Century Media Records has recently re-issued the death metal classics Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate by Canadian band Gorguts. The 2015 editions of these records were created in close cooperation with guitarist and songwriter Luc Lemay, who describes the history and context of these releases in accompanying liner notes. The re-issues are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002).
GORGUTS Obscura (Re-Issue 2015)
Gatefold black 2LP
Gatefold mint 2LP – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / Europe only – sold out in the US)
Gatefold lilac 2LP – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / US webshop only)
Gatefold transparent blue 2LP – limited to 100 copies (exclusive to GORGUTS’ current label Season Of Mist)
Standard Jewelcase CD (offered at mid-price)
GORGUTS From Wisdom To Hate (Re-Issue 2015)
Silver LP+CD – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / European & US webshop)
Transparent red LP+CD – limited to 200 copies (only available via CMDistro.com / US webshop only)
Clear vinyl LP+CD – limited to 100 copies (exclusive to GORGUTS’ current label Season Of Mist)
Death metal band turned prog-core act Gorguts has re-issued the latter two albums from its classic period, Gorguts and From Wisdom to Hate, on industry powerhouse Century Media Records. The re-issues — on jewelcase CD, 2LP and limited edition 2LP — will be available in pre-order starting March 9, 2015.
Says guitarist/composer Luc Lemay: “I’m proud to announce that our 1998 record Obscura and 2001’s From Wisdom To Hate will finally be re-released! …For this re-issue, I decided to include liner notes that tell the story behind each record. How we got together as musicians, what was the composition process that made this sound possible and that made us grow as artists…I decided to change the logo because, with a step back, I realized that I never really like the original one on Obscura and I wanted to give the record a fresh look. I kept the same logo for From Wisdom To Hate, because it was created for this record…Thanks again to all our fans for their unconditional support through all those years.”
The re-issues see official release on April 6, 2015 in Europe and April 7, 2015 in North America. Both are dedicated to the memory of former members Steeve Hurdle (R.I.P. 2012) and Steve MacDonald (R.I.P. 2002). While Gorguts has deviated into progressive-themed *core territory with their latest, Colored Sands, this band helped forge the sound of technical death metal back when that term simply referred to death metal which required technical ability to play. While Obscura has often been imitated in style, those who have tried to imitate it have generally done so on the basis of style alone and missed the sublime composition within which made this album a classic independent of style.
Five years have elapsed since 2010, a year that seemed to mark a slight renewal in creative forces, a kind of premonition of a metal renaissance that came after 15 years of horrid decadence following the decease of black metal as a movement. By 2013 this force was still incipient but already showed potential for future development as acts with more refined views about composition grounded themselves in tradition, promising to build monuments to a past glory for future times. Musicians from the metal underground’s classical era also formed the bulk of this rebirth, either through perfection or purification of their own take on the art.
The last two years have seen a manner of steady output that is weakened in quantity of quality releases, little manifest presence to speak of, with a few exceptions. The same can be said of the years between 2010 and 2013. This seems to be in accordance with a 3-year pendulum swing as the small cycle of metal. The long one probably signaling stronger points of birth and decay – probably decades: 1970-birth, 1980-underground, 1990-golden era, 2000-dark ages, 2010-renaissance.
It was a different time, and when Slayer, Metallica and Iron Maiden were doing their thing at the beginning of the 1980s, metal was also at a mainstream high with many poopoo acts dominating the scene. When mainstream metal drowns in its filth at the end of the decade and the 90s leave them with unmetal metal like Pantera or Soundgarden is when the underground rears its head in greater numbers.This coincides a little with what is happening now, as nu-funderground and mainstream whoring like female-fronted so-called metal flourishes in numbers just as the shock rock and glam metal (hard rock) plague in the time of Slayer.
To make matters more complicated, we have the internet, along with other means of communication and technology that allow for pockets of both good and bad music to survive with less regard to overall trends. Metal is not yet at another apocalyptic end of an era like the one that saw the explosion of death metal, we may have to wait another decade for that, but there is rise not dissimilar to the rise of underground NWOBHM and soon after speed metal. The next ebbing of the tide is at hand, but not yet its climax. What changes is not the fact that there is or there isn’t more mainstream crap, but how much excellent underground music there is. The year 1990 was a very special time marker that signaled the advent of a climax low for the mainstream and climax high for the underground.
Now, that we posit the existence of such critical years does not mean that no excellent albums occur outside of them, but that there is a sort of genre-wide, or community-wide, perhaps, pulse that pushes general tendencies. Now, according to this idea, the next “big year” in the small cycle would be 2016. Below we give an overview of these so-called big years and some band releases we are looking forward to this year.
What are your expectations in metal releases in 2016?
A quick reference to distinguished metal works in the ‘pulse’ years. Not especially comprehensive.
Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
1974: (Not really metal, Black Sabbath is WAY ahead)
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
Rush – Rush
King Crimson – Red (Editor’s note: Probably closer in spirit to future metal than others)
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
Motörhead – Motörhead
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Cirith Ungol – Cirith Ungol
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Slayer – Show No Mercy
Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
Mercyful Fate – Melissa
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Manowar – Into Glory Ride
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Metallica – Master of Puppets
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Sepultura – Morbid Visions
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Voivod – Nothingface
Helstar – Nosferatu
Powermad – Absolute Power
Rigor Mortis – Freaks
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Burzum – Burzum
At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Sinister – Cross the Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Deicide – Legion
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Atrocity – Longing for Death
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Cadaver – …In Pains
Asphyx – Last One on Earth
Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
Graveland – In the Glare of Burning Churches
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
Suffocation – Pierced from Within
Vader – De Profundis
Gorgoroth – The Antichrist
Graveland – Thousand Swords
Summoning – Minas Morgul
Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
Sacramentum – Far Away from the Sun
Immortal – Battles in the North
Abigor – Nachthymmen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
Funeral – Tragedies
Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings
Gorguts – Obscura
Vader – Black to the Blind
Incantation – Diabolical Conquest
Dawn – Slaughtersun
Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland
Angelcorpse – Exterminate
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
Symphony X – Twilight of the Gods
Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
Suffocation – Despise the Sun
Absurd – Asgardsrei
Soulburn – Feeding on Angels
Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins
Master – Faith is in Season
Skepticism – Lead and Aether
Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate
Absu – Tara
Martyr – Extracting the Core
Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
Deeds of Flesh – Mark of the Legion
Averse Sefira – Battle’s Clarion
Graveland – Raise Your Sword!
Krieg – The Black Plague
Avzhia – The Key of Throne
Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination
Blotted Science – The Machinations of Dementia
Avzhia – In My Domains
Krieg – The Isolationist
Burzum – Belus
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough
Graveland – Cold Winter Blades
Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
Autopsy – The Tomb Within
Overkill – Iron Bound
Decrepitaph – Beyond the Cursed Tombs
Black Sabbath – 13
Condor – Nadia
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Satan – Life Sentence
Argus – Beyond the Martyrs
Autopsy – Headless Ritual
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
Deströyer 666? (Editor’s note: I have my doubts about this one’s possible… transcendence)
In view of our recent emphasis on the fact that post-1994 metal landscape is a desert of creativity with very few well-realized projects, most of which were pretty underground efforts. By the turn of the century, death and black metal aesthetics had been absorbed into the mainstream mindset and so we can not automatically consider bands with said genre tags as underground. But the ones recommended below are, indeed, high-quality efforts (in the way of music writing) that were never hyped to any wide audience.
The turn of the century itself was one of the darkest moments in metal history when there was no relevant innovation being worked into metal. In place, a superficial re-mixing of styles done by the thousands became the obsession of scenes. Something had happened: Metal had reached its young adult life. Until now, childish enthusiasm and creativity had been enough for it to keep making discoveries. A spirit of rebellion had propelled it in the search for a deeper romantic meaning that drove it forward. Once this bottomed out with with mid-nineties albums by projects like Burzum, Ildjarn and Summoning, it was evident that metal would have to rely on a refinement of its technical approach that could keep feeding the aesthetics needs of its spirit.
In the following recommendations, we have thrown some worthwhile non-metal releases that are also strongly recommended. The reader is encouraged to explore each of these with all their attention and in reflection of the trails that the golden era left that are only in recent years fully crystallizing into promising proposals for a real re-start and future based on the previously mentioned refinement applied to a study and digestion of the older spirit in order for the genre to continue. This future is precisely what metal needs and not a return to anything. The past is the past. Metal must look ever ahead if it is to be an artistic movement with life. This post is in part to honor those releases and to offer a glimmer of hope that although metal is suffocated, it is not dead.
Summoning – Stronghold (1999)
Mütiilation – Remains of A Ruined, Dead, Cursed Soul (1999)
Worship – Last Tape Before Doomsday (1999)
Tenhi – Kauan (1999)
Jordi Savall & Ton Koopman – J.S. Bach, Die Sonaten Für Viola Da Gamba Und Cembalo (2000)
Many of us are fans of last.fm and other services which keep track of listening statistics. These allow me to link up various devices that I use and see what my actual listening patterns are instead of what I think they are. For example, if you asked me for a list of top death metal releases, I can easily name something like this list of the best in each genre. But that is an analytical opinion related to the art and music themselves, not a personal habit, which reflects more the day-to-day utility I find in different albums. Such is the split with Gorguts Obscura, an album I listened to extensively when it came out in accidental defiance of conventional wisdom, but then have not picked up since. Part of the reason is the unreasonably loud production, which makes it — like Sinister Hate and other albums of the “early ProTools era” — difficult to listen to alongside classic albums, and abrasively loud with lost texture of distortion. Another reason is that having heard it three times a day for five years, I may have simply absorbed it entirely. A third might be that while it is admirable as a piece of art, it may not be applicable to much of my life or thought process at this point.
I read Old Disgruntled Bastard‘s article “The postmodern Gorguts” with great interest not just because I enjoy ODB’s writing, but because he has cut into a vital topic: does Obscura belong to the old school death metal legions, or is it of a newer style that we call “modern metal”? Modern metal — comprised of nu-metal, metalcore, tech-death, post-metal and indie-rock — distinguishes itself from the old because it is composed like rock but with metal riffs mixed in among the jazz and prog affectations. The analysis of it as postmodern seems to make sense if one considers later postmodernism. Early postmodernism distrusted meta-narratives and so attempted to create its own based on the subtext, or invisible reality, as an alternative to the public text or consensual token-based narrative of our reality and civilization.
Later postmodernism simplified that to an idea of showing many different angles or perspectives of a topic, like a Pablo Picasso painting, which created a surface level of complexity of ingredients so intense that it reduced the organizing principle or internal complexity of the work to near nothingness. Compare Don Delillo’s White Noise to David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas (itself highly derivative of Pynchon, that highly derivative of Nabokov and Burroughs) for an example of this in literature.
The public school safe answer when asked about the origins of postmodernism is that it sprang up with Foucault, but someone who traces the history of ideas — and actually writes postmodern fiction — like myself may see the origins instead in an early writing by Fred “Mad Dog” Nietzsche entitled “On Truth and Lies in a Post-Moral Sense,” in which he points out the nihilism of language: tokens work only when people mean the same thing, but people project their own desires into the meaning through the imprecise device of memory, which means that narratives rapidly become deconstructed into manipulation and the only excuse is to discard the old values and definitions, and rebuild from common sense observation of reality.
There are, after all, very few ideas in history, and much as Plato was a watershed, Nietzsche defined the different perspectives in the modern time, but this analysis is too far-reaching to be made in public, least of all on the government dime. I remember talking with Audrey Ewell (Until the Light Takes Us) over this very split and finding myself dismissed as perhaps not knowing the background material, which is very un-postmodern as it affirms an official narrative in defiance of the introspection that leads to analysis of externality by structure and not appearance, a trait shared between Nietzsche and the Romantics that lives on in postmodernism albeit faintly, and only in the important works, excluding the forgettable Mitchell for example. Postmodernism appears in movies by David Lynch and Lars von Trier, specifically the death metal-friendly Melancholia, and even in the theories we tell ourselves about daily life. Discontent with The NarrativeTM abounds, but very few agree on what that narrative is or what is the truth that it conceals, which shows a difficulty of postmodernism: it deconstructs and points vaguely in a new direction, but never finalizes the task, which relegates it to the academic realm of sipping Merlot and watching the world build up tinder for the final carnage.
Having boiled out all of that context to postmodernism as idea, let us look at William Pilgrim’s excellent article. Death Metal Underground tries to provide multiple perspectives — in the postmodern sense — on any topic, but diverges from the postmodern narrative by affirming that reality itself is truth, and we can approximate that truth, so we must undertake the almost never undertaken second part of the process which is through reasoned debate to then find answers. People love the idea of multiple perspectives, because it means that since nothing is true, they can do whatever they want and that “feels” good to the forlorn or under-confident soul. They are less enthusiastic about boiling down the data found and constructing from it an assessment of truthfulness. The article contains two essential nodal points, the first of which is the definition of postmodernism:
…a school of thought that attempts to reject overarching structural meaning and belief in greater narratives. To the post-modern mind, existence and experience consist of pluralities, splintered into fiercely individualistic cells prone to subjective rule, and inimical to any attempt at establishing a universal system of knowledge. Under this philosophy, adherence to a common-law guidebook serving as a framework for value judgments would amount to giving tacit approval to an authoritarian scheme of things.
This sounds surprisingly like one of my favorite definitions, the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy definition of “nihilism”:
Nihilism is the belief that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated…By the late 20th century, “nihilism” had assumed two different castes. In one form, “nihilist” is used to characterize the postmodern person, a dehumanized conformist, alienated, indifferent, and baffled, directing psychological energy into hedonistic narcissism or into a deep ressentiment that often explodes in violence…In contrast to the efforts to overcome nihilism noted above is the uniquely postmodern response associated with the current antifoundationalists….French philosopher Jean-Francois Lyotard characterizes postmodernism as an “incredulity toward metanarratives,” those all-embracing foundations that we have relied on to make sense of the world. This extreme skepticism has undermined intellectual and moral hierarchies and made “truth” claims, transcendental or transcultural, problematic. Postmodern antifoundationalists, paradoxically grounded in relativism, dismiss knowledge as relational and “truth” as transitory, genuine only until something more palatable replaces it (reminiscent of William James’ notion of “cash value”). The critic Jacques Derrida, for example, asserts that one can never be sure that what one knows corresponds with what is.
Much of interest stands out here starting with caste. Alan Pratt seems to see the two interpretations of nihilism as reflecting degrees of abstraction. On one level, people say that life has no inherent meaning — that is the correct short form translation of what he says above — and translate that into dissipation; on the other, they see this as an opportunity to escape the dead definitions of a dying civilization and re-evaluate all that is known and how it is seen as important; in other words, to go back to Nietzsche and his Romantic-tinged apocalyptic renewal.
This also introduces the fundamental problem of modern philosophy, which it tries to handle through grammars of different fields of study, consisting of the coherence/correspondence split. A sentence can be completely grammatical and parse-able but contain no meaning because it imitates outward form but refers to nothing and resembles nothing found in reality. “A = x; if A > x, then the world ends” is entirely sensible as an expression, yet gives no information and relates to nothing. Like Nietzsche, most postmodern philosophers attack language, but unlike Nietzsche, they seek to find ways around language where Nietzsche’s point was the more flexible idea that language, logic and other forms of communication and truth-assessment are dependent on those who wield them, their intelligence, honest and intent; in other words, as he said, “There are no truths, only interpretations.”
This nihilism — which sounds a lot like postmodernism itself — distrusts not just a narrative, but the idea that there can be a narrative, or in other words one explanation of reality and how to deal with it that applies to all people. This translates to a distrust of the inherent or innate, such as the idea of “writing on the wall” or any other kind of definitive sign that communicates to all people. In other words, reality is out there, and all of our access to it comes through interpretations; these vary in value, and communication between them occurs through reality, so is subject to the same weakness. This means that there is no single symbolic or token communication which can be said to be innately true, and since the world itself issues forth no data in symbolic form, “truth” is a property of human minds and dependent on the quality, discipline and application of those minds, and is not shared among humanity collectively.
This applies less to the idea of a narrative within, say, a death metal album, that to the idea of a narrative describing our world and universal values to address it. However, individual interpretations can more closely approximate an understanding of reality, even if they cannot be communicated because communication depends on symbolic parity between all parties, which in turn depends on the ability to understand those symbols in roughly the same way. In ancient times, that viewpoint was called “esotericism” because it suggested that reality revealed its truths to those who were ready for them, with both a sense of knowledge being cumulative and not open to all people. A genius or highly talented person sees a different truth than others, thus this truth is localized to that person, and cannot be shared by the act of encoding it in symbols and speaking or writing them to others.
Taking this path through postmodern reveals that while postmodernism “flouts conventions”, as the article states, flouting conventions is not the total of postmodernism; it is one attribute, and it occurs not in and of itself but for the sake of undermining the narrative. This brings us to the core of Pilgrim’s analysis of Obscura:
In its abundant jagged outcroppings and in its constant search for the next unorthodox detour, Obscura shortchanges the simple truth that holds up metal and indeed all ‘essential’ music, that of relating an idea through sound.
I will simplify this in a grotesque but accurate way: tail wags dog. Instead of technique being used as a means of expressing an idea, the technique becomes the goal and the idea is filled in afterwards to unite the different technical parts. This common criticism of metal rings true in almost all disorganized works because the band wrote a bunch of riffs, adjusted rhythm like a big paper bag to fit them all together, and then called it a “song” despite having nothing in common between its parts, and thus no emergent atmosphere or communication which makes the whole more than the sum of the parts. This leaves us with the criticism of Obscura as failing to maintain a narrative, and whether this is related to the postmodern distrust of narratives, which itself could constitute a narrative. We could create a thesis of history describing humanity as a successive series of escapes from previously limiting narratives to new ones, but that then portrays postmodernism entirely as a form of deconstruction, which while compatible with the notion of extreme skepticism fails to capture the Nietzschean notion of “re-evaluation of all values” which is the second half of the postmodern process: (1) deconstruct and (2) reconstruct, from reality (correspondence) and not internal grammars (coherence).
The only remaining question is to analyze the music itself and see if its parts in fact associate in some way as to make a meaningful whole, which is the question here; postmodernism has served as a useful filter for introduction but not really a guide to how to do this. We are back to using the same compositional analysis that would apply to any death metal release, or any through-composed music.
Specifically, Pilgrim identifies the lack of a melodic or structural center:
Conventional melody is used not as the driving force behind the songs heard on this album, but as ballast to the band’s almost painful need to expand the template of extreme metal prevalent till then.
At this point my own narrative must switch to the incredibly general in lieu of analyzing each song. My take on this album is that Gorguts wrote an album in the style of The Erosion of Sanity and then, possibly through the work of Steve Hurdle, added strong melodic continuity. Then, they chopped it and re-arranged it so that riffs introduced themselves both in “backward” order of distilling from more texturally complex to most melodically clear, and arranged them so that the melody was introduced in a pattern which broke up its normal flow in order to introduce pieces in a sequence that created another emotional impression, then assembling it from its conclusion for the final part of the song. This seems to me both not the tail wags dog approach, but also a use of technique over composition, but in this case it was effective because the music was already composed and was modified with an additional layer of complexity and perhaps, some anticipatory contrarianism, in order to make its labyrinthine journey of fragmentary melodies into more of a puzzle assembled in the mind of the listener, not unlike how postmodern novels like Naked Lunch separated a story into vignettes and multiple character/setting groups in order to disguise it and force the reader to assemble it in the abstract, before repeating it in a finale in more concrete form.
However, it seems to me that the core of Pilgrim’s essay is his listing of seven attributes of metal, and that perhaps his intent is to use Gorguts and postmodernism as a point to speak about metal as both having postmodern attributes, and opposing postmodernism by asserting a narrative construction of its own. In this, metal may be a nihilistic exception to the norm of postmodernism, in that while it distrusts the contemporary narrative, and negates the idea of inherent truth/knowledge/communication, it asserts that it can portray reality in a fragment in such a way that others can appreciate it. Regarding the charges of amateurism, Pilgrim makes some solid points. The fixation on iconoclasm and paradigm-inversion, which itself strengthens a narrative by the fact that exceptions tend to prove the rule, and deliberately “whacky” permutations of arrangement draw skepticism, and deservedly so. The third possibility offered by this author is that like most works of art, parts of Obscura are sincere and insightful, and other parts are bullshit designed “outward in,” or from appearance to core, meaning that they communicate little or were modified to express something convenient after the fact. If taken as a whole however, the album minimizes these parts by fitting them within other songs that attract less trivial attention. Where Pilgrim seems proven right to me is through recent Gorguts output which emphasizes mysticism of the trivial as a means of enhancing the self-estimation of its listeners, much as Opeth and Meshuggah built a cottage industry around making simple music seem complex to attract low self-esteem fans who want bragging and pretense rights over their friends; where he falls short is that From Wisdom To Hate, while a more rushed and uneven album, further develops the techniques on Obscura.
Two of the worst fates in the world: to not know why people like what you do, and to get thrown into the big bin marked “not bad” that contains 99% of human endeavors which are quickly forgotten.
Colored Sands, which sees release today, attempts to recapture the magic of Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate. On the surface, one would see these as a collection of techniques: off-time riffs, odd chord voicings, “deep” lyrics and an affinity for classical music.
Unfortunately, that’s all Gorguts took from their back catalog.
As said above, this reviews damns this CD with the faint praise of “not bad.” It’s much better than the rest of the tek-deth genre, but that’s sort of like saying that chainsaw dismemberment is better than Evola. The real problem with Colored Sands is that it’s transparent.
You can imagine a group of guys sitting in a room thinking, “How do we make a death metal album edgy?” For starters, they throw in the list of techniques I mentioned. But then they use very similar rhythms, song structures, riff types and even sequence of chord voicings.
We could call this “the Opeth effect”: for an instant audience, make music that sounds difficult but in fact is moron-simple and predictable, because it allows people to pose at being elite. It’s in full effect here, as bad as on the second Cynic album. It’s progressive music for pop fans.
Most of us had higher expectations because Gorguts traditionally held themselves to a higher standard. But what’s here is 50% traditional death metal and 50% tech-deth dressed up as prog, and it’s boring. The best part is the brief classical piece in the style of the Russians, which is both populist and not all that exciting in the convention of that style.
The might Gorguts, who added atmosphere to thunderous Florida-style death metal before deviating into labyrithine riff progressive death metal on Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate, and then fading into obscurity with only one resurrecting as modern metalcore band Negativa, plan to return on September 3 with a new album entitled Colored Sands and a tour to follow.
If you don’t hear the heavy metal world pounding on the door to demand to hear it, here is why: the name is obviously of the type that is used by modern metal bands, including metalcore and “progressive metal” that is mostly indie with some progressive and very little metal, and thus, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get Considered Dead II, or even Obscura II. In fact, what it sounds like we are going to get is another modern metal album that, because it has abandoned what it is to be metal in spirit and composition, is a diverse collage of bits in the modern style, which means a giant indecisive waffle that leaves you feeling empty after consumption.
As the staff optimist here at DeathMetal.org, I am hoping otherwise, and putting my trust in Luc Lemay and team’s solid record in the past. However, the team is entirely different now, except for Lemay. Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) is on rhythm guitars, Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia) on bass and John Longstreth (Origin, Angelcorpse) on drums. This also makes metalheads uneasy, because no matter how much they “love true metal,” Marston and Hufnagel are from a hipster metalcore band.
Still, we preserve optimism. The hope is that Gorguts will make something interesting. That excludes technical metalcore. I would rather they released a rockabilly record that join the stupid and horrible trend of mixing Fugazi, frenetic 1970s jazz fusion, and a few metal riffs and calling it “innovation” when by definition it’s a recycling of past ideas. Time will tell, and we can only hope that Gorguts rise above the pack yet again and bring us a vision of something profound instead of something compliant.
The twee indie hipster ironists at A.V. Club put out their list of the 100 metal albums of the decade, forgetting of course that what we, the listeners, need is”quality over quantity.” We don’t have endless time, money, or even bandwidth to explore all the goofy stuff that seems nuanced and interesting to a reviewer who will listen to it twice in his lifetime, once to write the review and once before he shuffles that promo CD on to Half Price.
This list is not going to make me friends at big labels who want you to pick up the latest dreck by some indie rock band that started playing metal ironically. It won’t win you scene points with the kvlt and trve. It will surely not impress your friends with how open-minded, cool and different you are. What it will do is re-awaken your interest in some of the best metal made during this decade, even if it was so good there was no need to make drama about it, and so it slipped under our radar as the years went by.
Demoncy – Joined in Darkness (1999, Baphomet)
When black metal had just discovered keyboards and carnival music, this lo-fi roar straight out of hell cut through the fat and pared our ears to the bone. Sounding like Incantation and Havohej, its primitive riffs in archly elegant songs retain their power a decade later.
Profanatica – Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007, Hell’s Headbangers)
For a return later in their career, Profanatica took the primal riffing of their earlier albums and worked it into longer melodies like a Swedish death metal band, creating an enduring mood of occult darkness.
Antaeus – Cut Your Flesh and Worship Satan (2000, Baphomet)
This album sounds like battle, with clipped rhythms and clashing riffs, but out of that emerges a sublime sense of melody in one of the last albums to really uphold the old school of early 1990s black metal.
At War With Self – Torn Between Dimensions (2005, Free Electric Sound)
Most technical metal is an oil-and-water separation, but At War With Self find a voice that smoothly wraps a progressive/jazz jam session around metal riffs and emotions.
Immolation – Unholy Cult (2002, Olympic)
Immolation achieve a rarity: technical death metal that doesn’t aim for highbrow technique, but a solid slamming songwriting technique that never leaves you in confusion, and on this album, the guitar fireworks match the fire of the stories told by these vivid, evocative songs.
Beherit – Engram (2009, Spinefarm)
As if attempting to sum up the past twenty years of black metal, Beherit makes an album in the style of early Bathory but updates it with quirk and insight, etching a complex sigil that requires repeated listening to decode.
Skepticism – Alloy (2008, Red Stream)
Funeral doom hangs drooping waves of distorted noise upon mortuary keyboards, dragging us through a dirge of misery, but Skepticism make it sound like an interesting mindset we could explore and even enjoy.
Ildjarn, with its minimalistic riffs and incessant high-speed drumming, is a band that people either love or hate based on how it sounds, but hidden in all that noise are transcendent short compositions that stroke the inner brain.
Gorguts – From Wisdom To Hate (Olympic, 2001)
Gorguts takes their subtly melodic brutal death metal and pulls it inside out to make mechanistic, complex song constructions that followed classical patterns and used multiple themes.
Summoning – Oath Bound (2006, Napalm)
To bring the sound of ancient Hobbit-infused landscapes into black metal, Summoning slowed it down but played at higher registers and faster than doom bands, interweaving keyboards and longer guitar riffs to create an ambient metal sound.
Blaspherian – Allegiance To The Will Of Damnation (2007, Blood Harvest)
Blaspherian prove underground old school death metal is not dead with this music in the style of 1991, but with the wisdom of years of atmospheric metal channeled into these riffs that resemble a subconscious thought with their eerily familiar rhythms and shapes.
Celtic Frost – Monotheist (2006, Century Media)
Returning from a recent history of false starts, Celtic Frost get back to their 1987 sensibility and modernize it, mixing industrial, gothic, speed metal and morbid death metal into an energetic but necrotic album.
Graveland – Memory and Destiny (2002, No Colours)
To be epic, black metal needs to transport us from The Now to the vast and lawless past, a frontier that Graveland opens wide with their martial, Conan-influenced black metal.
Cosmic Atrophy – Codex Incubo (2008, Metalbolic)
Just as metal gets codified, Cosmic Atrophy return to put the weird back into metal with a unique voice inspired by Demilich, Timeghoul, Voivod and all other metal bands from the other side.
Avzhia – The Key of Throne (2004, Old War)
Melding flowing black metal with militant fast drums, Avzhia take over where Emperor left off and throw in the new world sense of urgency and gritty, nihilistic, feral and crafty battle.
Legion Of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh (2008, Zyklon-B)
Like the roar of a hunting lion, this album makes destructive sound into a signal to attack, joining raw black metal riffs and melodic keyboards for a dreamlike listening experience.
Slayer – World Painted Blood (2009, American)
After long years of not having an artistic voice, and trying everyone else’s vision by their own, Slayer drop most of the “modern metal” influences and pick up where 1992 left off, in simpler songs that use rock-style pocket rhythm but keep the classic acerbic Slayer riffs.
Sammath – Triumph in Hatred (2009, Folter)
You might think black metal died and got so mixed with other styles it had no voice, but Sammath have mixed death metal technique carefully into their black metal songs, making a testimony toward aggression that sounds like Zyklon-B merged with Angelcorpse.
Motorhead – Inferno (2004, Sanctuary)
Motorhead have made a career of not changing their basic approach, and “Inferno” is no exception, fitting on the shelf next to the others but also being tighter, faster and darker than most of them.
Asphyx – Death… The Brutal Way (2009, Ibex Throne)
Performing the rare trick of coming back 20 years later with an album as good and un-diluted as their first, Asphyx bring you heavy basic riffs and lots of repetition, but song structures that emphasize the profundity of contrast and give these songs spacious atmosphere.
Guitarist Marlon Friday of demo band Abhorrent was kind enough to lend us his ears and voice for a brief interview on the state of death metal, and the direction this new act — which is challenging the stagnation of a genre too molded by its interpretation of fan expectations to be anything but stagnant — takes as it tackles the question of 21st century death metal.
When did you form Abhorrent, what were your previous projects, what’s the state of the band and who’s in it, and what is your status now?
Abhorrent was formed mid-2007 after some of our previous projects either didn’t go anywhere, or weren’t taken seriously. Previous projects were Erzebet and Misogyny, the latter, not taken too seriously, obviously. Abhorrent is Marlon Friday on guitar(s) and Lyle Cooper on Drums. We are currently looking for new members to fill in the vacant duties of the band. Also, we are looking to finish mixing and mastering our 3 song promo, and hoping to send it out to certain interested labels.
What are your goals in forming Abhorrent? Are there extra-musical goals (chicks, ideology, tour the world) as well as musical goals?
Music consumes both of our lives, and without it, we wouldn’t be who we are today. Abhorrent is an outlet of both emotion and ideology, which will be more present in the lyrical matter.
Add to the reckoning all whom thou hast known, one after another. One man after burying another has been laid out dead, and another buries him: and all this in a short time. To conclude, always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are, and what was yesterday a little mucus to-morrow will be a mummy or ashes. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Do you think a genre of unpopular “popular music” like death metal and/or black metal can be a form of art?
Of course, absolutely. It not only can be a form of art, but, in my mind it is and will always be an artistic expression.
What distinguishes art from entertainment, and if they overlap, is there a difference in goals between the two?
Well, in the context of music, I believe their is a certain overlapping of the two. Creating the music is the art form, while playing it live is the entertainment side… similar to art galleries, having people show up and look at the selection of art pieces in the exhibit is a form of entertainment.
Do you think heavy metal has a distinctive worldview different from that of “normal” people? Is worldview a grounding to an ideology, and can art have either? Do you think the worldviews and or ideologies of artists shape the kind of music they produce?
Yes, I do believe that heavy metal retains a certain world view that differs from the main populace. The worldview is a foundation for ideology and I believe wholeheartedly that can have both. Ideologies can shape the music in the creative process, and I believe it does a lot to define the type of sound the artist is going for. Be it abrasive or easy on the ears, or what have you.
Do you think death metal musicians converge on the genre because it sounds like thoughts or worldviews, and if so, does this produce any compatibility between views?
I think death metal musicians share, to an extent, certain views and feelings and that is a big reason that the “scene” started and evolved into what it is or isn’t today. There is definitely a compatibility between views, but that isn’t always the case.
If sound is like paint, and we use different techniques and portray different things in our paintings, what does it say when a genre sounds similar and has similar topic matter and imagery? can the genre be said to have a philosophy or culture of its own?
Varying genres of music can definitely have a unified ideology/philosophy, which helps bring artists and listeners alike to a more unified ground.
Rumor has it that Abhorrent is considering being the first all-instrumental death metal band. what are the additional burdens on songwriters of writing songs without vocals?
Not sure if we would be the first, but, yes, this is a possibility. To have an all instrumental band, the music has to have an extra quality to it, a certain appeal that will be able to grab the audience and keep them listening. Since there would be no lyrics, it would be up to us to create an atmosphere and keep from diverting the listeners attention.
How do you conceive of a song: do you start with a riff, an abstract idea, an emotion, or a structure?
It all depends on the time and place. I might have a riff in my head, or a drumbeat or just be in a certain mood.
What are your influences, and are these shared among band members, and if not wholly, what other influences do they have?
When writing the music we don’t try and think … “Okay, these 3 bands influenced this song so let’s write something like it.” We just let the music flow and morph it as we go along. Although, you could probably tell some of my favourite bands (Gorguts) have leaked a bit into the riffs that I write.
Of the last ten years of metal, what are the standouts to you? what about other genres — what were the most influential and best works?
Gorguts – Obscura and From Wisdom To Hate
Adramelech – Pure Blood Doom
Immolation – Close To A World Below
Spawn of Possession – Cabinet and Noctambulant (to a lesser extent)
Martyr – Feeding The Abscess
Augury – Concealed
Anata – Under A Stone With No Inscription
Psycroptic – The Scepter Of The Ancients
Defeated Sanity – Prelude To The Tragedy, Psalms of The Moribund
Deathspell Omega – Fas, Ite Maledicti In Ignem Aeternum, Si Monvmentvm Reqvires Circvmspicere, and Kenose are all beyond words as well.
Drudkh – Most of their work.
Negura Bunget – Omwww
Agalloch – All of their material.
Emperor – Anthems To The Welkin At Dusk, IX Equilibrium, Prometheus
Among tons of others.
Some have said that death metal and black metal use “narrative” composition, where a series of riffs are motifs that evolve toward a passage between states of mind for the listener. is this true, and if so, how is it reflected in your songwriting?
It can be said about a lot of bands, but when I write material for Abhorrent, there is no set formula, it just evolves and evolves from there.
Do not look around thee to discover other men’s ruling principles, but look straight to this, to what nature leads thee, both the universal nature through the things which happen to thee, and thy own nature through the acts which must be done by thee. But every being ought to do that which is according to its constitution; and all other things have been constituted for the sake of rational beings, just as among irrational things the inferior for the sake of the superior, but therational for the sake of one another.
– Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
What brands/models of guitars/amplifiers do you use, and what equipment/software do you use to record?
For the promo we recently recorded, I used: Jackson DKMG
Engl Fireball head
Mesa Dual Rectifier Over-sized Cab
and a Bugera head for the other guitar track.
Lyle (drums) used:
Mapex 5 piece
Sabian and Zildjian Cymbals
DW 9000 pedals
To record we used a motu 12 pre for the drums, with an assortment of different mics, with Cubase. Guitars were recorded DI and reamped with the ENGL and Bugera.
We’ve gone through another period, like that of the late 1970s, where metal has lost direction and started to be absorbed by rock music. Is a change in style needed, or is change in direction expressed in another direction? What do you think the metal of next decade will look like?
There are so many different variations of “metal” that incorporate completely different types of music, some of them lose base with the “traditional” style, but others don’t stray too far from a defined line. In the next decade I can’t even imagine what new types of metal music there will be. Here’s to hoping the quality of music increases exponentially.
What is the best way for fans to contact you and hear your music?
You can email email@example.com to contact the band, and the best place to listen to our music, as of now, is at www.myspace.com/abhorrentdm.
Some people prefer a scene, others a community, still others like to strike out on their own. How effective are scenes and communities in concentrating listeners who can appreciate similar approaches to music, and how much do they simply raise the expectation of clone music and drag the community down to a lowest common denominator?
A “scene” can be both beneficial and detrimental to the quality of music that is produced. It does give an outlet to a group of unified individuals who have similar tastes in music, but also, on the downside… some bands may think they have to keep releasing the same type of albums over and over because “that’s what the scene expects”, thus, never evolving, and never doing anything new.
Then, I said, the business of us who are the founders of the State will be to compel the best minds to attain that knowledge which we have already shown to be the greatest of all they must continue to ascend until they arrive at the good; but when they have ascended and seen enough we must not allow them to do as they do now.
What do you mean?
I mean that they remain in the upper world: but this must not be allowed; they must be made to descend again among the prisoners in the den, and partake of their labors and honors, whether they are worth having or not.
Jonas Peter Anderson strode across the deserted alley as the wind blew against his face, making his hair blow and blurr his view. He wasn’t wearing his glasses today as that would not match his personal and artistic projection of the self to the world: combat boots, black jeans, heavy bullet-studded belt, Ofermod Sol Nox t-shirt and a sleeveless black hoodie over it. People said that at his 33 years of age, Jonas should put aside the act, become self-sufficient and stop wasting his mother’s money on beer six-packs, vinyls and luxurious editions of occult literature from Ixaxxar Publications and Theion Publishing. But he did not care —his Satanic identity was more important to him than anything else in this world. Besides, it had been a long time since that fateful day 20 years ago, when he had decided to leave behind his Christian name. He only responded to Agnellus now —unless it was his mother calling him downstairs for dinner, in which case “Jonas, darling” would do. In the world of forums and e-mails, however, the International Satanic Brotherhood knew him as Frater Agnellus. (more…)