Metal Curmudgeon: When Carcass Lost Direction

carcass_-_reek_of_putrefaction

I love used book stores — generally libraries, thrifts and small independents — because the chase is greater than the catch, and finding a rarity or just something fun to read is an inexhaustible thrill. A selection of old books gives a distinct perspective not just of writing but of history.

Each time I look over the dusty spines, castoffs of previous generations or well-loved volumes containing advice relied upon by those who came before, I am reminded how human history is a lattice of ideas. Each great thinker is a nodal point from which others branch, re-combining with other ideas or adding their own. And each writer boils down to one idea, usually, with the greatest having a handful.

The rest is a support system for that. To take a great idea and fling it out into the world requires a book, a third of which is introduction, a third explaining the idea in depth and a final third gesturing at relevance and shouting down the inevitable counter-arguments. Then the author spends the rest of his/her career amplifying on that idea or chasing its elusive ultimate form. Then, RIP and all of that boils down to a sentence of summary that most people know.

Think of Charles Malthus (“utilized resources expand algebraically, but population grows exponentially”) or even Adam Smith (“the self-interest of the many results in a balance”). Metal bands are remembered the same way: Black Sabbath (“used horror movie aesthetics on heavy rock to invent proto-metal”) or Suffocation (“used death metal textural complexity with speed metal choppy strumming styles”).

And Carcass? They will forever be remembered as the guys who made clumsy grindcore based around medical lyrics. This is too bad, as their real strength was to expand the grindcore song structure to include longer riffing that often emulated Second World War era popular music, even if unconsciously.

In fact, most of their success comes from the fact that they did everything unconsciously. On the surface, they were having a laugh with gore lyrics and sloppy grind. The first album, Reek of Putrefaction, is entirely unselfconscious in this way. It does not want to be anyone’s friend, or appeal to an audience. It is just having fun and accidentally unleashes the subconscious mind through a biting parody of society and its fear of disease and death.

It was that awkward and offhand element that caught the imagination of an audience. That, and the ripping tunes: the first Carcass album made grindcore complex enough for songs to be distinctive, but kept its rumbling chaotic surface that hid the structure. This made it heavier than most of what was out there at the time and inspired a thousand imaginations.

After that point, however, the Carcass story tapers off. Every album since then has been the band trying to re-interpret its original unintentional success, but to expand it by making the music more like Led Zeppelin and Metallica so that it can be “serious.” And therein is the problem: this band suffers a deep neurosis and when it tries to be serious, it fails. When just drunk and goofing around, these guys are able to reach into the unsocialized parts of their minds and come up with something good.

Symphonies of Sickness came out shortly after Reek of Putrefaction, but already shows us a more self-conscious band. The title is cute, the songs more obviously melodic and prone to borrow hard rock riffs, and the production still vicious but in a controlled way. Everything about the second Carcass album is a managed environment designed to manipulate appearance just like the neat rows of houses in the suburbs, political speeches and advertisements for security companies. The band reversed its raw approach and joined what they mocked.

After that, it has been all downhill. The Tools of the Trade EP showed us the new Carcass: melodic songs, death metal riffs and none of the grindcore urgency or organic appeal. It was all very much a product of the conscious mind trying to be serious so that other people would like it. Necroticism — Descanting the Insalubrious shat the bed with more of the same. For the time, it fit in competitively with death metal, and I listened to it then, but found over the years that I reached for it less and less.

I feared becoming like an old punker I met back in the early 1990s. “Carcass, great band, but they lost it after the first album,” he said. I knew these guys, I felt. They were like the old bearded dudes in robes who stood on streetcorners in the 1960s with signs saying THE END IS NEAR. They were walking stereotypes: the bitter old “truist” who only likes the demos and maybe the first album for any band, and will tell you to stop listening to that commercial shit you’re pimping and look up some rare, expensive and ineptly-packaged 7″ or cassette instead.

But the old guy — at probably 35, already a curmudgeon-in-training — had a point: most bands have only one idea. In metal and punk, bands are artists first and musicians second; they become musicians to express some idea or feeling. They intuit that musicians become experts in making music that people like and as a result, the external form dictates the content and it becomes about like everything else: technically correct, artistically empty like all the other products, fast food and celebrity autobiographies.

Carcass went on to get a PhD in bed-shitting with Heartwork, which was a decent speed metal album with some nice technical touches, but lacked any purpose so became overly “emo.” After that, the grindcore audience fled and the hard rock audience — this was pre-nu-metal days — was scared off by the vocals, so the Carcass brand went into free fall. The band launched a bitter final salvo with Swan Song in which they realized that their responsible, middle class daylight personalities always wanted to just be Led Zeppelin because that is how you work hard and succeed in rock ‘n’ roll as a career!

I fall between your average suburban music fan and the old crusty punk. Perhaps the Peel Sessions, “Flesh Ripping Sonic Torment” demo and a few scattered 7″ and live shows are the “real” Carcass, but the first album is real enough for me. After that, the band gets self-conscious and soon there is a stinky speedbump under the sheets. But Reek of Putrefaction is great and every person who enjoys quality outsider music should hear it.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 3-26-2016

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Here I go again on my own, down the only road I’ve known. Like a drifter I was born to walk alone. And I’ve made up my mind; I ain’t wasting no more time. – Whitesnake feels appropriate to quote now after listening to this trash.

 

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Tombstalker – Black Crusades (2015)
Using an HM-2 pedal and inserting bluesy leads into your crappy kang punk doesn’t make you Dismember; you’re still shitty d-beat punk. I’d rather truly d-beat the skin off my dick with a potato peeler than listen to you graveyard dwelling junkies. Did you know Three Dog Night had his penis pop from too much sex? How would  they repair that? Would they need to make a new fake one or just do a penis transplant? Would Three Dog Night need one of those robotic implants that bend up like Larry Flynt?

 

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Gluttony / Sordid Flesh split (2016)
Entombed metalcore that borrows from every period of Entombed including the hated Wolverine Blues. Unleashed’s fat, vested ginger corpse is raped too. If you can think of a dumb, bouncy punk riff from 1987, it’s on this split. These guys really need to overdose on fentanyl cut with powdered laundry detergent like crusties usually do. The needle needs to be jabbed directly into their eye; all the other Swedeath veins are necrotic.

 

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Phazm – Scornful of Icons (2016)
Blackened Surgical Steel with metalcore breakdowns and without Bill Steer’s guitar virtuosity. Surgical Steel sounds like the Symphonies of Sickness compared to this deathcore ‘n’ roll. There’s no Holy Wars on this. When’s my punishment due? Do I have to listen to Reinkhaos again?

 

The Curse That Is
Graves at Sea – The Curse That Is (2016)
Flannel and gauges sludgy stoner rock for untermenschen who quit heroin in 1998 and now sell classic rock LPs mastered from CDs to fat hipster scum. The CD booklet states that all the band members have hepatitis C and thank the other regulars of their methadone clinic for watching their cats while they shoot up.

 

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Burning Hatred – Carnage (2016)
No. Stop naming albums after the band whose CDs you love so much you fisted them into yourself like James Woods in Videodrome. There is little riff variety here. Why are there deathcore songs in the middle of the Swedish Crustcore? Why is the deathcore the only material that stands out on your album?
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Ice War – Dream Spirit (2016)
My head just hit the desk. Why did someone press this idiot’s demo? I’m too drunk to lift my head off the desk. I must do so. I need to pull my head off the desk. What’s with these standard chord progressions? I must pull my head up. Too much Asbach Uralt. I need to kill this fucker. Why is he so tone deaf? He deserves to die. Another retro metal cash-in, cuckold autist who wants to tie grandmothers up with rusty chains and guitar cables to rape them like the Boston Strangler.
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Ides – Sun of the Serpents Tongue (2016)
Idiot deathdoom of the smoke weed and bash chromatic power cords together at slow tempos variety. The band is too lacking in musicianship to strum them fast enough as needed to play psychedelic rock disguised as Sabbath-worshiping doom metal.

 

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Abyssic – A Winter’s Tale (2016)
Symphonic sludge core rejected X-Files themes. Gillian Anderson is still attractive somehow. Abyssic never was; they are Tori Spelling “metal”.

 

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Prisoner of War – Rot (2016)
Morbid Angel covered by Kiwis with distortion pedals. Sometimes songs are  jammed together as they were too blacked out and forgot which one they were playing.

 

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Gallower – The Witch Hunt is On (2015)
Possessed with zero talent, drunk, and Polish.

 

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Ithaqua – The Black Mass Sabbath Pulse (2016)
Varathron emasculated.

 

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Abhomine – Larval Offal Swine (2016)
Boring war metal from Pete Helmkamp of Revenge. This is Angelcorpse if Angelcorpse had mediocre guitarists instead of only mediocre songwriters. A repetitive, riff salad for Helmkamp to spout off his social Darwinist philosophy. Put on Order from Chaos instead of reminding yourself that Helmkamp lost his marbles just like that retarded guy from Steven Spielberg’s Hook.

 

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Blood – Christbait re-release coming on September 28th

Blood - Christbait (1992)

Vic Records is rereleasing Blood’s 1992 album Christbait on September 28th. This German death metal/grindcore act received some praise in the old archives for successfully adding some conventional musicality to a standard formula. In that regard this is similar to how Carcass and Napalm Death expanded their sounds on Symphonies of Sickness and Harmony Corruption; Christbait is similarly more intelligible and elaborate than Blood’s previous work (although still fairly simplistic) while retaining much of its intensity. Newer bands would do well to learn from these examples if they want to create works of similar quality.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-05-13

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? If you treat heavy metal like a form of art or culture, it suddenly reveals its inner depth. Labels want you to see the surface only. To separate the two, we must be brutally honest. Look for the occasional gem in the sands of sonic feces.

cemetary-phantasmaCemetary – Phantasma

Claiming to be tired of the “dungeons and dragons metal stuff”, Cemetary mainman Mathias Lodmalm stops trying to rip off Tiamat and Sisters of Mercy for Nuclear Blast fan boiz and unleashes his last pose. If his progressively more AIDS-influenced output didn’t clue you in, this last Cemetary album feels like a garage band project done for the purpose of emulating Nine Inch Nails or Skinny Puppy. It shows how interchangeable most poppy industrial is, so I can see something like this album succeeding on the radio, but as luck would have it, this is just another faceless electronica product in a sea of many. The only thing this release has in common with the previous Cemetary output is the same sub-standard quality that left them entombed in the chasms of out of print Black Mark releases no one cares for.

periphery-periphery_ii_this_time_its_personalPeriphery – Periphery 2: This Time It’s Personal

It’s important to note that borrowing a few techniques from the metal genre doesn’t make you a metal band. Underneath the “harsh” vocals and “crazy” drumming are mechanical Nu riffs and mathcore noodlings. Whiny crybaby vocals and pop-choruses make this nothing more than a commercial product for socialization amongst Xanax-addled teenagers who are somewhere between dropping out of high school and becoming Che Guevara shirt-wearing low level pot dealers who often lapse into 9/11 conspiracy rants. The whole thing is organized to seem more like an emo album with its pop-punk cheerfulness and feminine vocals that reflect a feeling of being “hurt” by “mean society and girls with standards,” much like their clone targets in Sikth. If these people were more honest with themselves, they would drop the superficial “EXTREME” portions and become the next Hawthorne Heights.

satyricon-the_shadowthroneSatyricon – The Shadowthrone

If you are looking for the start of black metal’s disintegration, it can be found here. Taking liberal inspiration from bands that preceded it, this album is the blueprint for how semi-talented musicians can copy a genre’s sound while embodying none of its spirit. The songs are narrative on the surface; however, when the listener attempts to peer beyond appearance it is quickly apparent that there is nothing of depth, the musical equivalent of modern poetry. Tracks meander from one location to another, never providing any causation for why the arena is changing. The riffs are tiring in their simplicity and irrelevance, and motifs are at best uninspired. The band also deserves blame for introducing drunken popularizations of folk melodies that distract listeners from the vapid quality of metal present, which has been the operating principle of folk metal for the last 20 years. The only people who can appreciate this album are the deaf and fans that lack standards.

harm-cadaver_christiHarm – Cadaver Christi

The real way to be a reviewer is to assume that nothing is free. No one gets a promo. Everyone must pay mall prices. There are no buddy hookups, freebies from the cutout bin, and you have a budget that’s commensurate with that which the average 15-27 year old can field. It doesn’t matter that the wiper blades for your Lexus cost more than even an album from overseas; the question is what your audience can afford. Your readers. And knowing that they have finite money and time, what’s worth spending it on for them? Music is a zero-sum game. If you can buy only five CDs a month, you want to buy the best five possible. All of this is what was once called common sense, apparently, but now is voodoo quantum dark energy esoteric witchcraft knowledge to most people. That being said, I’m sure the guys in Harm are nice people but this album is dismal. It’s bog-standard Swedish-style mid-paced death metal with every cliche of bad metal involved, including the highly derivative riffs, emphasis on vocals as lead instrument (a fatal failure for metal bands), plodding pace and lack of melodic or structural development. Avoid unless you’re so average that anything else is over your head.

xysma-first_and_magicalXysma – First and Magical

Starting life as a Carcass clone, Xysma have progressively been perverting that band’s Symphonies of Sickness formula into becoming a more accessible “rock” product through perceptively mainstream blues and psychedelic moments as well as the “angsty” sounds of then “nu” radio hit band Helmet. With liner notes claiming The Beach Boys as an influence, it all comes together as a light-hearted parody of underground metal through the juxtaposition of “happy” and “trippy” moments amidst blasting death/grind fare and two-note groove riffs. Arguably the first death n’ roll band, Xysma could be held responsible for the mainstreaming of death metal through the use of elements the genre at that point have fully filtered out of its sound. While I don’t think the band meant any harm with this release, it has nothing to offer except “light-hearted fun” and seems like a bizarre interim period between their old Carcass-influenced sounds and the Helmet style they would adopt on their next album Deluxe. Similar to what Tiamat and Entombed did, Xysma saw the potential for material gain in emphasizing grooves and so got rid of the vestigial underground baggage to embrace commercialization.

inquisition-obscure_verses_for_the_multiverseInquisition – Obscure Verses for the Multiverse

Inquisition has been a constant within the American metal scene for over a decade, churning out albums that differ little in quality from one another, though with still enough distinction to be recognizably different. The band’s latest release, Obscure Verses for the Multiverse, is a continuation of the band’s recognizable style.

On this album, the band further perfects its rendition of the rock-influenced black metal genre, with many similarities to bands such as Satyricon or Marduk. Rather than a connected narration binding each song together, tracks are riff composites that sacrifice atmosphere for chaos and disorder. In compensation, riffs utilize ornamentation such as harmonics, bends, and minor chord strums in order to retain interest as drums blast away incessantly. This succeeds for approximately 30 seconds before the listener realizes that he could derive the same effect by shaking a glass container of marbles as a phone rings in the distance, simultaneously entertaining and a source of exercise.

However, this author has no desire to be unjust: the album undoubtedly will be praised by many a Wacken attendee and provide each an hour of entertainment, and truly; that is the goal of metal. After all, it certainly couldn’t be art!

sheol-sepulchral_ruins_below_the_templeSheol – Sepulchral Ruins Below the Temple

This is a really good effort but ultimately isn’t distinctive enough, and it’s not a matter of style. The style applied here is mid-period death metal hybridized with the latest trend, which has been Incantation/Demoncy worship by people who love linear riffs that internally counterbalance themselves with extended chromatic fills that crush melodic tension. Sheol have put a lot of thought into the amount of variation in each song, the coherence of the style, and in adding distinctive elements like intros, melodic accents and rhythmic breaks. However, ultimately this is a churning stampede of riffs that are relatively similar in approach and thus form, and the result is that it feels like listening to the wind while riding a train with the window open.

harm_wulf-theres_honey_in_the_soil_so_we_wait_for_the_tillHarm Wülf – There’s Honey In The Soil So We Wait For The Till

I had a grandfather who traveled the country as a journalist, interviewing union leaders. This generally happened on Greyhoud buses, because if you were a man of the people back then, you wanted to be seen in the common man’s transportation. During a disproportionate number of these interviews, someone was softly playing a guitar in the background and singing. It sounds exactly like Harm Wülf. Despite the cute somewhat edgy name and the aura of mysterious darkness, Harm Wülf is a fifteenth-generation copy of a copy from four generations ago. Soft guitar playing uses only about three strum patterns and gently loops over a verse and chorus while the half-whispered, half-sung vocals are the real focus. This is how college weenies have been getting laid since 4,000 B.C. It seems deep on the surface, but it’s really a pile of cliches, starting with the awkward and obviously imitative title. It wants to emulate a well-known post-Neurosis project, but that’s actually good. This is just rehash, reheated and disguised behind a single sprig of parsley.

ayreon-the_theory_of_everythingAyreon – The Theory of Everything

Oddly, this band merges 1970s prog rock sounds with 1980s pop and ends up mixing in a number of diverse influences that, per the nature of ambitious merges, default to a common ancestor. Thus this album ends up being ambitious AOR with periodic metal riffs, a lot of keyboards, and a lot of cheesy vocals. If you like walking turds like Helloween’s Keeper of the Seven Keys this cheese-fest will delight you. It is not as pretentious as the 1970s progressive rock that defined the genre, but it’s also uncannily pop which makes it hard for an experienced listener to tolerate. Musically, it is better than average, other than a lack of melodic development or use of harmony and key as we’d expect from a prog band. Aesthetically, it’s the contemporary equivalent of Boston or Asia or any of those other prog-soundalikes that never crossed that line to got full-on hardcore.

deathbreed-your_stigmataDeathbreed – Your Stigmata

Fairly standard deathcore, Deathbreed sounds death but doesn’t feel deathy. That is, there’s a lot of quoting of classic motifs from death metal, but they don’t get developed, and the band has no agenda so they end up at a musical LCD that’s basically rock made like a punk band would if using metal riffs. The result is predictable, but that’s not its problem. What kills it is that it has nothing to express. Even teenagers bleating out predictable platitudes about their trivial problems would be more realistic than this photocopy of a photocopy (with added jump-beats for the slower kids).

ulcerate-vermisUlcerate – Vermis

On Vermis, Ulcerate once again fool the gullible into thinking that “if it’s needlessly discordant and has growls on it, it’s the NEW and EVOLVED death metal,” only it’s not that apt. Underneath all the wankery, you’ll discover the songs never really go anywhere beyond the idea established in the beginning. All the superficially chaotic sounds render a meta-atmosphere of insanity through discordance, but the one fixed mode of expression this dwells in makes it all very obvious by the first track’s conclusion.

Carcass – Surgical Steel

carcass-surgical_steelFrom the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.

To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.

Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.

Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.

Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.

While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.

Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.

Maryland Deathfest 2013

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With over 70 bands playing four stages in total, Maryland Deathfest has become one of the biggest meetings of metalheads in the US, and it will only get bigger from here on, as the organizers possibly look to cash in on years of service. One only hopes they don’t sacrifice quality in the choice of bands to achieve it, though this year is touch and go. Giving relative unknowns a chance is one thing, promoting mega-bands past their prime or not worth your time is another, though overall it’s a worthwhile four day fest for those who enjoy metal and musicality.

Thursday May 23

The almighty Bolt Thrower was the only reason why the first day of the festival was sold out months in advance. This reviewer also caught sight of Abigail, who one astute festival-goer described as a sideshow Venom/Bathory rip off, though they’re more honest than Cobalt, who play an uncomfortable mix of styles from metalcore to prog-metal to post-metal while attempting to borrow a black metal feel and atmosphere.

Bolt Thrower

Bolt Thrower rarely disappoints, in your CD player or in concert, hence the hivemind excitement and anticipation generated for what to worn eyes must be just another routine appearance in the United States. What is standard is the playlist offered, which is a mix favoring their more ear/crowd pleasing but less inspired later albums. The intent for passion in live performance is still there, only unrelenting socioeconomic pressures get in the way of conveying a totality in epic experience. What we get instead is war metal presented as a theme, with half of the set songs embodying the essence of war more forcefully than the rest. Bolt Thrower up to For Victory… is a progressive evolution from classic grindcore to a peak in the unique and balanced style that stands as testament to the band’s contribution to metal. This is the half that works, and works well, especially in the enclosed “metal tent” setting preferred by these UK legends. After that album they went wayward into non-threatening, passthe-time music, so while it helps to have party music for a live show, the experience is diluted, i.e. not “pure,” but still invigorating and appreciated.

Friday May 24

Credit the organizers for knowing their grindcore and knowing their customers, giving them on day two a mini grind feast that gets the blood pumping and ready for infusion with gore and horror.

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Repulsion

A comedian vocalist and groupies on stage were employed to keep us entertained between songs as Repulsion, a pair of “fucking old” dudes and a drummer from Criton, ripped through a set of the original™ grindcore that helped define the genre. In truth, this band set the tone and standard for the festival, showing the usual pretenders and prospectives the meaning of grind and the spirit of metal. What is not mentioned often enough in metal is that it is a smashing of ego, which includes all posturing, to see the details of reality for what they are, gory as they may be. This for me is what Repulsion’s seminal 1986 offering Horrified represents and exemplifies, and what this performance more or less achieves, peering at an extra layer of detail that even thrash couldn’t stomach, exploring it in closer to death metal riff form. As an expressive effect of the songs themselves, the physicality of performance (while in a manner appearing more punk-hardcore than grindcore) is a burst of energy that is age defiant while maintaining that nonchalant approach to technicality (though technically sound). To boot, this trio appear as clean-cut, overgrown miscreant types and of note is the popularity of this band, pulling almost as big a crowd as Carcass later this evening. Also played was a cover of Schizo from all time veteran purveyors of satanic imagery Venom.

Pig Destroyer

Right out the starting blocks these fellows made a huge noise appropriate to stir up chaos in the pit, playing a boil of randomness that has its moments but is overall a mess, veering more to deathcore or newer Cryptopsy than early Brutal Truth. Adding depth of timbre to the metalcore vocals won’t hurt.

Righteous Pigs

Mitch Harris from Napalm Death is the standout performer for this quartet who are equal parts speed and grind. His trademark scrowl is matched by intensity in characterization, facial figures of torment and black eyes serving as portals to the abyss. A thoroughly enjoyable set from one of those late 80s/early 90s bands that showed promise but then lost momentum and faded.

carcass

Carcass

When a band comes out of retirement, there should be a community of independently like-minded individuals who question their motivations, forcing the band members themselves to introspect honestly, instead of only appearing to do so. Not many people will admit that after Symphonies of Sickness this band’s career took a drastic trip south in quality in terms of existential seriousness, in fact becoming a milquetoast series of affairs. The mixing engineer did these veterans no favours, but they were doomed from the start to show a huge audience a good time with what turned out to be a performance bereft of soul and even shaky technique as Jeff Walker struggles through his more demanding vocal sections. Personally, this reviewer enjoys on a musical level a great deal of this cheesy porridge, but evidence of this showing is that the forthcoming release will not be worth the time for anyone looking for engagement with any offering containing artistic integrity.

“Suck a new dick.” -Scott Carlson, Repulsion

Regrettably missed: Benediction, Convulse

Saturday May 25

antaeus

Antaeus

As if wary of burn out, Antaeus temper the reckless excess of past live appearances while still managing to engender a metonymy of Satanic Khaos. The serpent, headed by venomous MkM, terminated by the tail-whip of ceremonial percussion, disseminating hateful sermons of sin and sacrifice unto the gathered black mass of devotees who subsume it gladly into bodily rite like wicked creatures unsatisfied with humble supplication. An incarnation of the underworld serving as liminal barrier to the state of silence left when furious life expires. Impressive as ever, frontman MkM refuses to allow stage presence to slip into merely sufficient professionalism, augmenting the latter with evocations of genuine misanthropic disdain. The next hope for this band is that they take this approach to the studio and make something with the same attitude that gave us their 2000 full-length debut.

Regrettably missed: Anhedonist, Aosoth

MkM with Aosoth

Sunday May 26

Cruciamentum

One of the few post-2005 black death metal bands who know how to build mood intensity while maintaining a firm grasp on structure, what I love about this band is that like the best metal of the 80s and 90s songs sound like the subject matter described in the lyrics, and these point to a will to higher forms of life.

Manilla Road

These guys kick off the heavy metal fare for the final day of the fest with probably the most musically aware performance in comparison to the “sludgers” and “stoners” on show like Sleep. This is probably power metal at its best, though it could also be Iron Maiden/Angel Witch rip-off with touches of early speed metal.

pentagram

Pentagram

If you’re looking for doom metal you’ll have more luck with Saint Vitus or Black Sabbath, while the stage antics from decrepit scarecrow Bobby Liebling are entertaining all the same. I must be wrong as this heavy metal crew are widely credited as forerunners to the style, but their contribution above Sabbath seems to be more focus on playing lower in the register while chord/note progression is still “safe”. It just ain’t that heavy in an existential sense, songs are about doom but don’t sound like doom, relegating this band to historical/academic interest.

Regrettably missed: Venom, Carpathian Forest (canceled)

All pictures courtesy Sabrina Ellis and Jaqueline Meraz.

aosoth

New Carcass album in early 2013

After 17 years of silence, English grindcore pioneers Carcass are to release a new studio album early next year. According to an interview earlier this month, original members Jeff Walker and Bill Steer are at it again together with new drummer Daniel Wilding.

Carcass made metal history with their debut album Reek of Putrefaction (1988) and their masterpiece Symphonies of Sickness (1989) and hopes are of course that the band will revive some of the spirit from those days. On a more pessimistic note, the band’s last offering was Swansong

Walker himself says the new album “sounds almost like the missing link between the third and [fourth] albums but with some groove in there”. The attitude seems about right anyhow:

We’ve done this recording firstly for ourselves—there’s no label backing even as you read this—in fact me and Bill have spent a small fortune out of our pocket to see this through—it’s more of an artistic/personal statement than anything.

Earache sale on classics this weekend only

Tell Phil we sent you.

Chronological death metal

From “Cambyses” over at Ultimate-Metal, here’s a list of death metal releases by year during the glory days of 1988-1995:

’87:

Sarcófago – INRI
Massacra – Legion Of Torture
Nocturnus – Nocturnus
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Napalm Death – Scum

’88:
Rigor Mortis (US) – Rigor Mortis
Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum
Incubus (US) – Serpent Temptation
Death – Leprosy
Nihilist – Premature Autopsy

’89:

Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
Dead Horse – Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Rigor Mortis (US) – Freaks
Repulsion – Horrifed
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Carcass – Symphonies Of Sickness
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Dr. Shrinker – Wedding The Grotesque
Nihilist – Only Shreds Remain
Terrorizer – World Downfall
Morgoth – Resurrection Absurd

’90:

Incubus (US) – Beyond The Unknown
Carnage – Dark Recollections
Disharmonic Orchestra – Expositionsprophylaxe
Massacra – Final Holocaust
Cadaver – Hallucinating Anxiety
Tiamat – Sumerian Cry
Baphomet – Inheritors Of The Dead
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Deicide – Deicide
Master – Master
Atheist – Piece Of Time
Merciless – The Awakening
Death – Spiritual Healing
Benediction – Subconscious Terror
Nocturnus – The Key
Cancer – To The Gory End
Impetigo – Ultimo Mondo Cannibale

’91:

Blasphereion – Rest In Peace
Megaslaughter – Calls From The Beyond
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Death – Human
Demigod – Unholy Domain
Master – On The Seventh Day God Created… Master
Revenant – Prophecies Of A Dying World
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Gorguts – Considered Dead
Entombed – Clandestine
Death Strike – ****in’ Death
Edge Of Sanity – Nothing But Death Remains
Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious
Therion – Of Darkness…
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten
Benediction – The Grand Leveller
Pungent Stench – Been Caught Buttering
Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick
Broken Hope – Swamped In Gore
Corpus Rottus – Rituals Of Silence
Dismember – Like An Ever Flowing Stream
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Asphyx – The Rack
Immolation – Dawn Of Possession
Authorize – The Source Of Dominion
Massacre – From Beyond
Massacra – Enjoy The Violence
Ripping Corpse – Dreaming With The Dead
Grave – Into The Grave
Demilich – The Four Instructive Tales …Of Decomposition
Suffocation – Human Waste
Lemming Project – Extinction
Cancer – Death Shall Rise
Immortalis – Indicium De Mortuis
Gorefest – Mindloss
Cartilage – In Godly Flesh
Pestilence – Testimony Of The Ancients

’92:

Incubator – McGillroy The Housefly
Morpheus Descends – Ritual Of Infinity
Mordicus – Three Way Dissection
Incantation – Onward To Golgotha
Seance – Fornever Laid To Rest
Baphomet – The Dead Shall Inherit
Cianide – The Dying Truth
Mortuary – Blackened Images
Atrocity – Todessehnsucht
Demilich – The Echo
Torchure – Beyond The Veil
Rippikoulu – Mutaation Aiheuttama Sisäinen Mätäneminen
Altar/Cartilage – Split
Disharmonic Orchestra – Not To Be Undimensional Conscious
Edge Of Sanity – Unorthodox
Epitaph – Seeming Salvation
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Asphyx – Crush The Cenotaph
Adramelech – Grip Of Darkness
Cenotaph (Mex) – The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows
Lemming Project – Hate And Despise
Torturer – Oppressed By The Force
Cadaver – …In Pains
Solstice – Solstice
Eisenvater – I
Unleashed – Shadows In The Deep
Grave – You’ll Never See
Necrosanct – Incarnate
Transgressor – Ether For Scapegoat
Monstrosity – Imperial Doom
Impetigo – Horror Of The Zombies
Necrophiliac – Chaopula – Citadel Of Mirrors
Sinister – Cross The Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Demigod – Slumber Of Sullen Eyes
Vital Remains – Let Us Pray
Deicide – Legion
Disastrous Murmur – Rhapsodies In Red
Miasma – Changes
Depravity – Remasquerade
Malevolent Creation – Retribution
Fleshcrawl – Descend Into The Absurd
Pathologist – Putrefactive And Cadaverous Odes About Necroticism
Brutal Truth – Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses
Merciless – The Treasures Within
Phlebotomized – In Search Of Tranquility
Totten Korps – Our Almighty Lords
Asphyx – Last One On Earth
Infester – Darkness Unveiled
Liers In Wait – Spiritually Uncontrolled Art
Adramelech – Spring Of Recovery

’93:

Brutality – Screams Of Anguish
Mordicus – Dances From Left
Utumno – Across The Horizon
Rottrevore – Iniquitous
Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments
Disincarnate – Dreams Of The Carrion Kind
Demilich – Nespithe
Depravity – Silence Of The Centuries
Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
Torchure – The Essence
God Macabre – The Winterlong
Depravity – Phantasmagoria
Benediction – Transcend The Rubicon
Broken Hope – The Bowels Of Repugnance
Ceremony – Tyranny From Above
Seance – Saltrubbed Eyes
Supuration – The Cube
Pestilence – Spheres
Misery – A Necessary Evil
Gorguts – The Erosion Of Sanity
Kataklysm – The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation
Phlebotomized – Preach Eternal Gospels
Cancer – The Sins Of Mankind
Carbonized – Disharmonization
Grave – ..And Here I Die… Satisfied
Amorphis – Privilege Of Evil
Cynic – Focus – Remastered
Electrocution – Inside The Unreal
Unleashed – Across The Open Sea
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Sadist – Above The Light
Resurrection – Embalmed Existence
Suffocation – Breeding The Spawn
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Atheist – Elements

’94:

Morpheus Descends – Chronicals Of The Shadowed Ones
Brutality – When The Sky Turns Black
Cianide – A Descent Into Hell
Phlebotomized – Immense, Intense, Suspense
Banished – Deliver Me Unto Pain
Fleshcrawl – Impurity
Gutted (US) – Bleed For Us To Live
Incantation – Mortal Throne Of Nazarene
Pavor – A Pale Debilitating Autumn
Brutal Truth – Need To Control
The Chasm – Procreation of the Inner Temple
Oppressor – Solstice Of Oppression
Uncanny – Splenium For Nyktophobia
Cenotaph (Mex) – Riding Our Black Oceans
Abramelin – Transgression From Acheron
Hetsheads – We Hail The Possessed
Infester – To The Depths… In Degradation

’95:

The Chasm – From The Lost Years…
Sepsism – Severe Carnal Butchery
Suffocation – Pierced From Within
Agony – Apocalyptic Dawning
Solstice – Pray
Vital Remains – Into Cold Darkness
Adramelech – The Fall
Incantation – Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse

I wouldn’t say all of these are worth getting, but most of them are, and it’s fun to track the development of the genre.

Pyrrhic Victories: A Brief Study Of Artistic Decline

1. Introduction
2. Sepultura – Arise
3. Metallica – Master of Puppets
4. Coroner – Mental Vortex
5. Morbid Angel – Covenant

Written by Pearson, Devamitra and ObscuraHessian

Introduction

All historical events at some stage pertain to a barrier, or a Rubicon that when crossed marks a watershed in the life cycle of an organism in which an achievement cannot be matched in terms of it’s overall qualities. In particular instances, these successes are such that what succeeds can only be a steady decline, or an outcome that pales in comparison to the glory that prevailed at a particular stage of time. This feature aims to give insight into some known examples of the ‘Pyrrhic Victory’ in the metal genre and give light to releases that represent strengths of once great acts, and at the same time foreshadowed artistic saturation.

A common thread that seems to run through these turning points in the careers of metal bands is the apparent contradiction between a musician’s personal evolution and the progress of the musical style into more authentic and expressive forms in service of the concept. We all understand that a maturing musician is not going to be satisfied with the same apparently simple techniques he mastered upon his first year of guitar practice for ages. He probably has musical heroes he is looking up to and he always wanted to learn that Eddie Van Halen or Ritchie Blackmore solo.

Vital musical forms rely on creativity, spontaneity and message over matter. It is the curse of the artist that often the best of their work is at the behest of youthful lunacy and drunken madness, the early recordings where they grasp at the straws of vision without quite having formulated the techniques for achieving them – so they improvise and as Nietzsche would say, “give birth to a dancing star“. ‘Human‘, ‘Tales from the Thousand Lakes‘ and ‘Heartwork‘ are all perfect examples of a band with the full arsenal of accumulated weapons, evolved to near its maximum potential in knowing exactly how to compose all the contemporary forms of metal, from death metal and grindcore to pop progressive, even soft rock.

But here comes the paradox. Instead of sounding updated, the recording sounds more dated every passing year, because what has happened is that the band has incorporated a plethora of archaisms to a sound that used to be cutting edge. The bludgeoning dark tremolos of ‘Leprosy‘ that used to climax in nearly atonal solos become melodious post-modernist “cut up” riff salads; the doomy Wagnerian grandeur and slow movements reminiscent of historical battles in ‘The Karelian Isthmus‘ is stealthily exchanged with stoner rock and circular meditations that happen after a couple too many smoked joints; the to-the-point socio-anatomical parody of the hilariously grotesque and twisted ‘Symphonies of Sickness‘ gets discursive and bloated with instrumental worship, as if the band suddenly turned from anarchists into voters. The core question would be: did the band think these are more sensible ways of composition and a better illustration of the topic at hand – or did they forget the composition and the topic altogether in the name of randomly generating “music” with cold technique?

Sepultura – Arise

Coming off the back of the raging, deathly, speed metal of ‘Beneath The Remains‘, Sepultura stay true to the compact musical execution that began making itself clear on the ‘Schizophrenia‘ album onwards. There is more variation in pace, with the lower tempo compositions often resemblant of the riotous and anthemic cycles of of ‘Beneath The Remains’ played out in suspended animation. The introduction of the now ‘tribal’ meme that first makes itself present in Sepultura’s music introduces itself through in various songs, and whilst here it is applied in a more than tasteful enough manner it sometimes gives the idea that whilst this indicates an ‘open-mindedness’ to the average listener, on deeper insight it gives light to the possibility that the band by this time may have been starting to run short of creative ideas. Whilst this is a very good record by Sepultura, prevailing characteristics get the upper hand, and in a year where speed metal had long had it’s glory days, and death metal attaining new peaks of aggression in a period of artistic blossom, it’s no surprise looking back that the dumbed down and singularly ‘angry’ mosh-fodder that was ‘Chaos A.D.’ would suceed this work. –Pearson

Metallica – Master Of Puppets

A controversial pick, Metallica’s excellent third album fulfills the incorporation of progressive themes but seems to crystallize them to such an extent that no more creative spark would emanate from their later works. Cliff Burton’s presence in the unit, and his bridging of neo-classicist influences into their progressive speed metal was a defining feature of what many hessians and metallers saw to be the main component of their excellence. Having let this seep in on ‘Kill Em All‘ and fully realise itself on ‘Ride The Lightning‘, ‘Master Of Puppets’ steps further towards punchier and anthemic songs, with a steeping emphasis on percussive, palm-muted rhythm riffs which are the dominant motif in the album’s musical execution. This is structurally still in the exact same mould as ‘Ride The Lightining’, in that despite a different order of where songs are, we get aggression in ‘Damage Inc.’ and ‘Battery’ where there was once ‘Fight Fire With Fire’ and ‘Trapped Under Ice’. Songs such as ‘Sanitarium’ continue a rock music inclined sense of songwriting that continues what started with ‘Fade To Black’ and inevitably foreshadows the growing commercialism of Metallica on later releases. The excellence of ‘Orion’ also signals a continuity shift that began with ‘Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)’ and fulfilled itself with the ‘Call Of Ktulu’ instrumental. This is a great album that solidifies the importance of Metallica in the genre’s history, though the death of Cliff Burton and the lack of creative steam that ensued signalled the artistic decline that came in 1988 with ‘And Justice For All…’. –Pearson

Coroner – Mental Vortex

While the speed and thrash metal boom was crumbling all around in the wake of Seattle and LA-based clothing styles storming the nation, a few European stalwarts lingered on the fringes and while some of them didn’t dare to take up the arms for intricate, narrative death metal, they were influenced by its vicious aggression and psychedelic subject matter. Coroner from Zürich, around Tom G. Warrior‘s circle of the tyrants, never became a vastly recognized or influential name in extreme metal but superceded most of its peers in technicality and consistency, releasing a discography of five albums ranging from the raging “R.I.P.” to the eclectic “Grin“, where the fourth one “Mental Vortex” is where the playing abilities peak but the ultimate purpose of the band is starting to wane. When the idealism of youth fades and with it the spontaneous power of iconographic assault, the only avenue left for speed metal to challenge the moral preconceptions of hypocritical generations was to turn to psychology and explore lies and paranoia in the internal spheres, cutting up joy and sadness into fusion-esque rhythm riff salads (with the timing of an atomic clock) cut up from brilliant small pieces akin to Burroughs’ or Gysin’s style of literature. Such a hectic style provides an engaging rhythmic tension for this album, arguably one of the last triumphs of the entire genre, but it’s also cold and calculated like a scientific experiment. The vastly more popular but not much better Carcass realized essentially the same things many years later on their hit album “Heartwork” and ended up on the pages of guitar magazines, while Coroner was already entombed to the mausoleums of Noise Records’ speed metal roster. –Devamitra

Morbid Angel – Covenant

Among the most ancient, recognisable and influential cults in Death Metal’s history, Morbid Angel’s tale of decline is a prolonged one, and raised continuous questions about the band’s creative state, as though their instruments were being channelled purely at the whim of the Outer Gods. The Floridan giants finally resisted the unearthly impulses that once guided them to create powerful statements of occult awareness bound up with a Nietzschean sense of overcoming and will-to-power, such that with the releases of ‘Gateways of Annihilation’ and ‘Heretic’, the band fell victim to triviality. Incremental lapses in quality can be traced back to much earlier albums however, with the departure of guitarist Richard Brunelle being the first to impact the legendary line-up responsible for two of the finest Metal albums ever recorded, meaning that ‘Covenant’ would initiate the band’s slow decay. In addition, Morbid Angel’s growing populist tendencies were perhaps never more commercially viable than at this time, with the production left in the hands of Fleming Rasmussen, and not one but two music videos filmed to promote the album. Brunelle’s exit would mean that Trey Azagthoth would be fully responsible for filling the suffocating mix with his trademarked guitarwork, to the surprising detriment of ‘Covenant’s sound wherever the album’s conceptual direction becomes overwhelmed by a one-dimensional bluntness. Characterised by unfocused and uniform phrasing and only held in place by Pete Sandoval’s tightly militaristic drumming, the latter half of the album demonstrates little of the dynamism that could be heard on every one of their preceeding songs. The spiritual inversion of Morbid Angel, a transvaluation of religious language to re-vitalise and Paganise the path of transcendence and condemn the submissive and world-denying, corrupt parasites turns into an unaltering, blind rage that’s summarised by the lyric of ‘God of Emptiness‘, “So, what makes you supreme?”, setting a blueprint for the band to follow on ‘Domination‘ and the hordes of imitators that were given an undeserved license to record by virtue of Death Metal’s growing popularity. ‘Covenant’ in this sense is not dissimilar to Deicide’s Pyrrhic fall from the adept demonology of ‘Legion‘ to the dumbed-down ‘Once Upon the Cross‘, though Azagthoth’s wizardry would earn Morbid Angel some redemption with the primordial dance of cosmic energies to be heard on ‘Formulas Fatal to the Flesh‘ before finally digging their own grave without cursing their own reputation quite as badly as the truly shattered idols from the golden age of Death Metal. –ObscuraHessian