Sadistic Metal Reviews 9-11-09

In the United States at least, there’s a lot of talk about “death panels” and “eugenics” because of some political thing or another. We just have to ask: if we’re talking about metal bands, what’s so wrong with having a death panel to clear out the garbage? As long as you appoint competent people to the death panel, they’re going to kill off the stupid, bland, symmetrical, tasteless and blockhead bands, and leave behind the interesting, talented, insightful and visionary. If you support good metal, please use this link to tell President Barack Obama that you want death metal death panels.

Cock Sparrer – Here We Stand

With age, comes self-referentiality: scenes no longer write to the world at large, but comment on themselves to themselves. This album manages to avoid the staleness of that fate, and like middle period Iron Maiden, is melodic and exercise-inspiringly rhythmic in a way that the best power pop is, but it keeps itself rooted in a hybrid between The Clash-style light punk and the more pungent Oi from which this band originated. Every second of this record is highly crafted and without an ounce of extra fat, both hitting hard and being gratifyingly fun to listen to in an emotional but not maudlin way like the best of punk. Lyrics are positive, encouraging people to take a stand and move past the destruction around them, but it’s not a wallowing as much as a dismissal. This band has not just aged, but matured, and they’re riding a fine line between pop punk and truly dangerous music, but in the meantime, it’s here for us to enjoy and anyone who likes a good insurgent punk tune will love this.

Bahimiron/Unchrist – Last of the Confederates

Trying to forge a sound out of black metal is difficult because like a new universe, it expanded and diversified so rapidly as to become a wide field of options formed from the same basic elements. Bahimiron have taken the grimy, gnarled, ugly and digestive black metal of their debut EP and infused it with an Impaled Nazarene-style sense of all-ahead-go, taking the best of “war metal” and making out of it simple melodic hooks like were found on the first two Gorgoroth albums and other classics of violent, primitive black metal. About every other song really captures a sense of epic emotion rising out of disorder, and the others, like the first Krieg album, succumb to their own chaos and fade into the background noise. There’s a good sense of dynamic here, especially on the majestic “Blackest Morning Coming Down” and “Texas Witch Hammer,” which are the real reasons to own this CD. The latter ends with a Burzum-style lead rhythm solo that sounds straight out of Ancient and an Oi band making sweet love. Unchrist, on the other hand, are trying to be — much like Phil Anselmo’s project Christ Inverted — a classic deconstruction act, tearing music down into its very basics and doing so at high speed with unique aesthetic. Like all things deconstructive, it converges on the ghetto into which punk fit itself, and despite catchy rhythms never goes anywhere. This fits it squarely into that place reserved for all extreme bands that are competent but never found anything to express, where we all shrug and ask “Why would I listen to that?”

Red Fang – Red Fang

Imagine making a modern version of the punk/blues hybrid of early Motorhead, like mixing in 20% more Z.Z. Top and then rendering the whole thing through a computer programmed in modern indie album-oriented rock. There’s a fair amount of metal, except in song composition; there’s a lot of bluesy fills, bouncy driving hard rock rhythm and solos, punk riffs and then vocals straight out of the more recent Phrase For a Name style bands. A good deal of the vocal delivery and riff styling comes from the hard-driving honky-tonk blues/hard rock bands of the 1970s, and this rounds out this style to make a listenable and high intensity stream of sound, although over time it does not develop depth (like, we presume, a fine wine). Forget progress, subtlety, sincerity, emotion or artistry: This is straightforward gritty bar fight hard rock for your inner beast, designed for you to want to start drinking hard and smashing skulls. Don’t question it.

Atrocity – Contaminated

I love metal, but see no need for about 98% of the genre. The reasons for discarding this majority vary with each release, from artistic irrelevance, incompetence, vapidity, and simple boredom. In the case of Atrocity (US), I’d like to like this CD but it’s like a droning fever in the background. The primary influences on this are probably Repulsion and Slaughter; there’s a lot of two-chord riding rhythms and chaotic noise, interspersed with Slayer-style chiasmatic chord exchanges. Active bass really guides these songs, forming a doppler convergent nightmare sound, but repetition is high. The album is really high energy. It’s not high on organization or form however, which makes it sound like a less advance version of Angelcorpse.

Taranis – Flandriae

Black thrash…is like Destruction, but twenty years too late, with a full black metal rasp. If you’re looking for nostalgia, this does OK, but the Slaughterlord album or later Merciless is more powerful. Like Destruction, there’s so much emphasis on a foot-tapping, shout-chanting chorus that everything else gets simplified. However, this band use chords like an American band: sparsely, emphasizing a few clear notes and then dropping the rest into fast muted strum of open strings. It’s not terrible, just simple-minded, and you already have that Destruction album. Rasp to it and you’re ahead of the game.

Stinking Lizaveta – Sacrifice and Bliss

Postmodern fragmented rock jams that maintain a hard-driving rock rhythm but try to do the unexpected, the songs on this CD are spacious and noisy and tempting to like, but they try so hard to be “different” they forget a voice of their own. In fact, much of the music on this CD seems to be having its own dialogue such that each time a change occurs, the song must comment on that change to obscure any similarities it has with other music. These changes however are aesthetic; underneath the skin, this is standard indie rock that has been broken and re-arranged with a cut-up technique that leaves us peering toward its inner structure through layers of repetition. There’s not much to dislike, but the whole is formless and so becomes an exercise in trying to extract a motif from something whose technique is its own outlook.

Thor’s Hammer – Three Weeds From the Same Root

This fusion of skinhead punk music with simple, Darkthrone-cum-Graveland style black metal mirrors the early development of Graveland, but takes a punk direction instead of a metal one. The result is punk improved: while most of it is riff chorus, transition material gets us past binary riffs to three melodic fragments in motion in some cases; riffs vary pacing and use tremolo to better melodic effect; dynamic and pacing vary to create contrast. If you like Discharge, Cock Sparrer, GBH or any other classic punk hardcore, this CD represents a huge improvement on that style. Subtle melodies interweave with riot-incitement percussion and classic hardcore riffs, giving depth to music that is otherwise pure muscle on the street power. The problem is that it’s still highly repetitive punk-based music, so while much of the majesty of black metal is transferred, many of the people who enjoyed black metal for its depth will find this one-dimensional.

Anael – From Arcane Fires

Channeling early Samael and Darkthrone’s “Goatlord” in the same moment, Anael make a CD that is half indie-rock like Wolves in the Throne Room but uses its open tonal leaps to create waves of atmospheric harmony. It is a good effort; despite its repetition, this CD keeps the sense of feeling high. Unfortunately, that feeling goes nowhere, so it is like entering and exiting an atmosphere, and when the song ends, another repeats the process in highly similar ways. However, it’s a welcome break from the chromatic flailing of burst intensity bands.

Corpus Rottus – Ritual of Silence

Energetic death metal similar to a cross between Deicide and Malevolent Creation, the music of Corpus Rottus keeps momentum and charges forward in constant pummeling roar, but never manages to anchor this energetic rhythm into the sense of tonal dynamic that could give songs distinctiveness. Like Fallen Christ, this music seems to blur together because songs use similar patterns, tempi and textures. All of it is extremely well-played and better than anything from the deathcore era, but this will remain a B-level band for lacking a topography of harmonic meaning or poetic configuration to each song.

Sotajumala – Teloitus

Metalcore is the leftovers of the punk and metal movements. Like a hipster, it thinks it can hide emptiness with external adornments like costume, details of technical playing, and even outlandish behavior, but nothing can hide the lack of clarity in thinking. It’s like a politician who makes speeches about how he organizes files in his office. It’s a withdrawal from life itself. This band is straight down the middle metalcore, sticking in random metal riffs from four generations of metal, but its basic organization is that of punk, or deconstructionism. See how different this riff is from the last. Here’s a guitar solo to distract you. Now we’re going to chant. This riff goes in circles; this next one goes straight ahead. It’s basically random except for key and tempo, and those fail to compel.

Pensees Nocturnes – Vacuum

What if we crossed Mutiilation with progressive symphonic metal? That is the question asked by this rather interesting release. If it has a weakness, it’s a lack of solidly distinctive metal riffs, mainly because it is focused on making the whole thing work together. This artist does best when letting the melodies expand and doesn’t limit them in length or ambition “just because” they’re played on a guitar. Like many symphonic bands, Pensees Nocturnes unleash some of their best work in synthesized keyboards or violins, accenting some metal riffs that are now cut from archetype, namely influences as diverse as Gorgoroth, Ancient and Kvist. However, what this band really understands is the theatrical nature of metal: how each song must tell a story with internal conflict resolving into new contexts, like a poem, and it must do it through dramatic gestures that reinforce this story in a way that we feel it and know it at the same time. This can become a container for generic music, however, since the centrality of guitars is de-emphasized. For this reason, this release is head and shoulders above the rest of the genre, and if it more distinctive guitar riff voices can be built into the mix, will be a powerful force in the genre.

Ninth Kingdom – Where No Kings Shall Roam

This band has great potential, but hovers over a great pitfall as well. Their power is a facile ability to write riffs within several different styles and fit them together into a clean narrative. The pitfall is that this enables them to string together just about anything without some central direction, or narrative of some kind, which leads perilously close to the “circus music” that all deathcore and Cradle of Filth-style metal ends up being, where random riffs form a song without contributing to a central meaning. The melodic technical metal aspects of this CD fit in shoulder to shoulder with the best bands coming out of Europe in this style, and their wise use of faster death metal riffs to break up song development keeps them from falling into either uniformity or too much “hard rock” like, say, COF. It makes more sense to compare these guys to later At the Gates than the latest crop of Dimmu-inspired melodic disorganized black metal. For Ninth Kingdom however, their strength is their weakness; they are good at writing riffs and transitions, but need to slow down and shape their abundance of music into clearly-defined songs that communicate something unique to each song. The most conventional song on this CD, “A Storm on the Horizon,” is probably their most powerful statement. I will be watching this local band as they grow.

Sepultura – A-lex

Taking a slightly different approach to metalcore, Sepultura stick punchy punk rock riffs onto rigid drumbeats and then finish them off with metal touches like basic harmonization, layered rhythm, and chaotic interlude riffs of a chord or two. Like that genre of bands that tried to update death metal without becoming reliant on expectation of complements to offbeat emphasis, Sepultura just keep driving ahead with ranting vocals over a guitar/drum interplay that is extremely linear. Occasional sung choruses drift in randomly; so do noisy, squealing transitions. Drums keep trucking. Songs are simple and begin and end well, but it’s the middle part that runs long. Verse/chorus song structures are the norm, interruptions the adornment. If you can imagine Chaos A.D. with less bombast and more mechanistic forward drive, that’s about where this once great band is now.

S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust

One man does something, another man sees, and he imitates, then tries to figure out a way to put the meaning into what he’s doing. Unfortunately, meaning comes from intent. S.V.E.S.T. carefully pidgin imitate the Norse and Black Legions past, and make some noisy melodic stuff that is very sweetly poignant, if you listen to the parts, but adds up to a whole bunch of nowhere.

Origin – Antithesis

Once you get past the fireworks, this album is wallpaper. It displays techniques in the same order and adapts them to whatever fragmentary notion of song differentiates each of these. Sweep, sweep; fill; chug-chug; offtime chord chiasmus; sweep sweep; squeal; fast riff, repeat. I consider this album the definitive deathcore archetype because it shows us mixed death metal, melodic death metal, heavy metal and rock riffs in a cycle of randomness that resembles the way punk bands liked to assemble their riffs, not the period doubling style of death metal where each riff makes each previous riff make sense in an expanding context. As a result, it’s highly literate circus music, and joins later Behemoth, Cradle of Filth, Cannibal Corpse and others in writing incoherent stuff and making people like it because it’s technical and has catchy rhythms. Deathcore, unlike death metal before it, is deconstructionist like punk, and leaves us with a sense of the helpless, although some of these sweeps are excellent guitar practice for a moderately advanced player.

Asag – Asag

This is black metal in the Funeral Mist style, which is to put really raw sawing riffs on top of very danceable rhythms and hope no one notices. The result is messy on the surface but if you start tabbing it out, tends toward the ridiculous. They tend to stay within a very narrow harmonic range as well, which makes this essential rhythm music with a few melodic intervals and harmonized chord progressions to keep your attention. There is as the old cliche goes “Much sound and fury, signifying nothing.” They know their black metal moves and put them in a semi-sensible order, but you don’t actually get much out of it as a listener on than the sensation that somewhere, black metal is occurring.

Samael – Above

A painful kind of harmonic symmetry emerges in rock music when bands do not design melodies, but tail basic riffs with melodic fills. As a result, there is a great temptation of beauty, and then a sense of disappointment when one realizes that complementary phrases end in very basic differences. This makes the music breathe boredom like alcohol from a whisky drunk as he sweats, even if the stuff on the surface seems interesting. Samael have returned to metal here by combining Gothenburg, late-model black metal and really basic punk/death metal hybrid riffs. It’s a commendable return to form but musically it’s boring, something they try to counterbalance by keeping a driving rhythm going, which tends to normalize the experience. This is where music is different than passing a test: this CD passes all tests, but still is nothing you will reach for time and again. A better example of this style is the final Sacramentum album.

Cadaver – Necrosis

Bands returning to the death metal genre after a long absence try to update it in some way or another to distinguish themselves, show they’ve progressed, and find a way to appeal to a wider audience. Here, Cadaver try to combine the deathcore sound with the kind of charging technical take on d-beat punk that Impaled Nazarene used to do. If you can imagine Disfear, Impaled Nazarene and Neuraxis in a blender, that’s about corrupt — punk riffs levitate verses, tightened death metal riffs conduct choruses, technical fills end each, and songs fade out into melodic punk alternating with death metal rhythm riffs of the single- or double-chord variety much like later Master. It’s a musically impressive album and catchy as all hell, but when compared to old Cadaver, it lacks the mysterious atmosphere and sense of joyful exploration. This is much more of an adult album, meaning that it aims to be consistent and to remember the milk at the grocery store, but its sense of wonder at the world has been absorbed by a functionalism that is both the source of its consistency and the gateway to its missing openness.

Obscura – Cosmogenesis

I really wanted to like this, but it’s circus music. Technical circus music, but still, it has ludicrous happy melodies that would fit been played from an ice cream truck. These are played in challenging rhythms, but because that involves so much emphasizing and complementing offbeats, they are played at a bouncy pace like Iron Maiden and Parliament writing video game music together. It bounces. It flounces. It knows its scales and chord construction, but it goes nowhere because it’s looking outside-in: it’s trying to use technicality to make art, instead of making art and finding a voice in technicality for that impetus. The circus music aspects come also from their tendency to throw as many diverse possibilities into a song as possible, ending up with a tour of unrelated elements tied together by key and rhythm, yet having no significance other than that proximity. This is far better than the recent Cynic, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

Infernum – Farewell

If later Graveland albums had been less opulent in layers of keyboards, battle noises, and guitars, they might sound like this: a stripped-down and more melodic Graveland reminiscent of Thousand Swords and Following the Voice of Blood merged in an early Emperor filter. Because it’s stripped down, it doesn’t get lost in working through all those layers, and instead develops a very simple point. Like most Graveland, it repeats themes in an attempt to find their ultimate evolution, which keeps it from falling into irrelevance. It’s like the old themes become starter cultures and from it grows a mass of new themes, like throwing yeast into a vat of corn syrup. As a result however, this album seems instantly familiar, and brings on that reality distortion field that is one of the most glorious things about Graveland: you forget you’re listening to amplified guitars conveyed through MP3 on a 2009 personal computer, and think you’re in a deep valley hearing the voice of the wind forming figures around the rocks above.

Suffocation – Blood Oath

Much of what we know of death metal now came from Monstrosity, Malevolent Creation, and Suffocation, who invented the style that Cannibal Corpse distilled and popularized. Suffocation, in particular, was the first band to come roaring out of obscurity with intensely percussive songs where drums led guitars in a series of complex riff conglomeration and destruction. When Doug Cerrito left, a lot of that got replaced by faster riffing and more straight-ahead songwriting. In use of harmony, especially use of scalar harmony to hold songs together, Suffocation has improved to the point where rock and jazz musicians can recognize their musicality more easily. However, they’ve dropped out the focus on rhythmic work; Mike Smith’s excellent drum work now plays along with melodic guitars and muted strum speed metal style full stops. Songs are built around a vocal chant, usually with a creeping rhythm, and the ensuing repetition loses much of the power this band once had. If they return to making the intricate structures, and consequent theatre of pummeling dynamics, that distinguished their best work, Suffocation could easily be the top death metal band performing today.

Asphyx – Death…The Brutal Way

A good summary is that this album upholds the style and feel of the first two Asphyx albums, but more resembles the last few in that while it’s well done, it’s restating known themes. It sometimes does this in a self-aware way, like an artist looking at a past work and trying to copy it from outside. Where it thrives however is in delivering rushing rhythms, like combatants sizing each other up at a run, that ride forward into thunderous climactic theatre. Where most death metal is dusty from the city, this album surges with a post-human viewpoint that creates legitimate fear amongst the herd. However, it never loses sight of making enjoyable rolling thunder music that beats us with the most reductionist approaches to music and yet makes us like them and see them as artful. This band has never released anything but solid music, and although this CD probably lags toward the non-essential end of their release spectrum, it crushes all of the other death metal band comeback albums handily.

Nidrike – Blodsarv

You know how people will take a tiny little Mazda and give it ten grand of ground effects? This band is an improvement on Deathspell Omega, who have the same style: create a harmonically simple song and trick it out with melodies, long discursive passages that seem exciting in their radical leaps of tone but ultimately converge on the same spot, like a tetherball wacked by a retard on meth. Clearly a lot of effort went into this CD but it all went into building up the songs, not coming up with some insightful or unique angle of attack, so at the end of the day you’re back to the same essential chord progressions most black metal uses, even if there’s lots of finger-wiggling to make it seem like an epic melody is going to bust out of that Mazda and pwn your ass.

Death – Scream Bloody Gore

The more experience I have in life, the more I like this album. For starters, Chuck wasn’t left alone on songwriting: he had scene legends like Chris Reifert (Autopsy) and Kam Lee (Massacre) to help him, but also, had just completed jaunts with Repulsion and Slaughter (the proto-death metal band, like a cross between early Master and Necrophagia, but better). What’s great about this CD is that it’s the same old Death, which is a fusion between speed metal and nascent proto-Death like Master, but that it’s pure spirit. There are no pretensions to musicality here, so it’s pure rigid chord progressions and thunderous rhythms, but unlike later Death, it uses the death metal “riff salad” that tells a story better than any modulating-harmonic but static-form rock music could. True, there’s a wipeout or two in the solos, and often these very basic riffs are pretty messy, but the CD keeps up the high energy pace and inventive transitions between riffs that are variations on known themes from NWOBHM and punk, which makes it solid as hell. The second half sort of runs together into mush; I’m guessing that it was partially written or refined in the studio. But unlike the other great Death album, Human, this CD is chaotic and organic like a tradesman’s riot. Human is good but it’s like an introductory textbook to music theory because each song has two parts — (1) getting ready for the big picture and (2) here’s the big picture — and so for all its “musical complexity” it’s a simpler, easier and less interesting composition than this early fire-spitting version of Death.

Karnarium – Karnarium

When conducting audience surveys, it’s easy to confuse a desire for primal music with music that is so basic it becomes boring. The point is to “sound” primitive, not to be primitive. Karnarium confuse the two; it’s a hybrid of early Grave and Cannibal Corpse, resulting in alternating blasts of percussive riffing and fast death metal riffs which limit themselves to four notes. We would all like to like this, but it does not provide any lasting enjoyment of the style, only a battering repetition of discontinuous themes which leaves life more confusing and less coherent than before. Songwriting needs to be focus for this band because they have their technique down but fail to stitch together a meaningful code of these fragmented riffs.

Conjuration – Funeral of the Living

Let’s try being Barathrum or Countess, except as a doom metal/black metal band. Are you excited yet? Umm… yeah, we’ll toss in the extra evil, extra loud and extra repetitive spells, and try for a saving throw with a bluesy undertone to our chord progressions a lot like Cathedral. Are we having fun yet? It ends up sounding like Saint Vitus as if created by Cianide. It’s not bad but song development occurs with typical metal harmonization and abrupt breaks, and the riffs and rhythms are straight out of the late 1970s. Guitar sound is flamingly awesome however. The only problem is the whole MCD is kind of boring. I think they should play this in old age homes and have everyone clap in time.

Inveracity – Extermination of Millions

So that’s where Suffocation went: they got reincarnated as Inveracity. This band is not as fully coherent as Suffocation was for their first three albums, but captures the essence of their technique with a powerful forward drive, much like Deeds of Flesh. They could get from B+ to A by making their songs more clearly express a central theme and a journey toward a concluding mood, which would give them more than a sound a personality and a vision of reality that others could participate in. As it stands, the technique speaks for too much, but it’s done well — an A+ — with more of the melodic leads stitched in among fast ripping power chording, as Deeds of Flesh started doing with Inbreeding the Anthropophagi. Watch this band for future development.

Mordicus – Dances From Left

An interesting hybrid of death metal and speed metal, this album sounds like Destruction riffs put in the less disjointedly repetitive song structures of American speed metal bands like Testament. It flows quite well. The riffs are not unusual to someone familiar with Destruction, Kreator and Forbidden, but they fit cleanly into well-constructed songs. Clearly thought went into this record, which makes it unusual for the speed metal genre. In use of layers and lead melodic riff accents, this album shows a heritage of death metal. Like later Merciless, it is highly melodic and often quite graceful, but the tendency of this genre to like percussive guitar strumming and pounding chorus rhythms may drive away listeners accustomed to the greater subtlety of black and death metal. Still, this is a good record.

Chord – Flora

This project reminds me of the Mitch Harris project Lull, except that Chord have an appreciation for slow-building development through contrast and dynamic variation in songs, where much of Lull was either too abrupt or too linear. However, they’re still facing the challenge of noise (which, since it’s a type of communication using sound for its inherent properties, is probably music, but noise devotees freak out if you call it “noise music”) which is making something that a listener could enjoy repeatedly and not as a novelty. Like Justin Broadrick’s epic Final, Chord choose the distorted guitar and possibly modded electronics as their medium, and specialize in making reverb waves and then harmonizing to them. In the background, dark metallic abrasion noises churn far below the waves of light and atmosphere that are the feedback and sustain-fed echoes of the secondary notes and harmonics in chords and notes, creating a mental scene of a moribund industrial city at war under a vivid sunrise. There are overtones of the Fripp/Eno projects and their tendency to pit counterpoint noises against steadily increasing but repetitive patterns, creating a sense of cosmic order through creation and destruction that is quite beautiful. Of all the noise releases I’ve heard, this is probably the most listenable outside of middle-period K.K. Null.

Himinbjorg – Europa

A tribute to Bathory in a style halfway between Blood Fire Death and Hammerheart, with some updated technique borrowed from the early 1990s Norse revolution, this CD is what Viking heavy metal should be if we update it for the current era. Immediately evident is the restrained musicianship; these gents are not playing at the top of their technique, but have chosen a simplified version to achieve direct communication. The music resembles nothing else except in style, and maintains a good sense of harmony while creating the epic rhythm and melodic riffs that give metal its power. Vocals are probably going to be too Donald Duck for some, and the music is too heavy metal for the black metal fanbase, which could explain why this otherwise excellent CD remains undernoticed.

Electrocution – Inside the Unreal

Welcome to good B+ grade old school underground metal. Thankfully, this band have avoided the “modern death metal” (read: metalcore with death metal riffs) trap and just gone for old school material in the vein of Necrophiliac, Morpheus Descends or Oppressor but have upped the ante with technical improvements. Drums lead songs more accurately through more permutations of riff, and maintain an atmosphere of cadence and not kickhappy offbeat-anticipation patterns. Guitars collaborate tightly and deliver variations on the known styles of death metal riffs from the simple booming patterns fit into complex textures mold. Where this CD could improve is in some variation of the intervals used in writing riffs; too much of it falls into the whole-half variation that eventually gives it a feeling of tendency and an ashen lack of melodic or harmonic potential. For pure rhythm riffing however, this solid death metal album delivers the thrills.

The Warlocks – The Mirror Explodes

Mix Lou Reed, Sonic Youth and early REM and you get this indie for indie’s sake release. It’s quite good power pop wrapped in an aesthetic of decay and loneliness. As with most things, I don’t see the fucking point in the posing. Just be the The Beatles II and write songs about life with a nuance of the positive. I like their ability to stretch out a verse with noise and subtle variations on their main riff, creating a drone in layers that expands Ride-style to wrap a vocal track in lush sound. Unlike most bands, The Warlocks know how to draw out tension like moments before orgasm, keeping the sugar lust explosion of pop away until we’re good and exhausted by their waves of shuddering guitars softened by a lazy room mix. Musically, I like this. Artistically, I fear it’s going to get lost in a horde of others with the same “aesthetic” and “outlook” on life.

Katharsis – Fourth Reich

Unknown to most of us, this band resurrected the war metal tradition: speed up Bathory, mix in some Blasphemy, and make frenetic music which goes nowhere. True, this is more explicitly in the house that Darkthrone built, but even the longer songs cannot hide the lack of direction. Good songs throw pieces on the table like clues to a mystery, and slowly bring out a response to that mystery, so the listener feels as if they are in a combat situation and want a good outcome — but are learning what that would be from the experience conveyed by the music. Instead, this is “hot tub” black metal — it has two stages, getting into the hot tub, and getting out. The song begins and then you’re in the midst of it, with some fairly gratifying riffs, but then it ends without having anything changed in the listener’s mind. You were in the hot tub. In the hot tub, you found life exactly as it was before. Now towel off, and skip this record.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-16-09

Scientists have found that we learn more from our successes than our failures because of the way individual brain cells respond in real time. Like natural selection, this is a process where the winner takes all: when the idiots have run out of steam or exterminated themselves, the smart take over and breed like mad. Metal is exactly the same way. Across the world, tens of thousands of bands launch their albums at one giant egg which is the mass consciousness of metal fans, and a few make it in and become golden classics that people will talk about for decades. It’s not random; it’s about music quality. In the following reviews, we search for the 0.1% of quality in the metal world and mock the 99.9% of directionless gloop that people will talk about this week and next, and then forget.

Medusa – En Raga Sul

You know, post-metal is horsepuckey just like post-punk was. You’re making the same music with a little more dexterity and some slicker exterior. But you can’t escape the fact that your approach is the same. This circularity of doom by ignorance of abstract afflicts Medusa. These guys — normally from indie bands — can clearly play their instruments, but they understand metal on the same level as my parents. “Oh, I get it, be as loud and interruptive as possible, and random if you can.” No way, dueds. Random is an indie hipster thing. Order rising from chaos in a majestic fountain of context-expanding revelation is a metal thing. Like post-rock, post-punk, etc. this is a disappointed because they threw everything but the kitchen sink into the compositional mix, and came out with one giant average that screeches, howls, whines and cajoles like a methed-out whore. This CD will experience the wrath of Lord Bic, my lighter (and the object into which I have projected the spirit of my dead warrior ancestors).

Zebulon Pike – Intransience

This lengthy EP brings three songs in a fusion between King Crimson of the Red era and the mellower, rolling doom metal of bands like Cathedral. Thankfully, there are no vocals, which makes this quite exciting; sadly, it’s still entrenched in the “prog rock” category and does not make a metal voice out of its influences. However, it one-ups bands like Cynic or Maudlin of the Well by escaping the pop song ghetto and going for the gusto with these lengthy, prog-worshipping songs that are not so much intricately structured as they are intricate structures applied cumulatively in repetitive layers, causing a sensation of ascending a spiral staircase that changes geometric dimension at every floor. All instrumentation is straight out of 1970s King Crimson, with occasional bounding punk or doom-death metal riffs, but by the nature of keeping open harmony so it can write melodies through the chord lines in a complex fashion, there’s a lot of clanging open chords and chords formed around the upper notes of the scale, giving it a clangy old school vibe. Fans of Pelican might appreciate this fusion between indie retro aesthetic and the impetus toward topographic space savant rock epics, but if this band really wants to move forward they should forget their influences long enough to fuse a new language out of the shared heritage of rock, prog and metal that fuels this exploratory band.

Havok – Being and Nothingness

Despite the cool song titles and album concept, this is tedious metalcore: a mix of prog metal, speed metal, avantgarde punk and indie rock that uses death metal technique sometimes. Lots of heavily repetitive strumming, “groove” occurring in the midst of rhythmic chaos, and sudden breaks to “unexpected” acoustic or proggy parts in the same self-considered profundity that Opeth and Meshuggah use. Maybe you’ll like it if you like those. But then it would be an imitation of an imitation.

Woodtemple – Voices of Pagan Mountains

I am told by reliable sources that other CDs from this band are not as good. However, this one stays on my B-list of metal and will eventually be purchased. In the 2000s, buying something you’ve had kicking around on mp3 forever is a sure sign it’s destined for repeated listening. In style, this disc is like Graveland Following the Voice of Blood re-done in the style of Thousand Swords, but as if informed by early Ancient, say, Trolltaar. Longer riff-melodies and repetition interrupted by a kind of prismatic re-use and re-contexting of past riffs makes this an engrossing, labyrinthine listen. There’s some hilarious intrusions from later Bathory (Hammerheart), including experimentation with percussive riffing, but on the whole, this is a great disc and one of my favorites from post-entropy (1994) black metal, even if in style it’s a total tribute to the past.

Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs

Proving again that they’re low self-esteem losers, the vocal black metal community tripped over its own feet rushing to praise this release. I understand why; it’s easily listened to, pleasing to the air, and maintains an atmosphere that is pleasant. However, it’s shoegaze and not black metal, and deviates entirely from the moods which produce the epic experience of black metal. For sure, there are moments of storming guitar riff over blasting drums. But musically, it has little in common with black metal, and does a lot of dressing up My Bloody Valentine-style pop as something more extreme, kind of like a brainier version of Marilyn Manson. The problem with the pop approach is that it’s two-stroke: you get two emotions, mix them, and leave people with that wistful sense that something important happened and they missed it. That will not scratch the black metal itch because it’s very karmic,

Worship – Dooom

I really wanted to like this. But playing a heavy metal band this slowly crushes the ability to make riffs that are distinctive, so you end up with chord progressions you’ve heard before in a rhythm too slow to recognize; when that gets arduous, the band pause like waiting for an audience to clap along, and then resume again. And so it goes, for minutes upon minutes. It isn’t bad but it’s not necessary, and it will always gall me to have CDs sitting around that aren’t as good as the other stuff I have, but are “newer” so must be really important. It’s not. Stoner doom is the latest trend and while we all like a trend because it seems like the hand of the world has reached down to offer us an easy solution, usually this means that people adapt whatever they have to the new trend with predictable results. These songs are generic stoner doom of the heavy variety; seek Skepticism instead!

Havohej – Kembatinan Premaster

Paul Ledney makes brilliant albums every other album. You can tell from his history that he has an active mind and explores new methods of making music. Some are communicative, and so make us understand the dark mental journeys he’s taking, and others convey emptiness in a way that not only is un-informative, but also is not much fun to listen to. After all, good art is half Schopenhauer and half “Harry Potter”: it should have the profundity to twist our minds to see a greater context to our lives, but it should also be entertaining and show us our everyday struggles in a new context where we can more easily grasp what we’d rather be doing in similar situations. This latest from Havohej, like Man and Jinn before it, is an experiment in ritual rhythm music using noise instead of guitars and bass. His technique appears to be using ultrasonic noise and sublimated harmony in the drone to create additional rhythms through separation sounds (as used when tuning an instrument). The result is “interesting” academically, but horrible for listening. The sense of adventure is dead. It’s more like a mathematical proof by an interior decorator. Skip this and pick up the excellent Profanatica Profanatitas de Domonatia instead.

Greenfly – Hidden Pleasures of a Nonexistent Reality

This CD is just bad. The choice of notes is predictable; the choice of rhythms is blockheaded; the instrumentation is so competent it’s thoroughly uncreative. It’s so strikingly obvious in construction it’s hard to imagine it as something other than guitar practice that got accidentally recorded. The metalcore vocals don’t help either, nor do the recycled and completely cut-from-form speed metal riffs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a parody of death metal. It’s like an angry caveman howling while he beats rocks with his club. I think the worst part is that this band seem to think they’re clever, or pure in some ironic way, for having distilled the genre into this blurting, bumbling, pounding disaster.

Hammemit – Spires Over the Burial Womb

Over the last dozen years, I have become more cynical about noise and ambient music. The reason is that there’s so much of it, yet 90% drops into the category of “goes nowhere, does nothing.” Hammemit straddles the line: a good deal of thought went into these compositions which create a ritual atmosphere of contemplation. The problem is that they do so under the conscious level, and do not form any distinct thought, only a vague impression of something sacred happening. I like that, but it’s not going to motivate people to listen to any piece of music (same problem modern and postmodern “classical” has). These collections of moans, natural phenomena noises, occasional piano and guitar, and found sounds are compelling in that they do not whack you over the head like modern material does, but they also shy away from approaching the clarity of ancient works. My suggestion to this artist is to vary the sound palette between tracks, and to aim at making the concrete form out of nothingness, as that way the mind will retain what’s afoot here.

Ihsahn – Angl

I’m going to say what others are afraid to say: this album is shit. Equal parts Cynic and Meshuggah, it shows nothing of the creativity of Ihsahm during his Emperor days; actually, it’s just a collection of well-done cliches. It’s like Nordic metal is the peak of ability in making songs, but if you feed the same crap into it, you just get a better version of that crap. I think instead we need something, like — just to pull a name out of the hat — Emperor where they made something entirely different, and as a result, were inspired to make better quality music. Repeating the past is painful. This recombines and repeats the past. I had to run across the room to hide my Emperor CDs from this dripping turd.

Demigod – Shadow Mechanics

This refreshing album eschews the pure death metal outlook for a hybrid of death metal and later Voivod-style progressive metal, using complex rhythms and multiple offsets place emphasis of protean phrases; there’s also the usual expanded chord voicings and quirky tempo changes, and while song structures are basically complex verse/chorus in the Rush model, there are enough deviations — usually about two per song — to give atmosphere and create anticipation. Smooth vocals and catchy rhythms give a nod to populism, but it’s unlikely the band thought they were authoring a best seller. It’s more likely that, like Obliveon on Nemesis or Voivod on Negatron, they were simply hoping for a more accessible canvas onto which to splash their brighter ideas, in the camouflage of being an entertainment/leisure product.

Grave – Into the Grave

After enjoying this album during the early days of Death Metal, I set it aside for about a dozen years. I don’t know why I set it aside. I know why I picked it up: I was curious to see what degree nostalgia played in my enjoyment of music, and why I seem to pathologically forget to mention this band or even think about it. Now I know: this is an album with passion, rhythmic intensity, and utterly boring selection of chords in very similar riffs and very, very similar song constructions. Musically, it’s like Asphyx played a lot faster with Slayer-esque drumming, and almost no deviation from a half-whole interval progression. They do a good job of thematic presentation, but every riff is astoundingly self-evident and without much tonal contrast. True, it’s heavy as hell, but like a bulldozer pushing rocks: after a while the dynamic is dead and you have background noise.

Corpus Christii – The Fire God

The Fire God should consume this CD. It’s entirely coherent, but aims so low that fitting together verse and chorus riffs with a bevvy of hovering keyboard trills should be easy. And it is, and that’s kind of the problem: there’s nothing here you could not find somewhere else in a more articulate form. In addition to being basically bland black metal, this CD also incorporates a lot of heavy metal elements blah blah you know the story by now. Throw in too many ingredients, and the recipe turns to mush. So does this CD. It needs a fire god to give it real passion, but for that that, it will have to pick a direction and try to find songs that can express conclusions of its own voice. Right now, it sounds like a clever recombination of things known from other sources and since I own those, well, why would I listen to this?

Demigod – Let Chaos Prevail

Most people confuse external form with content, because they assume form mirrors function. It does, but the function must come first; if there’s no clear function, we end up with an aggregate of misplaced ideas. That’s what has happened here. Demigod have tried to update their death metal sound with the “modern death metal” (read: deathcore, which is deathy metalcore) style, complete with sweeps and jazzy chugging rhythms, and the result is that they’ve adulterated their music — even while producing at the top of their musical knowledge and technical ability. In this, they are very similar to Cadaver, who did the same thing with Necrosis. The bouncy, jaunty, distraction-oriented nature of rock music and metalcore does not mix with the subtle building of atmosphere out of seemingly unrelated attributes of a stream of riffs; instead, on this CD, Demigod sound like a riff/chorus band who periodically jam on alternate riffs before going back to the safe and repetitive. Clearly they are talented, a lot like Behemoth and better than Meshuggah, but this is written in such a blockhead way that the dumbing-down traps all hopeful bits and intelligent riffs in the amber of a soon-to-be-obsolete style called metalcore.

Death Courier – Necrorgasm

What happens to innovators when the music they produce is not all that exceptional? Like Venom, this Greek band helped establish the aesthetic of death metal. Their music is not bad; it’s just boring. Moderately technical, it shows a nice grasp of basic harmony, and is probably about 50% rock music and 50% death metal. There are plenty of heavy metal riffs. There’s a clear influence on early Darkthrone, especially Goatlord, in some of the bidirectional chord progressions used in riffs. Some might point out similarities to Varathron His Majesty at the Swamp as well and not be inaccurate. But listening to this for a modern death metal listener is kind of painful.

Criterion – The Dominant

I really wanted to like this, but the riffs are too… obvious. Not much other than straightforward riffing like cutting bread, at least harmonically. Rhythmically, there’s more space, but with two glitches: their voice is derived entirely from Deicide “Once Upon the Cross” meets later Morbid Angel, and the organization of these riffs goes nowhere. Songs cycle, then end. Thud. The spirit and intent seems good behind this CD but the result is battering repetition.

Code – Resplendent Grotesque

This is really bad. It’s dramatic gothic rock pretending to be black metal, sort of a fusion between the Dimmu Borgir softer parts and Mardukish harder parts. But at the end of the day, it’s the same ranting style of vocals without much organization, recycled riffs, and lots of noise to hide where there’s no real idea. This is to be avoided if you have musical knowledge or just like quality music.

Angantyr – Haevn

I keep trying to like this band and getting halfway there. It’s very pretty; it’s very repetitive; somewhere in the middle, its direction ends up getting simplified and to my ears, not really deviating from its starting point. However, if you want to swing your willowy limbs to something pleasant and droningly melodic, this will fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill.

Diaboli – Mesmerized by Darkness

Resembling Impaled Nazarene’s Ugra-Karma most in its approach, this is pneumatically-driven high speed quasi-melodic black metal with a relentless attack. Like the most extreme hardcore band you can imagine, Diaboli roar into song with verse/chorus riffing interrupted by some transitional “budget riffs” of rhythmic variations on a couple of chords. As a result, like most hardcore, it wears thin after some time. However, there are some great riffs on here and the intensity stays high. This would probably not make a great go-to album, since it lacks the kind of mystic atmosphere Forest Poetry or the aforementioned Ugra-Karma created, but it’s a good rainy day fallback.

End – III

Someone made the perfect generic black metal album: it’s rugged and rough black metal written as if it were “symphonic” metal and the keyboards got accidentally left off. Heavy metal riffs, black metal drums and vocals, sounding a lot like a cross between Absu and later Immortal if you then crossbred that with something really bouncy like Nifelheim. Even if you’re not an orthodox blackmetaller, you can see how this lack of direction leads to a very confused band who basically jam on some really basic stuff and then try to differentiate it however they can. It’s not badly done but there’s no reason to listen to it. Imagine the best SUV ever made, if you hate SUVs.

Behemoth – Evangelion

No matter what anyone says, this is deathcore or metalcore: it’s not put together like death metal. The idea behind death metal is that a string of riffs makes sense in an expanding context. This is totally cyclic, a bit of verse/chorus dressed up with some transitions, and instead of emphasizing a through-composed outlook, it directs itself toward — just like rock ‘n roll — a rhythmic chorus pattern with open chords behind it. The “carnival music” aspect of pasting together disparate riffs and layering them in keyboards to distract us is gone; these are basic heavy metal riffs done “extreme” with high BPM and lots of distortion. Vocals are masked in some odd way that makes them sound like a crowd of laryngitis sufferers demanding their change at a Burger King. It’s fair to mention that Behemoth know their basic music theory and so this holds together well as music; it’s more harmonically coherent and thus easy to listen to than most death metal. However, it conveys mostly a repetition of battering rhythm, put into the minor-key Gothic theatricism that is a kissing cousin to Marilyn Manson, which makes it more suited to the punk/rock crowd who enjoy metalcore because it’s basically rock music with prog-metal riffs.

Detournement – Screaming Response

For a minute, I was thrown back into 1994 when the fresh-voiced, power-pop-infused posi-pop-punk started hitting the shelves. Like all those bands, these guys try really hard to show both how purist punk they are, and how not punk they are, by cutting a ballad like “No Estan Solos” full of soulful appeal but ultimately pretty repetitive. The rest is surging political punk that tries to keep the outrage high but, as in the 1990s, sounded simply like the children of a post-industrial wasteland howling protests at leaders themselves in the grip of forces they cannot control. Both of these tendencies make the pandering and amateurishness come out, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with this high-energy modern hardcore EP.

Havohej – Man and Jinn

The difference between the indefinable presence of discernible structure, natural forces and emergent properties, and the world as we experience it of visual appearance and seemingly absolute cause/effect linkages that yet are not universal, afflicts this EP both in its triumph and its failure. Its triumph is that by using sampled sounds of nuclear explosions and other droning material sounds, Paul Ledney creates a recording that sounds like avantgarde black metal without blatantly slipping into avantgarde territory. In doing so, he tweaks our noses for accepting the “air conditioner with a drumbeat” style that black metal has become; unfortunately, the failure of this CD is that it does not provide a better artistic and listening experience, only a demonstration of form. Sometimes, I wish Ledney would devote his considerable talents to writing analysis about metal instead of trying to show us sonic evidence for what only a few can perceive anyway.

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