After a new genre establishes itself, bands try to stand out by either mixing other genres into their music or to expand upon the original idea, increasing its complexity and depth.
Beherit launches itself into this conflict first with the triumphant Engram, which connected the generations of black metal in a concept album that paid tribute to the past while evolving it into a new form, and now with the fertile landscape of ideas Celebrate the Dead.
This vinyl release contains two songs, a version of “Demon Advance” which is mostly faithful to the version on Engram. Some areas have less distortion, and the overall sound is a bit more raw and offhand, which gives this track a slightly different atmosphere.
“Celebrate the Dead” is another story. This lengthy (16:18) track shows Beherit experimenting with a fusion between ambient music, electro-acoustic, black metal and classical forms. Like most artists of statute, the composers behind Beherit know how to separate aesthetics (surface) from composition (structure and melody). As a result, while this track is a blueprint for an ambient or dubstep song played as if it were a metal one, it reaches for the greater objective of finding a mutual language among these music types.
While popular music (pop, rock, rap, blues, jazz, disco) songs vary wildly on the surface they rely on very similar underlying structures. These structures are based on cycles, or the back-and-forth between a verse and a chorus with a few detours to keep it interesting. The purpose of music in these genres is to equalize song structure so that surface traits, like using a flute or recording underwater, stand out and become interesting.
In narrative music (metal, classical, some ambient, electronica and electro-acoustic acts) the surfaces tend to be similar across songs and albums, but underlying song structure changes to fit the topic of each song. Riffs expand upon the context of previous riffs and force re-interpretation of both, expanding the storyline just as how each new clue in a mystery changes the direction of the book.
These are more like poems than cyclic sonic wallpaper or droning consistency; in fact what makes them great is that they’re inconsistent and based on change, not maintenance of a moment. This fits with the purpose of these genres, which is to show a change in character through the course of a journey or experience, so that the starting point is different from the end, and the people involved have a new strength or vision. They emphasize the difference between the start of a journey and its end, but also the many different types of journeys.
“Celebrate the Dead” shows Beherit deciding how to integrate these two types. It wants the ritual power of black metal and its own vision of occult dubstep or electro-acoustic ceremonial music, but with the ambient version comes a dose of the cyclic and layered that excludes the narrative. Beherit tries to keep the sense of the unique journey which is inherent to black metal, and enwrap it in the layered ambient approach, and as a result produces music that is every bit as much ritual as early black metal.
The song migrates through three major movements, in which pairs of riffs transfer potential energy between each other as layers of drums, vocals, samples and keyboards are applied to build an intense tapestry of hanging sound, complete with sonic breaks and metal-style interludes. The result is a deepening experience but in its non-linearity it loses the epic power of metal’s ability to tell a tale, which is what Beherit changed with their music for the Engram LP. On that album, the narrative wins out and the layering circular style is brought in slowly.
This is rough listening. In part because this is a demo of the laptop-and-guitar type, which means that it’s not so much an organic sound as a pastiche of recorded and generated sounds. However, what will throw most people off are the vocals which are fragile and yet shamanistic, in what music reviewers call “accessible” but is more likely an experiment in the deliberately immature, unformed and intellectually curious sound that diverse musicians such as Roky Erickson and Absurd have made popular. These are the anti-slick, and while hipster pop has ruined “accessible,” their child-like honesty gives them a weight that no polished vocal could achieve.
What is most impressive about this release is that it is a pathway to future development for metal. The best of the genre, like the first Enslaved album or the longer Burzum works, tended toward a type of ambient music that used guitars but did not fall into the loop-pattern of popular music, instead preferring the epic storytelling of metal and classical. Black metal backed down from the challenge offered by albums like Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and instead became a plaything, a hybrid of either indie-rock (“post-black-metal”) or a darker form of punk (“black crust”,”war metal”).
Beherit turned black metal back toward a sensible path with Engram, which cited forms and styles from the past (some in tribute to Venom and Bathory, from the sound of them) but worked those into a concept album that ended in the meditative “Demon Advance.” To include the ambitious “Celebrate the Dead” in the same album might have made it lopsided, but in this sample track we see a possibility of metal guitars and dynamic acoustics existing in a narrative style.
This release will not make it past the enthusiasts and diehards who are curious about what the most fertile minds in black metal are thinking for the future. This is a shame, as all metal musicians should study this work to find a pathway out of the current rock-style slump that grips metal, and also to find a new inspiration for connection to the ancient ways of both metal and music from time immemorial.
Legendary cerebral primitive black metal cabal Beherit are on the move again. The new release, Celebrate the Dead, involves one song from the epic 2009 release Engram, and one song assembled from material prepared for that album. While information on it is scarce, rumor has it we see Beherit continuing the direction toward an ambient/metal fusion.
1. Demon Advance (13:13)
2. Celebrate The Dead (16:18)
According to Holocausto, who was harassed by DLA operatives earlier this week, this KVLT release is an exact copy of a demo he recorded himself in July 2008 in Helsinki and Bangkok. This demo was sent to Spinefarm records, who then agreed to release what became Engram. KVLT wanted to release the demo, and since Holocausto felt the demo versions were better than the final studio production, even though the drums on the demo were sampled, he agreed to this vinyl-only release.
The tantalizingly-named Blasphemy Day International is basically a thinly-veiled excuse to troll Muslims who were offended by cartoon caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH); if you ask me, it’s kind of a shitty passive-aggressive way of going about this.
However, it’s also a good excuse for blasphemy, and we need more of that.
The holiday is on September 30. This year, why not:
II. Force People to Accept the Genius of Paul Ledney
Not enough people know the sacred words:
Rip the sacred flesh
Sodomize the holy asshole
Drink the red blood of the mother of earth
Masturbation on the dead body of christ
The king of Jews is dead
and so are the lies
Vomit on the host of Heaven
Masturbate on the throne of God
Break the seals of angels
Drink the sweet blood of Christ
Taste the flesh of the priest
Sodomize holy nuns
The king of Jews is a liar
The Heavens will burn
Dethrone the son of God
God is dead
Holyness is gone
Purity is gone
Prayers are burned
Covered in black shit
Rape the holy ghost
Unclean birth of Jesus Christ
Heaven will fall
Fuck the church
Fuck the Virgin
Fuck the gods of Heaven
Fuck the name of Jesus
III. Extend this humanism, the secular form of populist religion
If we can blaspheme Islam and Christianity for being ignorant, how about humanism?
Humanism is the idea that humans are more important than reality, and that they’re all equal, and that their feelings matter.
The fact is that most humans are shitheads, and we want to celebrate the few good ones.
Spread this blasphemy:
Use the R-word. Mock the retarded, kick cripples out of wheelchairs, rape the cowering, sodomize the meek, etc.
Make fun of stupidity. It’s not polite to do this. Blaspheme! Do it.
Each of the three films that made up George A Romero’s conceptually linked ‘Dead’ series were quite enigmatic, and now stand as some of the most influential memes in modern cinematic history. This feature for Deathmetal.Org need not explicitly make side references between the musical subculture of which we write to this realm of celluloid, as its popularity with many of death metal’s listening base is well known to those who have insight.
The Night of the Living Dead
Mankind eschews the macabre and the horrifying and in so doing never fully realizes, learns of or utilizes his whole nature. With the exception of a few brave souls, many people prefer to lead idle unchallenged and unexamined lives, if only because the contrary adventure is difficult and exposes one to multifarious existential realizations, including the reality of the ephemeral nature of ones existence. This I conclude is one reason why the horror genre is generally held in such contempt by modern man, when utilized effectively, not only does it confront the eschewed amoral primordial concerns of mans essential being, it does so in a way that is urgent and demanding of ones attention. Having set up his ever safe concrete abode, modern man now hibernates, avoiding existence and its deeper philosophical puzzle’s in favour of sugar coated half-truths such that soothe and reassure him of his “equality” his “individual uniqueness” and his “inherently universal importance”.
The legendary, provocative and incendiary “Night of the Living Dead” does the exact opposite as it confronts, plays on, and plays with the innate primal fears, dynamics and concerns of mankind. Although loosely conceived as an apocalyptic encounter with the forces of the “living” dead, a profound level of psychological insight and evocative symbolism permeates George A Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” and thus qualifies this work as a true modern masterpiece and a generally overlooked piece of art.
With no little genius Romero effectively lulls viewers into a world viewers can easily relate to by evoking and mirroring significant aspects of our everyday life. Each detail, from the realistically portrayed incompetence of societal authority figures, the naive adherence of people to the demands of the television, the undeniable emotional bond between brother and sister, to the familiar sounds of everyday life, including the incessant chirping of crickets, allows the viewer to fundamentally relate to and plunge into Romero’s world. In fact, the capacity to create a world or setting that so closely mirrors not only a Cold War world obsessed with science and technology but also a timeless, comfortable and familiar, although eerily de-contextualized reality represents perhaps the most important aspect of Romero’s film. These considerations in conjunction with Romero’s capitalization on further cinematic realism, forces the viewer to take seriously the events unfolding within it. Rather than questioning the veracity or possibility of the events unfolding viewers are drawn into reacting, along with whichever psychological archetype they most closely identity with, to the horrifying and challenging events that are taking place.
Although shot in black and white, Romero’s masterpiece lends itself to such profound levels of interpretation that a mere moral and linear evaluation of the film, the characters, or the actions and events therein becomes impossible. To suppose that the contrast between the black and white film and the various gradations of interpretation the film lends itself to was an intentional decision does not appear as dubious as one may suppose. In fact, it seems to coherently present an ingenious tongue in cheek and subtle level of social commentary on a society that was, and still is, increasingly seeing the world in simple morally absolutist ways amidst an inherently complex reality that disdains simple moralistic evaluations.
Through an ingenious development of the story, viewers, while perhaps horrified at the attacking zombies, are not given the pre-requisite moral education or signifying variables that would make it intellectual honest to morally condemn these purely instinctual flesh eating parasites, whose origin can be laid at the feet of man alone. This of course increases the profundity of the film as Romero brilliantly turns the story away from the simple and exhausted “us versus them” or “good versus evil” theme. Viewers are thus forced, beyond the categories of good and evil, to search for, construct and perhaps impose upon the film a more profound meaning.
Romero’s ability to vividly explore, amidst an environment whose intensity is heightened due to the proximity of death, the nature of human relationships, tribal power dynamics, and the capacity for the characters to deal with the prospect of their immanent demise reveals an attempt on part of the film to explore and highlight some of the fundamental aspects of mans primal nature. The intriguing and dynamic character relationships, for example, reveal and augment the inherent antagonism between virtue and vice and we witness concretely the poignant disparity between courage and cowardice, shortsightedness and wisdom, emotion and reason, optimism and pessimism. Viewers also witness the psychological development of each character as they are confronted with possibility of death, themselves symbolizing at a more significant level various timeless psychological archetypes with which it is difficult for the viewer to not identify with.
Additionally, the revelatory and intrinsically personal antagonisms that define each character bear witness to a decisively human element within the film, such that it becomes difficult for the viewer to not empathise with the manifold and sometimes dubious decisions and reactions of each character. This thankfully increases the level of interpretative depth and challenges the viewer; cowardice contextualized instead becomes the instinctual protection of the father, co-operation and perhaps courage resemble stupidity, pessimism becomes realism, optimism becomes fantasy, and so on. In contrast to many latter day films which celebrate an easy and crowd friendly reality that is typically one dimensional, “Night of the Living Dead” successfully transcends this pitfall and successfully mirrors the complexity of the human condition and the multiple variables that determine its structure.
Moreover, “Night of the Living Dead” includes the uncanny capacity to raise an array of questions that unsettle and challenge the mind: Who exactly is Romero referring to as the “Living Dead”? In what ways does technology bring about mans apocalyptic future, has our technological hubris undone us? How does the theme of technology relate to the zombies aversion to fire? How do we relate to and mirror the zombies at an instinctual level? Indeed, a plethora of questions, paradoxes and insights awaits the discerning viewer.
However, in the end what is horrifying about “Night of the Living Dead” is not the flesh eating zombies, it is the capacity for this film accurately reflects man’s condition on so many levels, and to expose the viewer to his or her own primal nature. Above all, what meaning one extracts will depend on each individual’s capacity to plume the philosophical depths implied by one of the main conceptual tenants that drives this movie forward: Only Death is Real.
Dawn of the Dead
Combustive, feverishly paced and exploitative almost in an infantile way are some of the qualities of the first follow-up to Romero’s original terror classic. By 1978 merciless killing, cannibalism, pile-up of corpses and explosions of gore had journeyed through the forbidden territories of ‘grindhouse’ B-movie theaters all the way to the brink of mainstream as it seemed already the norm to distrust the ‘establishment’. This is satirically extrapolated by the first few minutes where a cop operation gone awry climaxes with a spectacular scene of shooting a person’s head completely off as if it was no big deal.
The colorful but dimensional 35 mm cinematography, financed with the help of Dario Argento’s Italian team, lets Romero to indulge in more ‘hi-tech’ action than before with plenty of fast tracked views from helicopters but also conduct long and gritty depictions of places and people (and of course the zombies) as if we were watching a documentary. He did not originate this technique, but especially in ‘Dawn of the Dead’ mastered it so far that if there is one movie that seems to truly reveal the morbid but ordinary facets of disillusioned 70′s life in the United States, it must be this. The fantasy elements do not seem to be such when immersed in the logical and natural unfolding of the events.
‘Dawn’ is the first of the movies where a point is made of the zombies being less than authentic enemy but rather pathetic victims of a disastrous failure of civilization. The hard boiled soldiers’ execution of zombie families with children is chilling, echoing the amoral vigilante mentality that pervaded a myriad of cult classics of the era. When the supermarket setting allows the script to use both the human characters and the masses of the dead as two ‘classes’ of consumerism, the dimensions of the movie become delightful and tormenting – especially as it is conducted with the flair of a movie magician without an ounce of excess political rant.
Ultimately the angle is cynical since the characters seem very happy with their boring and cyclical existence in the safety of the supermarket, shielded from the dangers of the outside world and appropriately only at the moments of danger does an enlivening sparkle permeate their mind and hands. The intrapersonal dynamics are still reminiscent of ‘The Thing from Another World’ (1951), a veritable science fiction classic where the alien ‘thing’ was deemed almost irrelevant because of the all-around devastation wreaked by social and personal problems of respected figures such as scientists and soldiers.
Despite the passed decades of pushing all-around borders, the gore in the movie still repulses in its humorous viciousness. Besides the more didactic ‘Salò’ and the more amateurish ‘Texas Chainsaw Massacre’, it’s one of the earliest full-fledged exercises in movie brutality, of the bombardment of visual ugliness. It is entirely in parallel with syncopated, jagged, atonal and growled music as medium; it forces the mind to make certain choices while most mainstream entertainment attempts to unify people with hypnotized neutrality and smooth edges.
It’s hard to pick a favorite from the trilogy but there are nuances and an all-out spirit of warfare in this one quite unmatched by the others, which do raise different points of abstraction by themselves. The battle of solitary but teamed individuals against the masses of horrible biological abomination strikes a note which can seem scarily familiar. The message is cryptic but it is spoken loud – there is no more room in Hell…
Day of the Dead
Undoubtedly the most cynical and dark of Romero’s ‘Dead’ trilogy, ‘Day Of The Dead’ continues the concepts explored in ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ which to the social anthropologist fall perfectly within the societal contexts of their decade, both in terms of appearance and issues dealt with. 1985′s ‘Day Of The Dead’, the intended third of George A Romero’s trilogy for the most part tackles Cold War paranoia dead on, and conveys a sense of isolation, disorder, and internal conflict that 1978′s ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ hinted at.
Whereas ‘Night Of the Living Dead’ contaminated the countryside, and ‘Dawn Of The Dead’ contaminated greater consumerist society, the third of these films now brings the viewer to a conclusion in where all previous facets of Western human society have been fully violated, with the few to emerge unscathed hibernating in underground shelters where in spite of a common need to survive, greater in-fighting occurs. This film is a much more dramatic affair than any of the previous two, and as a result its subject matter becomes more obtuse. Science and anatomy play a greater role in this film, in which the chief lab technician attempts to find means as of how to reanimate the once living, or do bring about a reversibility to the impulse-only movement of the undead. The soundtrack is mostly synthesized, having an emotive depth not unlike a cross between the scores to Scott’s ‘Blade Runner’ and Argento’s ‘Tenebrae’.
The graphical element of the third of these films is more prominent, the gore more repulsive, the atmosphere more repulsive and suspensive. Some would suggest that the quite lengthy build up of this installment is detrimental to the overall quality of the film, but in the opinion of the reviewer gives an excellence not seen in the previous two installments, the most intelligent and and serious of Romero’s zombie films.
Many have noted the rise of the music in the intersection between martial industrial, synthwave, dark ambient and dungeon synth which has produced a number of offshoot genres. Coming to us from China, Psycho Survivors (失常幸存者) attempt to meld death metal and synthwave music into a new form that has the techniques of industrial with the compositional sensibilities of death metal.
The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.
The Best Metal (and related) of 2012
Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.
Disappointments of 2012
Abigor – Quintessence
Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.
Absurd – Asgardsrei
This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.
Acephalix – Deathless Master
A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.
Aura Noir – Out to Die
Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.
Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual
The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.
Graf Spee – Reincarnation
Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.
Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty
2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.
Impiety – Ravage and Conquer
It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.
Inverloch – Dusk | Subside
These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.
Mantas – Death by Metal
Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.
Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite
This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.
Purtenance – Sacrifice the King
This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.
Many have expressed emotions of extreme shock and awe after discovering the explicitly Christian lyrics and aesthetics of my newest album, Deus Vult. How could I, the former singer/songwriter of New Jersey’s most popular Satanic band, find God and religion after 15 years of playing in bands with misanthropic, anti-Christian themes? What would cause a complete 180 degree change in lifestyle, a complete about-face in world view? And why would I recklessly proclaim such a change in heart to a world of black and death metal that would so surely respond in confusion, mockery, and utter malice?
To even consider the answers requires a great deal of courage and intellect, as most in the world of extreme metal have extensively conditioned themselves to the idea that metal, in all of its rebelliousness, is the antithesis to Christianity. But since the spirit of metal is one that has historically challenged authority and convention in a quest for deeper truth, those who truly understand its foundation will not cower from the mere suggestion of radical thought. And to those to I can assure that a long quest for logic and wisdom has unexpectedly led me at the foot of the upright cross. Not only did this provide happiness and fulfillment for the first time, but the foundation for meaning and purpose that many metalheads are currently in a vast search for.
In an attempt to explain as objectively as I can, this is how I came to embrace Christianity as my faith, and what it meant for my relationship with metal music.
It is a harsh truth that all things in our finite world will end at some point or another. I was fortunate enough to learn this lesson at young age, with friends moving out of state and death claiming some of those closest to me. But there are many who are not so lucky to experience the cruelty of life during their youth and are now struggling to adapt to the harsh political and cultural upheaval that is sweeping the world at large.
This failure mainly stems from a cultural and educational system that leads us to to believe none of the beloved things in our safe American bubble will ever see massive change and upheaval- that our world and lives probably won’t be much different than that of our parents and teachers. But already, we are witnessing the death of malls, the value of college degrees, major retail chains, cable television, Hollywood movies, mainstream media, atheism, and an the age of idealism.
And sadly for fans of rock and metal music, the final hour may be at hand for a beacon of our pride and culture: the guitar hero. With the impending bankruptcy of Gibson and now the imminent bankruptcy of Guitar Center, it would be foolish for anyone to still proclaim the immortality of the “guitar god.” For all things of this world must one day end, and dare I must ask… could the twilight of the guitarist truly be at hand?
Guttural vocals are the only true vocal innovation in metal as other singing styles are derived from other genres. The growed vocal technique is a combination of multiple frequencies and is harmonically too rich to be treated in the same way as more tonal styles. Since they are different to all that came before them they must be analyzed differently. And as metal continues to be penetrated by the mainstream it is important to understand what should be expected from a vocalist and what each one brings to the table since as humans we are inclined to judge vocals first.
In the spirit of understanding the wide variety that the technique has to offer, take a look at some of the more interesting and/or well known vocalists that death metal has given us throughout the years: (more…)
Often when analyzing music, it can be useful to look to other genres to develop an understanding its relation to the order of nature. Written and recorded music has been around for centuries, and with a multitude of genres emerging in the last hundred years, few have completely died out and disappeared.