Imagine you’ve returned to those magic years between 1985 and 1987. Thrash exploded, followed by speed metal and then the nascent proto-death/black bands are emerging. Almost everything is tinged with Metallica since they are looking like the first band of this ilk to make it out of the underground and into mainstream record stores.
Pentagram (CL) comes to us from those formative years but with two different versions of that time. The first is the second disc in the set, which re-records seven classic tracks using modern production and instrumental know-how. The second is the “first” disc in this set, which is thirteen new songs. While both derive from the fertile era of the middle 1980s, they each take different approaches, with the first disc actually showing more of what this band can do.
At their core these songs have not yet transitioned from speed metal to death metal. These are fundamentally based on the rhythmic riff, not the phrasal riff, and are oriented toward using choppy sounds not booming or columnar ones. However, this enables Pentagram (CL) to layer lead guitars over rhythm guitars, vocals over drums, and then to suspend them selectively, creating what is effectively a technique of adding textural depth to regulate intensity. What that requires is a fairly constant rhythm, thus both verse and chorus riffs and their various transitional riffs use very similar patterns. This pattern applies to both discs.
The second disc may be the more anticipated in the underground as these songs never made it out of the demo stages back in the 1980s when they were written. While we like to be production-agnostic as underground metalheads, because the nature of being “underground” is that you cadge production and promotion where you can, not where is optimal, it is often hard to hear what’s going on. These re-produced songs show a gentle hand in keeping their nature intact while playing them as they were always meant to be played, which is with some technical flair amidst the straightforward riffs and aggressive vocals. It is great to hear these songs ride again and to hear them in the context with demos from Possessed, Sepultura, Kreator, Destruction and Rigor Mortis who were at roughly the same time exploring a similar sound.
However, ultimately this reviewer found more to listen to in the first disc. It reminds me of the moments after a party where, the excitement having faded, analysis kicks in — and it’s from that, and not the frenzy of the moment, that emotion really comes. This is a retrospective of the 1980s not in terms of its surface traits but an attempt to get to its root, which is the massive sense of being in transition. These songs deliberately hover on the edge of death metal, and also on the edge of returning to the days of Venom and Motorhead, but also gesture at something else. A sense of suspended belief, the potential for anything to emerge from any moment, and an instability that calls forth primal conflict suffuses these songs. They use styling that may be from the farther side of that 1985-1987 window and apply it in a way that is not “modern” in the sense of metal now, but more fully mature, like the death metal to follow while retaining their speed metal core.
Hearing these two discs together is not the ridiculous time machine sensation of Hollywood movies but more like a re-visitation of the events that made the time so much of what it was. The first disc, showing newer songwriting, has a steadier hand. It would benefit from the tighter assembly which threw out anything too repetitive or tangential shown by the second disc, which has songs stripped down for bear as if played by a rogue guerrilla group wandering in the mountains, pursued by a vastly better equipped army. While these songs use the distorted vocals of underground metal, it is more accurate to see this band in the context of the generation before, when nothing had quite taken form and the bands wanted to make a statement underscoring the wisdom of that principle.
Back in the hazy days of the 1990s, when society was so innocent it thought it could overcome its problems with better television, Tiamat showed up on the radar screens in a big way.
Basically staying away from bands of its nature, which struck me as more of older styles of metal than death metal, I never fully investigated the band until Clouds. My response was to withdraw in horror. Not only did Tiamat exude older metal, it also exuded rock, specifically the sensitive man alternative college radio kind!
However, I was alone in this opinion. Others praised Tiamat and said it was the future of death metal; this opinion seemed to be very popular at the time. People told me I just didn’t get its evil aura, and were incensed that I found the band laughable. This was the true Swedish metal, I was told, not the washed-out stuff like Entombed.
I was a false, in other words, and I should not have entried.
That copy of Clouds I ditched in the radio station office and left it to the ravages of time. It may still be there. Tiamat dropped off the radar a half-decade later. I never understood why I didn’t like this band until now, having heard Shine of the Pentagram.
I’ll get the blasphemies out of the way: this band is in many ways a prototype for Opeth. Where most Swedish death metal got its strength from hardcore roots, or deep metal roots, Opeth and Tiamat (originally called Treblinka, an innocent usage that was later changed to respect the victims of that place) derived their worldview from rock music. Specifically, indie-rock sensitive-man music, which emphasizes dark and self-pitying moods that have a spirit of uplift in them. Sort of like someone trying to rationalize himself out of depression at the fact that his society and species are failing. Even more, the furthest both bands get into death metal is heavy metal, and the more they try to make it deathy, the worse it fails.
On the plus side, Shrine of the Pentagram shows Tiamat/Treblinka in their earliest state, when they were still producing music that was essentially NWOBHM with an indie-rock vibe as played by Grotesque or a band like them. These riffs and fills are straight out of the glory days of NWOBHM, and the chorus-emphatic songs reflect the stadium rock aspects of that genre. Even though Treblinka have doubled the strumming speed and kicked the drums into battle, this just isn’t death metal. The riffs are old school heavy metal and radio rock; the song pacing, more like a college station. And the moods? Sort of playful, sort of dark, but mostly, self-absorbed, which is the one thing death metal was not.
In other words, this is probably the best material from Treblinka (Tiamat) that you’re likely to ever hear. And it’s done well. The songs here are poppy and high-energy, and if a bit ego-focused at least do so in the inexpert way of teenagers. The musicianship is good, even if the band insists on breaking up songs with out of place percussion drops, blues parts, and melodic interludes that seem to lose momentum.
Production is excellent, all things considered. These originals must have been of horrible sound, and they’re cleared up expertly, such that you don’t notice how bad the originals must have been until there’s one sound like a simultaneous backstage shout and snare hit that shows how much chaos was cleared away. The demos and live material complement each other, showing the growth of the band. Packaging also promises to be really excellent.
Especially if you get the 5-LP version, as opposed to the 3-CD “abridged” version, it’s imperative that you like the dozen songs represented here. Because you’re going to hear them a lot. There are five LPs, and a dozen (or so) songs, which means near constant repetition. Even more, you will hear them in a half-dozen flavors of demo, live, studio instrumental and other visions of the same material.
I had hoped to rediscover a lost treasure here, and I’m sad to say I haven’t. Tiamat has three problems: (1) it’s rock music, not metal (2) while it’s fun, it isn’t particularly repeat-listenable and (3) it misses out on the metal mood and goes to a bad place instead. However, I can’t fault this set for getting to the core of the situation and producing a high quality product for those who love this band. And maybe, I’m just a false and should not entry.
Every metal musician needs to have “The Talk” at some point or another and for some of you, this will be that moment. In the world of metal, “The Talk” is the soul crashing, dream obliterating conversation where one learns the valuable lesson that you can’t get rich playing extreme metal. It’s heartbreaking and defeating but better learned sooner than later. And since a young ambitious musician isn’t necessarily considering the logistics, lifestyle goals, etc. of their future before they drill on that pentagram neck tattoo, I want to make sure readers of DMU are abundantly clear on what to expect on the financial front when engaging in life as a touring musician. (more…)
Chilean death metal band Death Yell premiered a new track off their upcoming debut album Descent Into Hell, which comes out in August on Hells Headbangers. “Soulless” is an unremarkable but inoffensive riff salad. I don’t remember anything about five minutes after listening to it twice other than it reminded me more of Teutonic speed metal than death metal. The album probably won’t be that great and Death Yell will probably end up opening for other Chilean bands such as Pentagram (Chile), Ripper or Unaussprechlichen Kulten.
Former and probably current crack smoker Bobby Liebling of long running stoner rock, pseudo-metal band Pentagram was arrested for apparently assaulting his elderly mother, causing him to be dropped from Pentagram’s upcoming European tour. Liebling famously was filmed smoking crack in his elderly parents’ basement in suburban Maryland for the Pentagram documentary Last Days Here. Liebling’s drug problems and abhorrent personal behavior have long sabotaged any chance Pentagram may have had at creative of commercial success.
Martyrdoom Productions, run by Dead Congregation frontman A.V., reissued Infester‘s long out of print classic To the Depths, In Degradation on CD and vinyl LP earlier this year. I purchased a copy of the CD version myself to review for our readers benefit. The record was never originally released on vinyl and being over fifty minutes long, the LP reissue will have compromised sound quality due to narrower groove spacing and all the limitations of the vinyl format such as the compression of the cutting lathe, high and low pass filtering, and mono bass.
Earlier this year, independent music distribution platform Bandcamp claimed that many stoner rock bands are in fact doom metal. This is a common logical fallacy based around associating the pace and instrumental tone of the music with actual musical content. The stoner “doom” trend of bands that started in the late 90s and early 2000s and has continued non-stop right up until the present almost twenty years later was one of the earliest hipster attempts to assimilate heavy metal before the waves of speed, death, and now black metal aesthetics rehashed into pop rock for the safe space generation.
One clear sign that a band’s direction is compromised can be seen through unity of style. In this case, we see Gorgoroth lacking a clear voice of their own, in place of which Instinctus Bestialis offers three main ways of constructing sections and a rather pop-oriented way of building whole songs. The first is a bare bones neoclassical melodic method using two guitars, which is an interesting addition to traditionally more modal and harmonically chromatic genres such as death and black metal. Due to the foreign nature of these, the incorporation can be quite delicate and ought to be treated with the utmost care. The second is a collection of standard modern metal tropes ranging from the rhythmic intonations of deathcore with a low-string chug riff, probably inherited from the most prosaic speed metal. Last is the most important of the three in a rather unexpected choice in anthemic heavy metal, which happens to be the customary choice for commercial metal acts which have become barren of inspiration and direction.