Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure (2016)

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Article by Corey M.

Overall satisfying (but not quite inspiring) straightforward songs with equal parts thrash and proto-death metal present. I don’t quite hear the “occult” sound these guys are evidently going for; their music sounds too immediate and, weirdly, fun. The band members clearly enjoy creating this music and therefore their work is free of pretense; no revivalist coat-tail riding here. Expect to hear fairly similar-sounding riffs throughout, without much in the way of dynamics. Compared to their contemporaries in bands like Nifelheim and Aura Noir, Occult Burial are competent and maybe even a step ahead of the more popular bands that mix thrash with modern metal because they aren’t impeded by gimmickry. Their lack of theatrics may work against them because they will probably continue to be overlooked until they learn to cut loose and let their imaginations run a little more wild with their songs. Compared to the more aggressive speed metal classics from Coroner and Razor, parts of Hideous Obscure are downright boring. Even playing a bit faster and cleaning up the recording could do wonders for the effectiveness of these songs. Some parts sound truly terrible. For instance, the snare drum sounds  in the words of my favorite robot puppet “like a bag of sardines thrown up against the side of a pole barn.” Nevertheless there is promise here and I would reserve more judgment until Occult Burial release a proper-sounding album or I can catch them live.

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Phil Anselmo Forms New Extreme Metal “Supergroup”

Phil Anselmo being the lovable goofball he is.
Article by Daniel Maarat

Tough guy empowerment activist and former heroin addict Phil Anselmo has formed a new extreme metal “supergroup.” Scour features members of metalcore and post-hardcore bands Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, Decrepity Birth, and Animostiy. Anselmo claims they play “predominantly, in my ear, modern-ish black metal sounding, thrashy black metal type stuff.” All underground metal fans can do is wait and hear if former Pantera frontman is describing randomized first wave black metal with breakdowns, the Britney Spears black metal exemplified by Aura Noir slowed down, or Gothenburg melodeaf influenced metalcore with nu-metal vocals.

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Ripper – Raising the Corpse

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From the fertile grounds of the 1980s came many styles in the hybrid of death metal and speed metal. Many of these used death metal as a means of streamlining the more varied techniques of speed metal, producing songs with more internal rhythmic consistency and streamlined effect.

Others pursued a more melodic direction and made music with the intensity of death metal, the musicality of speed metal, and the toe-tapping addictiveness of power metal and the early German speed metal bands. Ripper falls into this category, joining bands like Grotesque, Slaughter Lord and Merciless in a style of short simple songs with the anthemic choruses and fixed chord progressions of speed metal, but the singular technique and drive of early death metal.

Raising the Corpse features a death metal rasp which will immediately call to mind early Destruction and Merciless. Its songs tend to use a single progression for chorus and vary it with texture, then use a counterpart for verses that creates some tension but mostly establishes rhythm. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.

Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s.

While Raising the Corpse will be too intense for power metal fans, and may strike death metal fans as too simple, those who take the time to listen will find a good, compelling and energetic release. In the history of metal, bands as varied as Aura Noir, Nifelheim and At the Gates have tried to make albums in this style but none are as consistently listenable and as well-organized as Raising the Corpse. This fits with a recognition that nostalgia is suicidal and odious, and that metal must move on with a clarification of its voice to give these older styles new relevance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncwQORbhjIU

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-18-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When Hessians decide they are sick of every random person tagging along for the glory of metal while making the same dreck that big media pushes on us through the pop industry. Make art, make it violent and aggressive, be truthful… or go home as we enjoy your delicious tears.

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Siftercide – Siftercide

Some time ago there was much ruckus in the press because people were using the word “retarded” as a synonym for “extremely stupid.” This died down when people realized that retarded people are actually extremely stupid, generally in the 60-70 IQ range which is typical for Congress but very low for normal people. Siftercide is retarded. The basic idea was to make deathgrind at fast grindcore pace and throw in a few dissonant chords to try to hide the fact that these riffs are boring, these songs are predictable, and this music will generate a headache not because it’s extreme but because it is like listening to a jet engine. Really, screw this. It’s not worth your time or mine.

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Ormgard – Ormblot

Underground metal typically occurs at three speeds: the tempo set by the percussion, the pace of changing chords, and the iteration of tremolo strum. Ormgard makes black metal which frequently slows down the first two with the latter at full pace, creating the kind of atmospheric black metal that distinguished early Behemoth or Ungod. Much of this picks up the straight fast pace of classic black metal with relatively straightforward chord progressions that emphasize melody. Keyboards and howling possum in pain vocals accompany it; the album is sandwiched between two imaginative instrumentals that evoke the feeling of the ancient era. In mood, this album most resembles a less-Gothic version of the first Gehenna work, but picks up the energy like early Ancient to create a sense of conflict and desperation. While this breaks no new ground stylistically, that never struck most metal fans as important. Comparisons to Abigor will be hard to dodge, especially the Orkblut era, and while they are apt aesthetically, Ormgard spreads out further than Abigor for an approach more like that of the original black metal bands exploding from Norway in the early 1990s. Ormblot channels its power into a faithful exploration of this genre and while not strikingly interesting, holds the attention by being non-random and carefully manipulating mood to dark effect.

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Nocturnal Graves – From the Bloodline of Cain

The term metalheads generally use for bands such as this is “straightahead.” Straight out of the 1980s but with black metal vocals, it is high-speed basic riffs and catchy but binary songs. If you did not get enough of Aura Noir, or have an urge to re-live Slaughter Lord in simpler form, this may appeal, but the fundamental lack of musical motion or depth makes this a hard sell for the experienced metalhead. While the aesthetics have changed somewhat, this style of really basic riffing and exuberant simple songwriting has not evolved in 30 years. Its attempts to become more high-intensity end up being repetitive and it flows by and is forgotten when silence returns.

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Goatwhore – Constricting Rage of the Merciless

If you are not fully paying attention, this album might sound like a good thing. Its style is pure Angelcorpse mated with 1970s heavy metal and some Southern Rock; its approach is to pack in extra riffs to interrupt a verse-chorus loop that focuses on the vocal rhythm of the chorus. No flaws in musicianship, vocals are vicious, but the songs do not really go anywhere. Or maybe a better way to say this is that these songs sound like academic exercises, laboratory experiments or designs on paper: they relate well to their parts but the whole is nothing larger than the linear sum of the parts. The result is much frenetic pounding and guitar raging, hooks grasping at your ears, and then a sense of disappointment as songs drill toward an end that means nothing more than the start. As the album goes on, more of the 1970s hard rock and metal riffs come out to fill space but the result remains uncompelling. This band is more competent than any others in this style but the style itself lacks any grasp on matters of importance and seems to be the metal equivalent of late-night TV. The Hod album we reviewed recently is a better take on this style.

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Colombian Necktie – Twilight Upon Us

Before Kurt Cobain shot himself in a heroin-induced haze, he was fond of saying that metal was out of ideas during the most fertile time in metal history since its inception. If he were around today, however, he would find metalheads buying him beers for saying that metal has run up the flag saying that it is out of ideas. Sludge, not really a hybrid of metal, happens when you mix stoner doom with slow hardcore and probably dates its innovation to the first three Eyehategod albums and slow Integrity songs. Colombian Necktie mix up the dirge-like rage-infused passages of those bands with ordinary Southern-fried rock played uptempo to keep your attention. Nothing stands out as horrible but the whole lacks any compulsion for a listener interested in content. You might as well listen to Huey Lewis and the News if you slow it down and run it through a distortion pedal, because in its core that is what Colombian Necktie and all bands in the sludge style seem to be heading for. If you read it cynically, it is another take on grunge music, which is basically hardcore bands making rocking music and trying to cloak it in metal aesthetics. If you look at any piece of these albums, it is hard to find fault, but if you listen to the whole, you will fall asleep standing up. Most reviewers get their albums free and hear them once and then give it a thumbs up so that the reviewers get promoted along the line by labels who love their spunky and wacky reviews. But if you look at music as a fan, anything you can only listen to one time and do not immediately want to hear again is off the menu, as it should be for Twilight Upon Us and its ilk.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 09-14-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? You are mortal; your time is short. Listen to the best and death to the rest! We recognize that music quality is an objective measurement, where “taste” is more subjective. Taste however is easily fooled and leads you and the genre to a place of mediocrity. Thus we select the better options and mercilessly destroy the weak… if you are a false, do not entry!

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Abysmal Lord – Storms of Unholy Black Metal

Borrowing some ideas from the flowing columnar death metal fad/trend of last year, Abysmal Lord attacks this phenomenon from the opposite end, mimicking black metal like Demoncy, Beherit and Blasphemy but giving the music less of a “messy” aesthetic and more of a structured, hard-hitting death metal approach. Perhaps some would call this “blackened death,” but we all know what a waffle that phrase represents. Unlike most of the clone bands, Abysmal Lord merits a second listen for tight compositions and a strong understanding of how to fit together these riffs. Alas as the saying goes there will be nothing new here to shock you, but really what is new? Little: we find music that expresses an emotion and then go with that. In this case, Abysmal Lord creates a sensation like being part of a malevolent fog attacking a city of oblivious burghers with intent to rip out their souls and force them to face the emptiness of the lives they lead. While many riffs cite from earlier bands, the overall feeling of these songs stands on its own, although the band will want to renovate ancient sounds in order to move forward with its own progress.

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Aratron – The Recovery

Aratron creates efficient death metal in the intersection of styles between Centurian and Aura Noir, with lots of high-energy rollover rhythms pervading the riffing. The songs come together tightly and each riff fits in to the simple song structure and makes it more powerful. Like many bands of this type it stays within high-speed and mid-paced tempi and performs most of its motion with guitars over relatively passive drums. Riff forms will strike no one as stunningly new but belonging to this band in a form of its own when heard together. Unfortunately the band possesses a great weakness in the vocals which use chihuahua-style rhythms and sometimes, assemble themselves around the simplest pattern derivable from the song and repeat it slowly without variation in timbre or tone. That subverts some of the subtlety of this work which aims to be full-ahead-go and yet avoid falling into the pitfalls of that style. Periodic melodic breaks are reminiscent of Black Sabbath and show the capacity of this band for building more complex songs even when at heart they favor full-energy riff-chorus loops with a few extra riffs to reinvigorate their momentum. Many of the chord progressions used sound like these guys really like early Mayhem.

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Atara/Miserable Failure – Hang Them

Two grindcore bands comprise this split, Atara who are groovier and Miserable Failure who are more manic. Listening to these, the casual metalhead will recall that grindcore fizzled like a damp fuze in the 1980s not only because all the bands upsold into Led Zeppelin hybrids but because the genre itself is so limited. We get it: short songs, screaming, noise, havoc. But when does the cliché wear thin? When do we realize that we are making a parody of what elders said about our music for three generations? That riffcraft and songwriting take a back seat to novelty? Napalm Death was “cute” on Scum and From Enslavement to Obliteration but they bailed out after that. Carcass moved on after Reek of Putrefaction, and even the mighty Repulsion left it at one album. Within a narrow scope, there is only so much to say, and so grindcore like the previous minimalist experiment in punk rock abolished itself. Atara manages solid songs with a bit of groove between the extravagant flourishes but songs are extremely similar; Miserable Failure sounds like more constant screaming with repetitive droning riffs going on in the background. In one of the great paradoxes of humanity, both are probably at the tops of their genre, and yet that is not enough for a second listen.

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Integrity – Systems Overload

Bands like Neurosis and Integrity inspired the “sludge” revolution in metal by playing post-hardcore slowly and for atmosphere, but what attracted the industry was that as these bands gained experience they began sounding more like regular rock music. This allowed the simple calculus of all record labels: new thing / same old thing = new thing we control. This Integrity album shows the band pulling back from the punk and into the punk rock while keeping the aesthetic — the numerator of the fraction above — of hardcore, but adding in the raw structure (the denominator) of basic rock songs. You will recognize many of the patterns on this album from hard rock and classic rock albums, although to their credit Integrity have thoughtfully modified them and extended them, mixing the single items up across songs so that nothing sounds exactly like something else. In this, Systems Overload is one of the most professional albums to come out of punk; they worked hard on making every bit of this fit within the product range the audience expected but with a new aesthetic so it could be branded and a differentiated product. In that area this album is admirable, and it makes for easy and pleasant listening other than the strained and soar throat vocals, but otherwise it strikes me as music for the inexperienced that would be fun for a season and then discarded.

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Nihilistinen Barbaarisuus – Väinämöinen

This two-song EP evokes the golden days of Bathory with a long and hypnotic track followed by an acoustic instrumental, but owes more to the Norwegian wave such as Burzum and Gorgoroth. Much as with the latter, it composes in the melodic minor scale, and borrows much of its sense of pacing and trancelike riffing from second-album Burzum. This creates a sense of being suspended in time while watching for action to occur within a scene, and the use of flowing tremolo suspends reality much as it did with Gorgoroth and Graveland, another background influence — by the sound of things — on this band. The first track expands to six minutes on a few short themes and develops internal counter-melodies to give them depth (a less-overused version of the technique in Borknagar), which avoids the lazy wandering of bands like Drudkh or Inquisition, and instead creates a deepening sense of mood. The second track uses acoustic instruments and creates a folkish aura for the first, developing similar themes as if shadowing darkness with light. Much like other faithful retro-continuation projects such as Woodtemple, this music maintains integrity and avoids the pitfalls of contemporary music. It may not be the most exciting owing to an internal balance that is not as savagely unbound as Burzum, for example, and to its arrival twenty years after these techniques hammered audiences for the first time. However, unlike almost all from the genre today, Väinämöinen understands how to make beauty in the darkest despair of the human soul, and from that find not a contrarian impulse toward “good” but a desire to resolutely wage war on all that is inferior and thus, raise the darkness to a higher level of clarity that approximates beauty.

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Interview: Wan

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Swedish band Wan recently released Enjoy the Filth on Carnal Records, creating an album that’s most similar to 1998-faire like Impaled Nazarene Latex Cult and Disfear Soul Scars.

As Wan is trying to break in to the post-modern metal scene, where outside genres often get disguised as metal for the sake of riding the coattails of black metal’s 1990s notoriety, they are emphasizing their metal nature and associating with black metal.

We were fortunate to be able to catch a few words with Wan, who write to us from the darkened winter wilderness of Sweden.

When did Wan form, and what influenced you at the time?

As the song “Day of Reckoning” suggests, we formed in July 2009 with the aim to celebrate the oldschool metal scene. The influences are as obvious as they are filthy. Bands like Venom, Bathory, Celtic Frost have a deep impact in our minds and in our tunes.

Are the members of Wan metalheads of long standing, or is this a recent discovery?

We are four old bastards who have been breathing, eating and crapping metal for ages!

What other types of music do you or have you in the past listened to?

Some of us emerged from the early punk I guess. Personally I enjoyed different types of music as a youngster. Depeche Mode was a band that I liked a lot, and I still think some of their earlier stuff is great.

Coming from Sweden, which is a tiny country from which many important metal bands come, it seems it might be difficult to get known, like the bar is higher. How do you hope to overcome this?

As you say, there’s a lot of quality bands hailing from our dark regions. To be honest there’s even more shitty bands as well that, in my opinion, never should have been! So yeah, there’s quite a competition in the scene, but we’re not going to do anything other than to let our music speak for itself. Some people will enjoy our filth, some will be ignorant bastards.

Were the members of Wan active in other bands or artistic activities before Wan? Can you tell us about these?

We have all been in numerous bands and acts throughout the years. The list would be long and bore your readers out of their minds! It has been various styles anyway, but always metal or dark music in one way or another. Also at the present time we keep ourselves busy by playing in other bands. Not gonna ramble any names though… If you’re interested you’ll find out.

This is an awkward question, but I must ask: why do you classify Enjoy the Filth as black metal when it sounds more like late-period hardcore? Do you know of any other black metal releases that sound
like this, and how do you separate them from hardcore bands like Driller Killer, Disfear, etc?

Hmm… we obviously don’t share the same musical references. There’s a lot of punk influences within our music, but all in all I’d say that we sound a whole lot like Venom, classic Bathory and Darkthrone. Rock ‘n’ roll blackmetal that fuck bands like those you mention in the ass!

Enjoy the Filth inspired me because it seems very deliberate; there are no random riffs or bits out of place. How do you write songs, and what’s your “quality control” process?

The songwriting is more like a beerswinging metal process. We just meet up and create our songs more or less spontaneously. This is who we are and the kind of filth we have inside of us, so it comes rather naturally.

How does Enjoy the Filth differ from your earlier release, Wolves of the North?

It differs in the sense of production and that the drum-machine thankfully got a knee in the crotch, and Dimman did one hell of a job! Music and lyricwise it don’t alter that much.

Do you think as a practical matter that a black metal scene still exists, or has it been absorbed by other forms of music?

The underground scene as it once was doesn’t exist today. Still there’s a big metal scene in Sweden even if the focus lies elsewhere these days. The genuine music and minds involved will never be absorbed or replaced by any other forms, and will forever stand strong!

What’s next for Wan? Will you tour on Enjoy the Filth, and/or write more music?

We sure hope and aim to go out on some live performances. A few organizers has showed interest. And perhaps we’ll get together and spit out some new material in the inspiration of the approaching dark cold winter.

If someone wanted to understand Wan, what bands and albums would you recommend they understand first?

Early Venom, Bathory, Hellhammer, Celtic Frost as mentioned before. If you would prefer some more “up to date” bands, I’d recommend you to torture your ears with acts like Aura Noir and Styggelse.

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The Best Underground Metal of 2012

The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.

The Best Metal (and related) of 2012

  • Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
  • Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
  • Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
  • Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
  • Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
  • Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
  • Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
  • Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
  • Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
  • Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
  • Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
  • Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
  • Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
  • Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
  • Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
  • Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
  • Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
  • Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
  • Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
  • War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.

Disappointments of 2012

Abigor – Quintessence

Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.

Absurd – Asgardsrei

This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.

Acephalix – Deathless Master

A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.

Aura Noir – Out to Die

Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.

Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual

The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.

Graf Spee – Reincarnation

Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.

Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty

2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.

Impiety – Ravage and Conquer

It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.

Inverloch – Dusk | Subside

These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.

Mantas – Death by Metal

Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.

Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite

This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.

Purtenance – Sacrifice the King

This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.

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