Death Metal Underground’s staff makes great personal sacrifice to ensure that we degrade the unworthy, the inferior, and the charming. We show no mercy and will defile your corpse.
Blood must be shed to atone for the sins of these mostly horrific recordings. Every single person who thought releasing these was a great idea should attempt to give themselves a self-swirlie while under the influence. Banging their head on the porcelain toilet tank lid will knock some sense into them or crack their skulls open. Hopefully the latter.
These bands attempt to masquerade their GarageBand music fit only for arcades, pizza parlors, and high school dances as underground metal. They fail.
Death Metal Underground has received criticism for our review of limp-wristed, warmed-over Swedish heavy metal act In Flames. Our staff called them the Swedish version of Christian glam rock band Stryper. However despite being hard rock, Stryper were actually heavier, more sincere in purpose, and more aggressive than the Comic Sans In Flames. Stryper and the speed metal influenced glam rock of Skid Row were at least far more musical than Fredrik Nordstrom produced melodeaf such as post-Alf Svensson At the Gates, Arch Enemy, Dark Tranquility, In Flames, and Soilwork. Stryper and Skid Row were at least well-versed in 60s and 70s riff rock while directly influenced by Metallica and Slayer:
The Death Metal Underground staff subjects themselves to countless nights of toilet diving in order to bring you gems crapped out by the dessicated undead corpse of the music industry. These are what we left in the latrine.
Humans and metal bands are self-replenishing resources. There are always more to burn!
The DLA/DMU has taken flak over the years for being unwilling to embrace new trends, but this criticism forgets that we also avoided endorsing older bad ideas. Our writers have generally avoided jumping on the bandwagon for the “trve kvlt” just as much as the new, millennial-friendly indie-rock version of metal. The reason we can do this is that we apply a simple quality standard instead of using the consensus of others to determine truth.
Despite having many editors, each of whom had somewhat varied opinions on the process, if viewed on the large scale the site has kept a generally consistent opinion. That is: some of the so-called classics are good, and few of the new school releases are good, but the determination is not made by category, but by analyzing each release on its own merits. This leads to sudden shock for some who expected us to be cheerleaders for anything that seems to “uphold the true spirit of the underground,” and dismay for those who like the newer material as release after release fails our test.
Metal is in a slump and has been since 1994, in quality. Correspondingly, it has been in a boom in terms of quantity of fans. We have more “metalheads” (cough) now than ever before. However, anyone who is not in denial — and most are — can tell you that quality has fallen off dramatically. The music has lost its energy, its nerve and its insight and been buried under a wave of bands that are either obedient and docile system products, or slaves to the underground record-collecting audience that does not care about quality so long as the aesthetics of previous generations are preserved. Both groups unfortunately are useful idiots for industry, which can keep producing low-cost clone bands and reaping the profits.
We discard bands for two reasons: not being metal, and not being good. The bands that are simply not good tend to have the most fans, ironically. Who among us can claim that, for example, Blazebirth Hall bands and Drudkh offered anything musical or artistic to metal? They cloned Graveland in a light and breezy melodic form that is essentially music for children. In the same way we refuse to celebrate underground “favorites” that consist of ranting and disorganized music like Sepulchral Aura, or avantgarde prog fanboy-bait like Fanisk and Deathspell Omega.
In addition, we discard that which does not uphold the artistic, intellectual and philosophical spirit of metal. There is quite a bit of overlap here with “not being good.” We would not endorse Cradle of Filth; nor would we endorse Opeth, back in the day, or Cannibal Corpse, on the basis that they were essentially rock bands trying to assimilate metal and thus produced a moronic mindset. Similarly Pantera and to a lesser degree, Anthrax. Back in the day we thought SOD was inferior to Cryptic Slaughter, DRI, and Corrosion of Conformity. We refused to endorse Wolves in the Throne Room, Animals as Leaders, Gojira, Mastodon and other indie-rock pretending to be metal. We ignore Pelican and all stoner doom bands because they are boring and terrible. This music is distraction from metal, not metal, but its fans make a big show of being “very metal,” which tells you exactly what they are hiding and deflecting your attention from.
This approach wins us zero friends in the short term, but trusted readers in the long term. People — especially those who lead purposeful lives and do not have lots of time, nor enjoy, combing through catalogs and blogs trying to figure out which 1% of the reviews are not lies — like getting the low-down on quality metal. They enjoy that moment of discovery when they find something really good, something they can listen to not just this week and six months or a year from now, but for future decades. That is ultimately the standard by which any music fan operates; they like music, so they veer toward the best, not just at a level of mechanics (technicality) but artistically, or its relevance to the ongoing philosophical and moral maturation of humankind. Most of humanity likes mediocrity or at least convinces itself that it likes those bands. After all, Third Eye Blind has sold more records than most segments of the metal genre. But popularity — whether among credulous hipsters or gormless mass media fans — has never determined quality. Consensus is not reality. Only reality is reality, and we make our best stab at it.
With that in mind, you may ask: why write negative reviews? The answer may surprise you. We seek to give music fans the intellectual tools they need to fight back the onslaught of Opeth, Pantera, Ulver, Cradle of Filth, Meshuggah, Vattnet Viskar, Cannibal Corpse and Deathspell Omega styled bands. We use both positive and negative examples to illustrate, to the best of our ability, what metal is and which approaches to it have produced the quality level necessary for prolonged listening. This puts us at odds with most metal journalists, for whom writing is a day job and as a result, is interpreted as endless enthusiasm for whatever is new and exciting because the consensus likes it. They are essentially advertisers because they are writing ad copy about these bands, not a look into what makes their music function. It is designed to make you buy music, because journalists who can sell music get famous and become editors. You will notice that major publications run almost no negative reviews. Why is that, you might ask? Because their job is to sell music, not review it, even if they call it “review.”
In all human endeavors our social impulses, which because we are selfish beings are actually self-interested impulses translated to altruism to flatter and manipulate others, override any sense of quality or purpose. The task ceases to become the task and becomes the process of creating the appearance of results instead of results; bands stop trying to be good, and focus on replicating what has worked before in new forms. The “best” (by consensus) bands “sound” different on the surface, but musically are extremely similar, because that formula has worked in the past. That is a social impulse: make what people like because it does not challenge them and makes them feel smart, profound or at least “with the crowd” to be listening to it. This social impulse has ruined metal since 1994.
Metal thrives — as it did during the mid-70s, early 80s and early 90s — under two factors: (1) it is ignored by most people, so it is free from the manipulations of those who want to sell rebellion-flavored rock to morons, and (2) it has some truly great artists to kickstart it and establish a standard. The former is self-evident, but the latter can be explained as follows. When early Norse black metal came out, it set a standard of quality and allowed fans, by simply choosing to spend their money on what was more rewarding, to exclude bands that did not meet that standard. Why would you buy Forgotten Wolves when you can get Darkthrone? Why would you pick up another speed metal clone when you can have top-quality death metal? Metal thrived when it was elitist, closed-minded and viciously competitive. Now that it has become a group hug, quality has suffered and no one seems to have noticed. Except us — and we are watching.
Besides being on the look out for promising bands and nurture them as the future of metal, there is also a place to examine the living corpses of decadent and useless products release by the emotionally needy and artistically impaired. Sadistic Metal Reviews to put the pretentious wankers, the clueless “experimentalists” and the postmodernist “intellectuals” in their place: in line and ready to be disposed of.
Latin jazz deathcore featuring conga breakdowns, sax solos, bass slams, gang chants, tough guy
empowerment lyrics, and At the Gates. This is Elements with ear gauges for those who enjoy the
bongocore of later Sepultura. To improve their future releases, I recommend the band overdose on
artificial opiates cut with chemicals usually found in anti-dandruff shampoos.
Vattnet Viskar – Settler (2015)
Vattnet Viskar are screamo in the same vein as Deafheaven. On Settler they could have attempted to use careful melodies and riff progressions to emotionally convey to the listener the existential nihilism of an ordinary woman attempting to transcend her earthly existence only to be brutally splattered upon the Earth’s surface. Instead they disingenuously pander to a liberal hipster audience for whom Mayhem and Burzum are verboten by pretending to be an acceptable “black metal” band. Major scale tremolo riffs, sludgy hard rock, and hardcore breakdowns are randomly arranged in songs grounded by emotional choruses and vocal hooks. This is not shoegaze; Vattnet Viskar and Deafheaven are as far from My Bloody Valentine as they are from Darkthrone. Post-hardcore with comprehensible screeching as the primary emotional vehicle is screamo. Those who eat this album up and genuinely think it is true black metal are just deluding themselves about progressing beyond their whiny teenage musical tastes.
Gyre – Moirai (2015)
Gyre exploit the misguided nu-metal commercial revival driven by millennial ex frat boys wishing todefend their shitty taste as mall-dwelling tweens. Moirai is a nu-metal album with djent chugging and afew speed metal solos just in case a member of the target audience is the air guitar type. PreventingGyre from achieving financial success with this artistic failure is their lack of name recognitioncompared to Fred Durst and Serj Tankian. Thus Gyre are best advised to run back to the brostep clubs and never return.
Ysengrin – Liber Hermetis (2015)
Arranging simplified, slowed down Megadeth riffs around boring acoustic interludes doesn’t make for effective thrash and doom metal. Claiming to be blackened death metal as you play those riffs through distortion pedals into crappy solid state amps to get a more fuzzy than bestial guitar tone means you fail two more genres. Go listen to Rust in Peace again instead of subjecting yourself to this unnecessary career retrospective.
Nightland – Obsession (2015)
Slaughter of the Soul riffs? Check. Hit people breakdowns? Check. Random songwriting? Check. Metalcore with orchestral fluff played by guys in leather dresses is still metalcore. This time it’s just marketed toward fat Nightwish goths and frilly-shirted Fleshgod Apocalypse fans.
Cult of Fire – मृत्यु का तापसी अनुध्यान (2013)
Here Cult of Fire randomly mix stolen Bathory, Immortal, and Emperor riffs with Abba keyboards and pointless eastern music into a pathetic failure of black metal. This album is yet more proof of how easily the basic compositional requirements of the genre can escape even the most technically accomplished musicians.
Klamm – Ernte (2015)
Blackened folk singalongs played by German hipsters? This music is the result of too much cuddling and too little beatings. Dumb to the point of being exasperating, Klamm tries to fulfill ideological cliches of what both folk and black metal represent. Press stop to leave the beer hall.
Horrendous – Ecdysis (2014)
Steal Heartwork riffs, run them through a Boss HM-2 pedal, and throw in some random Journey to pad out the tracks. Contrary to the title and cover art, this pretentious pseudo-Swedeath fails to shed its melodeaf skin. The only thing this album transcends is listeners’ patience when it assumes they are intellectually disabled by building multiple nu songs from the riffs in one very popular older song called Heartwork. Horrendous prove themselves musically no better than Archenemy and far inferior to them when it comes to musical common sense.
Örök – Übermensch (2015)
Coming from the spiritual-minded ambient “black” metal camp, this self-absorbed music is so ego-centric it somehow manages to be unaware of its stagnancy, vacuity, it’s lack of proposal and direction. As the title indicates, rather than an excellent specimen’s product, this is more of a diva’s self-appraisal. Untermensch.
Dismember – Massive Killing Capacity (1995)
After the commercial success of Entombed’s Wolverine Blues, money-grubbing record labels pressured the rest of the big Swedish death metal bands to pander to the Pantera crowd. Dismember turned down the distortion and gazed back to seventies rockers Kiss and Deep Purple for inspiration. Unfortunately, downtuned and distorted butt rock riffs coming out of JCM 900 heads are still butt rock riffs. A few songs that rip off Dismember’s own prior good work and Metallica’s Orion make this slightly more listenable than the aforementioned Wolverine Blues but do not come close to alleviating this death ‘n’ roll turkey’s massive shitting capacity. This is Highway Star death metal.
Nebiros – VII (2015)
Mellotrons and makeup do not paint your metal black. These overlong songs are structured around
deathcore breakdowns and stolen Gothenburg riffs. This is more Heartwork for subhumans than a Pure Holocaust.
Archaea – Catalyst (2015)
One could say this sounds like Unleashed only if Unleashed were one of those deathcore bands from five years ago with the token female keyboardists. This is a stereotypical blend of polka beats, breakdowns, Gothenburg candy melodies, and keyboard leads. Listening to it makes me want to lay my head down upon the train tracks just so an overweight man in a jumpsuit embroidered with his own name will be forced to power wash my brains off to the sweet voice of Kenny Rogers.
Wolf Hoffmann asserts that Accept wrote the first speed metal song ever with “Fast as a Shark” from Restless and Wild way back in 1982. While the debate rages across the internet, now the equivalent of 1980s daytime television, the question can be answered by looking to what speed metal is.
Speed metal — as distinct from thrash a genre popularized by Thrasher magazine devotees and skaters making hardcore/metal crossover such as Dirty Rotten Imbeciles and Cryptic Slaughter — originated in the use of a single technique: the muted strummed downpicked power chord. This technique combined the repetitive downpicking of punk with palm muting, previously used only to emphasize specific notes. Much of its appeal came from the changes in amplification and production since the previous decade which allowed louder music to exist. Much like the 1980s itself, the muted strum conveyed a sound of clashing absolutes and decreased the amount of harmony heard in each chord, making the music more purely percussive like techno and early industrial. Even more, it gained the volume punks had always aspired to with its explosive and uncompromising sound. In the process, it inspired more use of accidentals leading to more chromatic fills, which in the next generation with death metal became a form of riffs themselves, where speed metal relied more on the NWOBHM song form and harmony.
Generally regarded as starting in 1983 with Metallica Kill ‘Em All, speed metal presented a radically new sound which had precursors in extreme (for the time) bands like Motorhead, Judas Priest, Blitzkrieg, Tank and Satan. However, no bands had fully adopted the new technique as the basis of their composition until the early cluster of Metallica, Exodus, Mercyful Fate, Nuclear Assault, Anthrax and Megadeth. During the 1980s these bands were the most extreme metal that most people could find in their local record stores, which were how most people got music back then, with the exception of Slayer which was a speed/death hybrid and Venom which was a punk-influenced form of NWOBHM. Accept does not measure up to this standard on the basis of technique, since its song fits within older heavy metal format and does not use the muted strum.
This statement does not decrease the importance of Accept in the creation of speed metal. A long line of innovations occurred leading to speed metal, starting with the incredibly rough sound of Motorhead in 1976 but aided by progressive bands like King Crimson and Greenslade as well as a chain of punk acts who pushed the envelope such as Discharge, The Exploited, Amebix and the Cro-Mags. Below you can hear “Fast as a Shark” and see this heritage for yourself, contrasted with the archetypal speed metal song, “Creeping Death” from the second Metallica work Ride the Lightning and Blitzkrieg’s self-titled track from their 1981 EP Buried and Alive.