“Detail shows the face of Stela D which rises 12 ft beside the altar of sacrifice with a death god effigy. The stele represents the 13th ruler of Copán, King Waxaklajun Ub’aah K’awiil (in English, Lord 18 Rabbit), showing half of his face as it was sculpted, and the other half stripped as it would look in Death.” – Akherra Phasmatanás
Article by David Rosales.
Desolation is a full-on ambient project that blends simple and solid harmonic backgrounds, repetitive phrases of a dark coloring, with recorded lamentations both human and otherwise. The aim seems to be to produce the whole array of impressions encapsulated within that single word: desolation. The music’s structure is progressive and appears to be segmented in an episodic manner, which normally implies a loss of continuity between sections. This unwanted effect is expertly avoided by providing smooth transitions, interleaving ambient soundscapes, nature sounds, vocal improvisations, all of which bring variety within a strongly directly concept that never loses content density or a strong sense of purpose. Furthermore, the album being simply distributed between two long tracks reinforces its unity and the requirement that the audience listens to the whole work as if commencing a mental journey, which once begun must be seen through to its very end.
Another day, another pretender. Iskra claim to be black/crust, which is a nonsense genre in itself that insults both of its origins, but in actuality are more like an Angelcorpse style band with occasional flashes of melody and to avoid the un-PC Nietzschean narrative of black metal, lyrics about war and politics.
All of the above presents zero problem if well-executed, but the problem here is that Ruins is a collection of tropes from those genres held together by sheer momentum, which means that at the time of listening it is inoffensive but there is zero reason to pick it up. It is based on previous forms without injecting any essential spirit or direction of its. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, it is cleverly designed from a commercial perspective, in that underneath the fast tremolo riffs and breathless raspy howl the songs are very convention riff-chorus with one transition between what are essentially identical halves. Its other clever business strategy is realizing that people might enjoy a version of Angelcorpse that like Napalm Death Fear, Emptiness, Despair introduced a bit of melody and broke down the blitzkrieg drive into more recognizable song patterns.
Unlike most of these bands, Iskra do one thing well: they know when to break rhythm and transition tempo to avoid the monolithic wall of sound that war metal bands too often engage in, but they also miss the outsider perspective of crust and the atmosphere of black metal. If you were one of those people who were satisfied with all-ahead-go speed metal bands that did not write their own melodies, you will not be offended by this, but do not be surprised when it has a staying power measured in days and not weeks or years.
If someone goes on this tour, make sure to hand Justin Broadrick a telephone to signify that this album has been phoned in. As the term implies, when content creators are no longer focused on making their work significant, an “it’ll do” mentality results. This fits within what Godflesh and related Broadrick-acts have done through their careers.
Murky and obscure like the style itself, a definition of doom metal proves elusive. Proponents of doom metal uphold it as a qualitatively discrete sub genre within metal on the grounds shared set of aesthetic, formal and ideological particularities that binds together a seemingly disparate conglomerate of artists and styles.
Necropole are a French group who play flowing melodic black metal in the style of Graveland and the Quebecois with riffing heavily influenced by Gorgoroth. Necropole is an anthology CD collecting both of Necropole’s earlier demos, Atavisme… and Ostara, that were released on cassette only but readily heard through streaming on Youtube. Hopefully Necropole’s debut album will not be titled Necropole too to avoid confusion.
Music serves a role in our lives: it connects us to truths about life and restores in us a belief in who we can be. Metal in particular either fills the soul with a rage for order, or creates an institutional-strength mental entropy by being disorganized. Bands that lack the guts and brains to write about real things and try instead to imitate what made others successful are doomed to fail, and we separate them from the rest with vicious strokes of the knife. Come for the cruelty, stay for the indignation and resentment, with this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Nocturnal Torment – They Come At Night
This punk/metal/grind hybrid acquits itself well by attempting to be no more than what it is: punk/grind songs with added death metal riffs, expanding upon a basic rhythm to drive it to detonation. If this band has room to improve, it is in putting the vocals into a support role for guitars and focusing more on continuing momentum rather than interrupting it early. Too much randomness and obvious riffs flesh out this album, but from the sound of things they were adopted to connect different parts in such a way that the vocals could continue their role as narrative organizer (N.O.) of the album. Like the first Bolt Thrower album, They Come At Night combines attributes of classic heavy metal with extreme underground punk hardcore, resulting in an oil-on-water separation at times. Lead guitars emphasize chaos in the way that enjoys bending the seemingly random into coherence just in time to slam into a conclusion, setting as much of the surrounding territory on fire as possible. There is much to like about this release, and a fair amount — but not more than is done right — to improve.
Feral – For Those Who Live in Darkness
Hopefuls send us their releases, and we murder there. Here hope must die: Feral is cycling Burzum-style riffs over simple song structures with emphasis on vocals to guide it. The vocals, unlike Burzum, forsake nuance for consistency and so quickly kill the mood. Riffs in themselves are not bad, but as assembled, are incoherent. This is painful to listen to for anyone who likes order, pattern or even chaos. It is just repetition of tropes in a slightly new form without the ability to express much but frustration at the four walls of an apartment and the desire to be in a black metal band. The challenge of humanity is to be able to tell the truth when it is unsociable, and that is what I attempt to do here. So much could go right with this release, but the best parts are marooned in a vast sea of disorganization and emulation outward-in of others, which stifles the inner voice. To this musician: go back to the studio, play music you like regardless of what your useless posturing friends say, and then record that. If it comes out as indie rock or folk music, only an idiot would think less of you for staying true to yourself and making something good, rather than this “me too” release.
Reptilian Death – The Dawn of Consummation and Emergence
More from the Nile camp, Reptilian Death uses the modern death metal sound of vocal-dominated songs with riffing as commentary that integrates intensely with drums to produce the kind of texturing that Meshuggah used, but without the overdominance of technique. To their credit, the band stitch together riffs well to produce tempo and layer changes that provide compelling background, but the focus remains on the vocals and so not only misses the death metal ideal but becomes repetitive in the way that nu-metal was: a chorus dominates, and a verse vocal rhythm backs it up, with instruments filling in the space. While well-executed in this case, that approach combines the worst of brutal death metal with the melodic hooks of indie-metal, resulting in catchy songs with no endurance.
Imperial Savagery – Imperial Savagery
In the style of new-death bands like Nile, this aggressive band orient themselves around the vocals and keep a rhythm drilling along that pattern while stringing along whatever riffs they can. These riffs show promise, but too often fall into the new-death paradigm of etching out a rhythm instead of a phrase, which results in a lack of coherence. Vocals pick up the slack, but the vocals are probably the least part of any death metal band, and that degrades the staying power of this release. Emphasis on jazz-style off-beat chording works as an interruption sometimes but appears too frequently to be a technique, becoming a trope. Angelcorpse-style charging riffs make up a large part of this album and they generate intensity but it needs to be “caught” by other parts of the song, and those devolve into the not-quite-chaos of relatively straightforward drum-guitar rhythm riff explosions. Chord progressions attempt to escape the ghetto of chromaticism but end up being so similar as to fade into background sound. There is nothing wrong with this release, but it falls short of enough right to have an enduring appeal. This is a shame, since clearly a great deal of fine musicianship went into this release.
Disordered – Carnal Materialism
This heavy metal/death metal hybrid would be best served by giving up the death metal pretense but keeping the drum attack. Quality guitar work, good melodic hooks and excellent pacing recommend this to the listener but as it falls short of death metal structuring, it ends up sounding empty where it could be more intense by simply opting to be edgy heavy metal. Iron Maiden and other melodic metal influences intrude where they can and are well-applied, but in the context of these songs seem floating in complete absence. As with most bands that have trouble organizing their disparate parts, Disordered rely too much on vocals, which correspondingly become the primary rhythmic hook, which forces guitars into a commentary role as in 70s rock. While nothing here is per se bad, the result does not form enough of a compelling narrative to be anything but background sound, and even then comes across as a hard rock band stranded in the wrong genre trying to make a tighter style work for what is ultimately a looser approach. Many of the tropes in this date back four decades and attempt to intermix with death metal pacing and layering, which just makes them sound ludicrous. This band needs to pick an approach instead of trying to satisfy “everyone.”
Sepulchral Aura – Demonstrational CD MMVII
Most people misunderstand black metal, especially the musicians after 1994. The point was to make beautiful music that concealed itself in an ugly sound. Most people interpret that as “ugly sound” and then add in quirks, idiosyncrasies and iconoclastic alterations to standard form. The end result reduces music to boredom by using constant interruption of its own process to produce an absence of end result, which ruins the function of music as a conveyance for emotion, understanding or even aesthetic appreciation. What is left is hipsterism and a focus on triviality. While there are some good riffs on this album, every one of the worst albums ever had some good riffs; what makes a great album is the ability to develop riffs in such a way that they reflect thought, reality, or emotion in a way that is meaningful to the audience. This release instead mirrors the confused mind of a modern person, and we do not need music for that, since an abundance of media and personal experience will come our way whether we want it or not. I had high expectations, but found the rule here of “if it’s after ’94, walk with extreme caution” applies on this album. The disorganized mess produces only a sense of emptiness, not the bravery going into emptiness that black metal once rendered.
We all seek a claim that our lives are worth living. For some, this comes from money; for others, being right or at least being cool. In order to achieve either or both, one must emit product, and far too often this product tries to flatter and pander to its audience rather than grow some balls and make a point. You could write an album about cooking an omelette with more passion than most bands approach topics like war, death, genocide, evil and emptiness. When the surface takes over from the core, the cart has come before the horse and all is lost, which is why we savor the sobbing tears of poseurs, tryhards and scenesters with Sadistic Metal Reviews…
Like a Storm – Awaken the Fire
In a flashback to the bad parts of the 90s, this album opens with a digeridoo before breaking into predictable hard rock riffs with heavier production and more basic rhythms. Then some guy starts singing in his best lounge lizard voice, building up to a pop chorus that could be straight off an Eagles album if they sped it up and did not worry about how truly incongruous the whole package would be. If you like speed metal trudge riffs paired with AOR favorite techniques and Coldplay-style vocals, this album might be for you. But the question remains: why even bother to release this as a metal album? Clearly it would be happier as country, pop, rock or even blues if they truncated the scenery-chewing vocals. It seems the music industry has found an update for nu-metal which is to channel it into this rock/metal hybrid which takes the angry parts of Pantera and pairs them with the smarmiest parts of overproduced, excessively pandering fraternity rock. These guys have a Titty Bingo sticker on their van. The scary thing is that the “inspirational” rock stylings here are a kissing cousin to much of what has infested power metal. But this takes it a step further to the point where what comes out of the speakers resembles the worst of corporate rock from the 90s and 00s to the point that heavier guitars cannot disguise the essential frat party rock tendency of this flaming turd. This goes well with a pukka shell necklace and lots of hair gel, with a NO FEAR sticker on the overly polished ‘stang next to the keg of Natty Light.
Abominator – Evil Proclaimed
Angelcorpse invoked a revelation in death metal, but not entirely a good one. The basic idea was to accelerate the rhythmic fill to the level of riff, such that the composer could use one or two chords in a charging rhythm much like war metal or hardcore punk, but then work in elaborate brachiated chord phrases to avoid the riff concluding in the stunningly obvious chord progression that otherwise must result. Add a bunch of these together in constant rhythm and the essence of that style shines forth. Abominator attempts to break up the constant charging and give songs more shape, as well as use actual fills which complement the riffs, but despite this effort and some inventive songwriting, the blockhead forward charging — like Cannibal Corpse working on the longer Bathory riff outtake that opened the first Angelcorpse album — continues and ruins any atmosphere except a constant tension that starts to resemble an eyestrain headache after a few songs. Speaking of songs, these are nearly indistinguishable, written at similar tempos with similar riff forms and while not random pairing of riffs, reliance on phrasal similarity to the point that songs sound like one giant charging riff with some textural flickering within. To Abominator’s credit, Evil Proclaims is a lot better than the other Angelcorpse tributes out there. Unfortunately, that’s about all that this album remains as and a few moments of power notwithstanding, remains mired in a sea of formless raging metal which never reaches a point.
Venom – “Long Haired Punks” (from From the Very Depths)
Venom are NWOBHM, not black metal; this fact flies in the face of what you will be told in 99% of the metal propaganda out there. The band themselves have never denied it. On this track however, Venom throws us a twist by sounding exactly like Motorhead except with more sudden stops at the end of each phrase where Motorhead would have kept a methamphetamine groove going. “Long Haired Punks” features punkish riffing combined with Venom’s archetypal primitive, broad leaps of tone and nearly chromatic fills. A bluesy solo that seems designed to be slightly abusive to key and chaotic accompanies this as do the purely Lemmy-styled vocals in what is essentially a verse-chorus two riff song with a bridge. The sudden pauses grow tedious within the passage of the song to newer listeners but then again, those grew up after metal assimilated Discharge, Amebix and The Exploited. For someone from 1979, this would seem like a slicker version of Venom with more emphasis on carefully picked chords and less onrushing punk energy, which makes the title ironic. It is well-composed within the limited style that Venom has preferred all these years, but attempts to update the NWOBHM stylings plus Motorhead of Venom have failed and should either be rolled back or the original style entirely discarded. This band is halfway between trying to be what it was, but in a post-1983 sound, and what it could be, which probably would resemble nothing like the original except for the raw “gut instinct” energy which unfortunately, attempts to modernize have limited. While I am not the world’s biggest Venom fan, it is hard to deny (1) their catchy punk/Motorhead/NWOBHM pop power and (2) their aesthetic influence on much but not all of underground metal, and it would be great to see this band develop into all it can be. From “Long Haired Punks,” it seems in doubt that From the Very Depths will be that evolution.
Unrest – Grindcore
The title proclaims this release as grindcore but a better description might be later punk styled as grindcore with a nod toward pop punk. These songs fit together nicely, but rely on two unfortunate things that doom them: repetition of classic punk and grindcore tropes as if they established something in themselves, and use of very much pop rhythmic hooks and song transitions. The vocals are great, the instrumentation fantastic for this genre, the melodies adequate and the rhythms good, but the meaning is not there. The recent Nausea album achieved a great deal more with less by focusing on having each song present an idea and then developing a basic, albeit circular looping context. Grindcore attempts instead the infamous “outward-in” composition of tribute bands everywhere where the need to include the tropes on the surface pushes out the need for internal structure based around a coherent thought, so songs end up being technique only, which is somewhat ironic in such a theoretically anti-technique genre. Most of these result in that “feel” of classic punk and hardcore but add to it the heavy technique of grindcore, which only serves to reveal how disorganized these tracks are. By the time they fall into imitating classic punk open chord picking and stop/start conventions halfway through the album, it has already been long clear that this is a highly competent tribute band but nothing more. To the credit of the label, production is flawless and clear without sounding too slick and the vocals are perfectly mixed. That cannot save Grindcore, nor can its periodically great guitar work, from being reliant on the crutch of imitating the past in lieu of writing songs. Maybe all the great hardcore and grindcore that could be written was long ago.
Archgoat – The Apocalyptic Triumphator
Much like the late days of hardcore, underground metal is standardizing into a war metal/death metal hybrid that emphasizes fast slamming rhythm without the obvious rock, jazz and blues breakdowns that make it clear that music belongs to the peace, love and happiness side of metal. Archgoat, by applying the structure of Scandinavian metal to the raw onslaught of Blasphemy/Sarcofago styled proto-black metal, stands as an innovator to this sub-genre which tends to combine Onward to Golgotha, Fallen Angel of Doom and Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz into a single style that like the bands which combined The Exploited, Black Flag and the Cro-Mags into a single voice, standardizes itself and becomes just about interchangeable. The sad fact of The Apocalyptic Triumphator is that a lot of good songwriting went into this album and some quality riff-writing, but this band remains literally imprisoned by the style in which they choose to create. About half of this album, preying on all of us who wish there were somewhere undiscovered in a vault another four hours of Drawing Down the Moon, borrows rhythms and arrangement patterns from that highly-esteemed work, as well as developing known riff types from the above influences. None of this is bad; however, it does not add up to enough to be compelling, like previous Archgoat works. This album represents the most professional work from this band so far and clearly exceeds any previous efforts, but the genericism of its riffs make songs indistinguishable both from one another and in terms of structure, creating the musical equivalent of listening to a flood sewer. For every good riff, four “standard” ones borrowed from the war metal/Blasphemy-tribute/Incantoclone group crowd them out. Periodic moments of greatness are balanced by a double frequency of moments of staggering obviousness which make it hard to get behind hearing this one on a regular basis. What I want to know is: what do these musicians actually idealize in music, outside of this style? Their work in such an artistically liberated medium might unleash the creativity that this narrow style suppresses.
Heaving Earth – Denouncing the Holy Throne
Disruption metal. In business, the idea of disruption is that some new entrant into the market disturbs it to the point of throwing everything else out. This should simply be thrown out. Trudging riffs, squeals, chortled vocals, mind-numbing rhythms and melodic fills that sound more like video game noises than metal. An album of this would be excruciating, doubly so if you listened to it.
Ancient Wind – The Chosen Slain
Style over substance defines this release: built on a base of melodeath, Ancient Wind regurgitates several different influences but predominantly Sodom and Wintersun. The result is a sampler plate of styles that never comes together but, because it has no topic other than the need to record something for a half hour or so, the lack of style damages nothing nor salvages anything. You are left with the typical experience of hearing something disorganized, then seeing a fat woman eat ice cream, and suddenly being unable to recall if the music had been on earlier. In one ear and out the other, if you’re lucky.
Sacrilegium – Wicher
1996, out of Poland. Like Graveland? A more conventional version of Graveland: less scary, more uptempo, more musically predictable. Sounds a lot like there was a Dimmu Borgir influence. While it’s tempting to like the style, the lack of substance suggests this album should have stayed in 1996 with the other proto-tryhards.
Battle Beast – Unholy Savior
An album’s worth of that one song your junkie ex-girlfriend is really into. For Lady Gaga listeners who like the sound of electric guitars. Halestorm meets fantasy. Daddy-issues metal. I’m out of jokes, just don’t listen to this.