Colombian band Cóndor presents an album which European Romantics might have undertaken had their tastes run to heavy metal, with an explicit influence from Bedřich Smetana and a more subtle yet pervasive inspiration from Jean Sibelius, manifested in a style of underground metal that sounds like Atheist covering Graveland. An organic, fluent and natural flow embodied in sweeping melodies and choking riffs that overcome and seem to grow out of each other independent of the composer, as if taking a hint from a young Friedrich Nietzsche, gives this music a childish and innocent Dionysian center driven by instinct. The result is an album that must be listened to as a whole experience to find the moments which strike us as stereotypically metal sharing space with entirely contrasting ideas which set up the emotional background to those moments of violent intensity.
Unlike modern-day posturing in black metal, Duin looks toward the older tradition of abstract Romantic 19th century Nationalism as expressed in classical music and folk art. Both betray their presence in the use of typically long, modal, easy-to-get melodies of the folk kind. Sibelius lives in that tendency to drift into very paused passages and quiet dynamics seemlessly which was so characteristic of Nadia. In this sense, we could say that while Nadia was a Sibelian album, Duin is more of a Smetana-Fudali-ean album. It exists in a type of magical music like that conceived in Marsilio Ficino’s mind, a form of sonic art which follow celestial designs with metaphor of the spirit such that its effect over us is as sure and profound as that of the Sun and the Moon on the creatures of a forest. These strong ‘authentic’ folk inclinations serve as converging points of most visible influences. There is both a sylvan spirit underlying the music and a warm home-welcoming one as opposed to a warlike and epic one. These last two characters are instead represented in the more energetic passages which do not override the greater scheme of things and instead contribute to a desire for adventure that does not quite reach epic proportions. This follows the general theme of this work as, in contrast to the Apollonian rigid order of Beethoven or Bach, a wandering organic Dionysian spirit which aims to be appreciate from the atmosphere it saturates with meaning instead of a linear narrative progressing toward the conclusion of a musical argument. Like the naturalistic music of Burzum, Duin follows the thought process that repetition of a riff does not end when the composer or audience wants it to, but when the nature of that riff in the context of the song indicates a need for change. A kind of musical “sixth sense” pervades this album.
The first track, “Río Frío” starts off by quoting the last track from the debut album, El Roble Será Mi Trono Eterno for a few measures only to quiet down and performing an adaptation of Smetana’s Vltava for overidden and distorted guitars and bass. The second track, “El Lamento de Penélope” will probably give the strongest impression of this relation to Absurd in its urgent and minimalistic rhythmic riffing. The way the following melodies are carried in triple time reinforce this view until Vltava‘s theme is used in the climax section of the song. The following song, “La Gran Laguna,” is a roller coaster ride which takes us again through vistas of minimalist folk metal with quasi-marching beats and prominent melancolic melodies alternationg with ambient-like sections with a picked clean guitar outlining chords over the roar of its distorted partner. An instance of this supports the song’s solo section, which show off how Cóndor has stepped up even in its melodic treatment of solos which when compared to Nadia display a more mature independence from guitar-scale blocks.
“Coeur-de-lion” starts the visible slowing down and gradual elongating of expression that the album manifests increasingly a step at a time. The riffs are given a different tone by both the change in pacing, along with the playful exchange and duple and triple times which in different inceptions point the music in different directions. With a 2/4 reciting inisting, childish urgency, a 4/4 allowing for settling feeling, a 3/4 for a more bouncy feeling which slowed down and seen differently can be a martial and/or swinging 6/4 or 6/8, depending on the note value. “Condordäle” takes us one step further in what is almost a dirge in the beginning but which allows smooth and sensuous transition between riffs forming layers of an idea, with clear vocals reminiscent of a classical chorus.
“Helle Gemundon in Mod-Sefan” begins with a clear, long and emotional melody line gradually introduced and repeated, but is always interrupted by chords which sound dissonant in the context so as to disrupt the final resolution that we might expect in the line. Each time the line is allowed more time and to soar higher and higher. In the last of these repetitions the song then turns to the riff styling of the aforementioned dissonance-inducing chords, and riff after riff is wrought from this idea until its natural duration is expired. A break is brought which leads into a more conventional metal section comes in which a series of solos in the same vein are played. Mid-paced, emotional, almost aloof and relaxed playing which would not seem out of place in urban underground styles of rock characteristic of Latin America.
“Adagio” is an interlude for bass and clean electric guitars which serves as a beautiful gasping point before the last track, named after the album, that serves as a closing for the album. After the slowing down and exploration of different influences towards the middle of the album, a bit of everything is brought back in this song with a slow beginning which blooms almost inperceptibly harsh, hammering riffs, slow, folk-song melodies in lullabying triple time, which again alternate into a bridge of descending chromatic notes in the classical style leading directly into melodic indulgence in solo and riff proper of that folk metal which displays the transparency of rock and the honeset simplicity of the folk melody.
This is an album in which each song feels “better” than the one before. But when listened to many times one discovers this is not really the case. It is just that the progression between songs and within songs makes it feel as if each new event in the music is reaching towards a new goal, new vistas, but always through the eye of the Cóndor. Just like the compositions of the young Sebastian Bach shortly before and after his visiting Dietrich Buxtehude in Lübeck betrayed the unmistakable mark of the old master in form and method but never bowed down to him so that the pieces were, nevertheless, stamped with the young genius’ name, so does the band manages yet again to sound like itself independently or in spite of its distinguishable inspirations. Sounding like a more seasoned band than on Nadia, the telling silhouette of the Cóndor comes out of the foggy shadows and into a golden Autumn light.
South American death metal and progressive band Cóndor will release its second album, Duin, on January 27. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
Cóndor‘s first album Nadia made our best of 2013 for its mix between primal death metal and other guitar-oriented styles. It will be interesting to see how much the band matured and developed during the past two years and how it will handle what are undoubtedly new influences.
Acclaimed progressive rock and heavy/death metal band Cóndor are touring the east coast of the United Stated next month with techdeaf Morbid Angel worshipers Garroted. This will be a good chance for seasoned headbangers to check out an accomplished band with enough quality material to make for a great live set and an up-and-coming run of the mill band that can play their instruments. Garroted could potentially improve in the future if they compose their riffs into effective death metal mazes that progress forward instead of simply playing them one after the other.
Condor again present a wholesale blending of death metal, classical guitar, folk, and progressive rock influences into epic heavy metal songs rather than pretending instrumental masturbation is intelligent like Dream Theater or that alternative rock with power chord chugging and a couple angular or dissonant riffs is metal like Bolzer. On Sangreal attempt to convey the romanticism behind the Arthurian legend, particularly the grail cycle concerning Percival or Galahad restoring fruit and flower to the desolate Waste Land rendered infertile by the sins of the maimed and emasculated Fisher King.
Condor surprises us in their last album, Sangreal, with several different advances of stylistic explorations. While Duin constituted a formalization of the finding that was Nadia, we could expect that the next step to be taken should be precisely this expansion of a consciousness which had only recently become aware of itself. Even though Condor’s music projects a very traditional image, the final result has turned out unique, both in its character as it is shaped by consistent melodic preferences, and in its methodology, which enabled veritable compositions to come into existence from powerful riffs and inebriating tunes.
Arghoslent are frequently and incorrectly tagged as a death metal band while they are actually a speed metal seasoned with a traditional heavy metal approach to the use of melody and soloing that goes can be described as lyrical or ‘singable’. The barking vocals that are featured here are the only thing that is borrowed directly from death metal and their usage is still more heavy metal in nature, given that the relationship of vocals to the underlying music is more akin to the riff-riding of Ozzy than the punching counterpoint of Suffocation or Gorguts.
There is more of Manilla Road’s Crystal Logic than Slayer’s Hell Awaits here; where the latter has a clear thematic development going on in riffs and the former is more conservatively classical in its harmony. Also, the long-term structuring is the subtle, progressive path of ‘epic’ heavy metal, so termed as to not mix it up with the carnival music of more ‘open’ bands who would appropriate the official name of seventies classically and jazz-inspired experimental rock music.
In Galloping Through the Battle Ruins, Arghoslent seem a little careless regarding the character or emotional quality (for lack of a better term) of the implied harmony, often incurring in silly or happy-sounding passages which would sound completely out of place in most death or black metal. These are, however, a common staple of technically-oriented speed metal as it exploits scale-wise expansion of patterns, often resorting to sequences.
At the Gates circumvented this unavoidable side effect of using sequences in their earliest work by following through with complete transpositions of a same mode to new tonal centers instead of adhering to the sprawling stepping-stones of fully-defined classical harmony. Arghoslent, on the other hand, and like any traditional heavy or speed metal band, remains rooted in this latter orthodoxy, accepting and making use of any bright arpeggios with far more openness than more-evolved underground metal would allow.
Arghoslent Galloping Through the Battle Ruins achieves an effective balance of centrifugal and centripetal forces by bringing in some of the conservative (by which “pop-structured” is not meant) spirit of proper death metal to the epic intent of an Iron Maiden in their best hour with ‘The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner’ or ‘Phantom of the Opera’. Furthermore, this album is dirty and thrashy, grounding it and preventing the music from becoming overly fond of itself or too self-conscious. The latter is an ever-present and far more subtle trap that may even be perceived in Cóndor’s sophomore effort.
An inevitable comparison may be drawn to The Chasm, who are hailed for the density and apparently more complex structures. But where The Chasm gets lost in its own dreams of madness as songs are taken from promising illusion and wonder into confusion and pointlessness, Arghoslent remains stalwart; their resolute convictions clearly stamped on well-balanced music that brings a sense of adventure to visions of crude reality, and the fantasy of time travel with the brutal honesty of an unrepressed child.
It took some time, but despite the deluge of content constantly bombarding us and aspiring metal fans worldwide, we’ve been able to reach some level of consensus on 2015’s worthwhile metal music. Not to say that we’re in perfect harmony (If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll note that there’s some room for dissonance in our musical language), but the hope is, like what our recent reinspection of 2013 revealed, that some of this material remains interesting for more than the year it was released.
Album of the Year
A wrathful reminder of what war metal should have been: a melodically-structured, chromatic holocaust to the god of this world. Jan Kruitwagen’s leads awe listeners and are optimally placed to hold attention just as each rhythm riff runs its course. An impenetrable mix rewards repeated listening to an album that may surpass Kruitwagen’s work on Sammath’s Godless Arrogance. March to Kaeck’s martial heartbeat or revel in shit.
Bolt Thrower meets ritualistic black metal. Rather than cathartic bending into climactic oriental leads, Desecresy diffuse tension by methodically varying into bizarre melodies with carefully placed, otherworldly leads to a steady metronome.
Mid-paced riffing in the style of Bolt Thrower builds tension with melody and drifts off into space with variations and well placed leads. Where Bolt Thrower themselves shoot a rifle at the ballon using rhythmic change to introduce another riff or dramatically bending the riff into a climactic, oriental short solo, Desecresy insert ritualistic blackened leads for dramatic contrast with the rhythmic, power chord riffing.
Rob Miller returns from blacksmithing to his previous metallic occupation with an album of catchy post-punk in Motorhead and Metallica song formats. Thankfully free of the Godsmack and other MTV influences present on Amebix’s swansong.
An effective album of mid-paced death and heavy metal riffing. There is no psychedelic rock pretending to be Black Sabbath “doom” here. Highly structured; the opposite of the random tossed riff salads of most modern metal. This band takes an approach more like that of classical guitarists toward melding death metal with progressive rock, blues, folk and other influences: it mixes them in serially and adopts them within the style, rather than hybridizing the two styles.
In other words, most bands that try to sound like progressive death metal try to act like a progressive rock band playing death metal, or a death metal band playing progressive rock. Cóndor takes an approach more like that of musicians in the past, which is to adopt other voices within its style, so that it creates essentially the same material but works in passages that show the influence of other thought.
This vinyl 7” single features two new, well constructed death metal songs from one of from one of the few truly underrated bands in the genre. Those foresighted enough to purchase the identically-titled CD boxed set version received the band’s entire catalog in one of the rare remasters that sounds better than the original releases.
One last Motorhead album of mostly Motorhead songs. Nothing “new” is introduced for those in the non-metal audience who disdain metal and wish to feel intellectually superior to the common headbanger. The final work from a relentless machine of a band.
Crusty death metal of the better than braindead Benediction but worse than Cancer category.
Atom by Atom
I’ve possibly heard too much but Hanger 18. I know too much. Although not as degradingly vulgar as Surgical Steel, Atom by Atom results in a pretty tacky affair. Vocals are as emotional as in the first album, except that in here they seem even more disconnected from the music as the music veers into some sort of progressive speed metal akin to Helstar’s. (Editor’s note: I liked it, but David Rosales was critical)
Blessed Be My Brothers
The band shows promise with their Unique Leader-style rhythmic riffing and soaring heavy metal leads. While being above par for technical deaf metal, aping a different one of your heroes every few verses doesn’t make for particularly enjoyable repeated listening.
House of Atreus
The Spear and the Ichor that Follows
Fredrik Nordstrom’s Arghoslent.
Technical power metal carnival music.
The Book of Souls
Nobody is allowed to edit themselves or turn on their bullshit filters in Steve Harris’s band anymore (Read a full review here).
Kvist meets the randomness of metalcore. Indistinct riffing and songwriting mix with pointless shoutout verses to past greats that makes listeners wonder why they aren’t just playing Sodom and Mayhem in the first place.
Below the Hengiform
Where are the riffs?
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
The Unburiable Dead
The band has no need to repeat half the song just so the guitarist can get over his refractory period and play another solo. This is also an extremely distracted riff salad in which the individual riffs can be brought in from sources as different as galloping power metal to thrashy death metal to alternative nu and groove “metal”. This is headbang-core for beer metallers and other social metalheads. This recording received tworeviews in 2015.
Aria of Vernal Tombs
A collection of interesting renaissance faire riffs written into songs that quickly wear out their welcome as metal, becoming RPG background music.
A few strong songs on a demo do not warrant a two CD set of Swedish death with limpid keyboards anticipating the steps black metal took towards mainstream goth rock in the late nineties.
Exercises in Futility
This is the type of black metal as repetitive rock music that ignorant hipsters will praise as “ritualistic”. The album’s title sums the quality of its musical content: futile. (Editor’s note: I wanted to give this album a chance. It didn’t age well.)
Gothenburg cheese and Meshuggah licks are less appetizing than a lead-laced Mexican lollipop.
Grave Miasma returns. This time with 1993’s atmosphere.
Out of the Garden
Candlemass meets Soundgarden.
Every Teutonic speed metal band gone Voltron.
Solid underground metal in the spirit of Sarcofago that is perfectly well-written but does not amount to more than the sum of its parts; does not conjure up any long-lasting message.
Like the band with whom it shares members, Cóndor, the hardcore/thrash band Personal Device — the name refers to “antipersonnel devices,” not Fleshlights — makes music with a lot of promise that sells itself short by demonstrating theory instead of creating experiences.
Art contains ideas as much as any essay, and those who deny that are morons, but it is encoded through the sensual, emotional and intellectual experience of appreciating something of great beauty and power. This is how metal makes beauty out of ugliness and reveals to us the forgotten ideas of ancient history in a form we can now recognize. It is also why Christian, Nazi and SJW music falls short, because it is preaching and illustrating theory more than it is taking us on a magic ride through the world of its ideas in application.
Personal Device thrives when the band members get in touch with their inner rebellious but sensible youth. They bash out hardcore-based tunes with metal riff framing, sounding like Emperor covering Iggy Pop or G.G. Allin sometimes, and put these in songs with some breathing room a lot like early Suicidal Tendencies. Riff quality is very good. So is their ability to know when to bring on the power and when to let a rhythm ride to its natural conclusion. Moments on this album, like on Cóndor’s works, are so good they burst with potential and make you think you have discovered a new classic.
It is interrupted however by a tendency to demonstrate. Either they show how they can fit in a blues part, use an unnecessary spoken word piece, or expand song structures to include the non-relevant for the point of making a point, but it breaks the flow of the album and adulterates the good stuff. This also blighted Cóndor Duin: theory is only good when put into practice, in a way that converts the cerebral into the existential and experiential. At the risk of ruining this review by doing the same, I will step off that soap box and summarize.
This is a great album within another album. Many good ideas ooze from the fabric of En Puerto. Their first album however had more of a feeling of a garage project designed just to be music that the musicians — enlightened as they are by theory, and their theoretical background is known to me and quite substantial — found themselves liking, not just in “body” (how it feels and sounds) but in “mind” (what it delivers) and possibly in “soul” (how it makes poetic the condition of life). The best albums do all three, and their first was closer because it was less obsessively engineered in the front-brain and more unleashed from within. Moments of En Puerto do the same, and if they cut the rest out, they’d have an album on par with DRI’s Four of a Kind or Cryptic Slaughter Money Talks. Here’s hoping for album three.
In 1992, At the Gates released their first full-length album after an earth-shaking demo of unprecedented refinement in composition. The full-length, titled The Red in the Sky is Ours, was to become not only the band’s magnum opus but also the greatest achievement of Scandinavian death metal then and since then. Hidden under distinct layers of complexity, ideas at different levels flourish, diverge and converge in ways that are not always easy to follow, throwing the less-than-adamant and less perceptive listener off at every turn and twist of the way. This is not a spurious claim but an observation based on deep acquaintance with the composition of the music in this album as it stands in contrast with the groove-banality of most Swedeath, including favorites of the populace like Entombed Left Hand Path.
According to Anders Björler, this early output was almost entirely arranged by the much aged (about 6 years older than the rest of the band members) founding member Alf Svensson, who painstakingly controlled the process even in the vocal department. To be fair, this debut album is definitely the result of the best talents of all the participating musicians directed in a very concentrated direction by a mastermind. In fact, a distinct At the Gates’ “sound” in this era comes from Tompa’s unique style and the exchange between the quirkiness of Svensson’s style and the melodic clarity and repose of Björler’s, without failing to mention the flexible, stellar and extremely appropriate tailor-made drum arrangements of Erlandsson. Among the often-commented and curious ways Svensson had of getting ideas for At the Gates’ music was playing folk music tapes backwards. The whispers, screeches and screams of the vocals were also carefully gauged by this guy who even pitched certain passages — a very uncommon practice in death metal.
Given the strange appearance and convoluted (almost perverted) character of the music that confirm the topic of insanity and inner journeys discussed in the lyrics, it has been overlooked in the same way that even the great genius of J.S. Bach may be deemed “no more than a composer with a penchant for writing minor-key melodies” by the blind and the ignorant. This complexity extends from technique to progressive structures all the way to motif and idea.
Lyrically, The Red in the Sky is Ours is very poetic, describing scenes and mixing these visions with colored allusions and evocation of feelings, creating a land between the image and the emotion where the two come together and mix, blend and crystallize into one or the other at a different points. This mystic poetry is not only present in the words of the album but is reflected and paralleled in the music. The concept here is strongly integrated and reinforced at several levels that remain elusive enough to create a sense of mystery yet concrete enough to be identified without a shadow of doubt.
The mention of the use of a violin in the album is in order but should not be overemphasized as gimmick-oriented audiences have often highlighted it as if it were the defining or most interesting thing going on here. The violin is appropriately used and adds a very eerie aura through its intensified fretless access to microtones which make the semitone emphasis and augmented intervals sound even more off than they sound on the distorted electric guitar. One can still detect an amateur performance at some level on the instrument, but it is not that notes were missed or that wrong notes were played, and more of a lack of finesse in performance.
II. Apparent influences
At the Gates was formed out of the ashes of Grotesque, a melodic-motif-based, riff-salad-propelled progressive death metal band. The creative and savage impulse of the younger band remains in At the Gates, but filtered through a matured and controlled thought process under the guiding hand of a visionary metal composer. In my opinion, the single greatest metal influence on the band were the Americans from Atheist, whose shadow looms over the fully-formed style of At the Gates in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
Atheist’s trademark is found in its jazz-inspired rhythmic playfulness, ever throwing the audience off balance through ploys in the music that never allow one to feel too at home, always carrying the imagination forth in river rapids that form part of a distinctive greater whole that flows in one direction. As good metal, it is composed and not improvised (though improvisation definitely always plays a role in any composition process, to one degree or another). The stability-instability interplay from section to section follows the Gang‘s and Satz‘s described by A.B. Marx conceptually and through examples of Beethoven piano sonatas.
What At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours took from Atheist was an informed fearlessness in the face of convention that did not destroy the music for the sake of innovation but introduced all sorts of pauses, tempo and time signature changes as well as other creative rhythmic gestures within a homogeneous framework that maintained a clear language that conspired to a strong concept rather than indulging any of the musicians. But the younger band took this further and deeper than veterans even in their masterpiece Unquestionable Presence, creating much more powerful and meaningful gestures by making them varied yet subservient to a layered concept.
III. Creating a language
Usually, one relates a band with a style. This style implies the use of not only certain instrumentation but also musical tropes that the audience can expect. A good reason for a band to adopt a particular style (rather than going rogue and define parameters completely on their own) is intelligibility. Unfortunately, more often than not this is not the reason why bands do this, but rather because they are not gifted in music creation and thus only choose a style as a suit to wear and not as what it actually is: a language to speak.
When it comes to this band’s early works, the first step in understanding just what exactly this style they chose is requires an acknowledging of the fact that At the Gates created a dialect of their own from the firm bases of contemporary underground metal at the time. This consisted in abandoning as much as possible stylistic tendencies in structure or composition and reducing their relation to death metal to rudimentary technique aspects such as blast beats, d-beats and other variations basic percussion patterns when it came to the drums, and “tremolo” picking for melodies, power chords (and absolutely no use of any other kind of chord in a single guitar), hammer-on’s and simple, non-tremolo picking mostly for syncopated passages.
It is not claimed here that all this was precisely calculated by the band, and it is acknowledged that in all possibility, it was the result of the unconscious result of musically talented minds searching for self-expression. The following section illustrates approaches in applications of typical then-contemporary death and black metal techniques in the framework of distinct songwriting procedures in The Red in the Sky is Ours.
IV. Tainting the sky with red
Motif forms. Motif forms in developmental variation as described by Arnold Schoenberg in his Fundamentals of Musical Composition is a series of melodic patterns evolve from executing transformation functions on a primordial one. As little as two distinctive notes from this first melodic pattern can be highlighted and played upon as the central motif, while the rest is twisted, expanded, contracted, flipped, omitted or changed in any other way in progressively differentiating ways. This is not to be confused with a theme, which is a distinctive melodic pattern that is kept intact in the relative relation between its notes and which in the most extreme cases is played slower or faster, or in a different register. Motif forms allow for a wider range of manipulation that nonetheless preserves a link to a central idea that can be sometimes difficult to see at first, leading relations between sections to sound less than obvious. In the case of The Red in the Sky is Ours, this has resulted in accusations of riff-salad looseness, but these allegations do not hold up in light of the evidence. However, it is true that a degree of intelligibility is sacrificed when flexibility is increased, and these two are one of the so many extreme poles in between which musics attempt to find a certain balance or inclination for their expression.
Harmonic coloring. After the selection and limitation to a rudimentary “alphabet”, the reducing of building materials to a homogeneous mixture, At the Gates proceeds to define the next layer: their vocabulary. What happens next are the decisions that shape the character and coloring of the music in terms of the relations between the instruments in terms of texture and harmony. Harmony here does not only refer to the horizontal relation of notes at any one point in time, but of the sequence of harmonic implications within or between riffs. In the strictly horizontal aspect, when the two guitars play melody lines, they often play the same, leaving “harmonization” as an afterthought until after the riff has been properly introduced and the listener is very well-acquainted with it. Rather than a way to easily beef-up the music as in Sentenced North from Here, At the Gates makes a much more elegant and measured use of it as if it were a punctuation mark. This is mostly done in fifths, sometimes in octaves and a very few times in minor third intervals. A very few passages make use of short counterpointed melodies of the most basic sort, but inserted in crucial points to a very powerful effect. The use of each of these not as a feature but as part of a set of calculated flourishes is another thing that makes At the Gates rise above most bands. Needless to say, the rhythm-and-lead modality is used by At the Gates very, very little and usually takes the form of something more akin to melody and counter-melody. The second aspect can be noticed in different applications. One of them is playing a melodic pattern in one register and then playing it exactly as it is exactly one semitone above its original instantiation. The band uses this simple technique to expand several riffs throughout their debut and is in line with the music’s apparent penchant for focusing on the semitone as a motif, giving the music a very uncomfortable lingering feeling most of the time as the minor second interval is a very dissonant one only a little step away from perfect resolution. This, in turn, is liberated by the addition of more stable (so-called “melodic” — correct term: consonant) passages that are in turn intensified and elevated by being placed amongst the ever-present hanging melodic, semi-tone dissonance.
Percussion. As has been said before, the drums in metal should be more than the strict representation of tempo, but they should not run amok in self-indulgent expressions of virtuosity or “feeling” either. In the band’s debut album, Adrian Erlandsson achieves perfection in balance between creativity and functionality in a very technically-oriented style. Like many of the early classics, this technically intense music can go undetected because of two reasons this writer can think of in this moment. The most easily pointed out is the fact that the basic expressions are rudimentary metal techniques which in themselves do not present a challenge to accomplished drummers. But looks can be deceiving as the difficulty lies in the smoothness between patterns, in addition to the right emphasis within and between them in relation to the rest of the music. This is basically metal drumming taken to classical heights and taking technical cues from the only available precedent: old jazz drumming. A very good example is the way the drums complement (rather than mirror) the speed of the notes and intensity of the guitar patterns. Sometimes these two come together and accents are focused, sometimes the drums will reduce intensity and calm down to a very basic pattern in order to give space and highlight to a particularly melodic-consonant guitar melody interplay and yet sometimes it will blast away as the guitars play moderately midpaced and slow notes. These never feel forced or out of place when seen from the point of view of being an expression inside a larger scheme, but may seem a little “weird” when taken out of context. Unfortunately for the appreciation of this album, most listeners cannot go beyond the moment and the riff or the cool drum pattern. The beauty of truly advanced drum arrangement (as opposed to virtuosic display alone) is completely lost on most of the audience.
Silences and pauses. A subtle but decisive element that elevates the composition in The Red in the Sky is Ours to a place actually besides classical music (as opposed to the many metal albums that are superficially likened to classical music based on this or that pattern in the music) is the use of silences for articulation — yet another device used by Atheist that At the Gates took to a whole other level. Silences throughout the album work mainly as expectation creators, creating an effect of falling through empty space, and as buffers between two different motific areas. It is also worth pointing out that silences do not only occur in total muting of all the instruments. Sometimes the little trick Atheist likes of letting the bass run over a little drum pattern alone only to have the guitars come after it is used. But also, one guitar alone over drums, or only drums, or alternations of all of them (as occurs in the closing passage of “City of Screaming Statues”).
Orchestration. The bas-reliefs created in The Red in the Sky is Ours thus run at multiple levels, from these plays of harmony, to motif relations, to textural adjustments in between the instruments in which the percussion plays no small role. An analysis of the flow of the music from one section to another reveals a painstaking amount of planning and consideration regarding these elements. The album amounts to an extremely expressive and variable set of statements and arguments from a single voice (embodied by the aforementioned homogeneous-ness from adherence to rudimentary techniques and particular harmonic-melodic inclinations). When it comes to orchestration, the decisions of how and when to let the guitars use this or that picking technique, when to make them play the same or in harmony, when to let the drums lead, when to make the drums fade into the background seem to obey a song-wide plan, and not one in which only the shock or pleasing nature of any one passage is considered. So, it is not which techniques or approaches At the Gates used in their debut, but how and to what ends they did. This music speaksout as if it had sentient and emotional capacity of its own beyond the words or the execution of any single instrument that produces it.
“The term orchestration in its specific sense refers to the way instruments are used to portray any musical aspect such as melody or harmony.”
— Orchestration Wiki
V. Long-range planning
Now comes one of the most exciting and accomplished aspects of The Red in the Sky is Ours: its composition on the scale of whole pieces, rather than in a collection of disparaged cool-sounding passages. Without any assumption of a voluntary or conscious reference by the band to master composers, this writer feels the need to illustrate the outstanding crystallization of advanced thought processes in composition by making a connection between this great metal work to certain general procedures of Ludwig van Beethoven, Anton Bruckner and Antonio Vivaldi.
Structurally, the affinity to Beethoven’s method comes first as it refers to the encompassing of motifs and their tying-together by entanglement. The late German master would develop a first main motif, sometimes introducing a contrasting idea that may be mistaken as simple gimmicks for effect here and there. Now, he would not allow these to remain simple dead ends. These initial and apparently random passages that salted the presentation of a first motif would become the seeds for other areas of development, thereby revealing them as hints and vistas of what lay ahead. Like At the Gates, Beethoven sometimes introduced new ideas in a contrasting and almost transition-less manner, and then proceeded to slowly integrating them by interpolating them and already-established motifs, even using them together while always looking ahead in the development. Beethoven’s late quartets display everything one can look forward to in At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours in more advanced arrangements.
The reference to Anton Bruckner may not be as pervading and far-reaching as Beethoven’s, but it is still a key aspect of the character of At the Gates’ debut. This is a specific way of reusing and sometimes transforming a motif which works on a different dimension than the developmental variation. This is the attention to the color of a same idea, perhaps a theme or simply a motif in different contexts as it shines through different harmonies and textures. Brett Stevens has aptly described this as prismatic technique, alluding to the effect a crystal has over light going through it and exiting from different angles.
Last comes the most general and slightly elusive comparison to Antonio Vivaldi’s music. The relation of any metal music which has separate guitar lines can be likened to a lot of Vivaldi’s music for two violins, as this revolves around two lines. The best melodic death metal uses this concept to its full potential. Also, the clarity and rhythmic straightforwardness and affirmative character of this pure, Italian baroque music is a template and reflection of good and simple progressive underground melodic metal such as the album under discussion. In the case of this metal masterpiece, I want to especially call attention to an section-expanding procedure in which a pattern is repeated while elements surrounding it add to its texture in increasing waves or in slide-shift manner that quickly takes one idea and juxtaposes it to a second as the second one takes precedence towards the end of the whole section. (Typical in At the Gates’ music -> G1: A A A’ A’ BBB’B’ B’B’, G2: AAAA A’BB’B’ B’harB’har)
Last of all, there is a high-level characteristic that gives this music a very organic feeling, that is how the number of repetitions adjust to the needs of the music, often avoiding sounding too squared, too even. Instead of a lot of the typical “repeat four times” formula we find in metal we find a lot of different combinations that nonetheless favor the even-ness traditional to the genre. What is achieved here is an element that lends unpredictability but does not detract from the music, a small tool used when music needs a little push from un-evenness: odd number of repetitions. This becomes especially powerful when combined with the riff-motif sliding technique just mentioned. A perfect exampled can be distinguished in the middle climax/breaking point of “City of Screaming Statues”.
While most would agree that most death and black metal need to be analyzed with a modal mindset, approaching The Red in the Sky is Ours with this more simple-minded preconception would be doing the masterpiece a great disservice. The powerful way in which harmony, implied or explicitly presented, is used here was unprecedented in its time and has largely remained unparalleled since in the death metal world. Yet it is not this or that aspect what makes it astounding, but the convergence of all the elements and the stacked up layers of refined aspects from playing technique to mind-numbing attention to composition technique in its vertical and horizontal dimensions and in its short and long ranges.
Crafting a unique album in the full sense of the expression, At the Gates gave us an example of how thinking that everything has already been done is just a scapegoat for people who were not meant to be creating artists in the first place. The Red in the Sky is Ours does not introduce new playing techniques or strange avant-garde-isms in strange influences that change the character of the music, but for those with the eyes to see it, they rose above the masses in producing a profound work of art that will remain immortal so long as its objective qualities, at least, are understood. This is an album that stands besides Burzum Det Som Engang Var and Cóndor Duin in showing us how excellent, original and forward-looking music can be created without resorting ignorant attempts at directly redefining paradigms or favoring nonsensical experimentation that results in garbage. Instead, what we have here is sure-footed creativity based on tradition that is carefully gauged through both technical knowledge in its Apollonian manifestation and its inner Dionysian sense to a both logical but unpredictable result.
I’ve been meaning to write a review on Nadia for some time but even though, emotionally, I am deeply touched by this album, it has been impossible to bring myself to do so for this very reason: the overwhelming impression this music makes on me makes it difficult to develop an unbiased and piece-wise discussion. Listening to Nadia each time feels like falling in love once and again; one’s brain so full of endorphins that any effort to produce coherent verbal expression is rendered futile. I readily recognized this latent danger with Cóndor’s second album, Duin, and rather than try and present a crippled analysis, I embraced my impressions and came up with a description using everything that was on my mind at that point in time. The result was a mish-mash of philosophical and historical references, amateur attempts at designing metaphors and contradiction-based descriptions in the manner of mystics that pleased few people apart from myself and those in tune with that expression. More than a review, it was a picture of disjunct images. With Nadia, I have been afraid of not being able to give her everything she deserves. Just as we may shy away from a platonic love, a stalling of a well overdue caress whose occurrence suddenly becomes reality, inducing irreparable shock.
But now, the time has come to take on the undeferrable task of examining this portrait of romantic idealism and longing for a land and people that is not far from illusory. An admittedly Heideggerean notion of respect and admiration for an invisible essence or spirit that is found in all things yet in no single one at all. The related idea of technologies (techniques, approaches) as means to an end as the ungraspable static-immanent essence of things shone through in a sequence of truths that continually come into view and recede into the past permeates this album in its methodology.
First impressions of Cóndor’s debut invariably surround its stylistic menagerie and maudlin character. A basic technical analysis of an album like Nadia should be easy enough for most musicians to carry out successfully. Even without it, we can easily sight its modest means, perceive an almost too-sincere humility that becomes the target of disdain by those who have learned enough musicianship to play an instrument proficiently (and perhaps even developed the basic and undeniably necessary imitation-based creation skills) but not enough about music to grasp its essence, which they confuse with their own emotional reactions alone. One must not only become the receptacle of this essence, but one must also be equipped by experience, insight and meditations with a referential awareness that can connect the music to both its intentionality and context, judging its balance in accordance with its musical premises and contextual relations.
Here, I choose to avoid the incursions behind the the scenes of the music that a good review would normally entail, in fear of causing unnecessary degradation of the illusion that this artwork is in my eyes. This is not to say that there is a lack solid musical substance at the level of structures here. On the contrary, it is a sparse and opaque painting that transmits a story that flows from within the pigments in an ethereal stream of experiences that fade in and out of focus. We could go step by step in each song and show on a score (for a reference to patterns and structural framework) and with the recording (for references to dynamics and other performance-produced factors) how this occurs musically.
Many, many listens and a familiarity from the audience’s (rather than from the analyst’s) perspective with it may still reveal these ‘secrets’, but in a natural way and in due time.It is rather because of the modesty of the individual elements in the music that focusing on them would be an insult to the grand work that is produced from them. Furthermore, a too-detailed acquaintance with every implementation detail also runs the risk of causing the inability in the listener to properly distinguish the living spirit of the music: the unified whole. Deep familiarity with every gesture of the music from the functional point of view becomes an obstacle to perceiving it as ecstatic experience instead of as a collection of contraptions in a device. We must preserve the unified and spiritual dimension of art in mind first before diving further, which is precisely why it is paramount to go about analyzing music in a top-down manner.
In Nadia, Cóndor musically mirrored what the American continent represented for Europeans and other Old World immigrants after South American independence: a new vision, a new path that started at the meeting point of many other paths of distinct origins. This very nature that leaves undeniable traces in the structural dimension of its music, is what lies at the heart of my decision to not dwell in the minuteness of a melody or a riff. It is, nevertheless, worthy of our attention pointing out that the album is full of powerful and memorable such tributaries to its main current. In time the album reveals itself as unified in meaning and style, the erroneous perception of disalignment receding from perspective and displaying the mosaic that makes up the condor’s own featureless figure.
While the special acknowledgement to Felix Mendelssohn in the credits of Nadia may puzzle some and amuse most, the key lies in understanding the album’s relation to the romantic composer’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, Op. 64. Alas, contrary to what one may expect, Nadia is more dependent on the concerto by Mendelssohn than even Duin is on Smetana’s Die Moldau. But the dependence manifests itself in a different dimension. In Duin we find a band that is differentiating itself, its expression becoming more and more distinct. It is a metal oeuvre utilizing and manipulating Smetana’s melodic themes for its purposes. The first album, on the other hand, took a hint from the Mendelssohn’s concerto as a seed for a physically (structurally) deeper motivation in the music: it learned from it a way to build and structure music, its way of carrying music through. In fact, like a concerto, Nadia is replete with solos that for very long spans of time are actually the music itself while the rest of the instrumentation plays the role of emphasizing and coloring in a sparse and laid-back manner to the point of being strongly reminiscent of the classical way of going about this which reduces accompaniment in many middle sections to almost complete silence.
But Cóndor is careful enough as to not mar its spirit in search of a foreign inspiration and template for structure. Despite all the interludes which are the backbone of the album, the importance of riff sections as tutti sections in a concerto is still prominent and on equal ground as the solos themselves (differentiating itself from both the concerto and from traditional metal methodology). In this and many other ways, Nadia thus remains decidedly a metal album that wisely and inspiredly uses metal and rock techniques with a classical approach to structure within a metal framework and use of texture.