1992 left off, in simpler songs that use rock-style pocket rhythm but keep the classic acerbic Slayer riffs.

Sammath – Triumph in Hatred (2009, Folter)

You might think black metal died and got so mixed with other styles it had no voice, but Sammath have mixed death metal technique carefully into their black metal songs, making a testimony toward aggression that sounds like Zyklon-B merged with Angelcorpse.

Motorhead – Inferno (2004, Sanctuary)

Motorhead have made a career of not changing their basic approach, and “Inferno” is no exception, fitting on the shelf next to the others but also being tighter, faster and darker than most of them.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way (2009, Ibex Throne)

Performing the rare trick of coming back 20 years later with an album as good and un-diluted as their first, Asphyx bring you heavy basic riffs and lots of repetition, but song structures that emphasize the profundity of contrast and give these songs spacious atmosphere.

See a more detailed version of this list:

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-09

God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.

Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.

Evoken – Antithesis of Light

From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.

Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga

Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.

Hopewell – Good Good Desperation

Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.

Caspian – Tertia

Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.

Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse

With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.

Lugubrum – Winterstones

We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.

Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell

The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.

Land of Kush – Against the Day

After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.

General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis

It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.

Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings

In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.

The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars

Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?

Drudkh – Microcosmos

Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.

Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution

Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.

Teitanblood – Seven Chalices

After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream

Tragedy – Nerve Damage

People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.

TheSyre – Exist!

This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.

Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception

Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.

Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness

This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.

Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst

Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.

Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven

This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.

Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis

If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.

Incest – Misogyny

This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.

Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown

People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.

Actors and Actresses – Arrows

This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.

Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies

Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.

Gorefest – Rise to Ruin

Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.

Voivod – Infini

No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.

Dawnbringer – Sacrament

While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.

Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude

Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.

Cryptic – Once Holy Realm

This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”

Textures – Drawing Circles

Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.

Amorphis – Tuonela

This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2’s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.

Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore

It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.

Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms

Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.

The Syre – Resistance

By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.

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