In addition to its notoriously contradictive definitional nature, doom metal remains something of an enigma in terms of its enduring popularity. Whether or not one chooses to view it as a distinctive subgenre, style or even technique, doom metal must bear one of the most in-proportionate quotas within metal music when it comes to quantity over quality. If attempting to depict doom metal from the perspective of enduring releases, the list of canonical works would become surprisingly short. It seems plausible that part of the explanation to this sad state is embedded in the very characteristics of the style. Doom bands have generally prioritized development of exceptionally powerful tools for conveying sonic heaviness at the expense of other aspects of the music. It might even be so that the techniques in themselves has forced artists into a particular way of writing music. Either way, there appears to be a widespread discrepancy between the means of expression and what is actually being expressed in doom metal; which in turn provides clues as to what makes for a genuinely satisfying doom-offering. With the above discussion in mind, today’s written offering presents the Australian death/doom act Paramaecium – one of few bands bearing the doom-tag that has managed to write compositions to match the sonic gravitas associated with said style. (more…)
Strangle Wire are a northern Irish four piece band that follow the Slipknot tradition of naming each other numerically. The band claims to play psychological death metal with influences from Cannibal Corpse, Dying Fetus and Sinister. However, none of Sinister’s music appears here and this is typical Nu-Death metal.
Listen to a track from the upcoming Hadeon from longstanding Dutch band Pestilence, one is immediately struck by the similarity to late-1990s Morbid Angel: the riffs are there, albeit a bit impatient and tightly circular, but the whole experience is not. What is missing? To understand this, we must go to the core of what made death metal what it is.
If you wanted to explain to a normal person what death metal is, looking at the core of its spirit, you might haul out Slayer Hell Awaits, Hellhammer Apocalyptic Raids, and Bathory The Return… because these influenced the techniques, composition, and spirit of death metal. From Hellhammer and Slayer, it got its song structure and aesthetics; from Bathory its themes and riff technique.
Death metal took the original idea of metal, formed when Black Sabbath and others began using power chords to make phrasal riffs instead of harmony-oriented open chord riffs, and developed it further. This is different than doing something “new” or “progressing” because it means undertaking the much harder task of developing an idea further at a structural level instead of just changing aesthetics.
With the rise of underground metal, death metal adopted chromatic riffing and made the interplay between riffs form a narrative to each song. This abolished typical rock song structure and, because the guitar served as a melodic instrument instead of a harmonic one, forced vocals, bass and drums into a background role. How well the riffs fit together and portrayed an atmosphere, idea, or sensation defined the quality of the music.
Pestilence came from a solid death metal background with Consuming Impulse but showed a speed metal styled approach on Malleus Maleficarum, and this tension has stayed with the band for its entire career. The speed metal style of verse and chorus built on a singular theme that is present in the music is easier to jam on and use harmony to complement, where death metal rarely explicitly states its theme, only silhouetting it in the interaction between its many riffs. With speed metal, bands can set up a chord progression and develop it in layers of internal commentary like jazz, and this puts vocals back in position number one among the lead instruments.
“Non-Physical Existent” is a two-riff song with both based on the same note progression. It creates its intensity through the clash between a ripping circular high speed riff and a slower chromatic riff that uses odd harmony to distinguish notes in an otherwise linear theme. The song breaks into a solo section over one of the riffs, and has a type of turnaround the drops into the faster riff as a return. But there is no real interplay nor any narrative.
From the riffs themselves, this is a good song, but unfortunately, it is not death metal. Nor will it last because essentially it is a closed-circuit video of itself, a riff commented on by another, without resembling any particular experience or emotion, therefore being a null journey, more like stasis in space while riffs loop. It is better than not bad, but still not of real interest to the death metal fan.
Having recently dissected what comprises the riff structuring of the current incarnation of Gorguts in the Pleiades’ Dust review, I decided to revisit what I deem to be their most truly progressive material in The Erosion of Sanity to pinpoint what the band used to do successfully in comparison. The most bewildering track on it, “Condemned to Obscurity,” perplexed me when I had first heard it about twenty years ago and still has an esoteric nature to its structure and aesthetic today. But unlike current Gorguts which borrows from indie and noise rock techniques to create dissonance, Gorguts on this particular song managed to do so utilizing purely metal tropes in a way that was entirely unique for its time. In the following I will attempt to break down what comprises the very first riff of the song and detail what it meant for the band at the time and how it served as a window into what they eventually evolved into, for better or worse.
The most technically and musically gifted band of the Norwegian black metal scene, the legendary Emperor are also the most well known outside of the documentary-level engagement that plagues most who know of Burzum and Mayhem. Formed in the small rural town of Telemark Norway as a side project to a soon-forgotten death metal band, the group overcame the imprisonment of 75% of it’s lineup to deliver the most grandiose album of early 90s black metal. Though Emperor’s career was far from perfect, it made a profound impact on the young genre and ultimately proved it’s limitless developmental possibility. (more…)
Continuing his existence as a walking anti-drug ad, Cuban/Norwegian musician Al Jourgensen and whoever he has hired this week released “Antifa,” a track from the upcoming Ministry album AmeriKKKant on Nuclear Blast Records. In a desperate bid to remain relevant, Jourgensen has adopted a hybrid of Millennial politics and Baby Boomer sanctimony in a move that will alienate his Generation X fanbase.
There are twelve notes. There are twenty-six letters. We can form them into combinations/patterns. The ones that stay with us are the ones that communicate. This takes us above the level of riff (metal), harmony (jazz/rock), and into the realm of melody, which uses phrase and harmony as means of strengthening the expression of a melody, or a unique combination which resembles the psychological sensation of a certain experience.
Since progressive rock first arose out of British and North American psychedelia, it has crossed every boundary that it could identify, which makes it like metal more a question of a spirit than a concrete set of musical or extra-musical traits. We can identify a few aspects of this spirit: a desire to make unique song forms which fit the shifting demands of their content, a passion for exploring melody and harmony, an obsession with the unconventional, and a chameleon-like ability to explore other styles and adopt them as its own.
Murky and obscure like the style itself, a definition of doom metal proves elusive. Proponents of doom metal uphold it as a qualitatively discrete sub genre within metal on the grounds shared set of aesthetic, formal and ideological particularities that binds together a seemingly disparate conglomerate of artists and styles.
Underground metal was rapidly dying by the mid nineties. The more musically successful death and black metal bands became disenchanted with their resulting limited financial success as the hordes of poseurs poured in through the gates of Byzantium, creating commercial rock that merely imitated the tones and texture of the monumental statues of the metal greats. The more popular death metal bands tried and failed at becoming rock stars while many of the more luminous minds in Norwegian black metal bands were dead or imprisoned.