Children Of Doom by Eduardo Vitolo (2018)

In the early 1990s, once it seemed that death metal had fired off its initial salvo and lost momentum by late 1992, the record labels immediately turned to what they had next in line to keep the kids occupied, doom metal. This followed years of gradual increase in interest based on the sound that Saint Vitus and Candlemass carried on from Black Sabbath, and tried to jump over recent hardcore- and prog-rock-influenced history to return metal to its heavy rock roots.

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Demoncy – Empire of the Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion)

demoncy_-_empire_of_the_fallen_angel_eternal_black_dominion

Demoncy originally recorded Empire of the Fallen Angel in 2003 and a dozen years later has re-recorded and re-issued these compositions as Empire of the Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion). Having thought for years that the original release deserved a second look, it was great to see it ride again.

Recorded solely by Demoncy creator Ixithra without the benefit of a band as happened on the original, this new edition includes four new compositions which will be of a style familiar to listeners of Enthroned is the Night: more melodic than the classic Joined in Darkness, but still furious in intensity. The re-created older tracks feature better vocals and better production, giving the guitars greater power and fitting songs together more tightly. Empire of the Fallen Angel came out when “depressive black metal” was first a trend, and represents a response to that in the form of black metal that is often doomy: slow, morbid, and atmospheric. While the traditional powerhouse Demoncy riffing that sounds like all the savagery of Incantation and Profanatica undergirded with melody is present, much of this release also resembles the mood-oriented immersive pieces of bands like Black Funeral or even Ras Algethi. This album was always a more sensible method of expressing that sensation in black metal than the “depressive” variant, which amounted to essentially Burzum ripoffs that never changed riff, and now with more powerful production it reveals its strength. A listener might also note pervasive influences from Gorgoroth throughout this material.

Much of the album also uses faster material of the type seen on Enthroned is the Night: fast angular riffing that preserves melodic affinity between internal phrases, keeping a sense of mystery and ongoing discovery vital in the music. The new vocals have all of the whispering abrasive sound that made Joined in Darkness sound like a communication from dark gods hidden underneath the earth, but with the intensified production both float above and complement the guitars. While this album is not as intensely violent and confrontational as Joined in Darkness, nor as death metal influenced and energetic as Enthroned is the Night, it captures both the esoteric fury of American black metal like Black Funeral and the melodic intensity of European acts, all within its own voice. This classic not only rides again, but does so with a new life of its own.

Tracklist:
1. Invocation To Satan
2. Risen From The Ancient Ruins
3. Scion Of The Dark
4. Eternal Black Dominion
5. Sepulchral Whispers
6. My Kingdom Enshrouded In Necromantical Fog
7. The Enchanted Woods Of Forgotten Lore
8. The Obsidian Age Of Ice
9. Night Song (Apocalyptic Dawn)
10. Empire Of The Fallen Angel
11. Shadows Of The Moon (The Winter Solstice)
12. Warmarch Of The Black Hordes
13. The Ode To Eternal Darkness

Empire of the Fallen Angel (Eternal Black Dominion) will see release on June 29, 2015 via Forever Plagued Records.

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Oration of Disorder reviews 02-05-14

seance

What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.

apostolum-winds-of-delusionApostolum – Winds of Disillusion

Like Ras Algethi, this is a black-metal-influenced doom metal album that does not rely on detuned guitars to produce a low-end rumble. Instead, Apostolum shape their songs out of repetitive melodies like we might find in a horror movie soundtrack (shades of Damien Thorne) which cycle through repetition with frequent breaks for rhythmic or dynamic changes. The result is like a comforting background noise segmented into long enough pieces to tell a story, on top of riffs which themselves hint at a type of mood. Vocals add layers of lush intonation that flesh out the relatively sparse pieces, but one of the most important instruments here is silence. Riffs are slower but not uniform pace, so often pauses create gravity; pauses between riffs, and the interruptions in sound, create a sense of melody arising within darkness. The only real problem here is that much of what makes metal enjoyable is less present in this music. Its attempt at emotional depth leads it toward melodies that are periodically happy, so that they may be shattered, and the slowness is for lack of a better term not very exciting. I can appreciate this but I don’t think I’d listen to it.

human_infection-curvatures_in_timeHuman Infection – Curvatures in Time

When we say something is “stale” in music, we generally do not mean that it is old. We mean that it is derived from something obvious, like a first step in examining something. The thought process ended early, we think, because we can easily visualize first-level thought from our armchairs in a casual moment. What interests us is when someone takes something in a distinctive direction, which does not mean weird or unexpected so much as it means a direction expressive of something. At some point, riffs either sound like an event from life itself, an emotional event or resemble an idea, and if the riff does not show similarity to one of those but seems to be introductory thought on its own, we discern that it is purposeless. Human Infection have made a grand effort at the technicality required for a death metal release, although the abysmally hollow and loud drum sound may doom this production, but too much of this is death metal for death metal’s sake without real purpose, and too much of it uses first level thought, a/k/a really obvious and played-out (because they’re obvious, they’re frequently used) riff patterns. I appreciate the big doofus aesthetic of this brand of death metal/deathgrind hybrid, but here it goes too far without going anywhere. As with most situations like this, there is too much reliance on the vocals and drums leading the guitars, which creates a sound like repetitive noise with background texture. Give that guitarist more prominence in songwriting and make the riffs lead the song and this could be a powerful band.

amputated-dissect-molest-ingestAmputated – Dissect, Molest, Ingest

What I like about this band is that they preserve the lineage of percussive death metal leading back to early Suffocation. It’s not that they clone riffs; it’s that they understand song conventions used by the originals and thus have to rely less on the post-Suffocation notions of breakdown to transition within the song. Other late model NYDM conventions make it in however including lots of pinch harmonics and sag-groove riffs. Luckily Amputated know how to put together a song so that it moves naturally and avoids lapsing into unrelated and thus pointless detours. At the same time, reliance on a style like this makes it very hard to distinguish songs since they are all similar in technique, rhythm and approach. This is going to be the challenge for Amputated, to distinguish “Skullfuck Lobotomy” from “Toolbox Abortionist” without relying on cheesy appearance tweaks. This band are tight, focused and have a good instinct for rhythm and song so this should not be a huge challenge for them.

esoterica-aseityEsoterica – Aseity

This is the droning wailing type of post-metal. It uses two-note black metal minor key riffs and drones those in a predictable loop while someone rants with an open-throated, slow vocal. It’s like a requiem performed by brain damage victims. The sense of purpose of classic black metal is lost; you could say Ildjarn took the same approach, and it wasn’t that Ildjarn was first, it’s that Ildjarn was good. Good means organized, purposeful, communicates something, and creates an experience the listener can partake in. Esoterica creates drone. If you want a background tone to go with some activity like ironing or fermenting fish guts this might be a good counterpart, but generally as it is without surprises or discernible idea, it fades into the city noises like planes overhead, trains long-hauling, trucks idling, domestic violence and identity theft.

immoral_hazard-convulsionImmoral Hazard – Convulsion

Pantera vocals over Kreator-styled speed metal with worked in touches from American melodic heavy metal bands of the same era. If you can imagine Kreator with metalcore/bro-core vocals except that the chorus riffs were borrowed from a hybrid of Forbidden/Fates Warning, that would be a good approximation of the style here. The vocals are unfortunately impossible to overlook and I wouldn’t want to listen to this in public because listening to bro-core is the equivalent of screaming “Hello, I’m a fucking moron” at the world. These guys know their classic metal and it shows with allusions that are artfully done enough to not be appropriations but subtle tributes. Phil Anselmo, although a great guy to drink with, invented the worst form of metal vocals possible because they channel aggression to the surface and replace depth with an kind of outraged customer slash drunk frat boy outlook. The rage is all one-dimensional however. The riffs have to support these bouncy rap/rock/hXc bro-core vocals and so get dumbed down. If they could hook this vocalist up with some old Rigor Mortis tapes, this band could head to better places and be really good at it.

dux-vintrasDux – Vintras

Working both within the confines of Gallic metal and a mixed bag of influences from the past, Dux create what a metal writer might dub “national tragedy”: music with a strong national sound that nonetheless embraces melancholy on the far edge of despair, and in the almost depression-distracted gaps created fills in space with past influences, exemplifying the chaotic modern approach that is the source of their angst. Very much in the same style of dissonant minor key Solutrean droning, with a sound that resembles the wind flowing past ancient caves if it were given tone, Dux create in the space etched by Celestia and Vlad Tepes. These songs sound like they might come from the distant past and yet, they are new, and exhibit the same exuberant take on the ancient ways offered by bands like Enslaved, albeit with less technicality. When there are gaps, the band fills in with equal parts Slayer-inspired proto-death metal and bits of choppy heavy metal and death metal, but these parts are infrequent and are counterbalanced by more of the delicious flowing melody they do so well. With better study habits, this band could rank in the higher echelons of contemporary black metal, beating out all the people who lack what this band has: a grasp on the emotional and intellectual subject matter, and thus content, of the black metal genre.

snake_eyes-welcome_to_the_snake_pitSnake Eyes – Welcome to the Snake Pit

Covering the territory once ruled by the first couple Motley Crue albums, Snake Eyes create old fashioned heavy metal with an American tinge of sleaze and darkness. It’s heavy on catchy chorus activity and yet picks up the pace on the riffing more than a Sunset Strip band would have. These songs also try for the “epic” sound of European metal, where at some point the elemental pieces of the song clash and resolve in something with a greater affinity for the sense of the song than the original bits. There’s some bleedover speed metal technique at points, mostly use of muted strum and budget riffs for tempo changes. Clear and strong but higher-pitched vocals guide each song, and are often in that half-sung half-chanted style that rides a good rhythm riff. This style of metal has a lot of rock in it, so will not be for everyone. With bonus cover medley from Judas Priest (“Riding the Sentinel into Hell”).

sammal-no_2Sammal – No 2

Finland is boiling over with classic rock acts. They are all reallymusically competent and have a great sense of melody and rhythm. They have more trouble knowing how to pull a song together to make it highly distinctive, but that’s not from lack of ability, more a lack of internal drama. Dysfunctional people make the best rock ‘n’ roll for a reason, which is that they are not hampered by logic and that they have internal gestures of vast theatrical exuberance that make for really distinctive, evocative songs. Sammal do not have that kind of drama going inside of them. What they do have is a reverence for the 1960s-1970s rock and a way of writing good solid tunes that make you feel like you did not waste your time listening and want to think about them for a little bit. I am not sure what the lyrics are, as I think they’re in the voodoo-moonman language that is Finnish, but the songs themselves are quite powerful. Now why aren’t these guys making death metal?

GD30OB2-N.cdrCulted – Oblique to All Paths

No one wants to say all post-metal sounds the same but it is true. This is because post-metal limits itself both to non-phrasal riffing and a certain narrow range of power-chord based ambiguous minor key riffs and arpeggios, and simultaneously imposes on itself the demand the sometimes there be distortion and hoarse vocals. One might ask these bands why they bother with post-metal when obviously they want to play mainstream rock, but no matter what answer they verbalize, the truth is that it is easier to be a big fish in the small pond of a recent trend than to compete on the much broader highway of rock itself. And yet that is a form of cowardice. Why not tackle the audience that they naturally belong to? This band would be a lot more fun if they went Dave Matthews or Barenaked Ladies on stopped trying to cram some superficial aspects of “metal” into an unrelated genre. There is more actual metal on a Taylor Swift album than is present here even though Culted clone riffs from doom, black and death metal past. But seriously, why is this band wasting its time? Better to just become the rock band they want to be than to force themselves to be trendy and not make the cut.

zloslutZloslut – Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti

Part of black metal was its national tradition. Bands wanted to sound like they were from their homelands. This was harder to relate to in places that are more regional, like UK or USA (the “acronym nations”). Zloslut never quit with this idea. They sound like they are not only a band with their own voice, but they bring out some characteristics of national sound. This is not hyper-distinctive as Zloslut compose very much in the classic black metal vein, sounding much like a cross between early Gorgoroth and Immortal. Songs are melodic but not as an effect; they are based around underlying melodies with a distinctive old world flair, internally punctuated by the type of upturn that introduced a huge amount of ambiguity when metal bands first did it. Now it is worked into the melodic sense itself, like the melody is a series of questions exploding into a defiant statement, usually delivered in full toward the end of a song when it can expand into a promenade or march-style rhythm. These songs are designed to fit together like wooden puzzles, meaning that there must be some gap at all times, but the shapes can never be incompatible. The result develops underneath the ears and has subtlety like the original black metal bands. While 80-90% of it may be familiar with those who studied the early 1990s Northern black metal explosion, as with all things in life the distinction is in the details, and there’s a lot to listen to here that shows this band have their own voice and one for their homeland.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 7-23-10

Being a music reviewer is like playing a neighborhood game of softball. Most people just toss the ball at you in an underhand heave, figuring you’re probably too incompetent to hit it most of the time. Every now and then one comes in at a crazy angle, either because it’s the one kid who can pitch even if he’s tossing you a giant rubber ball with the aerodynamics of a bison turd, or they let the retarded kids play. Either way, that crazy pitch is one in a hundred, and I live for those. Either it’s the rare CD that has some intent behind it, and some feeling to it as a result, or it’s some immaculately oblivious basement dweller here to amuse us with failure. The rest fail just by being ordinary, unexceptional and therefore, completely forgettable.

Kayo Dot – Coyote: This King Crimson tribute project likes to use diminished melodies, atonality, and chaotic combinations of instruments, but at its heart it is pop music with a simple variation on a common theme — instead of using pairs of riffs, the band assemble their phrases in groups of three so that you can shift between them and feel a sense of motion without unnecessarily complexity intervening. Many songs rely on long passages of “building up” harmonic energy through texture, which are like fun jams that then dissolve into structured song again. Songs vary enough to keep interest but are aesthetically unfulfilling as they aim for an aesthetic of randomness and barely remaining organized, which flattens the emotional dynamic possible because every moment is a cliffhanger. In addition, the vocals are like a really bad version of Sigur Ros and will annoy most people who like aesthetically coherent experiences. The most common mistake in making progressive music is to throw everything but the kitchen sink into the pot and hope it sticks, but the best bands always worked from a very simple plan and then spun layers of detail off of that. The horns dominate and guitars are relegated to rhythm and noise. Individual instrumental performances are excellent however so if you are a basement guitarist hit this like a cuffed protester.

Aggression – Forgotten Skeleton: If you crossed Nuclear Assault with Dissection, and gave it punkish choruses borrowed from Cryptic Slaughter, you’d get Aggression. Lots of classic speed metal riffing that will delight anyone who really loves the period after Metallica but before the Dark Angel/Kreator/Destruction/Sodom influenced morphed into death metal, and linear riffing that’s reminiscent of Powermad. On the whole, it’s somewhat random like Destruction and the chanted choruses over the offbeat kickhappy drums sometimes makes me want to make origami out of an IQ test, but this is a credible effort. I just don’t want to hear it again.

Daughters – Daughters: If you crossed Mindless Self Indulgence and Talking Heads with the Beastie Boys, you might get this whacky indie band that uses drums like an industrial band and keeps a theatrical, almost vaudeville level of hysterical intensity with lots of background noise. The vocalist half-talks half-sings and the guitars follow a song structure of extended versions textured in found sounds and different guitar riffs but essentially like all good dub following the same rhythm. Unfortunately, it’s also abrasively annoying because it is essentially simple with many distracting sounds packed into its core. “Daughters” has a spacious sonic profile and weaves some catchy riffs cloaked in noise throughout it, delighting those who thought post-rock should be weirder than slowed-down shoegaze/emo mashups.

Battalion – Winter Campaign: I keep a clay pigeon launcher next to my reviewing station, and when a disc irritates me beyond all reason, I send it flying out over an oblivious world. This is bounce metal, this Battlion stuff, which means it’s like Exhorder crossed with something jaunty and stupidly hard rock like Motley Crue. Although they use a lot of death metal riffs, the majority of playing time goes to riffs which are straight out of the most cliche days of speed metal: chuggachugga chuggachugga chug chuggachugga chuggachugga chug, chug . It is so obvious you have to hold your head up to avoid slumping into a stupor. Not sleep — who can sleep with all of this noise? — but a stupor as if you had someone present to you a 19-hour lecture on how to pick your nose. Mundane is the word. Throw this out as fast as you can find it.

Grave Miasma – Exalted Emanation: There’s a recent spate of these “simplified Incantation/Demoncy” bands. The only one I like so far is Cruciamentum; they vary just enough to be a solid B level death metal band. Teitanblood and Grave Miasma are so obvious it’s just painful to listen. Grave Miasma in particular seems to draw inspiration from Grave, who would use basic chromatic progressions in the most obvious way in rhythmically very basic ways, such that the boldness of it made you want to like it, as with early Napalm Death. But then you’d reflect on it and realize there wasn’t much there unless you really enjoyed the guitar tone. So it is with Grave Miasma: standard song forms, plodding progressions, little harmonic or melodic development, and not particularly compelling rhythm — unlike Demoncy and Incantation, who used minimalism creatively, this is just minimal. I’d like to love this, or I’d love to like it, but I don’t want to listen to it again.

Zs – New Slaves: Tribal drumbeats with metallic noises for harmony, deconstructed sound and effects, and a wailing saxophone make up this experimental band that uses the dub structure of layered sound. The beat established early in a song almost never changes, although it may cease at strategic moments, as in a primal ritual; within the spaces between beats, additional percussion instruments lend their timbre as an electric guitar and/or saxophone make repetitive oddball sounds with minor textural variations, giving the sensation of the album slowly surrounding you like chocolate icing. While most will not have the stomach for the abrasive wall-of-noise technique, the ritual rhythms and ceremonial pacing to each song make it an enigmatic sonic wallpaper for the background, reminiscent of the K.K. Null/Merzbow project “Absolute Null Punkt” if hybridized with The Electric Company.

Diamondsnake – Diamondsnake: This band cracks me up. Well-known ambient dude Moby created it with some of his friends from non-succeeding metal bands. It sounds like middle period Motley Crue done by pop punk brats Blink 182, with lots of extra cheese and sleaze, more with tongue-in-cheek irony than attempting to really provoke a parent or legal guardian. For hard rock listeners, this album is about as clear as anything else in the genre, and has some retro appeal with its very “Quiet Riot 1985 turned up to 11” sensibility. One oddity is that the production is so thin and designed to resemble a pop band, because the reedy hum of guitars cannot compete with today’s louder and thicker sound. However, it captures vocals, which with infectious four-note melodies are what really drive this band, since the riffs are if not generic at least cut from historical archetypes. Like most popular music, it’s children’s songs — really basic 3-4 note patterns repeated as “melodies” — but it’s catchy, fun, and not half as bad as most of the trve kvlt releases we get here.

Catapult the Smoke – Unearthed: Stoner metal is about half Black Sabbath, with the other half being filled by the rock heritage that comes into metal through bands like Cream, Led Zeppelin and Iron Butterfly. This CD contains competent stoner metal with unsteady wailing for vocals, but its essence is rock ‘n’ roll wrapped up in a bunch of metal riffs. In fact, it could well be a case of regression to the mean; this band is not substantially musically different from the Night Ranger clones of the 1980s, but they used lower tuning and have a greater vocabulary of metal riffs, namely Candlemass and Cathedral. Song structures are very much radio rock and these songs suffer greatly because there’s no emotional dynamism in them, where we feel a sudden change in difficult emotions that has the effect of stepping onto a three-story water slide and riding out of control. Instead, these songs claim a space and fill it, but there’s not much internal change or feeling of any emotional conflict, so they end up being more like leaving a fan on at night for comforting white noise.

Vuohivasara – The Sigil: Sounds a lot like Niden Div 187, namely fast melodic violence with lots of chromatic fills and a basic riff/chorus construction. Not bad, not as good as Mythos.

Trauma – Daimonion: Metalcore-influenced modern death metal, reminds me of a cross between Pestilence and Eisenvater, but it does the thing every bad metal band does which is repeat a basic rhythm through everything. Vocals/guitars synch and chant. Riffs are very similar too.

Master – Slaves to Society: Paul Speckmann is a genius of metal who sometimes leaves things half-finished as he does with this album. Riffs are similar, and guitar wankery fills in the gaps. In addition, his chorus-chant heavy metal just makes for repetition. There are some awesome moments but it’s not Master’s best.

Beherit – Unholy Blessings: Compilation of demos. The early demos sound like the first album, the second album demos sound like the second album played hastily, and the live set is chaotic and brilliant but not really something you need recorded. Blasphemy cover is a nice touch. I love this band but don’t see the point to this bootleg.

Skeletonbreath – Eagle’s Nest, Devil’s Cave: I like this because it reminds me of what Carbonized attempted to do on their second and third albums, which is leave rock music and jazz behind by giving songs a pattern of development more like that of a movie soundtrack. Using drums, adroit bass, and a violin, Skeletonbreath create carnival-esque longer songs that resemble soundtracks for the greatest movies you’ve never seen. These songs have clear theme and develop through a series of melodies that comment on one another, creating a real sense of atmosphere and through change, emotion. One of the more interesting CDs I’ve heard recently and musically, head and shoulders above the rest.

Xasthur – Demo 2005: Xasthur is easy to like, at first listen, because it’s actually musical in the formation of its riffs and use of vocals. The problem with Xasthur is that songs don’t go anywhere; this is the same problem every “Burzum-influenced” band has, which is that it’s much harder to string together riffs into an atmosphere than maintain it with one riff and a few breaks. This demo represents the furthest evolution of Xasthur in that songs vary between several moods, like how in your average house, you end up in one of three rooms most of the time. It’s very pretty but doesn’t stand up to repeated listenings.

Wiht – Wiht: First track sounds like a cross between Capricornus and Celtic Folk; it’s very bouncy and very intense on repetition with layers of simple technique on it. Sounds a lot like early Abigor mixed with Samain and early Hades. Not bad, but needs more direction.

The Austerity Program – Backsliders and Apostates Will Burn: Melodic punk music interrupted by extended periods of bass/drums while some dude sings a faux Jim Morrison/David Bowie melodic ramble which is not so much directed as responding to itself. The chaotic result is really abrasive for the most part but has its moments of beauty. I’d like to like this CD but it forgets about the listener and has made a theoretical object instead. Most people will as a result find it annoying.

Antediluvian – Under Wing of Asael: This is like a death metal version of war metal. Take some of those two-chord rhythm riffs that Blasphemy made big, add a musically unrelated fill, and make it a song… then repeat. It’s not bad, it’s not great, it’s on the low side of good but too repetitive to listen to again.

Pyramids with Nadja – Pyramids with Nadja: Often when reviewing failed black metal projects, my thought is that the musicians involved are simply in the wrong genre. Our personalities determine our ideologies, and from that what we find good and what we find bad, and if those don’t match up with the genre, we’re out of place. Nadja the shoegaze emo black metal band is insipid crap; here, however, with personnel from Pyramids as well, the Nadja people are in their element and a great album results. This most reminds me of Mick Harris’ Lull fused with post-Godflesh project Final, if supervised by My Bloody Valentine, because it is layers of organic sound like distorted guitar usually not even playing notes so much as skimming strings and using vibrato directly; they use bass as percussion much like Final does, and layer their distorted waves like My Bloody Valentine, but the sense of songs arising out of silence through chaos into pleasing drones is pure lull. Piano serves here as a guiding voice that brings the surging noise back onto something resembling a melody; voices can be heard, like a Greek chorus in distant space represented by reverb, filtering through. The result is pure texture like noise music, but it’s a texture that takes harmonically related notes and builds from them a fullness that is gentle and intricate enough to hold the attention. This is where these musicians belong; burn your Nadja CDs, because they are nothing in comparison to this.

Aosoth – Ashes of Angels: This is very similar to Anael, in that they use a couple of additional power chord shapes to fake a sonic tapestry. Dissonant chord, consonant chord. Always a binary, like a nu-metal band: here is soft and sensitive, and now it collides with rough and tumble. This technique is as old as 1987, which is when I first heard it and these chord voicings used by emo bands. This release doesn’t understand the spirit of old school death metal, or how it’s composed, and the result is a boring, lukewarm, soulless and repetitive listen.

Cleric – Regressions: Metalcore mixes hardcore, emo and metal into music with the compositional style, pacing and chord shapes of hardcore, but often throws in metal riffs, textures and vocals. The result is like a bag of kittens, each one scrambling to be nearer to the top, and the result is pure chaos. Cleric throw in some droning guitar feedback that’s quite pretty, some odd pauses and lots of prolonged open chord strumming, but musically this is no different from 100,000 other bands since 1987.

Apostasy – Sunset of the End: This album inherits the worst of speed metal, which is lots of strumming in the background while drums race to keep up and some dude “white guy raps” over the top. They’re good at their instruments, and know that intersection of riffing between Artillery and Destruction that is so fertile, but it doesn’t hold together. My head hurts.

Blut Aus Nord – Memoria Vetusta II Dialogue with the Stars: When an album like this comes out, Mossad should be dispatched to the homes of the perpetrators to find the “Black Metal Paint by Numbers” kit they used to make this. Even the worst band made by 15-year-olds is preferable because in its randomness, it is not predictable. This is entirely linear and pulls every trick to sound black metally. There is no direction; it’s a school assignment, “write a black metal album.” And it takes forever to end.

Angel Eyes – Midwestern: Alternating between droning higher-end sound that resembles a siren Doppler test through a smoky sky, and a very basic hybrid between sludge metal (Eyehategod) and stoner doom (Sleep), Angel Eyes create a post-rock opus that almost escapes its roots in indie, emo and modern hardcore. Songs unfold like a rambling house with rooms of different sizes built onto one another in a gradual process of accretion. There’s a room for spacy electronics and heavily reverbed guitar throbbing across a mostly empty sonic platform, and there’s a room for metalcore riffing with about 50% more indie rock taming it from incoherent raging into sensible sound. There’s even the room — shows up frequently, like a storage room linking two wings — for a lack of distortion while simple sweeps echo radiant through the ears. Much of this material succumbs to the linearity of non-linearity, where it both tries to be out there and because it needs to be listenable, shapes its deviance around a very simple core. However, many songs develop in interesting and poetic ways. The weak spot in this band are the predictable elements it inherited: the metalcore riffs are predictable and don’t add much to the song, and the vocals are really pointless. Dropping those would let these guys do what they’re good at, which is designing sound like a playground, with interesting nooks and slides and tunnels and bridges to explore even though you know you’ll end up back at the sandbox eventually. If you want an example of post-rock you can believe in, this would be it.

Cenotaph – Saga Belica: Bands commit suicide after albums like this. The interesting facet is that it’s a cross between later speed metal, like Destruction, with symphonic metal like Emperor or Therion. That means lots of Testament-style riffing that bounces around a chord while vocals rage all over the place, then the verse/chorus slurry runs straight into a pause and keyboard fill, then accompanying guitar/keyboard melodic run. It’s as ludicrous as it sounds, and this album is as directionless as you might imagine. Sad as this was a once-epic band.

Harvey Milk – A small turn of human kindness: This music is really obvious. It’s really stylized, but really obvious. I don’t think anything else matters. If you fall for this, you like listening to first-turn-off-the-main-road variations on metal riffs from the 1970s which, because they’re in a dramatic format full of lots of high school drama student Pauses, are assumed to constitute songs. But songs don’t happen here. Loops of riffs do, and then there’s a bunch of noise and something that sounds like a Walrus on PCP howling, and then the song “peaks” by being super-chaotic then smooths out into normalcy, which is the usual boredom. If you were fooled by Boris and Opeth, you might like this, but otherwise it’s just a treacle of boredom tugging at your heels.

Cerebral Effusion – Impulsive Psychopathic Acts: This is straight off-the-shelf deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, pauses, lots of long battery runs with blastbeats. Not incompetently composed but the style is so painfully blockheaded that it’s hard to want to hear.

Dark Half – Reborn: Standard punk music played with metal flavoring, namely a minor key and some metally riffs. For the sense of tempo alone this band should be shot over an open pit, but the completely shrinkwrapped standard black metal riffs dumb this down even further. For bonus points, it’s half speed metal so you get the same hackneyed fifteenth-rate ripoff riffs that have been around for thirty years. Songs go nowhere, but you guessed that by now. If this band were an individual, it would be on the police blotter for stealing empty safes. People waste their lives trying to make themselves like crap like this.

Desexult – Demo II: For your convenience, we have compiled all of the blockhead riffs from the first month’s practice of every metal band ever created. It’s like Hellhammer, but without the insightful incompetence; it’s just sort of part of the ride. I can’t imagine why anyone would keep this around.

Disaffected – Vast: Painfully predictable technical speed metal/death metal. Obviously, these guys listened to a ton of Testimony of the Ancients, but never got their act together to find a style or direction. Lots of speed metal riffs and “wait for it” off-time paused-based riffing, like Pantera on a Dream Theater kick. Plenty of shredding but little going on. Save yourselves before it’s too late.

Disgorge – Consume the Forsaken: Standard totally incomprehensible deathgrind of the Y2K+ variety. Breakdowns, chug-a-lot, blast beats, gurgling vocals and very similar riffs. In fact, this band seems to specialize in the non-riff, or the linear chord progression played with different rhythmic emphasis. It’s a real brain drill, this CD, as you try to remember what you were thinking before the incessant chug-gurgle-blast invaded your mind. What was I saying?

Eradication – The Great Cleaning: Much as I stand behind the idea of killing off the stupid, this band missed at least one, which is this album. Predictable melodic black metal with dramatic pauses and blasts. The result is insipid because it recycles the past without a direction, so you feel surrounded in make-work interpretations of other, better bands.

Ereshkigal – Ten Years of Blasphemy: God is safe from these blasphemers. Really, really safe. This really lukewarm black metal merges the truding mid-paced sound with the goofy, placeless keyboards that Master’s Hammer could use to effect but Ereshkigal manage to use like some bizarre punctuation that intrudes wherever, somewhere, a retard shits himself. It’s not even interesting enough to be random. How did they not fall asleep when writing, or recording this stuff? Oh well just send it to the pressing plant, someone will like it. Anyone… anyone…?

Execration – Syndicate of Lethargy: Guys, you didn’t forget anything. You didn’t leave anything out. This brutal blasting death metal incorporates melody, Gorguts-style odd timings and melodic fills, and New York style harmonics and stop/start riffing. The problem is that it’s disorganized, so you get a ton of unrelated crap that has to streamline into the linear to complete itself. And then it’s boring.

Exmortem – Nihilistic Contentment: For a metal band, it’s easy to confuse “frenetic” with “has content.” This very busy — “chaotic” — thrashing madness has constant clanging bass, battering drums and whirring guitars. What it doesn’t have is any particularly unique or insightful view of the world, or an aesthetic experience that rewards consciousness with an expanded view of life. Instead, it’s like cramming your head into a tiny box and then beating on the sides with your tiny impotent fists.

Fatalist – The Depths of Inhumanity: Oh fucking awesome, it’s just like the early 1990s when the Swedish death metal gods ruled the world. Except that somewhere along the way, Fatalist lost its soul. They’ve aped the sound of the guitars, and play derivative riffs at the same pace, but the songwriting is a mess. Sure, all these riffs are in the same key, but they don’t relate to each other that well and aren’t that interesting. To compensate the guy doing the vocals rants in a really predictable cadence. The result is mind-numbing and lacks all of the interesting song structures, melodies and atmosphere of the original Swedish death metal, or any music more competent than jingles in commercials for cleaning products. If you wanted to know what it’s like to be a retarded child, listen to this extensively.

An Albatross – The An Albatross Family Album: This CD tries to capture the experience of taking bong hits while you flip through a random selection of cable TV channels, with a metal CD going in the background and something really intense on your mind. They patch their songs together from metal, punk and indie riffs broken up with sound samples, keyboards, and radically sonically different interludes and transitions that resemble the intensely emotional conclusions of nature channel documentaries. Much of this music plays with being on the edge of deliberately super-annoying, and so will fail the “do I want to listen to this again?” test, but as an exploration of pushing the limits of style, it raises some interesting issues that someone else could develop in a more coherent and expressive way.

Faust – From Glory to Infinity: Very linear music, embellished with technical metal frills, but this cannot disguise the basic blockhead approach and lack of aesthetic opening that defines this music. Reminiscent of a faster and harder version of later Rotting Christ, this is melodic metal trapped in the middle of absolutely predictable overractive rhythms. It’s a mishmash of speed metal, Meshuggah, and death metal riffing that ends up just wearing you down with its insistence. This band really needs to just step back and figure out what they’re expressing. This is a highly competent mess.

Faustcoven – The Halo of Burning Wings: This is hiking music, meaning that it keeps building on a single two-step throbbing rhythm and hopes you follow along. I’m sure there are tasty granola bars, and maybe topless female hikers at the next rest stop, but this is boring as hell. Trudge, chant sing-song verse, then chorus and dick around with some riffs before you end the song. I’m trapped in that two-dimensional mirror thing they used to store bad guys in the Superman movies. LET ME OUT

Child Abuse – Cut and Run: The postmodern music of the late 1990s onward has confused cause and effect. When music is unique, the cause is a unique view of life and a burning desire to express it (put it into symbols and sound). When music is not unique, you cannot make it unique by dressing it up in everything “different” without making a mess that’s both chaotic and annoying. Child Abuse sounds like what would happen if a nu-metal band decided to make grindcore with math-metal and metalcore influences. Lots of odd noises, weirdly bent guitar riffs, and then standard grind/punk riffing while vocals shriek and feedback imitates the stall warnings of a 747. This really is not a path to success.

Faustrecht – Demoniak: Now that every metal band has an intro, let’s be sure to include one. Make it especially wandering and pointless. Then speaking of wandering and pointless, let’s put together high-speed Venom-style riffs and Donald Duck quack over the top. Even better, let’s keep it as verse/chorus as possible. Minimalism is like being closer to Satan. Then a really catchy chorus, but don’t make it too distinctive, or it might offend our advertisers (lobotomy wound care products, no doubt). So it ends up insipid, but that’s convenient, because so is the rest of this disaster of an album. I’m sending it to the Large Hadron Collider people because “Demoniak” is so bad it will make time itself slow down. Hope you’re not feeling your mortality while you waste irreplaceable seconds on this turd.

Fear Factory – Mechanize: Staying true to the title, I think they outsourced this album to a Perl script. It does that annoying white boy rap thing for the verses, and then choruses are the dude howling three syllables over and over again. It’s like the worst parts of Godflesh and NIN, but they added VNV Nation style techno touches. But we’ll be DIFFERENT and throw in some singing to make you know hey, it’s not like the other brick-stupid obvious stuff out there; there’s SINGING! Did we mention the SINGING? Still it’s so driving yet invariant and depthless that it’s good for nothing more than driving your parents, if you’re deaf and so immune to this wreck. I think they clearly designed this for people new to music who don’t mind really obvious and prosaic music so long as they get the message. And with this degree of high volume repetition, there’s no way to miss it.

Fractal Gates – Altered States of Consciousness: This sounds a lot like early Nuclear Assault to me, but with death metal vocals and uptempo. Good melodic hooks, riffs are obvious but not out of place, and there are some pleasant melodic diversions. Very Gothic in its use of melody, like a short bus version of Gehenna or later Rotting Christ. I wouldn’t call it profound, and as a result, wouldn’t listen to it again, but it’s far more “together” than most of the shit in this review pile.

Funeral Moth – Funeral Moth: The good thing about a gimmick is that you don’t have to work on the content of what you do. Let the gimmick sell it. You’re a Japanese doom metal band; what else do you need? Never mind that Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism all did the very slow riffs thing better and they did it by developing those riffs. Just get totally linear. No one is going to be listening anyway, because they’re too busy talking about how you’re a JAPANESE DOOM METAL BAND. Exotic, dude. Pass the PBR, and continue half-listening to this insipid hipster nightmare.

Gammacide – Victims of Science: You wanted some chaotic speed metal? Good, because this is pure chaos. Fast riffs flow into faster riffs and then they get into the staple of 1980s speed metal, the trudging riff that’s basically a lot of fast strumming of a recursive but rather slow progression. Chanty vocals with jaunty rhythms are par for the course too. But there’s a reason this band never really took on the world. This stuff has personality, but you wouldn’t say it really nails it, or expresses anything interesting about life. It’s there and it’s metal.

Gorgoroth – Quantos Possunt Ad Satanitatem Trahunt: Droning misery. Constant drumming. Harsh background screams with predictable rhythms. If this is Satan’s music, I’m getting a Bible. Interestingly, other than the fast strumming, this music is identical to the mediocre crap that came out of the late speed metal era, including the riffs that are based on Slayer patterns but, to distinguish them, random notes get tossed in. When you think it can’t get any worse, they do a “dramatic” pause and then start up, or throw in melodic black metal riffs that are about as new as erosion. If you are busy doing something really difficult, you won’t notice this background noise is pointless and boring. But listen to it? It has the soporific effect of a televangelist’s sermon.

Grabnebelfursten – Schwarz Gegen Weiss: It must be that Reader’s Digest is offering a series of helpful articles on handy home repairs and making symphonic black metal. These riffs sound like the guitarist is feeling them out and just trying semi-random stuff as he goes, and the composition modus operandi of this band is to find something they like and pound it into the ground, then toss in something totally different so you don’t get bored. The result is circus music that’s comedic in how little it relates to itself, or anything else. Vocals are also of that ptomaine poisoning hurl that sounds like the vocalist is straining to keep up with the random clatter beneath. I think they should refer to this as “suicidal black metal” because unless you have the option to turn it off, death may be your only deliverance.

Gravferd – Demonized: Hi everyone, I’d like you to meet my Down’s syndrome child, Gravferd. He sits in his room and practices stuff he knows other bands have done, and then vomits it back in a random order so that there’s enough for an album. Any time he gets confused and starts to cry, we just double the tempo and then he starts barfing out incomprehensible lyrics recycled from a giant pile of cliches we keep in the diaper room. You might recognize intense moments from the last twenty years of black metal, stripped of all context and power, rendered incompetently. But he’s my tard, so I’m going to put a gold star on this fucking thing and publish it. File under G for “glazed over.”

Greymachine – Disconnected: People love ambient music because you can turn on the drum machine, start jamming over a simple progression, and by dumping layers of noise, found sounds, keyboards, vocals and guacamole on it you can gradually shape it into a song. Then you turn off the tape machine and mail the thing to your record label, who start talking about it like it’s the esoteric holy grail of lost musical genius. Let’s dial it back to reality: this is very stoned people dicking around in the studio, and it shows none of the genius that occured on Streetcleaner all those years ago.

Holocausto – Campo de Exterminio: You have to get this, it’s a classic! Undiscovered cult metal from the early 1980s… and there’s a reason it was undiscovered. Do you remember those record players they made in the 1970s for playing Disney records? They were all plastic and had cartoon characters molded into them. This album belongs on one, because it’s kiddie music. It’s super-basic, not in a profoundly disturbing way like Discharge or Sarcofago, but more like a cross between old Sepultura and Anthrax. Like Anthrax, it’s simple-minded. Like old Sepultura, it’s fast and blasphemous with incomprehensible vocals that sound like tearing Kleenex. Like much of 1980s speed metal influenced material, it has the uncanny ability to kill time by hanging out on a very linear, obvious series of variations on a rhythm. I really wish this was buried treasure, but it’s not.

I – Between Two Worlds: Predictable hard rock, meet black metal vocals. Yes, it sounds like a toad on meth, and the riffs that came out of the 1970s but now come at you twice as fast just make the ludicrous more painful. Even worse, the increased tempo means that there’s no breathing room, just constant cliche at top volume. Then when you think you’ve heard enough, the shitty guitar solo comes in to make you long for peaceful silence. Unless you’re a moron. Then this must seem like it was made just for you.

Homicide – Dale of Lost Souls: Here come the police — where can we hide this collection of stolen ideas from the FAIL file of bad 1980s speed metal? Oh look, we can stuff them into this blackened death metal band and no one will notice. Mainly because no one is listening because this sucks. It’s all over the place and to hide the fact they have no idea to develop a song, the musicians here rely on repetition to remind you which song you’re listening to. It’s the one with that borrowed, dumbed-down Exodus riff. Oh wait. That didn’t help. It’s the one that’s a microwave TV dinner version of Devastation… that won’t help either. Throw this out.

Ignivomous – Death Transmutation: I wonder how these musicians memorize these songs. Since the riffs fit together in tempo and key only, and make no sense as a metal tune, and the only transitions possible are dramatic pauses, it’s likely they have a mnemonic to this. Probably something like GDHJJKFLX because the whole album is incoherent. Good guitar tone, zero on the content, and like all shitty metal bands they have to shout it at top volume to try to distract you from the suck. The best course of action is to go do something more stimulating, like mow a lawn or punch out gargoyles.

Impurity – Lucifer Vomiting Blasphemies Over Christ’s Head: No, it’s Impurity vomiting inconsequential noise over your head, and over your wallet, if you bought this. This noisy foray into basic death metal sounds like war metal, which is to say that it’s near constant tempo incoherent riffing with a drunk guy gurgling while the drummer does basically whatever he wants because no one is paying attention. You can do better than this, probably with a pair of castanets and a broken fan to howl in the background. This album is the comical disaster that your parents would imagine upon hearing the title. Well, at least it presents itself accurately.

Infected – Crawlspace: Sometimes, when you get infected, you get a bad headache and you lose 20 IQ points. That’s what happened to this band. This is stop-start “wait — I’ve got to crap — look — some open ground” style semi-skeltonic brain-absent chanting over recycled riffs from failed Exhorder clones who perished in prison where they got sent for ripping the warning tags off of mattresses. The total failure of imagination, or connection to what makes music good, gets us this headache which has zero flow and zero appeal.

Inflabatan – Wanderer of Grief: Every melodic black metal album, boiled for 12 hours to ensure no flavor remains, served with peas steamed in dishwater and a tasty glass of fortified wine gone to vinegar. It’s not bad, it’s far from good, it’s just there. Kind of like when you have a late assignment so you write I ATE MY OWN ASS AND LIKED IT on a sheet of paper and hand it in so you at least don’t get a zero. It’s not a zero, but maybe like a 36.

Inquisidor – Inquisidor: You know, disco had its moments. It had melody. The songs often were distinctive, and sometimes, reminded you of a moment in life where you felt clarity and got excited about what was to come. Inquisidor is “generic” in the oldest meaning, which is that it fits into its genre dead in the middle and is exactly what you’d expect. Fast Kreator riffs, in songs structured like those of Sodom, with urgent blasphemous vocals. If it were the first of this type I heard, I might like it but find it a little boring. Now I just flee.

Inquisition – Magnificent Glorification of Lucifer: I can see why people like this — it’s competent. The rhythms fit together, and riffs work together. The problem is that it’s composed in an idiotic style, and is as a result limited. This is the fusion of war metal and Judas Iscariot-style slow ambient black metal, so you get (a) more repetition than you know what to do with (b) simple riffs on a bouncy rhythm and (d) detached, disconnected vocals. It’s about two riffs per song, often variations on the same theme. While they all fit together, and the result is pleasant to listen to because these guys are five times as competent as the average black metal band, it’s still boring. Nothing happens: what is going on when the song starts is what happens when it ends. That result doesn’t feel evil, or challenging, but kind of dance-y like later Napalm Death.

Wreck of the Hesperus – The Sunken Threshold: Imagine an indie-metal/doom metal hybrid. What you’re imagining even with half a brain is what you get with this release. Slow limbs of chord progressions rise and crash while drums keep a busy, jazz-inspired distraction going. Songs move slowly, verse/chorus, then conclude in a trailing out to insignificance. If Winter, Thergothon and Skepticism did it too well for you, here’s a generic version.

Vektor – Black Future: Hipster music. I say that because it’s dressed up (ironically) like Voivod worship on the outside, but it’s pure aesthetics; there is no understanding of the composition or content that made Voivod great. Instead it’s standard war metal, slowed down by 1/4, played with some of the chord voicings Piggy used. Songs are standard format, very busy with lots of chaotic drums and messy riffing, but no concepts that tickle the brain or even amuse the gut. On the surface, it’s Voivody. Beneath, it’s the standard punk/metal/rock that hipsters like, dressed up in a unique way. Watch this band disappear quickly.

The Shadow Order – Untold: This is probably the best Burzum clone I’ve ever heard. If you can imagine Burzum writing songs that transition from state “A” to state “B” directly, you’ve got roughly what’s going on here. It’s simpler, similar in spirit, and slightly more ear candyish (e.g. confines itself to conventional consonant voicings) but on the whole is pleasant to listen to. It’s unlikely to stand up to repeated listens well, but will occupy a position like the first Infernum album of being a reasonable alternative.

Inveracity – Extermination of Millions: This is a good solid release in the Deeds of Flesh/Suffocation percussive death metal style. It’s more linear than Doug Cerrito’s inspired riffing, but has a good sense of putting together a basic song and stacking up parts that contrast each other, so doesn’t fall into the monotonous camp of most material in this genre. While it is good, it falls short of exceptional and thus radically distinctive, so it’s always going to lurk in Suffocation’s shadow until it develops more of its own voice.

Insect Warfare – World Extermination: If you crossed Terrorizer, Assuck and Nasum you’d get something a lot like Insect Warfare. This is grindcore that sounds like some very energetic people dropped whatever they were doing, rushed to their instruments, and bashed out short but furious songs. These songs are well-composed; however, they’re also extremely basic and rely on riffcraft that alludes to much of extant grindcore. As a result, it’s kind of a neat album if someone hands it to you, but hard to want to reach for it when much more personalitied and diverse offerings like the early Terrorizer material exist.

Kaamos – Lucifer Rising: Pure speed, awesome Swedish(tm) production, and intriguingly blasphemous sound titles cannot compensate for having depth to your music. Kaamos is, like almost everything but the original wave of Swedish death metal, screamingly obvious. These riffs are almost entirely linear and capture no melodic or harmony; not only that, they aren’t shaped into interesting phrases rhythmically. The result is a CD that instantly descends to background noise. It’s pleasant-sounding but empty.

Liturgy – Renihilation: Get the hipsters out of metal. If you like emo-style melodies played really fast over chaotic drums, or the former hybridized with riffs from old Metallica clones but played in a kvlt black metal style, you may like this. I find it really obvious, although clearly musically more erudite than the trve kvlt types. The problem is that despite all of these interesting elements, the songs express nothing, and chord/note progressions are very similar from track to track. The frenetic drumming and vocals only accentuate, not conceal, this deficiency.

Malign – Divine-Facing Fireborn: You and I would really love to like this. It has all the promise of older black metal: a cross between Sarcofago and Merciless, interpreted through the filter of later Mayhem (lush chording, odd slow tempo changes, murky sounds) with the viciousness and yet very pop sense of melodic hook that all the Swedish black metal bands wield. Yet, that’s it. The surface traits are all; what’s underneath is unmotivational. So you end up with black metal wallpaper and an empty soul, but also, a bored one.

Maim – From the Womb to the Tomb: These guys have an interesting approach, aesthetically, in that they try to be Autopsy but mix in the speed and pacing of older Entombed. Sonically, it’s a great approach but not much changes in the song between the beginning and the end. It’s less like a big loop than a spin cycle: you start looking at something, then rotate around it and hey, there it is again. In addition, riffs are really basic variants on forms we’ve seen before from Kreator, Destruction, Atrophy and numerous death metal bands. They are very basic, very interchangeable, and lack the feeling of having been designed to fit together into something distinct with a meaning of its own. That depthless nature to these songs makes this album an endurance contest.

Perished – Seid: Strip away the death vocals and fast drumming, and this is plain boring hard rock like you might find on a Motley Crue record. Aesthetically, it sounds like Immortal, but without the greatness of personality that made At the Heart of Winter a great album, or the spark of insight that made earlier Immortal even superior.

Pathology – Incisions of Perverse Debauchery: Cross Deeds of Flesh with Dead Infection, and you get this gurgling deathgrind which is relentless and not bad, but also not exceptional enough to merit a re-listen. In particular, songs are streams of thudding riffs and relatively similar textural shifts, which makes it difficult to distinguish between them, although the radically varying production helps. I respect this more than most bands because it has a simple goal and fulfills it, although it’s hard to want to go through the experience when there are more interesting listens out there.

Pantheist – Amartia: If Paradise Lost and Skepticism had a baby, it would be this ponderous doom metal band. Songs are glacial with melodic underpinnings and a bit on the pop side, although they love their sonic dynamism and intense distortion. It’s competent but not particularly compelling in form or content, and the vermicular pace does not help us get over that.

Overthrow – Within Suffering: It’s a hybrid of Beneath the Remains era Sepultura and early Sadus, and it’s well-executed but not a standout in that these songs follow fairly cookie-cutter speed metal patterns. Riffs: you’ve heard their archetypes before. Vocals: they do that thing where they chant on the beat as the kickhappy drums crazy go nuts next to some chugging guitars — fucking annoying. On the plus side, they change riffs like Dark Angel so that there’s always tempo, harmonic or phrasal motion (or when disordered: commotion) going on. And lots of solos that sound like later Nuclear Assault going hog wild on the pentatonics. Ultimately, I find this really annoying but if you would let Sadus mount you from the rear, you’ll love it.

Pensees Nocturnes – Grotesque: This promising band confuses aesthetics and content. They’re good songwriters, with an apt grasp of the technical side of the music, but because they have never found an aesthetic “voice,” end up piling random types of stuff on top of one another hoping that summing up parts magically makes the whole bigger. This sonic collage features crashing slow metal riffs which give way to fast melodic riffs reminiscent of Enslaved’s Frost, and are periodically interrupted by transition material with piano and string instruments. On top of this, some guy is bellowing like he is getting raped by an elephant. While in general I’m all for overlooking aesthetic dislike to get to the core of a band, in this case the lack of aesthetic ties an arm behind this band’s back as far as songwriting is concerned — too much is lost as they try to conform to this bizarre format. In addition, they’ve picked up some of the chord progressions and bad habits of post-rock bands, with huge parts of this album resembling the lost Maudlin of the Well “Dave’s got the purple shrooms” sessions. When they are able to put together an aesthetically coherent part of a song, it flows well, but then drops back into their bad habits and crutches. My advice to Pensees Nocturnes is simple: standardize your vocals, become a doom band, and use other instrumentation at strategic points in each song instead of as a general technique — look at the first At the Gates album. Less is more, if that less is more organized than the more. But use more oboe.

Prevalent Resistance – Dynamics of Creation: I’d like to like this because it’s easy to listen to, is pleasant and comforting. Patterned after Dimmu Borgir’s Stormblast (the first version, with the video game music) and a smidgen of early Dissection, this album is candy for the ears. But that’s the problem. There is no tension, no moral conflict, no desire even for pointless destruction. It’s trying to make friends. Like a warm puppy nose on the leg. In fact, it resembles the indie rock of the last decade: slick, studied, and very good at writing a melodic hook into the end of a three-step phrase so that it gets that Hallmark(tm) “uplifting” feeling. I think if I wanted smoke up my ass, I’d just listen to indie rock. Musically this is adept, artistically it gives blowjobs for $10 at streetcorners.

Diabolicum – The Grandeur of Hell: I have tried to like this 1999 album for literally 11 years. It has all the right elements, and it starts well, but becomes shapeless in the middle. I don’t think this has anything to do with how industrial it is. I think it ran out of steam in terms of songs and what they are about. Typical of Swedish bands, Diabolicum write great melodic riffs and then have no idea how to develop them, so end up in circular song structures that leave you unsure of why a song ended; it just ended, when it did, semi-arbitrarily. The result is that there’s no reason to keep these songs in your head other than as a pleasant distraction.

Oxbow – Fuckfest: This music is both spectacularly annoying, and good but fairly standard. If you took a Motorhead/Black Sabbath crossover, made it more rock ‘n’ roll early friendly, then chopped it up with fast rhythms and dissonant syncopated riffing, you’d get this. The vocalist howls like he’s in the Bad Brains but with little of the musicality. I think they believe this is revolutionary. Musically, it’s not terrible but aesthetically it’s like a screeching siren in your head, making you wish the world would end.

Die Apokalyptischen Reiter – Licht: Most people are going to identify this band as a heavier version of Rammstein, but that’s only half the story: this ostensibly industrial band is a three way hybrid between pop punk, melodic death metal and very danceable industrial. They write their songs like At the Gates, with several riffs cycling during the verses after the first introduction, and they shift between these like rally racers taking shortcuts through the old neighborhood. Vocals are very pop punk, with a rhythm similar to Bohse Onkelz or other brainier punk, and riffs are often power chords staggered in the death metal style with an emphasis on the stop/start rhythms that industrial, speed metal and rock favor. However, this is in a very literate musical framework where subtleties emerge from what are initially very basic melodies, and songs develop around this melodic core and end up being quite beautiful and infectious. After about ten minutes, you no longer hear the heavy riffs, and you feel like you’re listening to a more touch-and-go version of Wolfsheim on guitars. This isn’t my type of music, but I respect it — which is more than I can say for most versions of most genres.

Droids Attack – Must Destroy: We were chilling on the porch trying to figure out what to call this new style, not yet quite a genre, where they put bands like Red Fang and Droids Attack. It’s like fast, bombastic, hard attack versions of stoner doom songs; this CD, “Must Destroy,” sounds a lot like the first couple Sleep releases: bluesy, hard without being aggressive, bounding party rock. It’s like they took the Detroit underground rock/punk sound from the 1980s (before The White Stripes) and merged it with Motorhead and the MC5, and got out of it this entirely rockin’ style that isn’t metal but borrows a lot from it, and isn’t punk but attacks with the same sheer verve, but then sticks into the heavy bounce of guitar rock like Grand Funk Railroad or Iron Butterfly. It’s easy to listen to but more motivational than techno, even, so makes great music for partying or cleaning the house. On this CD, the style is expertly implemented with lots of space between bounding riffs for introspective parts, like the calming parts of the ritual of a rave, so that you can listen without getting washed out by pure bombast. I see a great future for this style and this band as people get sick of the twee effete hiding-in-basement styles that have been popular for the last decade.

Nun Slaughter – Goat: When most people talk about old school metal, they’re thinking of bands like this that combine the barebones essentials of heavy metal (Venom), death metal (Master) and speed metal (Nuclear Assault) into one high-energy package. What propels this CD is its ability to keep momentum. Riffs follow each other logically and transfer energy like a locomotive hitting a truck full of bowling balls. This energy conservation is harder to do than one might think, because if a band just plays really fast, it doesn’t happen. It takes an awareness of the music and a love for the metal craft of putting riffs together so that they talk to one another and keep kinetic inertia. Clearly this band know their metal, as the riff forms — the basic phrase and arrangement upon which these riffs are based — descend from all generations of metal, but have been adapted to fit the song and NunSlaughter’s trademark crude but adept songwriting. Most songs are verse/chorus riff cycles with discursive bridges that lead back to triumphal restatements of theme, but given the rawness of the music, nothing else would really fit without making this a modern animal. If you like bands like Onslaught, Sodom, and Merciless, this band stays within the same range but is immediately distinctive. Like fellow midwesterners Cianide, they hide their subtlety and distinctiveness underneath a desire to make a riff language out of metal’s heritage and use it to sing of their specific experience, which seems to be a conglomeration of Satan, rape, blasphemy, violence and sodomy. Given this framework, however, it’s clear this band is a thoroughly enjoyable ripping ride through the dark recesses of human visceral emotion, and no matter how much people wail about it being derivative or lowbrow, it’s great stuff.

Morser – Two Hours to Doom: We should christen this band the German version of Human Remains. They play in the modern metal, or proto-metalcore, style innovated by those founders, meaning that they put metal riffs in punk-style songs. The result is an emphasis on individualism through deconstruction shown through the juxtaposition of random images, which if you think about it is the origin of all modern art. Instead of continuity and order, they show you many individual perspectives which don’t agree, further isolating you in yourself. 1980s crossover thrash on the other hand tried to make radically different riffs fit together like a storyline. While this style provides unbalanced listening as a result, it exceeds the competence of its genremates by making these songs fast and to the point, even if that point is a binary song with a fairly random third option introduced in the last third of it. Later on, bands took this style and threw technical death metal done in one dimension into the mix, but for now it’s honest punk borrowing from every style under the sun in a fast and precise but not show-offy fashion. You’ll hear the blues riffs, funk bass, prog trills, and even quotations from soundtracks and ethnic music, all done at high speed in blisteringly distorted guitar. It’s no wonder this release has, for a flavor of the day genre like modern metal, stayed in demand over the years.

Black Funeral – Vampyr: If you put a simplified Emperor/Ancient hybrid to Darkthrone percussion, it might sound like “Vampyr” — an unknown quantity of death metal rhythm, and ambient black metal made with the flourish of symphonic metal, but in the simplified and abraded sound that also qualified early American bands like Havohej and Demoncy. This is a very American thing, both North and Sound hemispheres, to simplify song structures to a standard form like in hardcore, where much of what made early Nordic black metal beautiful was that song structure was defined by content — in the way that early American phrasal death metal like Incantation was. While this album makes for more recognizable listening, and is clearly the musical peak of this band, for artistic reasons a discerning listener may prefer other works.

Chthonic – Seediq Bale: This symphonic metal band from China sounds like Dream Theatre melded with Cradle of Filth, as played by later Therion. More focused than any of those acts, it takes advantage of compiled conventions from the various constituents of this genre, and makes a distinctive version of them. If they more seamlessly integrate this with the indigenous music of China, it could be a powerhouse; for now, it’s a better option for Dimmu Borgir fans.

Blazemth – Fatherland: This short release charms the listener with its beauty, brave pasted-together emulation of black metal heroes and honesty in expressing something of significance even if at times the methods are crude. In essence, this band is a hybrid between early Emperor and Graveland, hoping for sweeping melodies interwoven with keyboards and spoken/acoustic dirges, creating an atmosphere that it then delights in breaking with riffs sounding like they come from the melodic heavy-metal-influenced black metal of Rotting Christ and Hades. This band specializes in contrasting textures of riffs: a mostly open simple riff will abrade when a flowing tremolo melody follows it, and chromatic death metal shredding offsets windswept sweep picking. While the individual parts are less graceful than their archetypes, they are nonetheless beautiful in the same way early punk was: individuals captured in their striving for an ideal that they may not achieve, while enjoying the struggle.

Blazemth – For Centuries Left Behind: Template driven from the early works of black metal, this band achieves an ambient black metal sound by attempting a simplified version of Emperor and other early black metal bands. Riffs are simple, production distorted enough to background guitars into a roughly harmonized blast of noise, and keyboards unite the rest into a smooth flow of sound. Emblematic of this album is the spoken introduction with which it begins; this is a guileless take on black metal that is not afraid to be ridiculous, but because it is earnest, never irks like the commercial cluelessness that followed. Its strength is an immersion in mood, but its weakness is that individual parts ape classics like Emperor and Burzum, just in an interpretation specific to this band. Although this will not blow anyone away with its breaking of ground, it remains more convincing than most post-1996 black metal because it has a clear ideal in mind and pursues it making creative use of what techniques and elements are within reach. Their followup, “Fatherland,” reflects more development; on this short CD are themes you have heard before, done uniquely in the homebrew style by this straightforward and committed band.

Jodis – Secret House: You have to have a high tolerance for slowness with this album. A chord plays, rings out, the distortion crumbling as the sound loses its solidity; then, two notes jangle with the seeming discordination of a snapping clothesline or the slow decay of metal in abandoned factories. Someone bellows. More noises, feedback zoning in and out like lawnmower noise across the street as you try to nap your way through a summer day. More bellowing. The songs are like hailstones, formed of layer after layer deposited upon the last. If you unfold the surface it forms a great linearity, like a giant strip of paper covered in words that blur together. Time goes by unheeded. You get up and change the CD.

Nihill – Grond: Standard uptempo Darkthrone black metal clone with really emphatic, dramatic, emo-style vocals still done in the guttural end of black metal sound, Nihill is technically competent but makes binary songs, meaning that they alternate between two moods until the vocals are done ranting and the song can end. When Darkthrone did this, it was to great effect because their songs centered around a contrast that conveyed a greater sense of mystery or discovery. Nihill is just cyclic and offers no hope, only a sense of inevitability. I could see this appealing to fans of Judas Iscariot.

Eradication – The Great Cleansing: An attempt to merge “Following the Voice of Blood” era Graveland with “Ugra-Karma” era Impaled Nazarene, for the most part this album works. The randomness of its melodies and the drone-strum technique from the Graveland side gently obscure some of the rough edges and more obvious riffs, which feed nicely into the full-speed-ahead woodchipper riffs from the Impaled Nazarene side. It’s a solid B+ for content, maybe a A+ for technique for being both original and nuanced enough to give this band its own voice.

Vile – Depopulate: If the Deeds of Flesh style second-wave percussive death metal bands simplified things a bit to the level of the first Deicide album, and chose very basic bouncy riffs with melodic accents like Brutality, you could well end up with Vile. It is both good and bad; it is good insofar as it develops, but it is bad because that’s often two steps of thinking away from a double-strum on an E5 chord. Chortling vocals battle it out with gurgling rasps over pleated sheets of power chords where the offtime notes are played in a muted strum, giving this a pirate shanty bounce which is then torn apart by drums like a multi-legged battle robot scrabbling through the ruins of a city. There are messy leads, and often ludicrous “my attention shifted suddenly when I noticed the shotgun” song structure deviations. While they do what they do well, this style of death metal limits itself too much for repeated listening.

Gifts from Enola – Gifts from Enola: Someone crossed Kyuss with uptempo indie heavy metal and threw in the developments in the last ten years of stoner doom metal, creating a jazzy and fluidly composed album that moves about at the pace of early Black Sabbath. With very little intervention from vocals, the band jam in this style with droit, jazzy changes and variation in riff types from psychedelic lead-picked atmospheric to droning power chords to harmonizations on par with what Iron Maiden did. These songs are relatively linear, with breaks and resumptions, but form a kind of sonic texture that is easy to absorb, comfortingly varied, and most of all — unlike most post-rock — pleasant to listen to because it contains an internal balance and musicality. If you’re familiar with the jazz fusion of the late 1970s, nothing here will be a surprise musically, but it’s in a new form with more force behind it and the crossing over of the loud and abrasive with the subtle and beautiful gives it an elegance jazz fusion could never hope to have.

Urna – Iter Ad Lucem: Cross Ras Algethi with a post-rock band and you have this mess. The chord progressions are typical of that emo, shoegaze and indie rock fusion that is “post-metal,” which in most cases but not all has nothing to do with metal except that thanks to black metal’s extremity, it’s what the angry activist life-did-me-wrong failures are listening to these days. The worst sin here is that nothing really goes on in these songs. A few notes go up; a few go down. This is repeated with layers of vocals, a la Teitanblood but more artsy, and drums that keep busy outside the main event like those in a doom band, but ultimately songs don’t evolve and only gain structure through linear variation on known themes. In addition, if you step back and listen to this, it’s ludicrous. Like Krallice, it’s soft rock trying to be evil and as with all paradoxical and half-witted goals, has instead made a squirting fecal mess of it.

So there you have it — like a cheap buffet lunch, mostly FAIL with some tasty nuggets stuck in there, only half of which will come out whole in your stool. If I had to design a record-shopping trip from this, I’d pick up the Nunslaughter and Gifts from Enola and call it a day.

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Embryonic exhumations – Unearthing classic demos

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas
Helheim – Walpurgisnatt
Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits
Graveland – Drunemeton
Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Ras Algethi – Oblita Divinitas

If the architecture of the great Gothic cathedral, with its upward arches, towering spires and cosmic domes laden with images of the suffering divinity on this earthly realm, had been constructed as a kind of sacral road sign to the eternal paradise beyond, then the music of Ras Algethi’s demo is a fitting soundtrack of cathartic expression, a release from the pain and misery of the mortal existence. Like the immortal Oneiricon – The White Hypnotic album to follow, ‘Oblita Divinitas’ relies heavily on the sounds of the mighty organ for it’s intensity as an imposing beacon of death, magnifying the mournful, melodic patterns that guide the listener through the distinct passages of these songs. Where the organ picks up on the general idea of a riff that’s introduced first, the guitars go on to elaborate this phrase in an almost improvisational, though highly restrained, story-telling manner. The bigger picture develops more gradually – far more slowly and funereal than the full-length – and the organs and percussion eventually give way to the austere logic of the main riff, with clever variations that manipulate this momentary freedom from time and space, or blissful acoustic passages that prolong and reflect in it (anticipating ‘When Fire is Father’, one of the most memorable songs on ‘Oneiricon’), before the other instruments return in an emphatic transition, taking the music to an even deeper level of suffering. Ras Algethi show a very mature compositional style from the onset, not just giving a vague sensation of sadness, but carefully detailing the journey with a reference point of possibly going beyond the world that causes it, re-addressing this emotion as a painful longing for release. –ObscuraHessian

Helheim – Walpurgisnatt

Ghoulish, ethereal and enwrapped in a magnetic tape production reeking of ancient tombs and broken 4-trackers, Helheim’s vision of industrial black metal is far more elemental than the connotations of that description during the last decade. As with the primitivist throbbing drum machines of Mysticum and the ambient blankets of Sort Vokter, the aim is ritual-hypnotic music which does not try to spice up black metal in order to make it more comforting or exciting; instead, it challenges one’s concentration by looping, returning and rewiring little fragments and pieces of riff in powerful early Norwegian black metal language, conducted by the raging screams of the now-deceased vocalist Jon A. Bjerk. The svastika simulacrum depicted on the cover highlights the natural difference with the smoother approach of the other Helheim of the same era, famed mostly for the vagrant mythological epics of “Jormundgand” – this Helheim rather spits in the face of the observed tradition in order to bring forth the subconscious terror of life and death that has been embedded in the mythos of all ancient cultures and bring across a pertinent message to the civilization (macrocosmically) and the black metal of our time (microcosmically). –Devamitra

Alioth – Channeling Unclean Spirits

Remember how disappointed you were the last time you heard a new Varathron or Rotting Christ album? If the same lack of consistency and effort permeates other areas of Greek society, them having descended from the mythic glory of Athene into debts and poverty needs hardly the prophetic eye of Cassandra to fully explain. As in Neil Gaiman’s fantasy novel “American Gods” the lost European deities are found prowling the Wisconsin backwoods, Chicago based Alioth’s mystical and sensual tribute to Hellenic black metal ca. 1993 is admirably not only a continuation of the electric technoid dynamo drumbeat and an application of the palm muted speed and doom riffs in esoteric underground context; it’s also a highly logically strung sequence of moods as if the physical organization of pain and pleasure in a Dionysian ritual theatre, succumbing with the heavy held back moments of “The Channeling” and “Apocryphal Dimensions” and rising through the interludial “Invocation” and “Invocation II” to softly expire orgasmic relaxation. So much could be created out of this basic concept that it’s a pity the full-length album has remained cloaked in the depths of the primal sea, while Wargoat Obscurum iterates far less subtle (and far less interesting) metal with Cult of Daath. –Devamitra

Goreaphobia – Morbidious Pathology

Goreaphobia’s debut album wouldn’t have been quite so eagerly anticipated without a strong back catalogue of minor releases such as the ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, which provides an unexpected listening experience if Mortal Repulsion is the only recording you’ve heard from the band. Where the full-length communicates visions from the abyss through the blank eyes of an old mystic locked in a lucid dreaming state, this demo is full of enough youthful energy to express the paranoia of a thousand souls trapped within the claustrophobic confines of their own mortality. Variations in riffs reflect these tightly packed structures, seeming to progress with not so much a linear logic than the re-arranging of parts of the whole, like limbs being removed from a body and sewn on to somewhere else entirely until the true grotesqueness of humanity is revealed. As with Mortal Repulsion, despite the physical connections to Incantation, there is a stronger similarity to the craftsmanship of Immolation and albums that would come in later years, such as the complex and disjointed but melodically evocative Here in After. The lead guitar work, though highly restrained, possesses a sense of neoclassical refinement that bridges some short-burst riffage with eloquent but totally disturbing solos. This demo shows the beginnings of an all too rare experiment in Death Metal where you can observe the maturation of a consistant idea as it goes through the turmoil of a tortured, temporal existence. –ObscuraHessian

Graveland – Drunemeton

It’s not difficult to understand the distaste that Darken has for the recordings commited to tape during Graveland’s infancy in the light of his recent catalogue of pristine, epic and Atlantaean creations. Some distance away from the expansive scenes of battlefields and expressions of Romantic nationalism, this ancient offering from the living master of Pagan Black Metal is totally shrouded in a necrotic production, like ghostly shadows moving through oaken forests, casting a spell within more cloistered and Druidic surroundings than the output of Graveland from the past 15 years. Alongside the visions that created the force of Scandinavian Black Metal in the early 90′s, this demo represents the reclusive and misanthropic esotericism of that era, especially the primality of the lowest fidelity cults, Beherit and Ildjarn. Sounding like the work of a punk ostracised by that increasingly over-socialised group for being too idealistic and inhuman, Darken conjures a lurid interpretation of hypnotic Bathorean riffing that develops through the echoing of majestic, synthesised voices that open this recording as though a prologue to ‘The Celtic Winter’. The experimentation with primitivism in ‘Drunemeton’ is so deconstructionist that the guitar technique becomes fragmented completely and subordinated to reveal gloomy ambient moods that amplify the silence of a forest at night before the dawn of battle. There’s a similarity to the Beherit song ‘Nuclear Girl’ in how the guitar is used more like a sample, reverberating it’s texture through the keyboards to emphasise a cloistered sensation, accompanied by monastic chants at other times. Culminating in the ambient classic, ‘The Forest of Nemeton’, this demo is the successful beginnings of Graveland’s exploration into unconventional and nihilistic territory beneath the folky phrasing of guitar-led melodic work, which would shape the dynamic of his entire discography to follow. –ObscuraHessian

Tsjuder – Ved Ferdens Ende

Fifteen years ago, we were too proud and lofty to listen to it, our sensory devices soothed and inflamed by Panzerfaust, Battles in the North and Høstmørke, while the new generation of neo-progressive and mainstream black metal bands sought to enrapture even wider audiences with movie soundtrack influenced keyboards and angelic female voice conjured by fat-bottomed gothic tarts. For the atmospheric maniacs only, as it’s hard to argue for its musicality against the likes of Vikingligr Veldi; but the epic wanderlust and distorted pagan death ritual of this demo’s centerpiece, “Fimbulwinter”, unfolding like a flower at dawn or the psychedelic mandala of LSD invading brain receptors, is one of the pure innocent and mesmerizing gems of underground black metal in this sacred and forsaken era. The primal Isvind-esque melody dance like ripples of waves on a forest pond, the hissing tracker production complete with the macabre clack of a drum machine and the dampness of a Nordic bedroom cellar permeate the recording to such a thickness of adolescent black metal fury that it’s hardly palatable to generic audiences then and now. Barely a trace of the fast norsecore of the more familiar debut album Kill For Satan is noticeable here, the only similarity being the guitarist Draugluin’s technique of bricklike tremolo chord architecture where rhythm plays little importance. While primitive, this compositional method bears an intrinsic beauty which is worthy of recapitulation when the pure augustness of early Norwegian black metal has mostly become forgotten in favour of seemingly more rich and elaborate indie stylings. –Devamitra

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Sadistic Metal Reviews, 2007

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second… more

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (
Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonious assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-29-08

Lubricant – Nookleptia (1992)

After the initial solidification of the the sound of death metal (1988-1990) a number of up-and-coming bands caused it to, like the dendritic expansion of a leafed branch, to explore every possible combination with past elements and stylistic possibility. Among the products of that tendency was Finland’s Lubricant, who sound like a progressive death metal band hybridized with hardcore punk under the direction of a hard rock conductor. Like countrymen Sentenced produced on Amok, these bouncy songs use a melodic core to create two-part expansions, bouncing between not call and response but hypothesis and counterpoint. Riffing makes extensive use of dissonant chords, some voicings in contexts familiar in both black metal and emo, and strip death metal riffs of much of the downstrum-empowered, recursive rhythm complexity so that they ride on a few notes and the rhythms of their presentation like a hardcore band. Although goofy experimentation like spoken and sung vocals in opposition to death growls are now rarities, in part thanks to the overuse of this technique by dreaded nu-metal bands, they occur here with enough ingenuity to be presumed innocent and not MTV in intent. Yet style is only half of a band; the melodies and rhythms here are simple but unencumbered and often beautiful in their spiralling cycle around a fragment of vision, in a way reminiscent of both Ras Algethi and Discharge. They are not quite decisive enough to encapsulate the sensation of a generation or era as some of the greater bands did, but they achieve a powerful observational facility from the periphery. My guess is that this band was overlooked because of its bouncy hard rock rhythm and its tendency to structure songs around breakdowns that filter through past riffs like computer code comparing arrays and finally reduce to a simple riff measurably more poignant than its counterparts. In other words, this is not only unfamiliar ground for death metal listeners, but is less discretely concise like beaded water sliding down plastic sheeting, and therefore, harder to identify and appreciate.

Bethzaida – Nine Worlds (1996)

In both guitar tone and composition this resembles Eucharist with a death metal sense of percussion and tempo, spindly melodic lead lines arching through a rhythm to enforce it in offset, but borrows from the short-lived “dark metal” genre that was transitional between death and black (its most persistent artifact is the first Darkthrone album): cyclic arpeggiated riffs give way to either racing fire of chromatic progressions or looser, short melodies repeated at different intervals in the scale comprising the foundation of each piece. Like Dissection, there is a tendency to etch out a dramatically even melody architected across levels of harmony, and then to curl it back around a diminishing progression to achieve closure; while this is effective, it must be used sparingly to avoid audience saturation with its effect, and it isn’t here. What kept this band from the big time might indeed be something similar, which is its tendency to set up some form of constant motion and, after descending into it, failing to undergo dynamic change. Much of its phrasing celebrates symmetry between resolution and inception, creating a squeaky clean obviousness that in metal unlike any other genre becomes tedious fast, and there is like Dissection a tendency to break a melodic scale into a counter direction and a counter to that, then regurgitate it in the dominant vector, then its opposite, then in turn its antithesis, producing a flow of notes that like a river bends in order to go straight. Zoom back on the scale function, and view the album as a whole: like most postmodern art, it is replacing lack of internal strength (encouragement toward self-sacrificial or delayed-gratification values, e.g. heroism and adventure) with a surplus of external embellishment, including flutes dressing up elaborate versions of tedious patterns and keyboards. Like Dissection it achieves a sheath of immersive aesthetic, and like Metallica (occasional similarities in chord progression) it maintains an internally resurgent energy, but when one peels back this externality, there is less of a compelling nature here than a flawless but overdone, directionless aesthetic.

Depression – Chronische Depression (1999)

Although aesthetically this band resembles a more dominating version of the early percussive death metal bands like Morpheus (Descends) or Banished, in composition it is most like grindcore: one thematic riff repeated unless interrupted by detouring counterpoints, then a series of breakdowns and transitions working back to the point of harmonic inception and rhythmic wrapper of the original riff. Like countrymen Blood this band specializes in the simple and authoritative in roaring noise, but musical development from repetition is even sparser and the anthemic factor of repeating a motif at different tempos and key-locations wears thin after some time. Undeniably, this band have talent and apply it well, but are limited by their conception of music to make sonic art that while forceful is so repetitive that few outside those who delight in the shock of its pure and total deconstruction of music will listen again to these mostly two-riff songs. Vocals are of the guttural alternation with shrieking whisper type and rather than counteracting this effect, bring it into prominence, but that seems to be the intent — this band desire to become the unrelenting assault of early Napalm Death but with rigid and not “organic” chaotic structure, and thus they take a concept sometimes unknown and sometimes built as a subset of known variants (Dies Irae themes, monster movie music, old hardcore progressions) and hammer it home over a sequence of staggered tempos, interweaves with oppositional riffs, and rhythmic breaks. Underneath it all is the kind of sly iconoclasm and gleeful weirdness that comes naturally in times when one must be careful about which truths one tells unmasked. Probably this grinding death CD is the closest we will have in this era to an updated version of DRI/COC-style thrash, and true to this form, it incorporates a number of figures from hardcore music. This will not be for everyone and will not be heard every week, but for an approach to this ultra-deconstructed style, Depression are one of the better efforts on record.

Phlegethon – Fresco Lungs (1992)

Many of the early contributors to death metal were heavy metal fans who wanted to avoid the sickening glossy vocals, dramatic love songs, and moronically one-dimensional aesthetic of heavy metal, so they incorporated the aesthetic and artistic direction of death metal, but underneath made music that could compete with Van Halen if applied to FM radio. Phlegethon is one such act; like “Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas” from Therion, this is a heavy metal album that uses the riff salad wrapped around a narrative thematic development of death metal, accented with keyboards and unusual song structures, to create epic music that eschews the mainstream cheese. Each song is gyrationally infectious and yet understated, like throwing the grenade of an irresistible rhythm into a room and then skipping down the hall whistling (one track deliciously parodies techno). Keyboards guide the root notes of power chords but vary harmony for conclusion or emphasis. Song structures bend out of introductory material into a sequence of candidates for introduction or transition to verse and chorus, and the result is an architectural feel like that of fellow Finns Amorphis as the listener progresses between riffs of different shape and sonic impact, like a flash of light outlining the features of a vast room — similarly, there are lengthy offtime melodic fretruns highlighting descending power chord riffs as that band also used to great effect. Admirably, drums migrate through layers which silhouette the current riff in contrast and foreshadow adept tempo changes; vocals are low guttural death growls that stretch themselves to the point of fragmentation, spearing the beat in each phrase and decaying after each emphatic syllable to create a reference frame of surreal incomplete rhythm. The rampant creativity and pulsingly infectious rhythms of this CD give it presence which so powerfully hints at a more complete musical language that the intrusions of heavy metal-derived music often seem like dilutions, but it is clear from even this glimpse that the world missed out on the future evolution of this band.

Avathar “Where Light and Shadows Collide” (CD, 2006)

A cross between In Battle and Summoning, this band attempts to make epic music but in the uptempo style of black metal such as Mayhem or Abigor. Like The Abyss, this band wield such a lexicon of technique that tendencies in their music become evident early on and seem repetitive by the end of the album. For background listening it is preferrable to the disorganized noise and posing produced by the black metal underground, but one wonders if this is not like most art in the modern time good with technique/appearance but poor at confronting the inner world of meaning.

Order From Chaos “Dawn Bringer” (Shivadarshana Records, 1994)

At the nexus of several rising conceptual directions in underground music, Order From Chaos fuses them sublimely into a subconscious manipulation by music that remains stranded in the older generations of punk and metal by its refusal to integrate longer melodies; it is pure rhythmic pattern and song structure, a Wagnerian demonstration of a course of thought developed through the sensation represented by riffs that like scenes guide listeners through the acts of the drama. It is this theatrical sense that interrupts the verse-chorus spiralling of riffs layered with accompaniment of increasing intensity from drums and vocals and bass, with songs dropping to moments of presentation and equalization when forward action ceases and a quietude of sorts drops over the action. In this, like early Krieg, the music is an improvisational theatre acting out the raw id of human experience when that experience represents those brainy enough to see how modern society and its assumptions (order, legality, morality) are completely bankrupt, but it is a scream of protest and not, as is needed, a counter-construction. Thus while no piece of this is in error, the whole is discohesive and with a good augmentation could become far better; among Nationalist bands (it is fair to note allusions to nationalism on this record, with “Die Fahne Hoch” making an appearance on track two) Skrewdriver remains pre-eminent because they wrote melodic, expressive — while as cheesy, overblown and dramatic as those from the Ramones or the Sex Pistols — songs that gave people something to live for as much as a knowledge of what is lacking in our world. With luck in future albums, this band will approach structure with as much pure energy as they unleash here. Track fourteen (Golgotha) contains a riff tribute lifted from the nether moments of “Reign in Blood.”

Vordven “Woodland Passage” (CD, 2000)

Hearing this album is like running into Boston and screaming “The British are coming!” in 2006: completely irrelevant. A mixture of old Emperor and Graveland stylings, it is perfectly competent but by emulating the past, both fails to uphold that spirit and precludes itself from finding its own direction. We don’t need new styles; we don’t need “progress”; we do need music that has some idea of what it wants to communicate, and can make that experience meaningful. This sounds like retro or a coverband in that everything is bureaucratically plotted: after the keyboard interlude comes the pre-theme, then the main theme, then break for demonic scream and drum battery to drive it all home. Clearly better musicians than many of the original bands, Vordven are lesser artists and thus have less of interest to give us. It feels less dishonest to listen to Muzak versions of Metallica hits from the 1980s.

Warhorse “Warhorse” (CD, 2000)

Sounding like a hybrid between old Confessor and middle-period Motorhead, Warhorse is a rock band playing doom metal with a sensibility for both slow pumplike riffs over which vocals suddenly slow, causing a relative shift that makes the entire song seem to stand still, and the type of pick-up transitions and breakdowns for which both Motorhead and death metal bands are famous. In the sense of bands like Saint Vitus or Cathedral this band is intensely mated to the rock culture and its dramatic self identity, adding over it high pitched vocals that sound like a whisky-soaked Sigur Ros in an Alabama bar. For this reviewer it is a question of relevance: what does one need express in this style that would take a band beyond the level of background music for a local bar? However, among those who undertake this format, Warhorse keeps a sense of style and intensity, even if by appropriately keeping its horizons forshortened in the ambition department.

Revenge “Victory. Intolerance. Mastery.” (Osmose, 2004)

Although in fundamentally the same style as previous releases, the latest from Revenge improves upon it by simplifying the chaotic stew of impulses diverging into every conceivable direction, therefore achieving a greater coherence and thus listenability. That being said, the same problems that plague previous releases are here: distracting directionless percussion, riff salad, a tendency to deconstruct without a replacement ideal. However, by dropping all but the most necessary elements of their music, Revenge have come closer to making an expressive black metal album.

Ankrehg “Lands of War”

Oh, neat: someone hybridized Impaled Nazarene with Gorgoroth and made a band that balances between sawing punk riffs and trills of melodic scale fretruns. Having mastered that technique, this band was left neurotic and clueless as they attempted to find a direction; barring that, they settled on a generalized path and threw everything but the kitchen sink into it, creating songs that leap at every conceivable point of the compass but seize nothing. Their technique is to distract the listener with this constant stream of chaos and hope it is not noticed as irrelevant; with this reviewer, it was, and thus the listening session ended. Worse than shit, this is confusion masquerading as profundity.

Revenge “Triumph. Genocide. Antichrist.” (Osmose, 2003)

Whenever one is handed a piece of music or writing, it makes sense to ask, “What are the artistic aims of this work?” Art does not exist in a vacuum, much as conversation does not; there has to be some joy in it, something shared between listener and creator. Revenge is blasting drums that chase a pace with successive lapses and then catch-up intensifying speed, harsh harmonized vocals that surge overhead like rainbows of oil in floodwaters, and riffs of often high quality; like the first Krieg album however, it arrays these in an incoherent order which results in the stream of consciousness sensation without imparting greater wisdom of any form. As such, this album is a stepping back from what black metal achieved, which was an arch grace and continuity in expressing a meaning to darkness, and a descent into the disorganized deconstructionism that denotes modern grindcore (as if to underscore this, the drumming here is highly reminiscent of Derek Roddy’s work on Drogheda’s “Pogromist”). To communicate breakdown, one does not portray breakdown in its literal form, necessarily – here we see good raw material – powerful percussion, adroit riffcraft – converted into a melange of confusion by its lack of deliberation and planning. No single part of it has anything wrong with it. The whole is a death of ambition, of heroism, of tragedy and meaning.

Vinterland “Welcome My Last Chapter” (2003)

This band is like The Abyss a template of black metal technique recombined around the most fundamental songwriting techniques, but to that mixture it adds lifts from Gorgoroth and Sacramentum to make it a flowing but gracefully intricate and arcane metal style. Nothing here is bad and it listens well, but it manages less suspension of disbelief than The Abyss (first album; the second one is random riffs and screaming) because although its songs are well-written and flow expertly it is hard to find a statement to any of them; what are they about? They’re about being melodic black metal songs. Undoubtedly Vinterland is far better than almost all of what has been called “melodic black metal” since 1996, but it’s only because our standards have fallen that such a band is construed as good listening. Preferrable would be a simpler more honest band trying to communicate an experience rather than partake of membership; in this Vinterland and Deathspell Omega are similar in that while both are at the top of their genre in formal ability, neither captures the essence of this music because they are trying to be the music, not trying to be something that ultimately will express itself in music. Hoarse whispery Dimmu Borgir vocals dive and glide over sheeting melodic guitar riffs, replete with fast fretruns and descending arpeggiations; the band know when to break from meaty riffs into calming simplicity like a ship exiting rapids. Those familiar with black metal history will hear lifts from Ancient, Dimmu Borgir, Sacramentum, The Abyss, Satyricon and Sacramentum, as well as hints of At the Gates and later Emperor. It is not badly done, but that’s not the point: this CD never takes any direction but tries to use summarizes of past paths as a condensed variety show of black metal; while it is an enjoyable listen the first time, it does not hold up as these other bands have, as there is nothing to center all of this technique and its moments of beauty, creating the impression of a sequence of distractions instead of deliberate craftsmanship helping to reveal a secret beneath the skin.

Regredior “Forgotten Tears” (Shiver Records, 1995)

This band of highly talented musicians have created an album that is half excellence and half disaster by focusing too much on individual instruments, and thus failing to organize songs by composition instead of playing, have been forced to rely on stitching together disconnected pieces of music with two-part attention span grabbers: a repeated pattern to seize attention, and then a pause and an “unconventional” response to fulfil that expectation. If that is a desired compositional style, one wonders why this band did not simply make grunge music and derive actual profit from the endeavor? They mean well and play well — the acoustic instrumentals here are beautiful, many of the riffs top-notch in the slumberlike earthmoving simplicity of older Therion, and concepts for songs are great — but the final product is marred by its own showiness and awkward assimilation of different musical impulses. Squeals, offtime drum hits, dissonant guitar fills and rhythmic jolts do not move compelling music along; they advance by inches and drain away the energies that allow bands to make the world-redefining musical statements required for songs to be distinctive and expressive enough to be great. For those who like later Carcass, this band utilizes many of the same techniques and has similar technicality.

Sombrous “Transcending the Umbra” (CD, 2005)

Imagine Biosphere executed with the sensibilities of Dead Can Dance: the same implications of melody in sonic curve rising to full volume and then pulsing like a wave before disappearing to form a cycle, with songs arising from the piling of successive layers at offset rhythms on top of one another. It is slow, percussionless, delicate, and in part thanks to the heavy reverberations used, as melancholic as the echo of one’s lonely voice in an abandoned cellar. The more style-heavy music gets and the farther it gets from something that can be easily played on one or two acoustic instruments, paradoxically, the easier it gets to create once one has mastered aesthetic, and if this music has a weakness it is the tendency to use four-note melodies as the basis of a song and only occasionally complement them with others. Biosphere helpfully used found melodies and instrumentals of greater detail to do this; Sombrous could actually go further within their own aesthetic and layer keyboards as they have but give them more to play than rising or falling modal lines. It would also help to even further vary the voices/samples used here, as too many echoed stringplucks or keyboard throbs start to sound the same; sometimes, one slips too far into the mood generated and boredom sets in. Yet there is something undeniable here in both aesthetic and composition, in that unlike almost all “ambient” releases from the underground this has grace and a sense of purpose that unites these tracks into a distinct musical entity. It is not unwise to watch this band for future developments.

Emit/Vrolok “Split”

Emit is ambient soundscapes made from guitar noise, sampled instruments and silences; it is good to see this band branch out into a greater range and artistic inspiration, but they would do well to remember the listener should be both learning and enjoying the experience of listening: what differentiates art from philosophy is that art is made to be a sensual tunneling through knowledge, where philosophy is a description of knowledge. Vrolok is of the Krieg/Sacramentary Abolishment school of fast noisy guitars over drums that outrace themselves and then catch up with flying chaotic fills. Nothing is poorly executed, but this recording seems to be an artist’s impression of what his favorite bands would do; there are some nice touches like background drones and bent-string harmonics of a sickening nature, but to what end? If black metal has another generation it’s not going to be in retrofitting the past in form, but in resurrecting the past in content, even if all the aesthetics are (like with the early Norse bands) garbage Bathory/Hellhammer ripoffs.

Nightbringer “Rex Ex Ordine Throni”

This is a competent black metal release with a Darkthrone/Graveland hybrid melodic guitar playing style, kettledrum flying battery in the Sacramentary Abolishment canon, vocals like later Dimmu Borgir and composition that, like that of Satyricon, assembles all of the correct elements but does not understand melody intuitively enough to keep the illusion going. If this band delved more deeply into composition and had something to say, this CD would be one of the best of the year because its aesthetic formula is perfect, but its melodies go nowhere and barely match harmonic expectation between phrases, when they’re not outright symmetrical and blatantly obvious; in short, it falls apart when one goes deeper than skin-level. If an ambitious melodic thinker gets transplanted into this band or its members grow in that direction (a big leap), it will be a major contribution.

Polluted Inheritance “Ecocide” (CD, 1992)

This is one of those CDs that came very close and with a little more focus and depth of thought could have been a classic of the genre. It is death metal in a hybrid style that includes jaunty post-speed metal expectant rhythms, such that incomplete rhythmic patterns provide a continuity through our anticipation of the final beat established through contrast of offbeats as necessary, and sounds as a result somewhere between Exhorder and Malevolent creation, with verse riffs that resemble later work from Death. Songs operate by the application of layers of instrumentation or variation on known riff patterns in linear binary sequence, driven by verse/chorus riffs and generally double bridges that convey us from the song’s introduction to the meat of its dispute to a final state of clarity. Probably too bouncy for the underground, and too abrasive for the Pantera/Exhorder crowd, this CD is very logical and analytic to the point that it makes itself seem symmetrical and obvious. With luck this band will continue writing, and will offer more of the ragged edge of emotion or concept which could make this a first-class release.

The Tarantists “demo 2004” (CD, 2004)

From the far-off land of Iran comes a band with a new take on newer styles of metal. Incorporating influences from Metallica, progressive and jazz-influenced heavy metal, and some of the recent grunge-touched modern metal, the Tarantists render something true both to themselves and to metal as an ongoing musical culture. Prominent jazzy drums lead riffs that are not melodic in the “style” of constant melodic intervals popular with cheesy Sentenced-ripoff bands, but use melodic intervals at structural junctures in riffs that smoothly branch between phrasal death metal styled riffs and bouncy recursive heavy metal riffs. Over this lead guitar winds like a vine and favors the bittersweet sensation of melodies that decline in harmonic spacing until they trail off in melted tendrils of sound; riffing is most clearly influenced by the NWOBHM style hybridized with speed metal’s adept use of muffled and offtime strums to vary up what are otherwise harmonically static riffs. The Tarantists can achieve this melding of motion-oriented and pure rhythm riffing through their tendency to change song structure rapidly after having made their point, such that listening to this resembles going between different parts of a complex city, climbing stairs and finally entering a destination, then jumping back in the car for a manic deviation to another location. Highly listenable, this is impressive work for a demo band and represents a brighter future for metal than the kneejerk tedium of nu-metal or the repetition of past glories offered blankfacedly by the underground. It is unabashedly musical, and takes pride in interlocking melodic bass and lead guitar lines that exchange scale vocabularies as freely as rhythm. The only area that seems unresolved are the gruff Motorhead-style vocals, which might be either updated or discarded for pure singing, as there’s enough sonic distance within this work to support such a thing. The clearest influences here are Iron Maiden and Metallica, but a familiarity with recent metal of almost every genre is also audible. Of the recent demos sent this way, this is the one most likely to gain repeated listening because it focuses on music first and aesthetics second.

Beyond Agony “The Last of a Dying Breed” (CD, 2005)

Trying to mix the high-speed melodic riffing of black metal with the thunderous bassy trundle of mainstream death metal/nu-metal riffing, this band produce something that sounds like Acid Bath without the variation or singing, and resembles Pantera in its tendency to match riffs with clear poised expectant endphrases to rapped vocals and shuffle drumming. It’s a variation on a pattern seen many times before. It’s impossible to tell what kind of musical ability exists in these musicians because these riffs are rhythmic and aharmonic, since their melodic trills exist only to emphasize the E-chord noodling at the low end. Some Meshuggah fans might appreciate this, as might the hordes of people who think Slipknot and Disturbed are OK, but to an underground death metal fan there’s nothing here. These guys are clearly professional and have studied all of the other offerings in the field, and mixed in enough melody to distinguish themselves, and clearly these songs hold together better than your average nu-metal, but when one picks a dumbshit conception of music — which really, the entire Pantera/nu-metal genre is: music for morons to bounce around to while working off their frustration at having their democratic right to be spoiled and bratty constrained by reality — one limits oneself to making things that no matter how smart they get, have the dominant trait of being aimed at supporting and nurturing stupidity. I might even wax “open-minded” if I didn’t know that devolving metal into pure angry, pointless, rhythmic ranting has been the oldest tendency of the genre, and one that always leads it astray, because bands that do this have no way of distinguishing between each other except aesthetic flourishes and therefore end up establishing a competition on the basis of external factors and not composition. Some riffs approach moments of beauty but tend to come in highly symmetrical pairs which demand bouncy stop-start rhythms to put them into context. It’s all well-executed, but it’s standard nu-metal/late Pantera, with touches of Iron Maiden and Slayer. Should we care? Some of the celebrities who paid tribute to the late guitarist of Pantera/Damageplan noted that he had the ability to play well beyond the style which he’d chosen; it sounds like the same thing is evident here, and that seems to me a tragedy, because this style is so blockhead it absorbs all of the good put into it in its desire to provide a frustration condom for burnt-out suburban youth.

Fireaxe “Food for the Gods” (CD, 2005)

If you’ve ever wished that old-style heavy metal would be just a little less effete and self-obsessed, and take the literal attitude that hardcore punk had toward the world but give it that grand lyricism for which metal is famous, you might find a friend in Fireaxe. It’s low-tech, with basic production without the touches of tasty sound that make big studio albums so richly full, and it is often a shade short of where it needs to be in content – often repetitive or too basic in the logic that connects sections, as if it suffers from a surfeit of symmetry brought about by too much logical analysis – but it is what heavy metal could be if it grew up, somewhere between Mercyful Fate and Queensryche and Led Zeppelin, an epic style with a desire to be more of a kingshearth bard than a stadium ego-star. Brian Voth does the whole thing, using electronics for percussion and his trusty guitar, keyboards and voice to pull it off. His voice is thin like his guitar sound, and his solos are clearly well-plotted but do not let themselves go into chaos enough; his use of keyboards is reminiscent of a sparing take on Emperor. This 3-CD set is an attempted historiography of humanity and its religious symbolism, with a cynical outlook on such things as originally perhaps healthy ideas gone perverse and become manipulators. “On Truth and Lies in a Non-Moral Sense”? Perhaps, but this is earthier; in true heavy metal form, “Food for the Gods” delights in the literal manifestations of spacy otherworldly “truths.” Overall musical quality is high, and artistic quality is immaculate, but the CD is often designed less for the listener than to complete its thought cycle, and here it could use an edit; it is so analytical it is almost apoetic, and so literal it is almost a stab against symbolism itself (already in vogue for 90 years with the postmodernists, alas). My advice to Fireaxe would be to stop looking so deeply into causes and to start looking into spiritual solutions, e.g. to “sing” in the oldest sense of praising the beauty of life even in darkness, and lifting us up not into educated obligation but into ignorant but healthy spirits. Think of a bard singing by his cup of mead, looking for a way to console and encourage those who might on the morrow die in battlefields, all through the symbols, song and sense of ancient tales. This album could be cut to a single CD with proper editing gain some denseness and unpredictability it lacks; right now, although its patterns vary its delivery is of such an even mien that it is nearly predictable. The roots of excellent music are here, including Voth’s creative and playful leads, but need discipline into a more advanced and yet less progressive form for Fireaxe to have the full range of voice it requires. It is a welcome diversion from the insincere and manipulative stadium metal, and the guilelessly fatalistic underground music that shadows it (although it will not admit it), and while it waxes liberal in philosophy, does not go toward the eunuch extreme of emo; the heart is behind the music, and the flesh is competent, but somehow, the soul has not yet lifted its wings and flown, yet sits contemplating the right flightpath in radiant detail.

Gnostic “Splinters of Change” (5 song demo, 2005)

Upon hearing of the reemergence of pioneering Atheist drummer Steve Flynn, my curiousity was piqued immediately. I’d always appreciated his slippery brilliance behind the kit, forever giving the impression of struggling not to become caught in the tornado of bizarre rhythmic patterns he himself was creating. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that thirteen years between major recordings and immersion within the materialistic modern-day workplace had not dulled his creativity. In fact, his refreshingly brazen yet occultish approach to rhythmic structuralization is very reminiscent of his previous output, a fact which initially inspired hope. Further, Gnostic is composed of talented players. Former Atheist vocalist Kelly Shaefer produced the album. A concern nags silently: can this band escape the shadow of its predecessor?

As it turns out, no. The band has missed the fundamentally esoteric application of that theory which lends such timelessness to Atheist; say what you will about such a loaded term as “populist” being utilized in musical review, but this is merely music written to “sound good” from a quasi-prog perspective. The musical framework has each component part of the equation stepping all over every other part to prove that the instrumentalists are capable, losing the transcendence which Atheist channeled through their controlled chaoticism. Gnostic is all over the map structurally, with Flynn doing everything he can to hold the ship together at the seams. There is no message here, other than one-dimensional instrumentalism. We’ve already heard these same songs from the same bands for fifteen years now. It seems to this reviewer that this demo chalks yet another victory up to Redundant Mediocrity over Art. Consume, consume, consume. – blaphbee

Therion “A’arab Zaraq Lucid Dreaming” (Nuclear Blast, 1995)

It’s hell on metal bands who want to leave the underground. In trying to popularize their style, they usually kill whatever appeal it had, because those who enjoy their music have found truth somewhere in the alienation and whatever values the band managed to sustain under that assault. Further, the band usually confuse themselves, and end up prostrating themselves as whores, thus losing the respect of their fans. This CD is a collection of outtakes from Theli, a soundtrack and some Therion odds and ends that chronicle this band’s descent into commerciality and simultaneous rise in the esteem of metal fans as a whole. The first two tracks represent everything disgusting about trying to make popular neoclassical music, in that they focus first on making foot-stomping crowd-pleasing music, and adorn it with bits of classical allusion and the like, creating in the end a carnival of confusion. The next track, “Fly to the Rainbow,” is apparently a cover of an old Dio tune, which is amusing considering how similar it is to “The Way” from Therion’s epic second album. This is followed by one of the cheesiest Iron Maiden covers ever, with overdone vocals drowning out the subtlety of the original, and a Running Wild
song that comes across as blockheaded, but is less dramatically re-enacted, and therefore is more welcome. It sounds very much like punk hardcore with a metal chorus. Next is an off-the-cuff cover of “Symphony of the Dead,” from the second album as well, but its mix emphasizes the keyboards to the point where it becomes muzak. Good song, terrible version, and as fully meaningless as the Emperor keyboard-only Inno A Satana. The band have lost their grasp of what made their earlier material great, that it blended the raw and the beautiful, not that it standardized itself for radio airplay as this CD clearly does. All finesse is gone, all artistry, and what replaces it is the populist heavy metal mentality. There’s no class to this, or self-respect, and while any of its elements are quite powerful, the whole is tediously directionless. This syndrome blights the remaining Therion tracks on this CD, which then takes us to the soundtrack portions – these are actually promising. Like a synthesis between Dead Can Dance and Summoning, these are wandering keyboard background musics that maintain a mood and are kept in check by the need to be less disruptively attention-seeking. Although plenty of cliches and obvious figures work their way into this music, it’s clear that (were Swedes to control Hollywood) soundtracks are where the “new” Therion belong.

Aletheian “Dying Vine” (Hope Prevails, 2005)

This album demonstrates how if you mix great ingredients randomly, you end up with something disgusting. About half of the riffs on this album are excellent, and the sense of rhythm the band has is wonderful. But it’s garish, gaudy and overblown. Like a metalcore band, they mix riffs in a merry-go-round of directionless ideas, never actually stating anything. In this case the riffs are of the melodic Swedish death metal meets technical speed metal style, with influences from “modern metal” and showboat heavy metal. Any one part of this could be great, but it says nothing and thus ends up being random elements stitched together in a circus show of diverse and incompatible fragments of ideas. Some goofy modern touches, like synthesized voices, put nails in the coffin. There’s a lot to like here but the whole is not worth loving. My advice to these dudes: meditate and work on your band politics, because the raw material in this album if presented differently would be listenable, but right now it’s a technical mash that has no artistic or aesthetic statement.

Harkonin “Sermons of Anguish” (Harkonin, 2005)

The good news is that Harkonin have good concepts, write good riffs, and understand something of gradual mood shifts. The bad news is that they compress this process, remove the anticipation, and hammer it out in repetitive endurance tests that hide the actual talent of the members of this band. None of the elements are bad; in fact, they’re far above average, and the band has an aesthetic vision – the CD skirts metalcore but incorporates some of the newer urban and rock influences into metal – that outpaces most of their contemporaries. However, they need to find some inner calm, and let it out slowly, and discover the poetry of their own vision, as right now, this album is unrelenting violence that becomes perceived as a single unchanging texture because of its emotional disorganization. Luckily this experienced band has time to take some of their more intense moments of riffing and put them at the end of each song, then re-arrange the other riffs (and maybe develop them by another layer, meaning for each good riff, split out two complementary ones that can resolve into it, Suffocation style) to lead up to that point. If they do that, they will be on the path toward conveying meaning through their music – right now, what it conveys is abrasion, and too much of that will pass in the listener’s mind into a sense of unchanging mood.

Dug Pinnick “Emotional Animal” (Magna Carta, 2005)

Former King’s X member comes out with new album. Any guesses? It sounds like a heavier, groovier King’s X, which seems to be an attempt to make metal sound more like rock music. It’s jazzy and funky, and has some grunge-meets-prog metal riffing, but on the whole, the composition is the same stuff that gets played on the radio. Pinnick would do better applying his talents to something fully proggy like Gordian Knot.

Aphotic/Dusk “Split” (Cursed Productions, 2005)

Like most releases from Cursed Productions, this CD showcases regular guy songwriting enclosed in an unusual form. Aphotic is a fusion of soundtrack doom metal like My Dying Bride and Katatonia, fused with a progressive edge like that of Gordian Knot, creating a listenable package with plenty of depth to its instrumentation. Many of these riffs sound like something borrowed from a Graveland album, but on top of the basic guitar, flourishes of lead guitar and synthesized instruments accent the dominant theme, as does offbeat guitar playing with an emphasis on the internal rhythms for which metal is famous. Although these songs generate a great deal of atmosphere, and are at heart hook-laden and listenable to an extreme, they may be too sentimental for progressive rock fanatics and too straightforward for early 1990s black metal fans. An underpinning of old-fashioned foot-stomping heavy metal may make these popular in the contemporary metal audience, and if there’s any criticism here, it’s that this band could give their instrumentalism greater reign. Dusk, on the other hand, is a much clearer fusion of doom metal and classic heavy/power metal, with growling voices guiding bouncy riffs to their targets. It is proficient but on the whole not fully developed enough to either have its own voice or rise above metal cliche, but it is inoffensive listening especially for one who wouldn’t mind being locked in a room with Cathedral and Prong re-learning their formative material.

Odious Sanction “Three Song Demo” (2005)

These few cuts from the upcoming album “No Motivation to Live” feature the talents of Steve Shalaty, now drumming for Immolation, but that’s about the whole of their appeal. Much like his work in Deeds of Flesh, Shalaty’s percussion is ripe with a precision interplay between double bass and an ongoing breakdown of fills, but the music over it is numbingly empty of anything but relentless interrupted cadence rhythm. Somewhere between metalcore and deathgrind, it lacks most dimensions of harmony and any of melody, resulting in a whirring and battering mechanistic noise that offers little to the experienced listener.

Emit “A Sword of Death for the Prince” (2005)

The microgenre of blacknoise is what happens when one fuses the abrasive Beherit-style cacophonous assault of minimal black metal and the droning sonic collages of acts like Mz. 412 or Claustrum. Where this CD is excellent are the moments when being shockingly extreme and unlistenable are forgotten, and overlapping patterns of melodic or textural fragments knot the listener into moods of darkness and contemplation. Here, Emit has found an outlet for its style, as the guitar is liberated from rigid hardcore/black metal style riffing and can focus on the mournful and regal use of ambient, repetitive melody, hiding it amongst distorted voices and sampled aural experiences of modern life. The pretenses of black metal should be discarded, as this release has more in common with Tangerine Dream and Godflesh than anything else. If this reviewer has anything to suggest, it is that this band not hold itself back, but plunge forward in the direction it is exploring, and use its dense layers of sonorous noise-guitar and vocals to develop a sense of melody and composition, as that is the strength of both this band and non-instrumental music in general, and — well, nothing’s been “shocking” for some time.

P – The Larch Returns (Music Abuse, 2005)

As metal continues, like a snowball rolling over open ground it assimilates all that went before it and thrusts it forward in recombinations hoping to find another powerful aesthetic voice for the eternal metal spirit (which also picks up details, but rarely additions, to its sense of being). P is the side project of Alchemy member P and can be described as a black metal-informed death-doom band, with influences primarily in the Asphyx and Cianide camp with touches from Paradise Lost and Master. Its strengths are its booming, bassy, cinderblock-simple riffs that thunder through repetition in a trancelike resonance. Where many simple riffed bands can be irritating, these are sustaining. Songs move from one perspective to a final response to it without ado because the goal of this music is to carve tunnels of explosive sound through the rock face of silence, enacting mood more than drama. P needs to work on its rhythmic transitions and vocals, the former being stiff and the latter overacted; the local-band style of shout/rasp does nothing for a listener who might prefer to not be reminded of vocals at all should the question arise. Influence might also be gained by pacing riffs, especially introductory ones, differently to radically offset each other and effect a smoother convergence of forces. Three songs are of solid death/doom, and then there’s junk — an Aldo Nova cover that is unconvincing, a duet with a young girl that is amusing, and a comic song about baseball that dilutes the mood — but this is followed by a final instrumental that is beautiful like an unfocused eye, being a careless-sounding collection of sounds so natural that it is both unnoticed and profound in its emotional impact. Should this band ever decide to take a direction and master it, they will be a potent force in the death/doom field.

Alchemy – Alchemy (Alchemy, 2004)

Reminiscent of Abyssic Hate and Xasthur and I Shalt Become, Alchemy creates Burzum-styled ambient drone in a song format that seems inspired by Dark Funeral more than anything else. It is elegant and embraces the listener but beyond getting into said mood, goes nowhere: it is not directionless but each song is monodirectional to the point it might not be said to be a narrative or even statement as much as observant glimpse. If this band wishes to go to the next level, it needs to divide the formative material of each song into two parts, and layer the first one for 2/3 of the song until an apex, at which point it can switch into the conclusion for the last third and be more effective and satisfying to a listener. Far from incompetent, it is best viewed as something in transition.

One Liners

Toil – Demo I

Slick in ability and appearance but boring as rocks except for the enlightening, faithful, identical cover of Graveland’s “Thurisaz.”

Cannibal Corpse – Kill

A formula continuing the tradition of getting more like rap music and Six Feet Under, so is basically like every other Cannibal Corpse album. That alone is reason to avoid it, unless you like music designed to coordinate the head motions of retarded children being electrocuted.

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Sadistic CD Reviews, 10-30-08

Fester – Winter of Sin: As you venture through the underground, Sadhu, you will find that many of those described by others as the Ancients are in fact the regurgitated accumulation of techniques, ideas, and poses outworn long ago, and used by those who have not prospered to justify their position as Those Who Swallow What Society Spurts. Fester is one such offering. It’s a pungent mezcla of hard rock, heavy metal, proto-death metal and punk riffs, without direction or real organization. As a result it’s like stepping into a sauna: suddenly you’re warm, and at some point it ends, and you can’t really identify any particular points in the time you sat there, alone in the dark, probably bored and sweaty. Except for the sweaty part, unless you’re excited by tedium, this is that experience. Yet the black metal kiddees talk about how goddamn cult it is. Cult like Eddie Cochran but not as good by a million billion miles.

Lugubrum – Winterstones: During the halcyon years — in relative metal quality — of the mid-1990s, I picked up this CD and heard it and thought, “Aha, a Burzum clone.” At that point I wasn’t desperate for something to fill the void of quality metal. Now desperate, I groped for it again. What do I find? Mix Burzum technique with the simple-hearted and obvious songwriting of the average indie rock band. All of the familiar “Burzumy riffs” are there, from the trudge to the plod to the prismatic cycle, but they end in slight variations of the known pattern and then drop into song structures of minimal variation from a standard Motorhead or later black metal song. You will want to like this because you want Burzum. It will not deliver.

Steve von Till – A Grave is A Grim Horse: When you’ve reached the top of the innovation curve as a punk musician, your tendency is inevitably to ask: what’s more alienated, more extreme, and gives us a better explanation of where we are in history and how we got here? The inherent politics of punk is rejection of society; the emergent next step is going back to roots and making a folk album. Fusing the aggro-folk rock hybrid of Tom Waits or Roky Erickson with an almost Danzig-style verve, Steve von Till brings us an acoustic, gentle and dark album that is like the stories of a grandfather at the hearth. They aren’t all good stories, but in persistence through darkness, there’s a sexiness to morbidity and a delight in the struggle. The real superstar here is von Till’s voice, which like a Johnny Cash hummed mutter carries the dust and weight of trails both imagined and real. If you’ve got to go cowboy after your society smashing days in Neurosis, this is a good option, and my hope is that the folk-punk-country-necro indie volks don’t deny it.

Emancer – Twilight and Randomness: A lot like France’s S.U.P. except that Emancer choose the Pantera-style choppy riff arrangements amongst which they scatter odd phrase conclusions, dissonant chords and progressive metal melodic lead rhythm riffing. Influences from alternative metal, metalcore, progressive rock and indie abound, which makes this a stew more than a distinguishable, deliberate meal. Some good ideas get lost in the muddle, because these songs are so self-referential they forget about reality and the listener.

Strid – Strid: Some bloviation commends this band as inventor of the “depressive black metal” sub-sub-genre, but that’s where genre names get ridiculous. Instead, it’s appropriate to say that this band very carefully apes early Ancient while using the Paradise Lost technique of layering a melody on top of repetitive music, augmented with Burzum technique of strobing strum. Like so many other bands that followed the first wave, it has that melange tendency which suggests an imitation of end result and not the ideas that can launch a parallel result that’s as good. Some will compare to Ras Algethi or Gehenna, but where those had a spirit motivating their semi-random choices that turned out to work together, this lacks randomness and the same spark, so is lukewarm in reception and effect. Note the rip of Graveland’s “Gates the Kingdom of Darkness” on the third track. This CD is a compilation of demos in the above style, with the first being closest to Ancient, the second closest to early Bathory, and the third like a three-note version of Gorgoroth.

Grey Daturas – Return to Disruption: Did we ever leave disruption behind? Powerviolence mates with emo while smoking crack; the fetus is occasionally much more brilliant than either, but without a direction in life, relapses into playing Wii on the couch with Papa John’s on fast dial. Noise interludes mar driving emo-chorded passages, and long silences let us know when we’re supposed to be assimilating, but it’s unclear what the message is. Disruption? You want disruption? My advice to you is to make like an L.A. gangbanger during the riots and set fifteen fires across the city, then take potshots at cops, emergency personnel and news reporters. The chaos will far surpass this, which sounds a lot like guitar practice and not much like anything with shape. They’re trying for Pelican-style drone and they succeed at it, but transitions into that drone and between different riffs are tortured, and the howling wheezing creeling background noise doesn’t do much to change that. There is promise here, but only if they pony up and start writing real songs.

Black Altar – Death Fanaticism: This is the album Metallica wish they wrote instead of Death Magnetic: it’s bounding, bombastic, cheesy and hides its heavy elements well behind a whole Return To What’s True aesthetic. Even more, there is no continuity between riff changes, so it’s like a bundle of abrupt leaps to nowhere. Vocals fit the exact rhythm of guitar chords, which makes it sounds like kids music. Halfway through the third track — a pile of cliches, dated death metal riffs, and Cradle of Filthisms played more aggressively so not to reveal their deeply lisping side — Windows Explorer crashed, and for a few minutes I thought I would be unable to get this off my speakers. Suicide was considered. Not bad, not good.

Satanic Warmaster – Black Metal Kommando / Gas Chamber: This compilation does nothing to disguise the surly disgust the underground feels for Satanic Warmaster, otherwise known as “the Nargaroth of Finland.” Like other black metal vultures, they feature all the external aspects of controversy without the amazing music that made people other than the desperate metalheads notice: chiaroscuro Neo-Nazi overtones, adherence to trueness, novelty, catchy hooky songs that go nowhere, lots of talk about keeping it real, yo. When you boil it down, just about anyone can make a thrashing riff from a known archetype and then drop to kick-beat, shrilly screaming until the collapse, without having songs that go anywhere. In their favor, these are pleasant Motorhead-y songs that bounce along well if you don’t want any conclusion to ambiguous elements raised. If this band could heed any advice, it would be to ditch the black metal stylings and the pretense by implication, and just make Motorhead style rock-metal. They’re due to retire soon anyway, so we’ll need a successor, and that seems more the headspace in which this band composes.

Guapo – Elixirs: This is what could legitimately be called dub jazz, being light jazz played in layers with the intention of creating a drone or ambient effect. Keyboards and clean guitars interplay with percussion reminiscent of the third Atheist album, combining found sounds and unusual implementations of familiar ones in a style like that of Vas Deferens or other collage atmosphere projects. The second track quotes from a Fripp/Eno piece and despite bad hippie vocals later on the disc, it maintains a heritage of prog and jazz that provides interesting playing that seeks to find a mood, immerse in it, and then depart unnoticed. Sometimes I hear overtones of Thule in this. Like anything venturing in this style, it provides excellent music but not exciting music because it cannot take a direction; it’s like the Rothko chapel in that it intends to suspend you in a place like the space between dream and reality, but goes nowhere from that state.

Old Wainds – Death Nord Kult: You can tell the corpse of black metal is warming in the sun, eructating and oozing adipocere, when something like this counts as a major release among those who seem to know their stuff. It’s half speed-metal/death metal mixed in with droning black metal in the Eurasian style, with over-the-top vocals ranting counter-rhythms in a style like early Impaled Nazarene. Chord progressions are obvious, song structures undeveloped, and the rest is a riff salad of the past 25 years of metal with an emphasis on crowd pleasers. They love to try to keep that Mayhem feel alive but end up sounding more like Niden Div 187 merged with Drudkh and Nifelheim.

Testament – The Formation of Damnation: A 1980s speed metal band keeps updating itself, and ends up with a cumulative style not unlike what is in vogue among current metalcore-influenced bands: riding rhythms and harmonizing pre-choruses like a faster Iron Maiden, big heavy metal choruses with broad slow chords, the melodic leads of metalcore, and solos that imitate Kirk Hammet during his most excessive noodling on pentatonic leads. Vio-lence style hardcore influenced volley choruses and churning, chanting death metal verses add some power but don’t give it direction. You could almost sleep to it except for the constant pounding and “quirky” changes that sound like a messenger ran into the studio with a note saying, “Add that thing Deeds of Flesh do when they get bored, except slower” or “Maybe you really need to rehash that Overkill riff from The Years of Decay here.” Vocalist sounds like he worships recent Metallica.

Abdicate – Relinquish the Throne: Cut from the Cannibal Corpse mold, this CD of old-school inspired death metal sounds like a hybrid between the heavy muffled chording with blasts of Blood and the racing power chord streams of later Malevolent Creation, rendering a demonic-sounding and fast-attacking music that stands head and shoulders above others. Like all good death metal, its specialty is dynamism, or radical change between phrase form, tempo, texture, you name it, that later makes sense when the piece is considered as a whole. Songwriting here is simpler than classic death metal and less tonally-conventional but more interesting than Cannibal Corpse. As this band gets more confident, they may weave more complexity into their songs and it should end up making this a very compelling listen. For those who do not like the alternatingly bouncy and cadenced old school death metal sound, this may give you a headache, but from among the recent variations of the genre this is a good choice.

Xantotol – Liber Diabolus: Despite the alleged dates in the title, I find myself keeping this one at arm’s length. It is like a hybrid of Varathron and Ungod, in that it has the luciphagous rhythms of Varathron and the same steady progression of songs into descent, and the awkward riffing of Ungod that has two endings and then an ungainly turnaround. However, what it does not have is compositional form: songs are about the same general idea because they are composed outward from the aesthetic, and never generated a poetry (narrative) which met that aesthetic halfway toward full conception. I keep listening but so far am not knocked out of my chair by anything but distraction.

Enslaved – Vertebrae: The former gods of Nordic folk black metal have reincarnated in their new form as a rock band. Was there a word missing in that sentence? Oh, you expected me to say “progressive,” but there’s nothing progressive about this. Song structures are very straightforward. Riffs use more than power chords, but are based around writing melodic hooks and repeated them with a few breaks for ambience. There are jam parts… really… and over what chord progressions? Fairly easy ones. Songs loop and go nowhere. This isn’t progressive rock, it’s a flavor that “sounds like” progressive rock but really is the same old ear-easy singalong stuff. Barf.

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