When To Stop Listening

If the motive is to pander, not find adventure, the music will be worthless

If you’re faced with a problem, you fix it through the scientific method. You come up with a number of possible solutions, test them against reality, pick the ones that succeed — looping through a few times to refine them so they’re accurate — and use those. You throw away the ones that did not work.

Our universe is mathematically stable because it has something (reality) to test solutions against, and because it allows the discarding of bad solutions. This avoids a state of entropy, or a condition where every solution possible has about the same effectiveness. Entropy afflicts everything we do through a type of organizational decay, but when it becomes the state of a situation, all motion and change ceases. Heat death, or the lack of motion to energy and hence its dissipation, occurs.

This information logic to our world underlies natural selection just as much as it describes how our brains work. Imagine multiple ideas; pick the ones that converge; throw out the rest. In the case of heavy metal music, we strengthen the genre when we as fans pick only the best bands and albums. We weaken it when we tolerate mediocre metal, because then being mediocre is just about as important as being good, so people stop trying to be good — heat death.

While heat death is comforting because it enables us to avoid challenging ourselves, and to feel like we’re heroes and geniuses for recording any metal music, it means that we no longer have great metal music — the kind that makes you sit up, pay attention, and rediscover life through a worship of power, saying a kind of cosmic yes (in the James Joyce sense) to accepting life as constant conflict for a few rare, beautiful possible outcomes.

For those who still have red blood coursing through their veins and so aren’t so afraid of failure that they’re unwilling to try, it’s imperative to pick good metal music. This means not making the categorical mistake of buying an album just because the band that made it was good once, or because that band is trendy, has some novel implementation like flutes and tubas, or because you know the people in the band and you want to make them happy. It’s important to know when to stop listening and throw out the bad ideas.

What makes music bad?

Bad music is all the same. Most bands record music that is competent but fails to articulate anything that makes us sit up and take notice, because they’re either repeating the past or suggesting something unrealistic, which means we cannot feel that sense of the music being vital to our lives because we have to live in reality. At least 99% of music falls into this category, but perhaps more, because out of tens of thousands of metal bands, only a few hundred stand the test of time.

In that mindset, we can see that what makes “bad metal” is not that it’s unmusical, or stupid, except in a few cases. In most cases, it is simply unremarkable because it hasn’t challenged itself to find meaning in life and sing about it. This is why almost all reviews of albums that are destined to fail go like this:

This CD recombines past methods that worked, without knowledge of the reasons why they worked. Quirky as a result, it is a unique collage of instruments and techniques. Yet it is without direction because it imitates the effects of the past without knowing the causes, like someone looking into the genre from outside. Therefore, it’s not bad, but not great, and so we’ll forget it soon because time is valuable and this CD is not going to make us feel a sense of connection to life through power.

In other words, the CD is bringing us to a state of entropy. It isn’t bad, it isn’t good, which means by default that it’s not good. You will see this review format on many metal sites. It usually looks like this:

I don’t normally like ultra-brutal death metal, but this CD combines ultra-brutal death metal with hardcore vocals and black metal riffs. I have never before heard a flute used to make brutal riffs come slamming home. Guitar solos are like fire in the veins of a poisoned dragon. Although it’s really brutal, parts of this CD are riff salad where they get confused about whether they are black metal or death metal. But the end result isn’t bad, even if it won’t make my top ten for this year. If you really like brutal death metal with flutes, get this CD.

That’s a review done by a fan, a zine, or another band. What does it look like when we combine the art of making people think they should buy something — marketing — with this review type?

Brutal death metal fans have waited too long for a real masterpiece, but [ name redacted ] is going to change all that. With pummeling brutal riffs, you might think this band were closed-minded, but they have a full-time flute player who brings a progressive, liberal touch to the old and musty genre of brutal death metal. This groundbreaking act goes where no metal band has gone before! Don’t expect mercy from these powerful slamming riffs. This CD is brutal and it’ll tear your fuckin head off!

In the above, you will see something all smart marketers do. They find an audience for something, and then try to convince them that a product is better than others. If you can’t sell it on “better,” you sell it on novelty. It’s unique. It does something others don’t do. What you really want to do is avoid mentioning whether or not this is important. For example, who cares if a band uses a flute if their music is just as boring as if they did not?

What is pandering?

Most people will recognize, after hearing enough music, that while good music is made to be bought, it isn’t designed so that it will make the most money by offering the least challenging listen. If you’re not listening to radio pop, it’s because you got tired of melodic hooks and three-minute songs using verse-chorus structures. The riffs in such songs may be good, but since they achieve a state and cycle in it, but don’t really change, it’s hard to call them art — or claim they’ll inspire our lives. They’re like pretty wallpaper or television shows: background noise to make life pleasant, not give it meaning.

What separates good music from bad music is what separates scientific information from marketing: marketing is designed to appeal to a need that’s already there, and exploit it as a way of making money. Where good music/art is designed to make life more meaningful by showing us a new vision of it, marketing is designed to affirm our current vision of life so we can fit a product into it. Marketing panders. Art doesn’t.

Pandering – We use the panda image to suggest that music panders, and so has not only suspect motivations but minimal joy in listening. You may think this is sorta neat for a couple weeks, but then you’ll forget it. In the meantime, the band and others like them will start making more of this crap, so that instead of getting albums you can listen to for years, you’ll get lots of new albums you have to buy that won’t really satisfy you.

Selling Out – When a band goes from having made quality music to a state of extreme pandering, we realize that a psychological change has occurred in the artists. Instead of trying to make good music so that they can make money, they bypass the middle step and make music that makes money not because it’s good, but because it panders. We use the tombstone image to suggest that this band has left the reservation and headed for pop territory, so we’re not going to bother reviewing any of their other stuff until this changes.

Why so judgmental? — you are trained to ask. Why not just write about the music as it is? The answer is that mediocre music far outnumbers good music, and we are interested in preserving the good, and so instead of leaving you wondering about why we stopped reviewing a band, we’re just going to point out that they have changed motivation and results. It’s no different from reviewing every metal album ever made, and writing the generic review above 99% of the time and not telling you that there’s something all bad albums have in common.

You’re also trained to ask: Who made you the judge? Who are you to decide? — these questions are illogical. In a relative universe, we all decide, and our value is decided by the decisions we make, although it takes someone who has a clue to see that. Who made you the judge to decide we’re not the judge? Who are you to decide who is to decide? These questions make light of how ridiculous those common questions are.

If you want to know why a band’s CD or performance is referred to this page, it is because the above is the best that can be said about it, and we do not wish to be ironic or condescending to you, our reader. We are here to praise the art in the genre and its best incarnations, and we treat you and the artists with greater respect by having such reverence for the art.

What Makes Good Metal?

Metal is Romantic art, much as the novel Frankenstein or the opera Parsifal are: discovery of transcendent meaning in life by embracing its struggle and suffering as means to a higher end, an idea beyond material satisfaction or fear. To those who see the greatness of this idea, it is a worldview and a life-philosophy, and metal is one of its voices.

When we say metal expresses this idea, we are speaking only secondarily of imagery and lyrics (which mainstream academics prefer to study because they’re easy). We speak of the music and the spirit it evokes. Much like songs can convey sadness, fear, anger or hope, like the leitmotifs of Wagner different impulses are encoded in metal music that together suggest a Romantic worldview.

As art, heavy metal music is unique among popular genres for this viewpoint. What makes sonic art “metal” is its expression of this spirit more than any dogma or musical conceits; after all, other bands have appropriated metal riffs for years but without grasping this idea, much like innumerable Hollywood soundtracks have borrowed from Wagner without capturing his ideal.

When a metal band ceases to make Romantic art and becomes another voice for the easy, non-transcendent answers of life — material comfort, self-satiation, revengeful morality or simply self-obsession — it is no longer metal, but an imitation of metal, much like advertising jingles often “sound like” a genre without having its artistry or ideas.

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Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne (2015)

Grave Ritual - Morbid Throne (2016)

Review by Corey M

Grave Ritual released their debut album, Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death, on Razorback Records in 2010. I picked up the album after a cursory listen online and have been steadily listening ever since. It is based on the sort of whirlwind style of composition in which contrasting, visceral riffs are injected in rapid succession into the listener’s stream of consciousness, but the band keeps just enough pressure on the brakes to keep the songs from becoming haphazard and disorienting, and they know when to reign in the multi-directional melodic excursions and wrap up their exploration in a satisfying resolution. Grave Ritual are a well-oiled machine who are foremost concerned with playing death metal just the way death metal is “supposed” to be played. That is the strength and the weakness of this band.

Five years after their first release, Grave Ritual have given us Morbid Throne, which begins with an unnecessarily long intro track (“Baleful Aversion”) that is evidently designed to ease the listener into the aural aesthetic of the album. This is not a bad musical technique necessarily, but I find that being tossed right into the fray of warped chords and unexpected rhythmic shifts of traditional death metal is a much better introduction to the hopeless terror that is death metal’s specialty (aside maybe from an unironic ’80s-sounding synth). Listening to “Baleful Aversion” feels like I just exchanged a ticket for access to a “haunted” fun house and am leisurely strolling down the walkway that leads to the entrance, hearing electronic sound clips of spooky bat squeaks and creaking floors, passing “DANGER!” signs stuck in the nearby ground intended to give the appearance of haphazard placement and long-term neglect, but obviously carefully placed and maintained. Meanwhile the opening track of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten gives me the sense that I’ve been strapped into an unguided rocket and the engines have just ignited. In other words, there is a sense of carefulness on the part of the band to avoid getting “too crazy,” and this is the overall sense of the entire album, usually for the worse.

At the risk of using the “it’s 2015, we should be past this by now,” argument, Grave Ritual seem to be doing themselves a disservice by sticking so closely to established death metal tropes. The album is evidently supposed to sound like it was recorded in 1992, including the guitar, drum, and vocal techniques. We need only reference Immolation or Atheist to see that there isn’t necessarily an established canon of techniques that define that era; rather, it was a time when bands were pushing the limits of metal in terms of what was physically feasible to play on an instrument, and what sounds were psychologically jarring without going to the point of unlistenability. Grave Ritual play riffs with the same intervals and scales and power chords that the death metal bands in 1992 used, but they play them like rock riffs, which at some point need to cycle back to the original chord that began the riff in order to resolve. Grave Ritual, however, instead of truly resolving a section of music and allowing the next section to develop, will just drop a riff after it gets played enough times (before you can get bored with hearing it, to the band’s credit) and a new riff arises out of the same scale but in a different rhythm or at a different tempo, to give the appearance of motion and development. This means that, if you listen closely with attention paid to the beginning and ending chords of each riff, you’ll notice that the guitarists will stay on a single chord pattern for a very long time, occasionally switching up the speed or pattern of notes but only changing how the notes are played, not what notes are played.

Grave Ritual use an effective but dated method of riffcraft: 1. Pick a dissonant interval. 2. Play some scattered, atonal riff to jump between the two notes. 3. Play basically the same thing on a different place on the neck, but slower. This worked very well for Incantation, but Incantation’s music is grounded by an intuitive sense of motion and tension, probably because the guitarists knew that they had to move on to a different riff and aimed toward it, rather than milking each riff for all its worth by cycling through indefinite rhythmic mutations before the riff expires. Meanwhile, the two-chord back-and-forth riffs on “Morbid Throne” do not build tension as they are repeated over and over; their main purpose seems to be providing a rhythmic hook to anchor the rest of the inoffensive-but-generally-unremarkable two-chord riffs that make up the meat of most songs.

And hooky, they are. The best parts on Morbid Throne are very cool sounding; imagine Autopsy riffs played at half-speed while authoritative drum patterns are augmented by a very deep and grisly voice chanting spells of suicidal vengeance. It’s a dependable aesthetic formula because it has held up against the scrutiny of generations and has continued to sell in a rapidly shifting industry for over thirty years. Unfortunately Grave Ritual’s dedication to this aesthetic has made them a slave, rather than master, to it. One prime example is the guitar lead that comes in just before the minute mark in “Lewd Perversities”; we hear string bends and rapidly tapped melodies, but that’s all there is to hear. It’s just an exposition of technique. There is nothing being expressed through the technique; the only expression is of the technique itself, which is a backward way to write and play death metal.
The best death metal albums work by pairing musical sections that are unlike on the surface (being in a different key, or of a different rhythm or tempo) and then eventually tying them together by offering more transitions and comparisons until the listener’s stubborn insistence that unlike sections conflict is broken and he submits to the song as a whole rather than a collection of contrasts. Grave Ritual understand that pairing incongruent riffs haphazardly makes the music an incongruent shuffle. This lets them gracefully avoid the two major pitfalls of modern death metal; one being that overwhelming percussive impact will convince the listener that they are hearing something extremely “brutal” and the other being that “atmosphere” is the goal of any album and bizarrely-voiced dissonant amelodic progressions are the most appropriate take on a death metal “atmosphere”. For this, they are to be commended. Yet in the end, this album has no teeth. There is no sense of danger or tension throughout. The product is a death metal album designed for easy listening, and in this way, it succeeds.

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Ravencult – Morbid Blood

ravencult-morbid_blood

Around a decade ago, the funderground types (NWN/FMP) started a campaign to include Venom as the “first wave of black metal,” even though before that time nearly all sources agreed that Venom were NWOBHM and probably less influential on black metal than Motorhead. But suddenly this huge push existed to bring Venom into black metal; why? Listening to Ravencult, it is clear: so that they could make mediocre heavy metal, speed it up like a punk band and add rasping vocals and call it black metal. This created an instant doubling of product to capture that boom in clued-out kids trying to buy into the black metal hype.

Ravencult drops firmly within this camp. They keep the constant forward rhythm of a war metal band and underneath it re-visit riffs from the 80s and 90s which, despite their chromatic nature, often have a basis in the rhythms and tonal changes of hard rock. The result is something that you want to like but it is too simple-minded and repetitive ultimately to provide anything but a sting of nostalgia and then lots of comforting background noise. It will never motivate anyone to any particular greatness like the old bands used to do. As they say in the funderground, at least it is true… or is that so? It might be better to sever from the past, and create something new instead. Or at least something with the same intensity of death/black metal, instead of trying to make lower intensity versions of the classics so that people can enjoy them like easy listening music or lite jazz, sitting on their comfortable sofas sipping Chivas and “appreciating” black metal.

and of course the unholy genesis of underground metal — Hellhammer, Bathory, Sodom and Slayer —

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 1-31-10

So much of what we do in life is politics. Telling people things they want to hear and making warring parties proffer the olive branch. But metal should not be about politics. Metal should be about pure spirit, both inside of us and in the world at large, meaning that we know ourselves and we know reality. With that kind of background, we don’t need politics. We don’t need drama. We don’t need to be flattered. We want adventure — musical adventure, preferably with tragedy and triumph, violence and vengeance, sodomy and satisfaction! Meet this week’s Sadistic Metal Reviews, where sacred cows get sodomized and we find satisfaction in the diamonds among the cluttering turds.

Fenriz’ Red Planet/Nattefrost – Engangsgrill

We’re going to talk about the first band here, Fenriz’ Red Planet, because Nattefrost is forgettable 1970s punk rock dressed up as early 1980s black metal. This band is a hybrid between doom metal, 1970s heavy guitar jam, and what they call stoner doom now but was recognizable in St. Vitus, Pentagram and Sleep for many years. The production approach and song style is closest to 1970s heavy guitar rock, like Cream or even Led Zeppelin, in that songs are verse/chorus works with a big fat diversion stuck in the middle that may run through a couple of riffs but comes back into key and rhythm so the cycle can spin again. But over half of the riffs are straight out of old school 1980s doom metal, and that would be St. Vitus and Pentagram but also late-blooming NWOBHM with a doom edge like Witchfinder General and Budgie. It’s not exciting; if anything, it sounds like a demo where the band hasn’t yet finalized direction and aesthetic. However, it is good; these songs have character and a spirit to them which you cannot get anywhere else. You can hear a few lifts from Fenriz’ folk/metal project Storm and one or two similar themes to Darkthrone, but this CD doesn’t need to namedrop to stand on its own. They named it “Engangsgrill,” which apparently is a type of disposable barbecue, which fits exactly the kind of sloppy rock/metal hybrid you have here: pickup trucks headed to the country with a keg, a bong and some friends, followed by a weekend of the best neighborhood bands jamming, society gets forgotten until on Monday morning you drive back with a mouth full of ash and the kind of diluted hangover that comes from cheap beer in constant consumption.

Baroness – The Blue Record

Oh neat, an emo/stoner metal hybrid with lots of indie and punk rock touches. If you can imagine Neurosis and Jawbreaker making sweet love with newer Sleep, and throwing in tons of stuff from the heavy metal and indie rock canons, you’ll have a good image of what this cheeseball release has to offer. From the way the labels and the big industry reviewers — who have about five minutes to hear each CD, and put them on in the background while socializing for two weeks, then forget about them — went on about this CD, you’d think it was the second coming of innovation itself. Instead, it’s stale and completely loses what’s good about metal and punk, converging on a mean that’s closer to your run-of-the-mill hipster band. This is awful.

Despised Icon – The Ills of Modern Man

Metalcore is rock songwriting with technical death metal technique, and a desire like punk music to string together radically “different” riffs as if it can surprise us, and since it’s random in structure, built around what’s left: vocal phrases that end on the expectation of the offbeat like a sales pitch. Despised Icon is as a result about 80% the fratboy-pleasing, gurgling, blasting, very simple riffs played in difficult time of technical death metal, like Immolation, and the rest is bouncy moronic rock music that I got into metal to escape. Consequently, it has no attention span and cycles like carnival music between different styles and tempos, then crams it all into a barely-disguised verse/chorus structure. What is the point of typing this all out? To point out how to fail at metal. This is the abyss of music and is every bit as stupid as your parents claim your music is. If you want to fail at life, try listening to this random accumulation of parts — each part is in itself OK, not great, but together they add up to a conversation made by borrowing a phrase from 30 works of literature — and as a result project a scatterbrained, neurotic, pointless and non-constructive view of the world. No wonder people hate metalcore; it’s the nadir of underground music.

Cryptopsy – The Unspoken King

This is what’s left of the band that made None So Vile? The neatly structured, compact death metal has been replaced with blasting metalcore. Metalcore, as you may know, is kind of a garbage plate for underground metal and punk. Based around the interpretation of technical metal into punk structures that Human Remains showed us, metalcore loves randomness in circular song structures, so you get ten minimally-related riffs linked by a breakdown and a few slow chants, and then the whole thing repeats, and then the song ends. It’s music for a fragmented mind and as a result, has the IQ of a headless chicken watching daytime TV. Cryptopsy utterly fails to make coherent music out of this style as their countrymen Neuraxis eventually did, and instead defecate this collection of random riffs based around an egodramatic vocal track. It’s total garbage for morons.

These Are They – “Who Linger”

Imagine Iron Maiden doing a simplified version of 1990s Demigod or Amorphis. This CD is unique in that it successfully applies both (a) the old school death metal style and (b) a heavy metal, harmonized-guitar, bouncy riff style — and does it by coming up with a melodic phrase and answer, and using these to make layers of verse and chorus. Play riff; play notes of riff in variation of rhythm; harmonize guitars and repeat, then cycle. The choruses do the same. Nothing sounds out of place, and the deep guttural voice guides it along, but it seems entirely out of place when the heavy metal riffs and trills come into play. In addition, the riff salad of death metal isn’t here; like rock or indie, this rides one pattern for verse and one for chorus, and much variation is not to be found, which probably places this out of the range of old school death metal fans. Still, these are quality riffs and excellent use of basic harmony, which makes this easy listening and because it is not random, a great improvement on the metalcore-heavy stuff we hear daily. For albums like later Bolt Thrower, which tried to make a heavy metal/death metal hybrid, this is probably the best so far.

Vreid – Milorg

Black metal was about writing unique melodies and building song structures to fit them. Vreid is about mimicking the past with more intensity in each riff, but relying on predictable melodic strips and linear song structures in circular repetition, resulting in songs that are binary like nu-metal: a softer part, then a harder part, then a response to that which softens the hardness, then a restatement at full blast, fade out and win. Most of these riffs come from the 1970s and 1980s generations of metal and get a “black metal” treatment, so end up sounding like rock music in its Sunday black metal evil clothes. The music is driving by a chanting vocal which rides the beat like the shouts of the drummer commanding the slaves to row. Every now and then they launch into an extended melody like a pentatonic version of early ancient, and they have the raw rhythmic power of an early Marduk or Zyklon, but it doesn’t add up to more than most rock music, and considerably less than the formative works of Nordic black metal.

Black Funeral – Az-i-Dahak

Throbbing notes rhythm a rhythm that then reverses, examines a portion of itself in detail, and then picks up in a new direction which dovetails with the old; the throb remains, like symbols etched in the air with a torch caught on the slower memory of film. In this way, Black Funeral achieves an odd ambience similar to that of Impetigo, where a higher note is strummed repetitively at an offset rhythm where most bands would hammer a lower note on the beat, but by the nature of the larger melodic structure of the riff, this throb does not bounce jauntily like a rock rhythm; it hangs, like a reminder of mortality. Vocals are chant-ish black metal rasps and the mechanistic pedaling of the drum machine fits this sound like a glove, getting further inhuman as it distances us from musical expectation and clean aesthetics. Like the humming beeps of an alien machine exploring the night, this album rediscovers humanity by removing it from the picture and showing us the empty space in which we must construct as inevitable death closes in. While most experts agree “Vampyr” is the height of this band — and who am I to disagree? — this perhaps less proficient album is more haunting and bizarre, yet fits it into a pattern similar to our reminiscences of isolated nights when the future angled away from us like the shadow of an unknown doorway.

Decrepit Birth – Diminishing Between Worlds

If the recombinant album name and band name didn’t clue you in, here’s the skinny: this band is totally postmodern, meaning that they fit together all sorts of random influences and then link them together with the basics of rhythm and harmony. As a result, it’s like a fast ride at Disneyland: constant changing stimulus of radical difference so much that after a while you lose any idea of where you are, and end up thinking you’ve come very far, when at the very end as the buggy slows you realize you’ve been circling around the same relatively small space. Unlike most bands of this type, which I’m going to call crypto-metalcore because it’s (a) without death metal’s style of organization, preferring instead the hardcore method of having riffs have as little in common as possible and no narrative (b) of mixed riff styles and (c) depends on rhythmic buildup/breakdown for tension because you’re not going to get it in contrast between riffs, Decrepit Birth is good — it’s like an Iron Maiden album hidden in Deeds of Flesh with Blotted Science and Negativa offering critique. However, I can’t listen to this carnival music; it breaks down concentration and replaces it with elaborate versions of territory trod long ago.

Funebrarum – The Sleep of Morbid Dreams

What happened here? Eight years ago — before old-school “revival” was even a blip on the radar — this band had the apparent potential to give proper life to archaic death metal form. Their first album/demo was a brooding, infectious and grimly cohesive piece of work, enough so to make this sound almost brazenly cheap by comparison. Toss in every imaginable death metal riff style coined between 1989 and 1993, lay them out on a rhythmic smorgasbord and put them through enough mood changes to make a pregnant teenager blush and you’ve come damn close to this; add enough embarassing Bloodbath-sounding material (listen to the opener) to something otherwise “authentic” and you’ll never want to hear “old school” again. – kontinual

Star Fucking Hipsters – Never Rest in Peace

There are some of us who believe that rock and roll music, instead of being a thing deliberately created, is an aggregate of what was left over when we tested everything else against a captive audience. Star Fucking Hipsters prove this by carefully absorbing everything they can into the great sponge of melancholy indie pop. These songs usually start off with fast punk or speed metal (Slayer) riffs, and then pass through a few exciting transitions borrowed from anything industrial, black and reggage or between, but then we get to the core: darkish, self-pitying, somewhat helpless indie pop. True, it’s in pop punk format like The Descendents meets Blink 182 with Jane’s Addiction advising on behalf of the emo CIA, but basically, it’s pop. And when we get to that point we see this album is like a confused and lonely person in the city, covering themselves with newspapers or whatever fashions they can yank out of the wind, hoping no one will ever get a glimpse inside. If that’s its goal, this is supreme art, but more likely it is the emoting of such people hoping we’ll justify their existence for them. As pop, it’s not bad, a little toward the “poignant” side of minor key melodies sliding into major key to give you a sense of hope. But it’s really the same old thing, or the latest incarnation of it in whatever styles have stuck over the past twelve years, and so I can’t imagine why you’d listen to this instead of any of the 100,000 other albums this “good” in the rock style.

Ahab – The Divinity of Oceans

Funeral doom of a style similar to Skepticism if merged with Esoteric, with a tiny bit of Paradise Lost or Sleep in the wings, Ahab is a studied take on the slow and depressive atmospheric music that many people seem to enjoy. Stylistically, it is probably the most advanced of its kind; musically, it is perfectly competent; artistically, it is not particularly compelling. Its melodies have less of a sense of mixed emotions than do those of Skepticism, and its songs develop in predictable cycles within cycles, leaving us with atmosphere by default once all else has been blocked out. Like American rock bands, Ahab also has to throw in that sense of “contrast” where any dominant idea gets a contrarian voice thrown up against it, where bands like Skepticism bear down with enhancement and variation inside their major ideas. Few want to be the voice to stand up and say this, but most doom metal is boring, and not just because it’s slow. Ahab, while better than most, falls under this umbrella.

Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine – The Audacity of Hype

Purists will kill me for this, but this is Biafra’s best work — it’s musical. Where the Dead Kennedys sounded disorganized and messy without really building on that as an aesthetic, he’s slowed down to a pop-punk combo that uses hardcore riffs (Discharge, Exploited) to balance its melodic lead picking (Circle Jerks, The Plugz). That, plus Southern Fried guitar solos and lead guitar noise, forms the underpinning for a more interesting Biafra performance than has ever been heard before. On this CD, Biafra develops his vocal lines both melodically and in timbre, giving the performance of his life with verve and energy. You’ve heard these riff types before, and many of the note progressions are “pop culture” stalwarts that show up in movie soundtracks and commercials, but here Biafra and his band develop each into a song that’s half-rock and half-hardcore, creating a foundation that will introduce a new generation to the sounds of hardcore punk.

Akitsa – La Grande Infamie

Most of us love the idea of black metal: a few totally socially alienated people, armed only with the truth, pick up guitars one weekend and make a simple mind-virus that helps slay all of the vastly powerful illusions that make our modern world miserable. The problem is that this is far from the truth: most of the people who have made great simple black metal were expert players or at least savants who self-schooled themselves in a unique and powerful style, and their work is very deliberate and designed to make us enjoy life as much as convey some idea. But as in all things, each generation picks up where the previous generation appeared to leave off, so the source of the idea is always lost. Akitsa sounds like a cross between The Exploited and early Dark Funeral, with simple melodic riffs offset against sawing basic power chording; the melodic riffs are too candy-sweet and the power chord riffs are too much of a style we can get anywhere. “Silence” appears to be heavily influenced by “Thy Winter Kingdom” from the first Behemoth CD. The rest of the CD is alternating Burzum influences with later model droning melody. It is both not bad and not really compelling enough to want to hear again.

Orthrelm – OV

I wish this album were a joke, but like most modern and postmodern art, it’s an attempt to “demonstrate” an “idea,” and that idea has no correlation to the reality of an artist both entertaining and informing his listeners. Instead, you get a lot of fast chromatic playing over serial drumming with occasional breaks into jazz-style breakdowns that are either sloppy or misinformed about music theory. The result is a dissonant atmosphere after the band lulls you into contentment with repetition. Over time, the basic pattern increases in a period-doubling format, creating a linear expansion on a basic idea that resembles holy books that write about the universe expanding from a breath, except here the expansion leads to nothing but a reflection of itself. When Burzum did this with Det Som Engang Var, it built a mood that gained resurgent power of time; here it is purely deconstructive and fragments the listener’s attention span by forcing it through a narrow slit of musical awareness. People will like this because it’s unique, and talk about how genius it is because no one else “dared to be different” to such a degree, but as a work of meaningful art and a listening experience, it is worthless.

Blood Mortized – Blood Mortized

This band claims “active” status in the early nineties, with zero material to show for it. It may very well be true; current personnel have some of the more run-of-the-mill Stockholm bands to brag about in their ancestry. Excited yet? This falls somewhere between Amon Amarth and Dismember’s Massive Killing Capacity, smothered in the “soft” mimicry of the Sunlight sound that seems so common for these fence-sitting bands. The plod is painful and simple and the song development as bluntly screwball as the song titles, lending an air of crafted irony to the whole presentation lest somebody seriously stack it up against any of its predecessors. One wonders whence this stuff keeps coming — I’m wont to call this the “Swedish mid-life crisis” and leave it at that. – kontinual

Junius – The Martyrdom of a Catastrophist

What is post-rock? For most, it’s slow atmospheric rock beats with emo, punk, indie and noise riffs slowed down to provide texture. On this CD, Junius blend in a modern taste of the ancient with a Dead Can Dance influence. The result is like a river, winding around obstacles to rejoin itself, but only suggesting a topography. This music is comforting and melancholic, but not really exciting. It is pretty, but will find it hard to escape a lukewarm rock underpinning that reigns in its tendencies to escape for the outer limits. A reasonable comparison might be if Danzig decided to do a space rock album: you can appreciate it aesthetically, but sense how the voice isn’t really there, and how as much as these guys want to be ancient, they’re stuck in a modern paradigm.

Virus – The Black Flux

For the last time: if I wanted indie rock, I would have gone to a different part of the record store. Take your Sisters of Mercy gothic vocals, your bad indie rock open chord guitar riffs, and your basic song structures interrupted by dramatic outbursts, and put them there. I don’t want to fall into the old trap of saying “this isn’t metal,” because what I really want to say is that this is indie rock and should be integrated into that genre for the modicum of black metal stylings and ideas it still possesses. Sure, they’re going to call it a “post-rock” influence, but other than a little flexibility of rhythm, what’s going on here is the same stuff emo, indie and shoegaze bands were pumping out in the early 1990s.

Mefisto – The Truth

This CD resembles death metal in no way other than the vocals, which are the kind of reverbed whisper shout that made the first Sepultura EP so memorable. But the music… well, it’s stranded in the 1980s. Throw a lot of Metallica, Kreator, Slayer and Destruction in a blender — like every other band from that era — and you’ll get this mismash of riffs very similar to both the aforementioned bands and a huge heritage of heavy metal. To their credit, this band string them together well rhythmically but otherwise seem entirely random. Before someone convinces you this is a forgotten classic, ask them if classic means “good” or just that it was around in the early 1990s.

Sarke – Vorunah

We all want to love anything with the enigmatic Nocturno Culto on it. In fact, many of us were hoping he would pull off a Nemesis Divina where his skills converted an unexceptional band into a relative masterpiece. Not so on Sarke — his performance is phoned in, mainly because these songs are sparse, undeveloped, and entirely derivative of their influences in a 1989 way. In fact, the whole CD has the vibe of a collection of songs that have been kicked around since they got written in the 1980s, finally put onto vinyl years after the genre has passed them by. You’re familiar with these chord progressions and general rhythms, since many of them come out of punk rock and hard rock, and you’re probably not unacquainted — unless you’ve been under a rock labeled BLACK METAL GO HOME for the last two decades — with Culto’s interpretation of them. It’s all quite vanilla; nothing to really be appalled at here except how little you care about this flat regurgitation of the past.

Drautran – Throne of the Depths

We live in a time of fools. Given no real truths to chew on, they raise themselves on lies, and make competing lies so they can be heard. Then they tell us what metal bands to listen to, and they cannot tell the difference between good music and derivative shit. They will, for example, convince themselves that Drautran is folk metal, when really it’s indie rock songs dressed up in black metal chord forms with a little extra violence. Unlike metal songs, where riffs fit together and make sense, these are rock songs with some metal riffs dropped in between the sing-song verse chorus. They take their riffing inspiration from Enslaved’s Frost but none of the compositional coherence is here. Listen to this if you want to distract yourself, fragment your concentration and dull your possibilities of ever understanding the difference between good music and crap.

Moëvöt – Abgzvoryathre

Every now and then, people who lack direction in life and so pay attention to surface features more than anything else, hoping to use these to justify their emptiness, will try to tell you how good a band is because it’s unique and nuanced. Usually this includes some kind of infantilism, like extreme minimalism or incoherence. This tedious little recording fits the bill. People like it because it’s obscure, kvlt, whatever… the truth is that it’s melodically simplistic, goes nowhere in song development, and showcases no really unique ability except to waste your time. They try to eat up as much tape as possible with intros, chants, and very basic keyboard melodies, but basically there’s nothing here. Maybe that’s the artistic point — emptiness — but then again a blank tape would have been more effective, and pleasant.

Black Vomit – The Faithful Servant

Interesting approach by this Mexican band: take a more technical version of the full speed burst style semi-melodic black metal that Sarcofago made, and intersperse it with flowing keyboard-enhanced choruses in the style of countrymen Xibalba and Avzhia. The result suffers from the radical shift between two very identifiable poles, but the music although very basic develops gently through this style, and as a result is more credible than most of what we get sent here at the Dark Legions Archive Metal Reviews and CD Recycling Center. This is a band worth keeping an eye on.

Archgoat – The Light-Devouring Darkness

I’m convinced that a lot of death and black metal is music designed for children, because not only is it painfully simple and repetitive, but it also uses gentle rhythms of chord change — while playing at top speed. It’s like listening to a fan slowly playing an early Mozart piece. This album is similar. Sounds a lot like Blasphemy meets Impaled Nazarene, with the lower register production and slamming tempo changes of Belial. So as a retrospective of Finnish metal technique it’s great, but for anything else, it’s kind of a droning lullaby. What excuses it is that this CD shows purpose in its songwriting, and captures a mood, but for many of us the droning outweighs its significance.

Cruciamentum – Convocation of Crawling Chaos

During the past two years, underground black metal shifted from emulating the early 1990s — fast melody — to emulating the late 1990s, specifically Demoncy’s “Joined in Darkness.” The Convocation EP does its best to revive that sound, with an injection of Finnish death metal and possibly American doom/death like Incantation, Winter and Infester. Although it keeps its goals limited, which is appropriate for a demo, this release shows promise in songwriting in that (a) every piece works together (b) together they create a vision of some idea, experience or emotion we can recognize from life itself and (c) while a good deal of it covers known death metal archetypes, it does so without borrowing straight from one source and so gives us a sense of exploring these ideas from a new angle. Low rasp voices, downtuned rigid guitars, and drumming that sounds like it’s straight out of drone/hardcore punk fusion gives this CD a sense of growing out of the past toward something even more ancient.

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Obscura – Cosmogenesis / Kalisia – Cybion

“Progressive” death metal is probably the most difficult death metal subgenre to do anything interesting in, because for the most part it is mainstream metal given the spin with dynamic production, aesthetic variation and all kinds of pointless superimposed elements, giving only rehashes of the popular substyles of death metal. It does not come as a surprise that on the new album Cosmogenesis, Obscura blends very well into the bland mainstream oriented current of Gothenburg (esp. Dark Tranquillity) and tech-death (esp. Atheist) influences. While apparently taking their name from a perennial Gorguts favorite, this neo-progressive metal opera only hints at the beautiful quasi-random soulseeking of Alf Svensson’s space-themed Oxiplegatz project and fails to unite all the various tendencies and instrumental parts into a descriptive work: the acoustic guitars, the Cynic-esque clean vocals, the fusion guitar heroics and even the modern grindcore reminiscent of Nile comes and goes at will but fails to instate lasting effect because the structure is uninvolving. Who anyway thought that it’s a good idea to combine Cynic’s “Focus” with metalcore standards and “catchy” lead guitar? It’s the most anal “heavy” music in 2009 but, hey, it will get 10000% in Metal-Archives because the majority are suckers for this! I like to think that these guys are very good jazz musicians but for metal, sorry, unable to capture the intensity and genius of the originators of the death metal genre.

Resembling a ten times more cheesy Nocturnus, Kalisia utilizes mainstream metal production values to hybridize progressive space metal with Arch Enemy school death/thrash. It contains some astonishingly bad sequences, like those belonging to vapid jazz musicians attempting death metal, especially when the solos scream conservatory trained pop musician virtuoso. Think of the latest Cynic album and make it more commercial and add booming synths and easy listening female vocals. In a weaker approximation of the massive sagas of Oxiplegatz and Bal-Sagoth, Kalisia goes for pure theatre of the macabre, a narrative science fiction tale of soundtrack cliches, processed voices and ADHD mix of influences as if doing something new, but wimpy and non-challenging. Death metal can lend itself beautifully to science fiction operas (think of Nocturnus or SUP) but it works only when suggestive use of texture can build an alien landscape – this kind of shrill, digital and annoying pop-influenced soundscape is closer to Nightwish than real death metal. The wanking and the various processes make Kalisia sound flashy and hysterical, rooted in a human personality. It has too much safe music for people who do not dare to truly break out and dream of the Otherworld. The professional musicianship may satisfy a fan of mainstream metal, but there’s very little sparkling innovation, unique spirit or brutal force to make an underground metal fan’s passion ignite.

 -Devamitra-

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Halfway Through 2017 Hammer Farts


Sadistic reviews by Linus Douglas.

Sadly apart from Sammath, some other Dutch metal, and reissues, Hammerheart Records appears to publish many moronic releases produced by poor excuses for neurons in hopes of flooding shelves like every other larger metal label.

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Interview: Chupacabra

chupacabra
Article by Corey M.

Chupacabra’s music comes from the heart – that is, the part of the individual that is between the mind and the gut. Working without an established template, the songwriter finds and applies sounds in a unique organization specifically to reflect a profoundly idiosyncratic perspective on existence. This is a risky move: Most musicians are content to operate within an established paradigm, adapting to the constraints and handicaps offered by the genre that produces music with which they most closely identify. To abandon paradigm altogether and strike out on one’s own, neither with nor against the current but out of the river itself, is quite bold. But for Chupacabra, it is completely natural. Take a listen to this musical example of what Jung called “individuation”; the process that unifies the unconscious and the conscious, completing a powerful circuit through which ancient genetic memory is filtered and refined by real-time intelligent planning and analysis.

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This Ain’t No Fantasy: A History Of Punk’s Most Iconic Band, The Misfits

cliff_burton_-_metallica_-_misfits_shirt

Metalheads tend to be wary of punk, recognizing it only for its role as an influence on metal. This attitude obscures the fact that the best of punk is worth exploring on its own terms and merits, starting with perhaps the greatest influence of punk technique and heightened aesthetics in that genre, hardcore punk‘s The Misfits.

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