“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.
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.
Following up on its doom-death full-length Reduced to Sludge released in 2011, Funerus surges forth with three new tracks on a 7″ entitled The Black Death to be released on Dark Descent Records within the next few weeks. This short work shows that where Reduced to Sludge finalized the Funerus style, newer works further intensify the strong doom-death sound which has propelled this band for decades of enjoyment in the death metal underworld.
Sounding very much in company with widely varied acts such as Divine Eve, Cianide and Asphyx, Funerus writes grinding death metal riffs which develop over the course of a song with hints of melody and layers of texture, building an incrementally crushing atmosphere around a strong theme. On The Black Death, melodic elements serve a stronger role but entirely without becoming fluff or reducing the impact. Funerus uses melody in death metal correctly, which is to underscore the evocative vocal rhythm of a chorus and bring out variation in riffs so that repetition increases the crushing sense of morbid doom instead of adulterating it. These songs build like the experience of descending into a deep cave, with the heaviness of the air growing more oppressive and the fear surging with each foot further into the void that return from this abyss will be impossible. Where older Funerus relied on more varied technique and sometimes conflicted with the pure power of its doom-death riffs, this new incarnation clears out everything but the essentials and uses them to complement the fiery riffing to give it a further sense of oppressive hopeless violence.
In addition, vocals provided by bassist Jill McEntee, who shares instrumental duties with her husband John McEntee of Incantation, both through clarity of production and greater savagery produce an effect of urgent despair like chanted emergency messages broadcast by loudspeaker in the ruins of a dystopian city. Of the three tracks on this album, “The Black Death” grinds almost like a Bolt Thrower track but builds to a staggering sledgehammer doom-death riff instead of a melodic counterpoint to the abrasive chromatic dirge. The second track “The Minding” applies a melodic Swedish-style death metal riff much as might appear on a Carnage or Amorphis record but throws behind it a bulldozer of rhythmic momentum. Closing out the record, “On the Edge of Death” charges more like early Asphyx and keeps the intensity higher at a mid-paced speed with relentless vocals calling forth like battle command. Together these three tracks show a streamlined, stripped-down and more articulate Funerus that intends greater malice and achieves a sound competitive with the best of the underground that shows us this band at its greatest power yet.
Hippies can’t play metal. Black Sabbath kicked off the metal movement because they wanted to make dark rock in contrast to the “peace, love and happiness” movement that had swept rock music into conformity. In this they joined other acts, like The Doors and Jethro Tull, who warned that good intentions would not save the world.
Since the 1990s, hippies are no longer the opposition to our evil conservative overlords… hippies are the Establishment, and they have become just as conservative and evil as anything before, except that now that have a mantle of moral superiority to use as a weapon like grandmothers use guilt. Not only have the hippies aged into their 60s, but they have adopted the view that they are right and anyone who deviates must be quashed. So much for the summer of love.
For that reason it’s natural that much as metal fought the suburban mom censors and Christian fundamentalists back in the 1980s, from the 1990s onward it has been fighting hippie fundamentalists who believe that peace, love, inclusiveness, happiness and political correctness are the only topics one can sing about, and if not, one is the enemy. This follows the path other ideological fanatics took, as in the Soviet Union, where their revolution for equality ended in mass executions.
This is a turf war. Hippies have wanted to take over metal since we challenged them (and their insipid rock) in the 1960s. They took over hardcore in the 1980s and songs went from rants about the imminent decline of our society to cute ditties about how the singer is outraged that people are not more accepting of everyone and everything. They transferred all that boring late hardcore into metal and threw some metal and jazz riffs on the top and called it a new genre, “modern metal.” The problem with it is that it is boring. Every single band of this type is random because the message it endorses is the anti-message: stand for nothing except going along with the hippies. This means writing transparent songs about SJW-topics that never really go anywhere since they all have the same meaning, “join the revolution!”
If you listen to enough modern metal, you will notice a pattern emerges. On the surface, this music is diverse and exciting. Jazz riffs, metal riffs, punk riffs and indie rock tropes compete for surface space. But then if you look at the heart of it, these songs really do not have much going for them. There is no melody or theme uniting them, just a loop of verse-chorus to which the band tacks on the randomness. This is because these are not songs about anything but are new and not very exciting ways of saying the exact same thing over and over again. Like a loudspeaker blaring in Moscow square, SJW-metal repeats the same propaganda in lockstep in hopes of reducing your brain to sludge so you go along with it. There is a reason it is all boring, and it relates to the purpose behind the music. Just like pop is annoying because its only purpose is to be catchy and vapid, SJW-metal is boring because its only purpose is to bleat propaganda while trying to be “unique” by making new surface variations of the same tired 1960s-1980s rock.
When hippies invaded rock, they destroyed it. When they invaded punk, they neutered it. If they successfully invade heavy metal, they will turn the last comfort of the rebellious soul into the dogma of the boring 1960s revolutionary left. SJWs are zombies who preach the same stuff that baby boomers were wailing on about in the 1960s, forgetting that all that stuff got debunked when the USSR fell in ruins and we got to see the SJW paradise: everyone was equal, and anyone who disagreed got shot, so no one did much of anything and it all fell apart. Hippies would bring us to the same end. They are essentially apologists for the decay of our society. Where metalheads want to look at reality and come up with solutions, hippies want us to space out with happy feelings and ignore the fact that we are in free fall as a society and soon to bottom out. This is why industry and government eventually embraced hippies: they do not threaten the power structure. Metal does, and that is why today’s hippies are trying to invade it, and why we must refute, resist and reject them.
Metal — and everything else humanity-related — is like the first day of first grade. People are still using the same tactics they used then as the basis of their behavior, mainly because there are only so many options and the goal hasn’t changed.
What is the goal? Society is a cooperation for the sake of survival. We need to get other people to work with us. Most people do that through socializing, others use raw power, some others can only deal with it through the filter of money. But when you socialize, there are only a few paths. You can try to be the over-achiever, with all As and good at athletics. Or you can stand out another way, which is being The Opposite of what people expect. You see this in high school drama departments the clearest, but it’s also present in entertainment and politics among adults.
The tactic is this: stand out by being “different.”
The problem with this tactic of course is that it’s bone-headed, ignorant and predictable. They like blue? You like green. They turn right? You turn left. They like steak? You pick ice cream. Despite it being obvious as heck, this tactic continues to work. You “shock” people and then, using their reaction as a justification for the importance of what you do, rally everyone who hates them to your side. Even if that hatred is concealed.
With their much-lauded second album, “Sunbather,” the group broadened the black metal palate with swelling, enveloping guitars oft-associated with the foot-asleep-on-the-distortion-pedal drone of the British shoegazer ranks.
The album won the band an audience beyond the traditional partisans of the harsh, love-it-or-leave-it sound, and as such, Deafheaven was quickly branded a hipster act by scene purists.
In the same passage, the article both calls Deafheaven “different” and then acknowledges that the band is basically ripping off British shoegaze, a genre from thirty years ago.
Since 1994, we haven’t really had much from black metal. The underground shot its wad, and since only a few dozen people understood it in the first place, it collapsed in on itself while the rest of us try to figure it out. This is one reason that metal academia is important, especially if they stop studying the easy stuff — the newer material and the hard rock like bands — and go to the roots of the genre: Bathory, Immortal, Hellhammer, Burzum, Emperor, Darkthrone, Enslaved, Sodom, Slayer, Mayhem.
Right now our over-written (“foot-asleep-on-the-distortion-pedal”? are you kidding?) media and adamantly clueless fanbase are churning through the ruins of the past. By being “different,” one claims an audience. Black metal was different in a different way, namely that it didn’t try to be different so much as it took off in its own path. So what’s the binary opposite of that? Well, being the same old thing but pretending to be black metal, for starters. Hence the invasion of metal by non-metal bands: Opeth, Boris, Necrophagist, Sonic Youth, Dillinger Escape Plan.
Most of these bands reverted to what was simple and easy to create, which was post-hardcore. With its compositional style that cherished the random over the orderly, and its tendency to drift off and suddenly return to a repetition of its major theme, it was easy to compose. That was probably why it developed the way it did, namely that the punk songwriters who couldn’t come up with Hard Times in an Age of Quarrel or Arise! had to make their also-ran status seem less pointless by “innovating,” or coming up with a half-cooked version of more musically adept genres. Imitators imitating imitators, by being “different,” all the way down.
Deafheaven is no exception. Gone are the complex song structures and the intelligent use of drone. Gone are the troublesome Nietzschean existential questions, where we wonder if life is totally empty of anything, or if we can find a clue to its significance in nature. Gone are even the overtones of Viking metaphysics and Pagan mysticism, the interesting sociopathy for art’s sake, and the rebellious streak that took aim at anything the instant it became accepted, knowing that whatever the crowd likes is a lie. Instead, we get the music you can play at a school dance. Easy beats, head-nodding go-nowhere melodies, symmetry and rock ‘n’ roll conventions from time immemorial. It’s the same old brand new thing.
But really, this act of “being different” can be seen everywhere. Nu-metal was based on being different, or at least on the perceived emotional contrast between sing-song verses and ragey choruses. Metalcore was based on being different in that the riffs had no relation to each other so it was like hearing carnival music on a fast-moving merry-go-round. Later punk was based on being different, in that it was punk but it got in touch with its softer side and went all progressivey and stuff. All different, all the same.
Metal will begin to recover from its 1994-2014 slump when it acknowledges that these easy ways of socializing are gone. Appearance is not reality. The kid who really got ahead in socializing was the kid no one noticed. He made friends by being genuine, made connections with teachers by learning something even if he didn’t get As at all, and everyone knew him because he didn’t fit into any of the easy slots that almost everyone else did.
Or the kid who got ahead because she had an interest that was very specific and just fit her personality, so instead of going for all the drama, she just spent her time on that. Or on being a good friend, and being there when people were in need. Those were the people like black metal, which was the genre that chucked socializing away and focused on both outside reality and the inner spirit in all of us instead. I miss those days. It wasn’t pure whore, all the way down.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? It’s when we decide that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to boring music. Most music is either imitating a trend, or totally without purpose or content, and that makes it boring. We can find trends and purposeless noise anywhere, for free. We are cruel to the stupid, and periodically, find something worthwhile to hold up above the river of feces…
Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor
It’s grandad’s heavy metal, kids, but with a rhythmic kick and Alice in Chains vocals. A Pantera influence in the bouncy riffing represents a modern retrospective on glam and heavy metal from the 1970s. Droning diminished scale choruses and a similar riffs stacked in a way that is both not random and not song development fleshes out the mix. Songwriting emphasizes the Big Pop Industry tendencies toward hooky choruses and distracting, somewhat aggressive verses with emphasis on stitching out the chorus rhythm in as many forms as possible, so in case you missed it the previous sixty times it will pop up again to remind you that you’re listening to “music.” People have made heavy metal version of power pop before (like Yes’ 90125) but they aimed for quality; this aims for conformity with someone snapping their fingers and being ironic behind the scenes. Warmed-over 1970s riffs 1990s influences make this a classic record company attempt to make the present generations worship the cast-offs of the past. Despite attempts to be edgy, this is a museum piece from the Hall of Boredom.
Disfiguring the Goddess – Deprive
There’s no death metal to be found on this supposedly “brutal death metal” release, nor any concept of songwriting. Choppy, percussive riffs are thrown next to nu-mu thudding in random sequences that do nothing but “groove.” It comes off as variations of rhythm guitar picking exercises played on an 8-string guitar and stitched together in ProTools. Like most of these rhythms, it’s only a matter of time before the “out there” becomes the predictable, so there’s no promise in these flights of fancy, only a return to something as mundane as the cycling rhythm of a diesel truck engine with a loose belt. Occasionally, an actual riff gets played for almost three seconds before more inconsequential rhythm chugging comes in to pacify the indie/Hot Topic demographic who use this stuff as a surrogate to nurture relationships with other idiots by sharing an interest in “wacky muzak” that makes them “different and unique”, but under the surface, is Korn with tremolo picking.
Alehammer – Barmageddon
Life is an IQ test. Your choices determine really how smart you are. If you picked this band, you failed. These guys should hang up the electrics, strap on acoustics and do children’s television. This is sing-song music for people without direction in life. Even when I was a clueless 14-year-old buying his first albums with grubby pennies I would not have considered this dung-heap of bad musical stereotypes. It sounds like the kind of stuff that characters at Disneyland would sing, or maybe a bad world music band from the background of a car commercial. It’s catchy vocal rhythms over guitars that basically serve as slaves to pounding out the catchy vocal rhythm, but it’s repetitive catchiness. It’s all hook to the degree that there’s no sweet spot, only cloying repetition. Most bands of this nature are basically bad heavy metal with jingle music at its core. Barmageddon is basically a grindcore take on the kind of simplistic fare that got called “Pirate Metal” recently. I propose a new name: Headshot Metal. If you get caught listening to this, you should be shot through the face with a high-powered rifle. It’s an insult to anyone in the genre who tries to get anything right.
Lamb of God – New American Gospel
Upon viewing this title, the prospective listener might be intrigued to ask “what is this new gospel?” Answer: the gospel of insincere mediocrity. Half-assed guitar riffs combine the worst elements of a moron’s interpretation of hardcore (autistic caveman rhythms) and speed metal (obvious riff sequences) with a fruity veneer of constipated teenager vocals. Tracks start nowhere and lead nowhere, with nothing connecting one moment to the next; a stream of irrelevance. Expect plenty of repetition which Lamb of God, like all metalcore bands, tries to disguise by being as random as possible. You know who else uses that strategy? Nu-metal bands. This is basically a kissing cousin to nu-metal anyway. It’s music designed for distracted teenagers to distract themselves further until it’s time for a lifetime career in something brainless to match their braindead approach to life. How anybody with above a single-digit IQ could enjoy this escapes me. Sadly for all of us, this title is accurate: the future of America is a populace that considers this a valuable piece of music.
Anal Blasphemy / Forbidden Eye – The Perverse Worship of Satanic Sins
Anal blasphemy starts off with three tracks of simple death metal with a strong melodic hook. It is however rather straightforward in structure which leaves creates a sense of uniformity. Riffs are very similar. The final track uses a melodic lead-picked counter-riff which adds some depth but ultimately these songs are one step removed from their beginnings, so despite the compelling rhythm and melodic hooks they might not survive repeated listens. Forbidden Eye produces a more lush approach to melodic metal which is clearly in the droning black metal camp, but avoids the pure sugar-coated repetition common to the Eastern European variant. Its weakness is that there is not much in the way of a unique voice; we’ve heard these tropes before and recognize the song patterns well. If you can imagine a Dawn or Naglfar approach with more intensive drumming that is roughly what you’ll get here, well-executed but undistinctive both melodically and stylistically.
Descend – Wither
The rock ‘n’ roll industry is a successful industry that attracts players who are highly professional. They know what the product is, and how to do do the minimum to achieve it; this practice, otherwise known as shaving margins, is based on the idea that the other guy will cut his costs to the minimum too in order to both lower price to make the product more competitive and maximize his own profit. If two guys make a widget, and one does it for five bucks less, that’s pure profit. In the same way, rock ‘n’ roll is based on fast turnover and following current trends so you can catch the media wave. I hear death metal is big now, like trendy. This album attempts a facial similarity to death metal with the whispery vocals of Unique Leader bands and lots of runaway blast beats followed by metalcore riffs, but after a while, they drop this and out come to the jazzy riffs based on a scale bent to a series of offbeats of offbeats in a complex pattern, and the soft-strummed ballad chord progressions and melodic hooks. The problem is that the guitar rhythms, like those of the vocals in hip-hop, are based on subdividing a rhythm and thus rapidly become highly repetitive, both internally and between songs. The result is that it all all fades into the background, as should this rather unambitious and directionless release.
Reciprocal – New Order of the Ages
A “thinking man” band name written in a sterile font and a “politically informed” album cover. Is this more metalcore in death metal clothing? You bet. While this band is claiming influence from Deeds of Flesh and other Unique Leader bands for legitimacy, this has more in common with Necrophagist or The Black Dahlia Murder. Mechanical groove riffs are “spiced up” with sweep arpeggios and generic Slaughter of the Soul riffs appear over blast beats for the “brutality”. This is boring music with nothing to offer. Perhaps musicians this good need a better concept to work with than shouting out Alex Jones podcasts over Guitar World lessons from metalcore guitarists played at 220 bpm. I couldn’t tell the difference between this album and any other modern tek-deaf release. If these guys were to spend less time on conspiracy websites and more time thinking about why people still turn to their old Morbid Angel and Immolation albums instead of these tek-deaf bands (or how to structure their music to not be a series of discontinuous parts), maybe they could create something useful. Otherwise, this is Origin with propaganda attached looking to steal some time from metal fans while keeping Xanax addled brofist D&B homeys (Rings of Saturn fans) satisfied with more inconsequential ADHD music which will be forgotten a week later.
Caliban – Ghost Empire
Occasionally I’m amazed that something actually got signed because it’s so terrible and then later I see it on the bestseller list. The taste of the herd will never fail to shock and amaze, mainly because what they like is simple: (1) the same old stuff but (2) in some radical new format that’s easy to see through so they can appreciate the sameness of it. Modern society is about anonymity and personal convenience, so why not music that you can project yourself upon, that requires you to know or feel absolutely nothing except the most transient of emotions? Caliban have it for. Ranty Pantera verses over djent-inspired harmonically-immobile riffs lead to sung alt-rock style choruses with lots of hook and lengthy vocalizations, but essentially no melodic development. As a result this is super-repetitive in that its song structure is circular to the point of linearity and the songs at their core consist of two-note clusters in riffs stacked up against four-note chorus vocal lines. Every now and then they get tricky and play rhythm games with riffs that were well-known before Metallica formed. The main factor that kills me is the repetition. It’s as if the whole album is a conspiracy of details designed to hide the fact that it’s basically the words of a drunk, repeating himself unsteadily and then doubling his volume and saying the same thing. This might be good music to listen while doing laundry or some other task that numbs the brain because the effect of this music is to validate tedium, repetition and simplistic pounding. Unless your brain fell out long ago, avoid this reeking turd.
Blutkult – Die letzten deutschen Ritter
I always wondered what would happen to the formal nationalists in metal. We knew that founding bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, et al were nationalistic in the sense of national pride and perhaps more. But it’s a leap from that to connect with the organized far-right parties and mentality, and for a long time, NSBM seemed like it would remain in that world. Then hipsters started like Arghoslent and Burzum and so now being a Nazi is a “lifestyle choice” like being vegan or buying a Prius… the hardcore nationalist music has changed too, as this album from Blutkult shows us. It’s a three-way split between the old Skrewdriver-styled sentimental punk music, Renaissance Faire styled Celtic-y noodly melodic music, and the droning of punk-influenced black metal such as Absurd. As someone of profoundly anti-racist and egalitarian character, I find this to be alarmingly catchy and emotional. Die letzten deutschen Ritter brings out feelings of hope in me, and I don’t like it. It’s like a surge of elegance and an old world emerging from the ruins of this one. But that makes me uneasy, as do the Wehrmacht soldiers on the cover, the black suns and the vocal samples that sound like the man with the funny moustache himself. Regardless, this is where Graveland and Absurd have been trying to go for years. If they got rid of the stupid spoken intros and just focused on letting the music rip, this might be a really compelling release.
Amoral – Wound Creations
While their current output is being lambasted for being radio friendly rock/metal, this “technical death metal” debut album is given unwarranted praise for being some kind of masterwork. Too bad this is just metalcore. Chugging groove riffs played in mechanical stop-start sequences make room for AOR “extreme” stadium metal melodies like Soilwork, and little else. While the playing is adept, the music is annoying and makes their latest album sound favorable by comparison for being honest commercial radio muzak that’s not congested with unnecessary ornamentation and fake aggression. If Nevermore made a mash up between Soilwork at it’s most commercial and Meshuggah at it’s most mechanical while Chimaira make MTV edits out of the recordings, you might end up with an album like this: sub-par music, but at least they know how to play. Too bad they sound like any other generic metalcore band signed to Century Media circa the 2000s with growl vocals (done in the metalcore faux-aggressive style). A terrible excuse for metal that without a doubt brings great shame to Finland.