Enslaved and Wardruna members collaborate in Skjuggsjá

Metal flavored post-rock (modern Enslaved) and ambient folk oriented music (Wardruna) are both established things. I am not so sure the fusion of such in Skjuggsjá, a side project album featuring Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik, is as common. Skjuggsjá does seem to feature all the pretension inherent in either, and was apparently written and first performed for the 200th anniversary of the establishment of the Norwegian constitution of 1814. This studio recording will release on March 11th; the released single does not seem to emphasis the potential metal instrumentation of such a project, although scattered live clips suggest some effort towards this end on other tracks.

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Primordial vocalist Alan Averill weighs in on SJW academics

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Folk metal band Primordial vocalist Alan Averill inveighed against social justice worker (SJW) academics who recently witch-hunted “racism” and “sexism” in folk metal, claiming they are johnny-come-latelies using the authenticity of the metal name to draw attention to their careers. Writes Averill:

I don’t know whether to be bothered sharing this shit…..I think what these fuckwits fail to understand, or rather as usual intellectual ghost hunting is the place that ‘folk metal’ takes within the overall timeline and context of metal. The imagery and themes of folk metal are distilled from metals’ pre-occupation with fantasy not necessarily from a historical or factually based context, nor does it have to be. The language of for example Viking mythology has been perfect for metal since Zeppelin wrote ‘The immigrant song’.

Folk metal essentially took the place culturally in metal from where power metal left on in the late 90s and early 00s. Often it has more to do with role playing, gaming and fantasy….just with furry boots.

Claiming that is is somehow racist because it borrows from pre christian European history is just pointless and reductionist, bands do not have to apologise or justify singing about their culture and as I said most of it is through the prism of fantasy and myth because the imagery is simply perfect for heavy metal.

Sexist? again rubbish, I can think of quite a few ‘folk’ metal bands who have written tomes and hymns to the goddesses of the ancient world, both Cruachan and Waylander from Ireland spring to mind. You can find the same reverence for the feminine in nature in not only my own band Primordial (who are not folk metal but have connections to that scene) but also in bands like Enslaved, Wardruna, Our survival depends on us, Dordureh, Fen, Eluveitie, Negura Bunget among so many others (yet this is conveniently ignored) . Not to mention the band quoted as starting the whole genre Skyclad, even a cursory glance at their lyrics and imagery will suggest the opposite of this study. Again just a cherry picked argument from someone hunting ghosts.
Not to mention the fact that if you have ever attended a pagan metal show in Europe or the USA (and I’ve been at loads) you will find a very very healthy % of the crowd are women and often on the stage, the general feel of pageantry and joviality in this scene is least of all full of the macho behaviour these authors are looking for. It’s a young excitable scene which likes to play dress up, dance around and drink a beer or two…

You want ghosts? go ghost hunting somewhere else

I once lectured about Black Metal here in Ireland…to a room full of people full of agendas and opinions and angles for their own conspiracies and prejudices. My opening line
‘You can’t intellectualise a punch in the face’
…..you weren’t there and I am going to tell you how it was so shut up and listen.

You can read the full rant on a favorite social networking site for bored cube slaves to vent about the meaningless of life where some of the feedback has been quite interesting. The backlash against SJWs, revealed by Metalgate when one of the researchers mentioned above, Karl Spracklen, unfriended me over Facebook for allegedly un-PC postings elsewhere on the internet, has now reached a broader audience which is tired of outsiders interfering in metal to pick up on its perceived cachet of cool.

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Interview with The Inverted Katabasis author Dean Swinford

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We were fortunate to get some time for a chat with Dean Swinford, author of Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis. As a person with extensive experience in both death metal and literature, Swinford provides a great deal of insight into both.

You’ve walked dual paths in this life, both metal and literature. Do you see any parallels between them?

I definitely see lots of parallels between the two. Indirectly, you can find groups in any metal subgenre that work with myths or legends of some kind. More directly, so many metal songs have connections to specific books and stories by modern authors.

Beyond that, so many of the thank you lists in the liner notes specifically mention authors and books that influenced the musicians. I’ve never seen that done so consistently in any other modern music genre.

Both metal and literature are ways to, and I’m paraphrasing Dante a bit here, walk through the dark forest. I guess what I’m doing is joining the two so that I can write about the ways that the two paths become one. Just a note about the images in the interview — I’ve included some sketches from my journals to go along with the questions. I draw a lot when I’m writing and I think the images help to show how I worked through and continue to work through ideas for the books.

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Figure 1. One of my characters (David? Nekrokor? Svart?) in the woods

Your book, Death Metal Epic I: The Inverted Katabasis, is a fictional account of early 1990s Florida death metal — but it’s clear it was influenced by events that were far from fictional. What inspired this book, and how does it connect with your own story?

You’re right that the book has a number of features taken from my own life, but I’ve put them within the context of someone in an early 1990s Florida death metal band. I grew up in Miami and I was the music director of the college radio station at Florida International University.

A friend of mine did the metal show at University of Miami, and he also ran the metal section at Yesterday and Today Records. As you know from your experience in college radio, it’s pretty thrilling to talk to people from the labels, meet people from bands you like, and, of course, get music sent to you in the mail.

The places in the book are places I’ve lived in or traveled to, so in that sense, it’s a way for me to revisit different parts of my life. I’ve always liked coming of age stories and novels about artists and musicians. This seemed like a way to write that kind of book, but in a context that I’m familiar with. Also, I wanted to write something relatively light and funny that still dealt with some deeper themes.

I used to write stories that were more surreal or fantastic in their approach. I still use that kind of voice for the “metametal” chapters in the book. As I got older, I started to realize that it was more interesting and satisfying to write a story about every day events, about getting annoyed at your friend or suffering through the stomach flu.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis.

One of the things I’ve always liked about metal is that it tends to be very escapist. I like songs about dragons, ancient rites, and forgotten deities precisely because I don’t encounter those things on a daily basis. I guess if I’m doing anything new in the book, I’m taking that escapism and juxtaposing it with the kinds of struggles a lot of people seem to encounter as they move into their twenties.

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Figure 2. Journaling with a portrait of Nekrokor

Do you think death metal was inspired by literature? If so, what, and how did it shape the genre?

Oh, sure. I mean, if Tolkien’s orcs made folk music of their own, what would it sound like? When one of Lovecraft’s protagonists hears the batrachian choir that tips him into madness, what does he hear? And I think that it contributes to literature through what you could call the “poetics” of metal lyrics and the textual features of liner notes—the mix of images and lyrics paired with personal notes and lists from the musicians.

You mentioned in an email to me that you’ve found some metal lyrics that remind you of Neoplatonism. Could you explain what you mean?

Neoplatonism refers to the synthesis of pagan and Christian philosophy into a kind of mystical and theological framework that had a pretty broad influence until the early modern scientific revolution. I write about its influence on the astronomer Johannes Kepler in another book of mine, Through the Daemon’s Gate. I guess because I’m interested in Neoplatonism, I see traces of it everywhere. I don’t want to go into too much detail on this, but one specific example I could talk about is pretty evident in Inquisition‘s Ominous Doctrines of the Perpetual Mystical Macrocosm. The idea of the macrocosm influencing the microcosm comes directly from Neoplatonism. The concept that space is a kind of tomb is evident in classical literature as well. In Cicero’s Dream of Scipio, the narrator ascends into space, where he speaks with the ghost of his dead grandfather. It’s no accident that the last word of each part of Dante’s Commedia is “stars.”

Another idea that Dagon mentions in the liner notes is what he calls the “eternal quest for infernal tone.” That idea of the true disciple uncovering the most diabolic tone is linked to the thematic concern of the album, which is the power that the macrocosm exerts on those of us on earth.

In Neoplatonism, the interlocking spheres of the cosmos produce tones that are perfect and inspire order in the sublunary realm. That’s the mystical element of Pythagoras’s theories on tonal proportions. The key shift from Pythagoras to Dagon is that, while the Ptolemaic universe was seen as orderly and divine, Inquisition’s musings tend more towards a contemplation of the universe as infinite chaos.

Do you still listen to metal? If so, what inhabits your player these days? How does this differ from the hazy glory days of the early 1990s?

Of course. I still get excited when I discover a band. Plus, I do most of my writing while listening to music, so I like to get something new as a writing reward when I meet some kind of deadline. I just picked up the two Atlantean Kodex albums and I am loving those. It helps that their myth-themed approach is just the kind of thing that I write about in my book. I mean, the second one is based on the same Robert Graves book that my character Juan is obsessed with, so I had to check it out!

I’m also really into some of the newer Inquisition albums, as mentioned above. Other current favorites include Obscura, Mournful Congregation, and this Dutch doom band Officium Triste. Of course, I still listen to all the classics, too. I listen to Candlemass and Solitude Aeternus a lot. As I’m writing these books, I try to listen to music that corresponds most with the plot. So, right now I’m trying to listen to things that meet the approval of Svart, the mastermind of Desekration.

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart's record shop

Figure 3. Journaling and sketch of Svart’s record shop

Do you detect any influences from Gothic or Romantic literature in death metal? If these aren’t direct influences, do you think the two genres converge on similar ideas because they’re writing about similar experiences/concepts?

I think you’re probably right. You could probably catalog a lot of specific references, everything from the Frankenstein samples on Morpheus DescendsRitual of Infinity to the painting by Caspar David Friedrich on the new Atlantean Kodex album. As far as similar experiences and concepts, I’d say that metal lyrics, like Gothic and Romantic lit, use fantasy as an indirect way to represent complex emotions like longing and despair.

You’re writing a paper on prosopopoeia, which I’m told is a rhetorical device in which a speaker or writer communicates by speaking through another object or person. How do you think this applies to metal?

Yeah, that’s right. I’m working on a paper that looks at corpsepaint as a kind of mask, especially given statements by Dead that he used corpsepaint to become or give voice to a victim of the Black Death. What’s interesting is that prosopopoeia is a device that seems to clearly apply to black metal performance — Dead popularized corpsepaint, but so many bands still use it — but the rhetorical device is also evident in the lyrics on De Mysteriis. There are more than a few examples in the lyrics of address from the point of view of a long-dead spirit. I think that’s interesting in the context of medievalism, or the ways that contemporary culture still uses or speaks through the Middle Ages as a way of talking about our own time.

Do you think this type of “mask” applies to black metal and hardcore punk more than other genres? Why would a genre need to conceal the origin of its thoughts — do you think that determination lies more with the band, or what the audience can tolerate?

I think that idea of masking occurs in every genre to some extent and probably waxes and wanes over time. Right now, it seems like it’s often used more as a genre marker than anything. You can buy an action figure of Lars Umlaut, the Guitar Hero character modeled off of the guys in Immortal.

In The Inverted Katabasis, you utilize a literary figure known as the katabasis. What is this and how does it apply to death metal and other underground genres?

Right — the katabasis is the mythical journey to Hell. It’s just a name to describe a kind of journey that lots of mythic heroes undertake. In most cases, it’s linked in some way to a quest against death or against the realization of one’s mortality. Orpheus goes to Hell to rescue his lady, but it doesn’t work out so well. He ends up wandering the world like a depressive, plucking doomy odes on his lyre until he gets ripped apart by Maenads. Dante’s journey into the underworld is a katabasis as well.

I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods.

So, an inverted katabasis is a journey out of hell. There’s a word for that, too. It’s called an “anabasis.” But I liked inverted katabasis better because it sounded more like something that could work as an album title. For David Fosberg, the inverted katabasis is an escape from the minimum wage hell of his life in Miami. Plus, my ironic treatment of the trope helps to put the book in its true genre, the mock epic.

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Several of the people I’ve talked to about this book have found in David Fosberg an uncanny portrait of the years following a successful second-tier death metal release that pushed the limits but never got big. Why do you think so many of these bands vanished into obscurity?

Thanks for that. In a lot of ways, I’m writing about metal, but I think that this trajectory is probably pretty common for people in any number of fields. The moment I’m writing about in the books goes from the time that death metal was big enough for bands like Napalm Death, Carcass, Cathedral, Godflesh, and Morbid Angel to get some major label attention to the influx of black metal that seemed to bring everything back to small, purposefully obscure labels.

In a lot of ways, this seems similar to the way the skateboarding industry crashed in the early nineties. As far as all the great bands that vanished into obscurity, my guess is that it’s because life is hard and, ultimately, releasing an album (or a book, for that matter) isn’t going to change that.

Do you think death metal has a place in education? If you were to teach death metal, say as a form of literature or art, how would you introduce it to your students?

Sure. There are a number of people working in that direction. Martin Jacobsen at West Texas A & M teaches a course on metal and literature. There’s an International Society for Metal Music Studies. Nicola Masciandaro and others have done a lot of work on theorizing black metal. I think if I were to link the two in a class, I’d do it as part of a broader exploration of medievalism.

You’ve moved on from death metal, but haven’t quite left it behind; it seems to live in your thoughts. What do you think is the enduring appeal of death metal? Did it have an artistic or generational statement to make that was profound then and remains so today?

That’s a good question. I think the way it pushes musical limits is important. Even with something like the speed of drumming featured in that recent Wall Street Journal article. For me, I’d say the connection to myth is really important. I remember seeing Nile a few years ago and it felt like they had, if even only temporarily, resurrected the dead gods. That process has long been an important part of human culture.

In another interview, you said that your own musical project had “layers of ambient keyboards and lyrics taken from myths, the sagas, and so forth.” Do you think you were ahead of the times, having seen how black metal shifted in that direction after its initial thrust (Neptune Towers, Beherit, Ildjarn, Wardruna, Burzum)?

I wish! I recorded it in a radio station studio like the one I describe in the book. By the time I started to figure out what I was doing, I had to return my studio key in a situation pretty similar to what happens to Juan. I still think there’s a way to use this approach to make something interesting. Maybe someday.

Yours appears to be one of the first entries in the “death metal literature” genre. Do you think this field is going to grow?

I think so. Since I’ve been getting my book out there, I’ve met a lot of people who seem really interested in the possibilities of metal lit, or whatever you want to call it. Kriscinda Lee Everitt has started a journal for metal themed fiction called Despumation Press, so anyone who has a story to tell should send in a submission.

Speaking of growing, I understand that The Inverted Katabasis is part of an ongoing series. How big does it get? Do you have fantasy worlds like Mordor and Hogwarts for us?

That’s right. The current plan is to do three books. What’s more metal than an epic trilogy, right? It might be even more metal if I never actually finish. I try to make the bands, characters, and albums in the books as convincing as I can so that they take on a life of their own. That’s probably one of my favorite parts of this. I really enjoy the creative process of inventing new band logos, albums, characters, and liner notes. Who knows? Maybe someday, someone will cover a Katabasis song or try to recreate the groundbreaking work of Astrampsychos.

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

Figure 5. The Astrampsychos logo and some notes on the ocarina

What’s your next step in your career as a death metal writer — are you going to continue working on the books linearly, write short stories, or return to music and use it to accompany the next volume?

Right now, I’m trying to finish up the second book of the Death Metal Epic. The next one is going to be called The Goat Song Sacrifice. There will be new characters, new bands, new struggles for David Fosberg to endure.

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The Best of Underground Metal of 2013

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I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.

This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.

Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.

When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.

The following albums are those that merit such a standard:

argus-beyond_the_martyrsArgus – Beyond The Martyrs

Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.

autopsy-the_headless_ritualAutopsy – The Headless Ritual

Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.

birth_a_d-i_blame_youBirth A.D. – I Blame You

What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.

black_sabbath-13Black Sabbath – 13

Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBlitzkrieg – Back From Hell

This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.

burzum-sol_austan_mani_vestanBurzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan

People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.

centurian-contra_rationemCenturian – Contra Rationem

For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.

condor-nadiaCóndor – Nadia

This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.

derogatory-above_all_elseDerogatory – Above All Else

In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.

empyrium-into_the_pantheon-coverEmpyrium – Into the Pantheon

Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.

graveland-thunderbolts_of_the_godsGraveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods

Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.

master-the_witchhuntMaster – The Witchhunt

Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.

profanatica-thy_kingdom_cumProfanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum

Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.

rudra-rtaRudra – RTA

The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.

satan-life_sentenceSatan – Life Sentence

The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.

summoning-old_mornings_dawnSummoning – Old Mornings Dawn

After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.

von-dark_gods_seven_billion_slavesVon – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves

Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.

wardruna-runaljod-yggdrasilWardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil

Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.

warmaster-blood_dawnWar Master – Blood Dawn

Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.

Album of the year:

imprecation-satane_tenebris_infinitaImprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita

There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.

The following were considered, and then not so much considered:

  • Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
  • Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
  • Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
  • Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
  • Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
  • Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
  • Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
  • Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
  • Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
  • Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
  • Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
  • Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
  • Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
  • Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
  • Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
  • Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
  • Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
  • Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
  • Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
  • Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
  • Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
  • Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
  • Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
  • Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
  • Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HmuHHGfUBEE

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-18-09

God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.

Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye

Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.

Evoken – Antithesis of Light

From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.

Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga

Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.

Hopewell – Good Good Desperation

Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.

Caspian – Tertia

Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.

Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse

With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.

Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know

This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.

Lugubrum – Winterstones

We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.

Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell

The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.

Land of Kush – Against the Day

After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.

General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis

It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.

Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings

In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.

The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars

Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?

Drudkh – Microcosmos

Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.

Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution

Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.

Teitanblood – Seven Chalices

After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream

Tragedy – Nerve Damage

People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.

TheSyre – Exist!

This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.

Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception

Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.

Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness

This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.

Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst

Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.

Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven

This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.

Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis

If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.

Incest – Misogyny

This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.

Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown

People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.

Actors and Actresses – Arrows

This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.

Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies

Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.

Gorefest – Rise to Ruin

Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.

Voivod – Infini

No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.

Dawnbringer – Sacrament

While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.

Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude

Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.

Cryptic – Once Holy Realm

This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”

Textures – Drawing Circles

Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.

Amorphis – Tuonela

This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2’s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.

Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore

It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.

Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms

Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.

The Syre – Resistance

By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-2-09

On May 21, 2008, a man got into a bus in Seattle, Washington. Upon seeing the blind woman sitting up front, he shouted “The sick must die,” and began pounding her at full force. Before being restrained by bystanders, he made a powerful statement that shocked all who saw it. Here at Sadistic Metal Reviews, we apply his logic to bad metal. 99.9% of everything in this world is shit, metal included. Our job is to beat, rape, slash, punch, pummel, gut, pound and rip into the bad metal, and tip our hats to the good metal. Because if you love metal… you want the best to prevail! Help us kill the sick with this week’s update.

The Bakerton Group – El Rojo

This album really nails what Phish wanted to be all those years ago. Instead of going into the easy Grateful Dead retro jams, this band sums up the 1960s and 1970s by making a funkier version of King Crimson and the Doors, without vocals, so the open jams can expand like a jazz album — and in doing so, they’ve created a work of intense but thoughtful semi-improvised music that is what the brainier rock listeners have been seeking all these years. It’s easier jazz fusion with more structure, or instrumental rock with a soul. Songs start with basic riffs that expand as guitar and then organ takes the lead, finally culminating in a fusion of lead and rhythm guitar not like what Satriani was trying to do, but with more of an influence from the rich and yet offbeat sounds of the late 1960s. It’s not quite prog but it takes many of the best elements of prog, like the lacing of King Crimson style aggro riffing that pulls it back from the happy void, and puts them into a format that lures you in before you realize you’ve left the vocals behind and in doing so, gained a more flexible, varied and nuanced style of music. This is my pick of this review batch.

Israthoum – Monument of Brimstone

Although this band is listed as being from the Netherlands, they are Portguese in origin and sound like a cross between Primigenium and Gehenna. The second-wave black metal sound dominates this record, with cleanly picked chords and notes using updated versions of Darkthrone rhythms under vocals that owe their rhythms and pacing to the slicker versions of At the Gates-inspired death metal that came out in the late 1990s. Musically, Monument of Brimstone competes with the best of its generation, building its songs from basic riffs that through variations harmonize and rise to a peak of intensity. Even though there are newer touches on here like clean vocals and precision, the pacing of each song and their indulgence in a lush atmosphere of melody reveals the heritage of this band among the ideals of the past. In keeping with its style, this music is simple sometimes to the point of being simple-minded, but much of that perception lies in the refusal of the band to dress up simple songs in all sorts of tech wiz trickery that goes nowhere (metalcore, I’m looking at you). This disc may never approach the all-seeing personality of a Beherit, but stands neck-to-neck with the new Profanatica.

Goes Cube – Another Day Has Passed

Imagine crossing Corrosion of Conformity’s “Animosity” with Soundgarden and assorted punk bands, and you get this mixture of rock, metal riffs and newer generation punk aesthetics. Most sounds are founded in the sludgy crossover riffs and bounding, energetic choruses of later COC, but clean-voiced punk and alternative style bittersweet verses really accelerate these songs, giving them sweet pop hooks while backing that up with some surging guitar. This band is more musical than most, having a better sense of harmony and order, but that can’t save them from the lack of direction their basic style endorses. Clean/dirty dualism benefits Linkin Park, but Goes Cube clearly have higher ambitions. My advice is just to make a harmonically-interesting version of later COC and ditch the alt-rock pretensions; that crowd isn’t going to like anything with a metal riff, anyway.

Carpticon – Master Morality

Of all the attributes required to have a killer album, this CD exhibits 95% of them but doesn’t make it on the final 5%. That final bit is the most important: the science of writing melody and putting together melodies to make a song that resembles an attitude toward reality. Everything else is perfect: production, appropriation from Marduk and Antaeus of their strengths in riffing and rhythm, guitar sound, vocals. This album is like a finely made Swiss watch, with perfect appearance and beautiful shiny gears, but it’s always five minutes off. We want to like it but when it turns off we forget it was on, and never somehow manage to reach for it again. Oof.

Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way

Metal bands coming back from the dead (the old school, swallowed up by the demand of metalcore fans for digestible products) either try to re-state the past, as our Editor kontinual is fond of saying, or they try to pick up where they left off, either trying to “modernize” their sound or develop their old sound. Asphyx go right down the middle. This is a poppier, more bombastic, simpler verse/chorus version of the sound on their self-titled album, and makes nods to some of the song constructions (epic breaks, staggered processionals) from their earlier works. It’s halfway to the Hail of Bullets sound without the metalcore-styled insistence on constant high intensity and chaotic style, and halfway to older Asphyx, but although it is simplified it is nonetheless powerful. If you can imagine The Rack, Asphyx and On the Wings of Infero hybridized with Hail of Bullets or the new Seance, you have the basic idea. Interestingly, at these mid-tempo speeds and simpler arrangements, the punk roots of Asphyx show through, but their punk is also old school, specifically old school hardcore. They break out enough doom metal riffs and slamming death metal riffs to be satisfying, but the ethereal cloudless sky traveling tremolo speed riffs are gone, as are the more involved theatrical constructions that mimicked the topics of song and actually sounded like a march to an altar of doom, or an unhonoured funeral. As a result, I can wholeheartedly recommend this album with the caveat that it’s an A+ take on Asphyx “lite” and as such, a B+ version of older Asphyx that loses some of the great subtlety and grandeur the old school had.

Virus – The Black Flux

It’s really easy to fool metal fans. Just tell them something is unique, and point out what it does that “most metal” doesn’t, and they’ll buy it like labradors eyeing a hot dog. This is goofy, pseudo-gothic rock with semi-technical playing, but shows no distinction in melody or rhythm; in short, it’d be thrown out if it tried to compete in its genre. But you get a bunch of underconfident metalheads looking for mainstream affirmation, and apparently, they buy it, although they will only enjoy it for two weeks of telling other people they “just don’t get it” due (the implication goes) to their inferior mentation. How tiresome. It’s like Opeth but even less distinguished from normal rock music. Fail.

United Nations – United Nations

When nu-metal died, it went straight into alternative rock and picked up that post-Descendents clean-voice punk sound. United Nations start with really gentle punk songs and then put in raging, distorted-vocals choruses, and pick up the pace with adept jazz/metal drumming. The ensuing lack of direction means the band sounds like a punk band that runs into hard times and confusion every thirty seconds, and as a result, the band fails to strengthen either their punk side or their more rock ‘n’ roll side, leaving us the listeners stranded in a middle ground that is quite honestly really simply annoying on an aesthetic level. While musicianship is at a higher level than average, it is also not particularly directed, and so ends up being just very competent guitar playing. I’ll take the punk with spirit and incompetence instead.

Fatal – Retrospective from Hell

Like that kid in the back of your sophomore year English class, Fatal create a true retrospective from Hell by throwing too much into their music all at once. I can appreciate bits of it but I hope I never have to listen to it again (it’s how al-Qaeda will torture me, no doubt). These songs rush at you with vocals and guitar rhythm synchronized, or restate their themes too apparently and too repetitively, hoping the speed will rocket you past the repetition. Lead guitar is surprisingly versatile, sounding like a cross between Thanatopsis and Gorefest. Often times this band sounds like a young Brutal Truth, and indeed one of its more interesting factors is how much it gets away from the heavy metal queso that blights most early death metal attempts, and there’s a clearly interesting convergence of cultural influences from the different metal subgenres here but it’s unclear whether any direction it produces can communicate something eternal, or even something I’d like to hear again. Essentially, this band is a heavy metal band that has disguised itself in death metal camouflage. If you’re one of those fucking idiots who think death metal only got good when it started resembling the rock music it painfully broke away from, you might think this is “progress,” but to the rest of us, it’s a staggering cliche sliding out from a husk of real metal.

Don the Reader – Humanesque

This is off the shelf metalcore. Percussion section is better than average, and there’s a slight Pantera influence that leads to some Southern fried sound bends added to otherwise rigidly square-cut material. The problem this band faces is that it is flamingly obvious. You can pretty much guess not only where every song is going to go, but also, the riffs are just extremely obvious variations on known patterns. If these guys know what’s good for them, they’ll just become a doom metal version of Pantera. We all know metalcore has entered its twilight days, so why not buck the trend and jump the curve?

Creepmime – Chiaroscuro

Every artist has “go to” albums when they run out of ideas, and many of them are obscure works that were full of ideas but for some reason never found an audience. For technical metal, Chiaroscuro must be a go-to for many others, because this band wrote the book on this style far before it became popular. Creepmime on this CD inevitably compare to later Obliveon, Cynic, Voivod, Supuration and Samael: this is technical music using jazzy drumming, indie rock minor-key progressions, death metal lead rhythm riffing and periodically, technical heavy metal flair. It is far better than the second Cynic album because each song here is centered around exploring and expressing an idea, so they remain distinct in our minds. Like Voivod, an infectious rhythm guides us between open chords or sweep-picked fills, with dissonant and inverted chording guiding us through a bouncy but linearly-directed rhythm. Tempi shift not abruptly but sensibly, like undertow tucked into a wave. While each song uses varied basslines, techniques, and multiple riffs, they hold together because Creepmime know how to keep the focus on content. While this early experiment in “modern metal” never caught on, it kept the faith of older metal in the newer style better than anyone save perhaps Demigod, and if re-released today would find its audience finally grew into it.

Mictlantecuhtli – Warriors of the Black Sun

This melodic death metal band writes from the perspective of ancient Amerindian warriors, and while using a modern style, convey that spirit through high-intensity music that makes good use of the template bands like Unanimated, Dissection and Intestine Baalism created to immerse us in a mood of thoughtful, aggressive, and serious engagement with the world. Not without personality, Mictlatecuhtli carefully weave the punchy motivational riffing of later Sepultura into this format, giving it a compelling forward direction. While there’s nothing here that will surprise a metal fan, this release stays closer to the heart of the motivation behind this type of metal music than any recent release. At the very least, there’s no excuse for your Dark Tranquility, In Flames, and Amon Amarth CDs when the real deal comes to you from Mictlantecuhtli.

Solstafir – Köld

Remember when it was really hip and trendy to use the word “shambolic” a year or so ago? Metal has its trends to as people look for some direction that’s proven to “work,” or get them on the bestseller list. Solstafir stumble in with last year’s trend, which is to mix a whole lot of shoegaze into your metal. However, the band make one salient and brilliant decision, which is to keep the pace fast and thus not aggressive as much as energetic and seemingly important. Yet chord progressions and general sensibility tell another tale, as do the production and “why, God, why” vocals. The problem is that metal is so distinctive and clear in its motivations, like a headstrong style, that mixing it with just about anything results in that anything “with a few metal riffs.” That’s about what it sounds like here. Unfortunately, they do so without any real grace, using well-known chord progressions and rhythmic changes in atmospheric songs that hold together mainly because of the rote pounding of that atmosphere. This will not satisfy metal fans, but people accustomed to shoegaze might find it an interesting deviation of aesthetic.

Divine Heresy – Bringer of Plagues

Modern death metal is a lot like the modern time: throw everything into a bowl, pour dressing over it, and call the resulting salad “distinct” even though it has made itself as generic as possible. With too many different tastes, you end up with a background hum of all the same intensity. This CD is no exception, with metalcore composition and generally melodic technical death metal riffing, but vocal chanting like a combination between Pantera and Biohazard; then, each song must break into clean vocals that are a combination between the cheesiest moments of (new) Metallica and something like Coldplay. It tries to be emotional, but since there’s no direction and every different ingredient in its salad is turned up to 11, you end up with a wash of different stuff that never forms into a shape or takes a stand. You could compare it to a sitcom: the story (songwriting) is the background, but you need a different scene or distraction every two minutes so the audience can keep laughing even though they’re only watching with one eye. I think this CD like so many modern metal ones is designed to be heard with half an ear, with the TV and GAIM going in the background, maybe while eating something really sticky. Flee.

Negura Bunget – Maiastru Sfetnic

When people talk about how black metal has been “band of the month” since 1994, this album comes to mind because it was massively feted, and then fell off the radar. In it we can see why most second-wave black metal failed, which is that these bands try to mix so many different styles into one they end up with an ambiguous voice, in addition to by emulating the past having nothing to do but recombine older elements, which further dilutes any idea for a song they might have had. Songs should be like poetry; based on a feeling, or about an experience, they are there to convey the change in mood that made that experience memorable. This album conveys the experience of flipping through a catalog of metal CDs, and hearing samples of random parts of each, which are then tied together into a dramatic black metal style that has so little contrast it’s like going through Disney’s “The Haunted Mansion” at 60 mph, repeatedly. Dangerous because it’s so close to good, at least if you listen to a minute at a time, this album goes nowhere ultimately and so leaves us feeling like we’ve just eaten 3,000 calories of junk food — like a steak, but less satisfying. There’s a good reason this was popular: they can play their instruments, and the production is good if primitive. But there’s an equally good reason we so quickly forgot it.

Ajattara – Noitumaa

This all-acoustic album resembles the attempts of other black metal bands to rediscover a folk-ish sound, like Wardruna and Lord Wind, by leaving behind the rock instrumentation and focusing on writing melodies like those in the indigenous cultural songs of their youths. Interestingly, their refusal to ditch the black metal vocals makes them stand out further as harsh and unyielding, and slices a vicious element deep into this music, which is about as far from the blues-folk of radio indie that you can get. These are simple songs with savage rhythms and complex emotions. While song structures are cyclic and so wear down the listener after some time, and many of the riffs here sound like they were originally composed for distorted guitar, the acoustic guitar offers dynamics unavailable to black metal and this enables this band to immerse themselves in a musical subtlety that gives these songs depth. By far better than this band’s black metal releases, this album of occult, pagan, primitive campfire songs is worth hearing.

Weapon – Drakonian Paradigm

The first track, “Weapon,” uses an introductory riff/solo pair that resembles the first track on Unanimated’s In the Forest of the Dreaming Dead album, a minor-key bluesy sound; the rest of the album does not improve on this: Weapon are trying to merge heavy metal and war metal and as a result have made a kind of pop music that might be interesting if it’s your first metal album. This album is musically well-executed, but that’s only a means of tying together its parts, not make them express anything. And express nothing they do, except that sense of “you’re listening to some kind of metal” that comes with simple beats, solos so fast they sound like eunuchs on speed mumbling, and raspy vocals. Every single song here uses well-known patterns with no new interpretation. It panders to the audience by delivering what they expect, in sloppy underground fashion aping a version of the same mainstream heavy metal most of us hide from if given a chance. The problem is that it’s boring. It’s basically 1970s heavy metal, kind of sloppy like Venom, with bouncy rhythms. If I wanted to listen to pop music disguised as the avantgarde, I’d just hook up with some DEERHOOF and tight jeans. This is everything I hate about heavy metal: an insular culture that rewards repetitive pointless music so they can have an identity, clustered in products like jean jackets and CDs, that has nothing to do with experiencing life — but rather, hiding from it.

Monstrosity – Spiritual Apocalypse

Take the faster parts from earlier Cannibal Corpse, put bluesy solos on half of them, and have them rush into foreboding riffs like Immolation makes, complete with the pinch harmonics and harmonizing that gives that band its dark sound. Toss in a few bouncy heavy metal riffs. The real problem with this CD is that songs don’t fit into songs. They are cyclic riff pairs joined by the aforementioned dark rushing riffs. The intensity of percussion and speed confuses the direction of songs as well by compressing their dynamics and limiting their vocabulary of tempos, so riffs sound similar by the sheer basis of rushing by so quickly. Some of the riff writing and melodic work on this is fantastic, reminiscent of early Brutality, but the “modern death metal” tendency to shift randomly between riffs and styles creates a headache in the making, which is why old schoolers are probably going to avoid this thing. The album is catchy and hookish but the sensation is dulled as it pounds its way into your head. The individual riffs, rhythms and transitions are of quality, but they are assembled without subtlety, making this hard to listen to for long.

Satyricon – Now, Diabolical

This CD reminds me of Coroner’s “Grin” meeting later Samael. The beats are groovy, with a strong disco influence that extends to song structure, and riffs are pleasantly arranged around harmonic structures of a basic nature, making it really easy to listen to, but hard to really immerse yourself in, because it’s basically no different than alternative metal like later Prong or Filter. Unlike early Satyricon, which tried long melodies it couldn’t quite pull off, this album rushes headfirst into rock and, like early Danzig albums, delivers a pleasant listening experience, even if not one memorable enough to reach for time after time.

Massacre – The Second Coming

Huge for a moment in the 1990s because they inherited Death’s rhythm section and lead rhythm guitarist, Massacre somehow dropped off the radar with The Promise, a CD so bad it defies description. Now they’ve released this tribute to their early years with a demo of an album from before their post-death lineup. It’s in a different style that can be best described as a fusion of technical speed metal (Dark Angel) and old school death metal like Master or Nunslaughter, which results in a periodically very musical work that nonetheless plods ahead with heavy repetition and little harmony. The sense of this music being unformed, like most death metal from the 1980s, is palpable; there are bits of heavy metal, speed metal, punk and nascent death metal in a kind of salad that makes no sense, like a journey through radically different terrain. Interestingly, it sounds a lot like the Mantas demos from the early 1980s, which also had Kam Lee on them. Which way did the influence flow? We will probably never know. It is also worth mentioning that after they recorded this, they stored it underwater near a radio transmitter, so the sound quality is slightly worse than the average demo. Songwriting shows promise but is not mature. In contrast, the live recording of “From Beyond” seems otherwordly good. If I could send a wish into the universe, it’s that Kam Lee re-records/re-constructs this album with musicians more versed in early 1990s death metal.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

Mix old Seance with the Funeral Mist style of forward-grinding death metal, and you get Vorum: almost a tribute to Grave-cum-Florida-DM, but rapidly degenerating into heavy metal cliches. The problem with bands of this level is that they don’t understand that turning everything up to 11 sounds really cool but gets completely uniform after awhile, as does the inability to make a melody longer than three notes, because it condemns them to repeating known riff patterns at top speed. All of this is thoroughly competent, mind you, but it’s what Michael Crichton called “thin intelligence”: a large amount of ability, but thinking limited to that ability, and so no ability to get the bigger picture and make art of it. Spare me.

Mgla – Presence

Black metal “standards” since 1994 have plummeted like a rock, which is why year to year, people mention different favorite bands. It’s as if memory has been erased in information overload. Mgla have studied the canon of black metal carefully, and then, have made the same boring rock music you can find in a million other forms — but it’s dressed up as black metal. For starters, they have no conception of how black metal melodies are written, but they know how to use different chord shapes for that “black metal effect”! Next, there’s zero ability to comprehend black metal dynamics. This CD is like a cage of monkeys constantly shouting for attention. There is no lead-up, no building, no suspense and no contrast — just constant shrieking and Burzum technique wrapped around melodies and happy offbeat riffs that would be apt for a Coldplay album. Burn this farce.

Kroda – Towards the Firmaments Verge of Life

These guys produce their vocals like Summoning, and their guitar distortion like the band down the street. Who convinced them this cheap, hollow digital sound would go anywhere? Their songwriting is great except for two factors: (1) a dependency on verse chorus and every third iteration, an interruption with an interlude or non-harmonic bridge; (2) the melodies they write are both happy and simple, like pop with ancient overtones. It’s not bad but it’s somewhat irritating and not a resonant keeper, although it’s fair to mention this band is more interesting than 98% of what comes over my desk. I hope they fix the production, write in varying modes, and fit song structure to the form of its content, and then they’ll be rocking.

Abaroth – The Mountain Gate

So many people grasp so much of black metal but not the ability to use it expressively. This excessively rhythmically chant-aligned album shows a good working knowledge of the black metal aesthetic — and songs that go nowhere. They start, enter us into a cycle of two riffs, interrupt the cycle and return and then end, seemingly abruptly, without much having changed. They are like summer electrical storms from a distance in that there’s a bunch of flickering and frenetic activity, and then everything is just as it was. It’s hard to summon the courage to down releases like this, and there are many, because there’s nothing “wrong” with them — but there’s also nothing so right you’d want to pull it off the shelf and listen to it, and the core of that “tl;dr” impulse is that they don’t express anything unique. They’re variations on the known, and even if they’re more competent there’s nothing to make you want to return to them.

Militia – The Sybling

Someone mentioned this as a classic of great rarity. It may be rare — but it should be rarer. Did you want 1980s style power metal, with disconnected vocals floating above some standard riffs spewed from downtuned guitars? Yeah, it’s about like that. The result is dischordant and not particularly memorable, although I’m certain it’s rare. Hopefully they’ll box up the remaining copies and exile them to Skull Island so no one has to hear this. It’s NWOBHM with speed metal riffs and none of the grace.

Isis – Wavering Radiant

The hardest part about modern society is keeping a straight face. Someone will hand you something misbegotten, tell you it’s good and that many people really dig it. Your job is then to keep from laughing or crying until you’re out of the room. Isis sounds to me like Jawbreaker’s Bivouac — lots of different stuff going on, but none of it develops on the other stuff; it’s all just a sampler plate, and it relishes the “differentness” of its parts as proof that it has great breadth and thus universal wisdom — as done by an indie rock band or shoegaze allstar. I guess that’s what floors me most: how little “different” is going on here, and how much of well-camouflaged “same” is present. There are periodic indie metal riffs, meaning they’re not twisty phrases of interest like death metal but a lot of strumming with sudden breaks. But it’s different, you see, because it’s all mixed together, and even though everything else is made of mixed-together stuff, this mix is different. The clean singing reminds me of Christian rock bands. The melodies are jazzy pop but stay localized in different parts of each song, making the whole thing an incoherent salad of bits that try so hard to be like a style that they end up being stylish but having no distinct voice of their own. This album is truly the triumph in metal of insincere people — call them poseurs, scenesters, hipsters or consumers if you’d like — who can only see surface appearance because they fear what lurks beneath, so they specialize in making the same old stuff but accessorizing it as something cosmic and groundbreaking. Apparently this is popular and I should not laugh at it.

Mayhem – Ordo ad Chao

For some reason this reminds me of Portal or Molested: a lush texture of harmony, in which variances drop out some sounds and augment others, like a pure harmonic tuner of mood. This de-emphasizes rhythm, although there’s plenty of rhythm work present, but usually to work the song up to that state of harmonic wall of noise. I think it’s a response to Burzum’s rhythmic sweep-picking technique. Either way, it is a really interesting sound that approximates some of the odd chord shapes and thus non-standard harmony to semi-standard progressions that defined Thorns; it gives this music a depth and mystery that no previous Mayhem album has had. In fact, this is the best thing they’ve done since De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, although artistically it’s probably only about a quarter as powerful as that album. Its Achilles heel is that repetition of technique and similar rhythms makes the songs indistinguishable from each other and ruins the dramatic effect of contrast. Like many black metal releases post-1994, I don’t mind this but feel no reason to take it off the shelf and listen to it.

Impiety – Terroreign

The trends come and go. One year it’s Velvet Caccoon, the next Cemetary, and then everyone wants to get back to their roots so the trend is the anti-trend. Impiety tuned in to the anti-trend by going back to Grave, Repulsion and other really simple versions of the death metal paradigm. They do OK at this because they are able to write really compelling rhythms. Unfortunately, no melody or sense of structure emerges from that, so these are very box-cut songs with rather predictable progressions. The band themselves seem to know this, and kill as much time as possible with guitar squeals, noise, and stop/start rhythmic passages designed to make us think something exciting is going to happen. It doesn’t.

There you have it — another set of reviews that accurately reflects like: 90% of it sucks, 9% is OK, and 1% is what you really live for. It’s the same with metal. Unlike other review sites, we can’t be bought and won’t write a lie in a review, so you get the pure skinny on what sucks and the occasional floater that rises above the dense, shadowy turds that lurk in the murky shallow pool of metal. If you go out there and buy only the best, the weak will starve and metal will be stronger, which is why we write sadistic metal reviews.

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