I remember when I first realized that it doesn’t matter if a band clones its style. I was listening to the first General Surgery and thinking that, while it was basically a Carcass clone, it was also good. Pathologist followed that.
Funeral Circle is an unabashed and faithful Candlemass clone that manages to extend this style in a new direction through the band’s personality, which is slightly less purely dark than Candlemass’s. As a result, we end up with a doom metal band that puts more of an emphasis on epic atmosphere than purely doom atmosphere.
While this release does not have the fully formed personality that Candlemass did, it creates a middle of the room entry point to epic doom. Melodies sometimes borrow from alternative rock, folk and country; riffs are brought from the past with a sensibility derived from power metal, just slowed down. Sometimes, as in power metal, we hear a melodic sense similar to that of religious music.
Funeral Circle as a result is an enjoyable venture into creativity where atmosphere is the goal instead of crushing riffs or catchy choruses. This makes for a listening experience that like ambient music, hopes to store itself in the background and color consciousness, not abruptly direct it.
FORTRESS EUROPE (The Big Shiny Prison Vol II)’ is the sequel to 2009’s ‘THE BIG SHINY PRISON (Volume One)’ and chronicles the authors journey through the European Counterculture in 2011.
This is a nonfiction road book/music journalism expose which defies all conventions, existing in the territory of Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road,’ Henry Miller’s ‘Tropic of Cancer’ and Hunter S. Thompson’s “Fear & Loathing In Las Vegas.’ This modern version of such writing follows author Ryan Bartek as he reveals a postmodern, dystopian vision of the European counterculture while interviewing a number of living legends face to face and drudging through the gutters of society.
‘FORTRESS EUROPE (The Big Shiny Prison Vol. II)’ covers all forms of extreme metal, punk rock, industrial, experimental, rock & electronic and features appearances/interviews with members of Brutal Truth, Master, Agathocles, Wolfbrigade, Rotting Christ, Killing Joke, Funeral Winds, Nahemah, Enochian Crescent, Moonsorrow, LAIBACH, Defeated Sanity, First Blood, Hello Bastards, Abortion, Panthiest, Arkangel, HATE, Repulsione, Dehuman, General Surgery, Corpus Christii, Fides Inversa, Excavated, Primordial, Splitter, Pyramido, Black Breath, Ingurgitating Oblivion, El Schlong, Spacemen 3 & legendary Detroit writer/60’s radical John Sinclair and more.
Interview with the author on Berlin TV:
At least, I hope he does. A few mainstream metal journalists have finally noticed that Adam Gadahn, now ascending in al-Qaeda thanks to the untimely assassination of Osama bin Laden, wrote about death metal back in the day:
DAMNATION – Volume Two (demo)
San Diego, California trio DAMNATION have been playing together since
late 1990, and Volume Two, their second effort (naturally), is a
professionally done, musically mature release that, unfortunately, is
lacking in the songwriting department. The two-song tape features rather
boring lyrics about insanity and nightmares, generic Sodom/Kreator style
thrash/death, and monotone Jorgen Sandstrom-style vocals. That said, the
songs do grow on you after a few listens, but I haven’t had the urge to
constantly replay them, as I did with, say, Timeghoul!! As I said, the
cassette is pro-packed and recorded, with excellent production (this is
the sound Timeghoul should have had) courtesy of a 24-track studio and a
great purple logo on the cover! Fans of Possessed and other early
Death/thrash will dig this.
GENERAL SURGERY – Necrology EP (Relapse)
Although this was recorded in November, 1990, this was only recently
released by Relapse Records. This is basically a Swedish “supergroup” of
death, featuring members of Dismember, Afflicted and Creamatory, plus
Exit-13. The 5 songs on this musically draw a lot from old Carcass, but
with a more direct, straight-forward feel and much better production
(courtesy of good ol’ reliable Sunlight Studios and good ol’ reliable Tomas
Skoksberg). Lyrically, the quote on the back cover pretty much sums it up:
“Murder is the only way to kill time”. “Severe Catatonia in Pathology” is
the sickest on the disk, with the happy overtones. Also the opening
instrumental “Ominous Lamentation” will be of interest. With nice
packaging and production, this is a worthy addition to any Death/Gore
HELLBOUND – Apocalyptic Visions (demo ’92)
Although New York’s Hellbound call themselves a Death/thrash band,
I tend to disagree with that. To my ears, they sound more like a thrashier
version of Atheist or Sadus, possessing the prominent bass guitar &
screaming vocals, respectively, of those bands, but with the simpler, less
technical approach of bands like Vio-lence, D.R.I., or Exodus. Their
drummer, however, has his own very cool style that “demands to be
heard”! Amazing that this is their debut! Hellbound showcase their
professionality in both instruments & songwriting throughout the four
tunes on Apocalyptic Visions. The last two songs, “My Guilt is Silence”
and “Infernal Ecstasy”, absolutely rage!!! And the icing on the cake is the
stunning production – recorded on a 16-track machine, all instruments can
be heard clearly, with drums and bass shining through especially! Quite a
debut! HB should have a new demo out by the time you read this, but get
their brutal first effort by sending a blank tape and return postage
ENRAPTURED – 7 Song Demo ’92 (Demo)
This is actually a combination of the unreleased 5-song Reconstrued
Malfeasance demo and a new 2-song demo. Although the “Reconstrued”
tunes, recorded as a 4 piece (Tino Lesicco on drums/vocals, Pierce Totty
on Bass, Jason Smith on guitar and Justin Jones on guitar) and “included
as bonus tracks because of the poor sound quality”, the 2 newsies with 2
new members (Dan Stoops, vocals and David Smith, 2nd guitar) actually
have about the same sound and production. While Enraptured improved
their musicianship in the 4 months between recording “The Downfall of
Christianity” and “Abortion Consumed”, they show a decrease in
songwriting skill, The older tunes like “The Execration” and “Probe the
Flesh” contain headbangable Slayer/Carcass type riffs and deep, growly
Karl Willetts/Barney Greenway style vocals. The new tracks, however,
are generic highspeed Cannibal Corpse or Obituary-esque noise with
annoyingly loud vocals and incessant double bass drumming. My advice:
pick up this demo for the 5 excellent bonus tracks and ignore the 2 cheesy
commercial fag songs.
TIMEGHOUL – Tumultuous Travelings (demo)
Perhaps the best demo I’ve heard since I began listening to Death
Metal/Grindcore less than a year ago is Timeghoul’s debut 4-song,
Tumultuous Travelings. Mixing elements of Immolation, Cathedral, Brutal
Truth and Suffocation, this Foristell, Missouri quartet rage through “Rain-
wound”, “The Siege”, “Gutspawn”, & “Infinity Coda”, with unmatched
intensity and style. All the songs run over 5 minutes (“The Siege” is the
longest), and much variation is contained within. Drummer Tony Holman
can go from a high-speed “blast” beat, to a slow rhythm, and back to a
fast part in the blink of an eye! Jeff Hayden’s vocals are brutal but
different: Check out the singing part on “Siege” and the special FX on
“Infinity Coda”! The band’s instrumental ability is second to none, as are
their song writing skills, but this otherwise top-notch tape is marred by
bad sound. There’s much flutter and warble, and the volume is rather low.
With Timeghoul’s excellent musicianship, it’s a wonder that they haven’t
been signed yet!! So hey! If anyone from Earache or Relapse or whoever is
reading this, come on!! Pick up a pen and ink ’em right now! It would be a
shame if Timeghoul broke up before recording at least one album
professionally! But until then, we’ve got this masterpiece!
These are from Xenocide Zine, an old school death metal zine from 1992-1993 which featured many of the bands we regard today as the canon of death metal. Do you want to find out more about the origins of this music? Hit the Xenocide Zine page and check out their blasts from the past.
While you’re at it, you might be able to enjoy something new from the editor of that zine, Jon Konrath. He took his death metal fueled angst and criticism of modern society, and channeled it through a William S. Burroughs/David Foster Wallace/Neal Stephenson filter to come up with gonzo postmodern flash-fiction. You can read his latest novel, Rumored to Exist, in print or on your Kindle.
Konrath went on to write for Metal Curse, along with Vijay Prozak and other old schoolers. We wish Mr. Konrath luck in his literary career, especially since he crams more internal references to death metal lyrics into literature than anyone since… well, anyone. Not too many people write about the metal o’ death.
As for Mr. Gadahn, who is remembered fondly around here, we hope he takes over al-Qaeda and uses his new power to fight modern civilization. If Samuel Huntington is right, al-Qaeda is part of a “clash of civilizations” where those who want traditional society oppose the modern type of liberal democratic consumerist society, which death metal also seems to hate (with good cause: plastic trash is poison). This could give more people insight into what dissidents from Nietzsche to al-Qaeda are all about.
God is love, they tell me, and that universal brotherhood is the way to peace and happiness. But I’d rather have answers than peace, and I’d rather have really intense peaks of experience than absence from conflict. This is most true in music: absence of hatred, war, chaos, loss, tragedy, sodomy and demons means boredom and lots of twee “mixed emotions” poignant ironic dweeb-rock that some scenester in plaid and chains is going to lord over me like the hidden magics of Merlin. Attention hipsters: your music isn’t special. In fact, you’re only pretending it’s special because it’s not and you want a reason to feel really cool and to try to make me feel like the dweeb. But then again, I’m not the one wearing an ironic ensemble designed to tell the world I’m not a sheep. Because telling the world you’re not a sheep is not only transparent, it’s also one good way to get trolled by a large corporation. We’re here to dodge the sheep/anti-sheep dichotomy and just look for interesting music. Welcome again to Sadistic Metal Reviews.
Iron Age – The Sleeping Eye
Many things have two masters, but this band has two souls. The first sounds a lot like Manilla Road, with more of the aggression of later Destruction and the progressive vibe of Atrophy, with the nu-hardcore vocals of later At the Gates. The second is early alt/indie progressive speed and doom metal that sounds like a cross between Sabbat (UK) and St. Vitus, or any of the doomy hard-rock influenced bands like Sacrilege (“Turn Back Trilobite”). Lead guitar is the real standout, with solos that seem to wander around the obvious but chart a path right for the major theme and then spell it out offhandedly, as if unveiling a card trick, without losing the musician’s sense of spirit and audience that keeps them from being gimmick. Riffs are more of the European style, with one or two chords offset against a rhythm played in fairly inconsequential chords or open strings. From this the band modulates into its second soul, one in which a good Sabbathian doom riff must play out evenly against a changing backdrop of tempo, which through its permutations selects variations and complements to that theme. Compared to underground metal, this sounds sparse and somewhat like a Model T, with tempos and architectures of an earlier time. However, it’s quite good and puts both most doom metal bands and most speed metal bands from the post-1994 era to shame.
Evoken – Antithesis of Light
From the epic doom category inhabited by Skepticism and Disembowelment, Evoken make dark long slow heavy metal with melodic underpinnings and plenty of slow chords and arpeggios. They create as a result a mood of lightness and suspension of belief in the midst of a glacial motion, grinding forward into minor key melodies. On the whole, it is lighter and more conventional heavy metal than Skepticism, which is its closest stylistic cousin. The music is good but not particularly compelling.
Wardruna – Runaljod – Gap Var Ginnunga
Remember how hippies used to gather at any kind of “cultural” event to play music, and how, just like with the Grateful Dead, it was impossible to tell the difference between songs? Wardruna updates the hippie model by using traditional Norse instruments and chants in what are basically organic dub pieces. Organized around a beat, they grow through layers of vocals, jawharp, and other instruments, but layers come and go in a cyclic pattern which means that at some point the dub fades toward the horizon. It’s a neat experiment but not very listenable, mainly because in order to keep content bland, it does not let these songs breathe or grow.
Hopewell – Good Good Desperation
Technically, I s’pose, this is post-rock. Really it’s just a very cool updated hippie jam from the 1970s. Think MC5 in collision with the Grateful Dead as if executed by Motorhead and you get the general idea. Advantages are that it’s instrumentally dense rock music that’s still easy to listen to; downside is that it’s still stranded in rock ‘n roll land where everything must bounce and be dramatic. This sort of kills the overall dynamic. Parts of this are a David Bowie love fest, and other parts are reminiscent of a dark rock version of Sisters of Mercy. But on the whole, the bouncy ironic party atmosphere — like Talking Heads colliding with Faith No More — swallows up everything else, reducing it to a predictable cycle.
Caspian – Tertia
Post-rock with few vocal additions that works at building a mood through ambient repetition, using layers sparsely and mostly working a noisy but gentle mantle of sound, this CD is one of my recent favorites — for background use. It’s not too dissimilar to the forest style of black metal where you have droning riffs build up, then a solo that sounds designed for traditional instruments, and a slow fading away. It’s also very close to guitar ambient like Robert Fripp, but with active drums in the background and frequent use of punk/black metal/shoegaze hybrid riffs. It’s soft like a fountain in a garden, sweet like that well-intentioned nerd who tried to take your sister to a date at the Natural History museum, but also, kind of boring on repeated listening.
Meshuggah – Contradictions Collapse
With all the attention given to retro speed metal, it’s important to mention the best releases from Meshuggah. Clearly this band always intended to work jazzy technique into Metallica-style speed metal with Prong influences, meaning a more flexible sense of rhythm and harmony, in addition to a death metal-descended vigorous riff salad that often re-uses riffs at different tempos or broken into puzzle pieces and reassembled in different order and scalar direction. Solos are the kind of diminished scale, oblique harmony noodling that made jazz fusion fun for the first few years. There’s a bit of bombastic bounce in the Exhorder/Pantera style of howling verses and riot shout choruses, which makes this album sound dated. I can also pick up Destruction and Nuclear Assault influences. Hetfield influenced these vocals. This is by far the best thing this band have done because it shows them at their most honest making music they’d like to hear and judging by the subtlety of it relative to their later works, this was the last time they were freed from a cynical vision of their audience as wankers who love anything that sounds “technical” as it builds up their own egos. Other than the style being abrasively 1980s I’d listen to this, which I cannot say for anything else this band did save None, their EP before they got fully cynical and dollar sign oriented.
Heaven and Hell – The Devil You Know
This album represents a huge improvement on other Sabbath-related efforts over the last decade. Borrowing a page from the AC/DC book, it focuses on simple rhythms and movie soundtrack “epic” riffs mixed in with the heavy metal standards. Lyrics manage to capture a sense of the vaguely sinister and ironic, and vocalist Ronnie James Dio delivers them with even-handed clarity and force. The magical sense of songs developing into some protean animal unknown to their origins is not here, but the full dose of classic heavy metal feel with the relentless energy of contemporary AOR makes up for it. Instrumentalism is reined back; Iommi’s solos are fragmentary and cut from whole cloth, and bass follows guitar, which sticks to middle-of-the-road power chord riffs, but the result is not bad. It’s easy to listen to and enjoy with half a brain, and for that has some pleasant melodies and rhythms, all while keeping an almost trademark heavy metal sense of obsession with the dark, conspiratorial, occult, and inverted symbols. If you can imagine Mob Rules hybridized with Blow Up Your Video with a touch of Motorhead at the fringes, you can see why this album has more appeal than the hidebound retro attempts of other classic bands.
Lugubrum – Winterstones
We all try to like this. It’s Burzum-technique applied to a doom metal band. So it trudges, then picks us up with a little melody, then goes back into the deep harmony. Again and again. Without making any really clear points, or showing us an adventure not of our own projection. So after awhile, hey look what’s on TV — you know, they’re showing those commercials again with the annoying chick with the hipster hair. I was doing something, and there’s some kind of music on in the background, but it seems really generic. What the heck? Oh, Lugubrum. Not a bad effort but nothing I want to hear again. This artist needs to take some risks and show us what’s in his/her/its soul.
Christ Inversion – Obey the Will of Hell
The musicians behind this demo studied their black metal well, but never quite figured out how the composition of the music differs from regular old heavy metal and punk. There’s too much emphasis on verse/chorus structures in the punk style, and leaning on harmonic “sweet spots” with trudging repetition the way heavy metal makes choruses, ending up with something that sounds very much not like black metal. Songs are pretty basic and relatively musical but not memorable. Vocals are pitch-shifted and irritating, and riffs show a ton of BEHERIT influence but none of the grace. I guess it’s OK. I also guess I don’t care since I can find 400,000 demos that meet this description.
Land of Kush – Against the Day
After a lengthy 1970s ambient noise track from which you can smell the idealism and psilocybin lifting like a cloud of morning fog, this band detours into spacious ambient rock with chanted murmur vocals over insistent beats with serial changes and extensive instrumental soloing. This is enjoyable to listen to but it’s hard to imagine putting on except as background reality tuning, which it does well: dropping us into the hopeful deconstruction of the 1970s with the savvy layering of our contemporaries. It’s like Morcheeba without the affected digital disco urban funk.
General Surgery – Corpus in Extremis
It’s unlikely the broom will ever evolve beyond what it is now and has been for a thousand years. For certain needs, the response doesn’t need to change. General Surgery have tried to escape being a Carcass tribute band by shifting their vocals to later Carcass style and trying the modern death metal thing, which basically means death metal that writes its songs like metalcore and tries to distract/annoy like nu-metal does. There’s a lot of tribute to the old school in various riffs, but just as much tribute to sped up heavy metal and modern metal. It reminds me of the recent Seance and fails for the same reasons: too busy, too ambivalent about its own style and lacking any kind of refinement of message to an insightful, profound, gradually-revealing passage through experience transferred.
Eyes of Ligeia – What the Moon Brings
In that interesting intersection of indie rock and doom metal, Eyes of Ligeia is a veteran I remember first appearing in the middle 1990s — and to their credit, they’re making the same style of music but have improved it in every way over the years. Not many bands are able to define what they want and then instead of getting wide-eyed with trying to make their style fit an audience, divert their energies toward making their content and form mate each other more ideally. Eyes of Ligeia drone quitely under rasping black metal vocals, using either carefully picked open chord riffs or power chord earthmover doom riffs, but using both in complementary pairs with background keyboards that provide a deepening sense of mood. Reminiscent of ritual music, this repeating loop of sound produces a hanging atmosphere like overtones to a chord slowed down to the milisecond scale. For many of us, appreciation of this band is natural even if we find the sub-genre — doom metal — to be too repetitive for our tastes.
The Chariot – Wars and Rumors of Wars
Thrash bands broke into two groups, the punk-style and the metal-style, although both were mixes of metal and punk.Same way with metalcore: ranty, new style hardcore defines the sound of this metalcore band. The “core” in hardcore comes from the love of abrupt riff changes and random riff combinations, with really enigmatic choruses, and here it’s put to good use so that we hear loud angry ranting that changes abruptly like a car wreck, then there’s a recognizable pseudo-emo chorus. Do we need another band like this?
Drudkh – Microcosmos
Boring candy. That’s what you need to know. Every part of this CD sounds sweet, but it’s also boring as hell because like music they play in grocery stores, there’s no change in mood. There is no journey in these songs. They turn on; there’s a mood; they throw in all sorts of stuff to obscure the fact that it’s static and dimensionless; then it ends. Sum total change in outlook: nothing. It’s Britney Spears, like Aura Noir without the aggression. Notice how heavy metal shredder guitar coexists with Burzum derivations, Graveland folkish parts, and the occasional prog metal riff. And then a cheesy heavy metal solo that meanders. What does it mean? It’s the anti-meaning, which is to say there’s no direction other than self-reference. That’s why it’s boring. It’s candy because these are like pop songs very pendulum-like in their transition between recognized forms of non-threatening order. The prog parts remind me of Kong, the black metal parts of Abyssic Hate and Ved Buens Ende crossed.
Brutal Truth – Evolution Through Revolution
Like Sounds of the Animal Kingdom, this album shows Brutal Truth with more refined technique but a lack of gestalt that decreases the status of this album as something pushing a genre forward. Instead, it’s waving the flag but does so without finding an angle of its own on the genre, so it ends up being standard grindcore played with Brutal Truth technique by arguably the most proficient musicians in the genre. There are moments of sheer brilliance in riffology, and the cynical nature of these songs more resembles early DRI than the boiled tasteless political partisanship of recent grindcore, but nothing is going to really floor you despite having many powerful aspects.
Teitanblood – Seven Chalices
After everyone in the underground was done praising this new work as a resurrection of the spirit of the 1980s, there was a brief lapse in the hype as people re-thought their extravagant praise. Now it’s time for some reviewer to come along and haul out two names: Deathspell Omega, and Blasphemy. This CD doesn’t sound anything like Deathspell Omega, but it uses the same tactic of working its aesthetic like a Hollywood fashion designer. Lush layered voices, monastic chants, interludes and lots of guitar noise during songs make this “sound like” (to our conscious minds) it has depth, richness, different experience. But like Deathspell Omega, once you strip away all that art director frippery, you find a pretty ordinary CD. In Deathspell Omega’s case, it’s a long-melody fetish derived from early Ancient. In Teitanblood’s case, it’s a desire to use Bathory’s ideas, especially vocal ideas, in a form of death metal that emphasizes doomy passages alternating with a slamming interruption of cadence. The result is laborious. Get ready to let your monkey brain get distracted by the aesthetic while very unexceptional music bleats on by like a stream
Tragedy – Nerve Damage
People kept hearing me listen to Transilvanian Hunger and they’d say, “No way dude, you need to check out Tragedy, they started this style.” I have come to the conclusion that they never heard Discharge, GBH or Sarcofago; however, they’re partially correct. Tragedy is a very metal-oriented take on what it would sound like if Disfear covered a whole bunch of Blink 182, Offspring, Ramones and Sex Pistols songs. These are melodic bouncy punk that eschews the UK82 stylings for rock-style pocket drumming and Motorhead vocals with emo chord progressions melded into standard punk. Harmonically, it’s rock music on a series of power chord shapes. Structurally, it’s sugar pop with a big dose of AC/DC and old punk. For this type of music, it’s great and extremely catchy and fun listening, but it’s going to bore anyone who got into Transilvanian Hunger or Tangerine Dream (its inspiration) and grasped how much a non-linear atmosphere expands the enjoyment of music.
TheSyre – Exist!
This CD has absolutely nothing to do with black metal and death metal. I would style it instead as a hybrid between later Metallica, Amebix and Strapping Young Lad. Most of it is speed metal riffs that ride a bouncy rhythmic pocket, then deviate into harmonically oblique fretruns borrowed from the classic days of metal and rock but informed with an odd, rock-opera sensibility that gives each one place in an evolving narrative. As a reviewer, I have avoided this band for years because for the most part I avoid speed metal, and this is very speed metal in a style like a crossing of …And Justice for All with Kill ‘Em All: hard-edged muted-strum riffs rebounding from a bold heartbeat rhythm. The odd uses of harmony are SYL-ish, but the Motorhead-cum-Exploited vocals are pure Amebix as is the expanded but theatrical song structure to this thirty-two minute piece. If this recording has an undiscovered strength, it is its ability to make refreshing and new some classic riff patterns and put them into complex songs; if it has a weakness, it’s that like Amebix, it divides up its epics with aesthetic elements like sound samples and rhythmic pauses, and so doesn’t achieve the degree of musical integration it might like.
Orthrus – Tyrants of Deception
Imagine if Helstar, Forbidden and Coroner had a big orgy and decided to spawn an offspring with death metal vocals and speed but the German-inspired speed metal of the late 1980s. Within that context, this CD plays it right down the middle: nothing new, but well-executed, if not ambitious enough to make you reach for it again.
Pest – Rest In Morbid Darkness
This is the most schizophrenic band heard recently. It thinks it’s black metal, but really it’s head cheese made of ground up Slayer riffs with big thick chunks of heavy metal, speed metal and underground remnants. It’s good if you listen to each riff, but not really distinctive, and after a few tracks it becomes clear there’s no direction other than upholding an already well-known form.
Nagelfar – Hunengrab Im Herbst
Melodic black metal. They nailed the technique, but then wrapped it around very linear songs. They avoid carnival music, but don’t make it beyond one dimension of mood. Semi-comical vocals also make this dismal, as do recycled riff styles from speed metal.
Necromantia – The Sound of Lucifer Storming Heaven
This immensely creative music uses black metal vocals but is basically Judas Priest styled heavy metal with a dose of Queen or maybe Vangelis to give it an epic character. It is admirable for its variation and mastery of the rock/heavy metal form, but might not appeal to underground listeners.
Solis Aeterna – Sol Triumphalis
If you can imagine Lord Wind with simpler instrumentation and longer phases of repetition, you can visualize the style of this entry project, although it has a worldview all its own. What makes this enjoyable is that it attacks with the bombast of a movie soundtrack, but then dissipates until it resembles a background drone. The objective seems to be a mental tuning of the listener toward moods in which one can appreciate the eternal. Like Burzum’s Baldr’s Dod, Solis Aeterna applies entry-level synthesizer sequencing skills to layers of background rhythm and slow-changing tones, over which lead keyboards riff in rough time with the tribal drums. This project will improve in clarity as time goes on, but it might be best for simply unfocusing the mind as if listening to rain at midnight.
Incest – Misogyny
This Texas band produced one demo and then vanished. They attempted to make avantgarde death metal in a style like Timeghoul and Goatlord colliding with Nuclear Death in the wings. Vocals are from the “stand back ten feet and howl at the mike” variety, and drums are surging bashing in the punk style, but guitars make spidery lead riffs wend their way between the punchier power-chorded material. There are many attempts to mix melodic riffing with more putrescent, organic rhythms, and a desire to make song structures that interrupt the cycling of riff and chorus with a series of breaks to interludes which make good use of the aforementioned melodic proggishness. This is more interesting than all but a few things we get sent yearly, but it never really manages to take wing because it comes across more as a theatre of the violent and maladjusted than something we’d want to listen to, and the lack of melodic development reduces each song to a circularity of the inconsistent. Still, I wish they’d developed this further as there’s potential here.
Crematory – Wrath from the Unknown
People have always talked about how important this band is, but it — sounding like Obscurity, Lobotomy, Suffer or Grave — resembles some of the more battering and simplistic Swedish death metal, meaning that this is almost purely rhythm riffing with little melodic or harmonic organization, and as a result, songs are unified around the synchronicity between a slower rhythm and a series of faster ones. Like the heavy American bands, Crematory favor trudging and pounding patterns with lots of walk-up and breakdown action in the middle, battering us about with the change in tempo and rhythm but in a desperate bid to be nihilistic reducing music to the threshold of simplicity. While it is not bad for that style, it is also completely uninspiring in light of the better options out there.
Actors and Actresses – Arrows
This is indie rock shaped into shoegaze with the pace of a modern jazz band, like an early version of REM playing through the haze of Ride while covering the slower songs from Sting or a postmodern Dizzy Gillespie. The major asset here, besides musicians who can do coffeehouse sparse without coming across as dead air merchants, is the purring Morrisonian vocal track, which guides us all like a hypnotic trailblazer through this forest of pop sounds reformed. It is calming, however.
Mutiilation – Sorrow Galaxies
Someone decided to make the Hollywood version of a Mutiilation album. Instead of those long, deepending moods, we’ve now got carnival music, that like carnivals tries to distract you with something new and unrelated every second. It’s like walking between the stalls at a state fair: here’s a roundabout riff, then the bumper cars, then a droning Drudkh-style black metal riff, then the fortune teller, then a Burzumy moment — and a break for cotton candy — then back to the circular passage through songs. These are very sing-song, pleasant and not dark at all. It’s questionable why you’d listen to them since you can get the same thing from Dimmu Borgir with better production and keyboards.
Gorefest – Rise to Ruin
Let me up out of this one, O narrator. No matter what people claim is “new” in metal, it always sucks and involves simpler, catchier rhythms and more rock ‘n roll touches. This CD is no exception. It’s chock full of two chord riffs that feature a lot of repetition and sudden reversal in a rhythmic hook, and then a sort of extended jam session in the middle. Like all bad metal, everything is calibrated to the ranting, riot shout pace of the vocalist, which might “work” for Sepultura’s Chaos A.D. but here just dumbs down a great band. It’s death metal if you mix it with Led Zeppelin and a crowd chanting for free bread. While no part is horrible, the sensation of listening to all of it is dizzying numbness of the forebrain.
Voivod – Infini
No one wants to give this thing a bad review because it’s like kicking Piggy, Voivod’s dead guitarist, when he’s down. However, it’s painful to listen to this thing. It sounds like Motorhead, updated through Prong, covering the Doors. Lots of really dramatic vocals, rhythmic riffs like boots scudding across a waxed floor, jaunty choruses, and occasional flashes of the lush dense chording that once defined Voivod. Percussive structure is equal parts plain and dramatic. Anytime you find yourself zoned out on the fairly unexciting riffs and the Nirvana-ish whiny vocals, there’s a constant pounding drum to remind you that you’re listening to music and you-are-glad-you-paid-for-it. Piggy was brilliant; some of the work on this is almost to that level; however, Voivod was heading downward since Negatron and this album continues the fall.
Dawnbringer – Sacrament
While this band is compared to At the Gates, a better comparison would be to Children of Bodom hybridized with Aurora Borealis. Chord progressions are very indie rock and technique comes from decades of melodic metal, while vocals sound like Motorhead, but the whole package would be more at home in the pop genre than metal. Simple-hearted melodies are in themselves good for their three-note span, but melodic development gets either so gratifying it’s impossible to appreciate, or is so predictable the other shoe dropped before the first. Nothing in particular to dislike here, but no reason to hunt it down.
Sick – Satanism Sickness Solitude
Very basic black/death metal written as if it were punk music, with simple loops of verse and chorus riffs, Sick incorporate some cyber elements like samples and vocoder but are essentially really basic metal not much changed from the early days of Metallica. While they do better than average at being this type of band, nothing really memorable stands out here, not just stylistically but compositionally — we’ve heard these combinations of notes and rhythms before, and no amount of “industrial” touches or even 400 lb transvetite divas could save us from the ordinariness of this offering.
Cryptic – Once Holy Realm
This is death metal made to sound like black metal, and it has a lot more common with a faster rippling less percussive version of standard Tampa metal than any esoteric origins. Melodic riffing fits into this framework, as does as a blackmetal rhythm, but song structures are closer to death metal riff salad and notes seem to be picked from very evident progressions. Like most reviews, this one concludes with “you won’t miss anything.”
Textures – Drawing Circles
Abstract song titles, cool conceptual name, obviously a lot of power thrown into production — oh hai, it’s post-Cynic “post-metal” metalcore that is like a cross between Jawbreaker and Spyro Gyra. And I really wanted to like this. The hackneyed punk riffs meet the hackneyed metal riffs and then explode into jazz-fusion cliches with angry Phil Anselmo(tm) vocals ranting over the whole mess. It would be impossible to give less of a shit. Where do the metalheads who like progressive/technical music go? This stuff has little in common with metal; it’s basically punk rock in that later quasi-emo style (Jawbreaker) with a lot of Pantera and nu-metal mixed in with the technical influences. That isn’t a direction, and you need to have a direction to articulate anything worthy enough of technicality.
Amorphis – Tuonela
This album is painful because it’s so well-executed, but so soulless and comical. It’s basic rock music that slightly reminds me of VNV Nation because Amorphis use picking of high notes in the background to highlight bassier foreground riffs, like if U2’s The Edge started taking on the sequenced keyboard trills VNV use in the background of their songs. There is something in the Scandinavian mentality that has them living in a paradise of social order, and longing for the grittier, weirder world of rock. Here it manifests itself in a stadium heavy metal version of the same kind of odd, introspective indie rock found on Quorthon’s “album.” They can’t quite leave metal behind, or underground metal at least, but want to make this really edgy (no pun intended) indie rock. On a musical level, it’s not particularly exceptional but is well-composed and can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the big bands for mastering the art of songwriting that makes a crowd get together and enjoy the music. Lots of bluesy solos, and odd honky-tonk keyboards overlay this busy, bombastic somewhat sentimental music. I can’t stand it but when I take my car in for an oil change, I’d prefer to hear this over the radio heavy metal in the newer, jump-metal style. But compared to classic Amorphis, on the level of expressing something artistic that is not caught up in the desires and confusions of the individuals and sees a transcendent picture of reality… this is a train wreck.
Magnum Carnage – More Unreal Than a Box of Precious Metal and Radioactive Ore
It’s hard not to like this audaciously homebrew release. If you can imagine an American version of Carcariass, meaning fast chaotic melodic heavy metal with death and black metal stylings, that’s what you’d have here. It’s more American — like a hybrid between North and South American types — in that it throws everything it can into each song and likes really abrupt breaks between genre influences. Sometimes it sounds like the Doors, sometimes it’s Judas Priest (“Painkiller” era), sometimes Led Zeppelin and then equally as frequently, a hybrid between Fallen Christ, Angel Corpse and Dissection. Mostly it’s a showcase for extremely interesting solos, fast riffs and some deft harmonic changes that give the listener the sense of a pit dropping out beneath the music and then a new pseudopod of sound rising from within it.
Gifts from Enola – From Fathoms
Let’s make one thing clear: one variant of post-rock is “techno played on guitars.” That means a layered style of composition, where themes are introduced and overlap to make patterns of their combination, and their coming and going has emotional significance. It’s an effective method. However, it’s also one that’s prone to formula since with the riff-length available to popular music, it means very simple three note fragments and literal-key soloing, which over time runs out of tricks. Gifts From Enola start with a swingin’ rhythm, and slowly add stuff in the mix so you can watch the colors change much as you would when cooking with a dough mixer. Watch the cinnamon red mix into the beige! See what happens as the egg dulls the ochre! It’s not bad but it aims for an atmosphere, and achieves degrees of lessening or intensifying, but beyond that, it is limited: the goal was not dynamic change but dynamic change serving the goal of a relatively static, semi-ritualistic emotional conditioning. It’s not terrible at all but like much music that tries to replace structure with creative repetition, rapidly becomes static. The surface creativity of this album is amazing as they blend sounds from pure noise to post-punk/emo guitar work to a dozen popular music genres including the world’s first disco grindcore, but underneath it is basically the same stuff we’ve been choking down since 1931. What’s nice about it: no vocals.
The Syre – Resistance
By casting aside any sense of genre allegiance, this French Canadian powerhouse have made their best album to date: equal parts indie, bluegrass, punk, oi, Motorhead-style metal and Devin Townsend or Probot style experimental material, this CD like a minstrel show adopts the guise of its influences to act out a theatrical journey through the different modes of human thought. Dominating by its rapidly changing aesthetic, this album is a concept piece that’s every bit as foot-tapping as Amesoeurs but has the raw aggression and bouncy determination of bands like Revenge or the aforementioned Motorhead. Clearly a lot of thought went into this. Its music does not aim to be groundbreaking, but like a concept album or modern folk, tries to unite theatre and music with idea and create an almost Jungian symbolism of the same. For those looking for an alternative to the now-hackneyed black metal, this is a deliverance in a form where one wouldn’t think to look.
Maryland Deathfest VII
May 23, 24 and 25, 2009
Sonar, Baltimore, Maryland
The summer metal festival — Europe has a number of them: Obscene Extreme Fest, Party San, Wacken. Seemingly long gone are the days when North Americans had their own Milwaukee Metalfest to make pilgrimage to at the end of every summer. Fortunately, after several years of festival lull, two metal fans decided to put on a show that featured “real” metal bands again.
The Maryland Deathfest is now an annual event that takes place for three days near the end of May. This past year featured an impeccable lineup, perhaps the very best seen at MDF thus far, a strong hint that quality and old-school death metal and grindcore remain vital forces in the greater metal world.
After making the trip down the coast to Baltimore a day early, my cohorts and I decided to attend the pre-show for a mere ten dollars. Not much was of note during this “pre-fest”. Czech grindcore band Jig-Ai showed themselves as instrumentally competent, and able to cook up a good riff, but a lack of dynamics and irritating pig squeals prevented their music from being enjoyed further. Following Jig-Ai came a few more bands that were not significant, so relaxing outside in the cool spring night was much preferred.
It was not until Lethal Aggression that the pre-fest picked up. This reviewer had never heard said band before, but they presented a charming fusion of crossover thrash, early grindcore, and the best of hardcore punk. It could be likened to Cryptic Slaughter mixed with Siege and a hint of speed metal. Their performance was quite spirited, and the band ripped through an assortment of songs with professionalism and an impermeable cohesiveness as a group.
The headliner of the night was Ghoul, a “supergroup” of sorts made up of members from Exhumed, Impaled, and Dystopia, among others. Musically, this outfit melds together speed metal, hints of death metal riffing, and a surface aesthetic very much like Danzig-era Misfits. From their ridicule of the new, ridiculous “retro-thrash” trend to their spraying of liquid all over the audience in a bottle labeled “swine flu,” their performance did not disappoint for pure satirical entertainment.
Despite the “deathfest” name, grindcore has always figured prominently into Maryland Deathfest’s festival repertoire. The grindcore scene, as with death and black metal, has come upon hard times, with very little of excitement being generated. Still, this general trend was not enough to prevent several fantastic grindcore bands (as well as a few merely good ones) from appearing on the Friday bill.
Following a good night’s sleep, my cohorts and I met with up with other friends from around the city and trekked back to the venue. It became readily apparent that Sweden’s blast-and-forget black metal crew Marduk would not be playing, due to troubles concerning their visas, which was of little loss to festival quality as a whole.
Instead, the outdoor stage schedule was modified to include Cephalic Carnage, and the indoor show would end earlier than planned. The first band of my day was Sayyadina, who sounded much like a more aggressive Nasum. The Swedegrind sound has never been terribly interesting, as most bands who are involved with it are wont to make it much too technical and polished. This contrasts readily with the unrefined edge required of grindcore; instead the entire experience is spoiled with a big budget and nice, “clean,” rock-n-roll production. Fortunately, based on their live performance, Sayyadina seem to integrate much of the early 1990s American grindcore style into their take on the genre. The downside would be their insistence on blasting — way too much of it — and not enough variation in rhythm. Further investigation will be needed to determine this band’s ultimate listenability.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most anticipated band of the night was Mayhem. The band took the stage and opened with “Pagan Fears.” What was immediately apparent were two things: the first being how truly inhuman Attila Csihar’s voice is, and the second being that the sound engineers had absolutely no idea how to mix black metal in a live setting. The guitars were so unbelievably screechy that I had to move back from the stage in order to prevent my eardrums from imploding. Apart from this problem (which was only partly fixed roughly halfway into the set), Mayhem delivered a commendable performance, with plenty of highlights (“Deathcrush”; “Freezing Moon”), and even a very surprising presentation of the title track off De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas. Atilla’s presence was undeniable, almost messianic, as he warped his vocal chords into his own plaything: screeching, bellowing, chanting, and growling to great effect. The two new guitarists had a decent understanding of Mayhem’s material, apparent despite the detriment of the horrific sound.
One strange thing to see was how many people turned up for Mayhem, and how about half of them looked like they had never heard the band in their life. Given Mayhem’s controversial past, one might be inclined to believe that half of the people there were just turning up in the hopes of seeing some immature novelty act. Further proof that in the underground metal world, hipsters unfortunately abound.
Up next was the legendary Dutch death metal group Asphyx, playing their first-ever American show, which was accompanied by a unanimously great reception by the large crowd. For the occasion, they were given the honor of wrapping up the first day of the outdoor stage. Vocalist Martin Van Drunen, though becoming a death metal gray-hair, was easily one of the most engaging and sincere frontmen this reviewer has had the pleasure to see live. His banter with the audience and habit of high-fiving crowd surfers contributed to the sense of fun that permeated Asphyx’s performance. In blazing through several tracks from a variety of studio albums (save for the embarrassing God Cries), Asphyx even managed to play “Abomination Echoes” from the Crush the Cenotaph demo. Unfortunately, Mayhem’s longer-than-anticipated set forced Asphyx to cut theirs short in accordance with the ludicrously early outdoor sound curfew of 11 pm. Ending with the massive title track offThe Rack, the sound engineers axed the power to the amps with only about a minute left in the song. Coincidentally, the original recording ends by fading out, so in essence the audience was able to experience a full studio version of it. Asphyx bowed off the stage to massive applause.
Upon heading inside, I caught the set of crossover/hardcore “supergroup” Venomous Concept. Made up of half of Napalm Death and half of Brutal Truth, this quartet retains interest through their exploration of embryonic extreme metal and hardcore styles. A very energetic and very intoxicated Kevin Sharpe kept the crowd on their toes, even cutting his forehead open after smashing it with the microphone. After pummeling their way through a half-hour set, Venomous Concept left the stage, and this reviewer hiked back to his hotel room.
The next day, feeling energized and with ears freshly ringing, my group headed down to Sonar for day two of the festival. After skipping over the many bands of no interest, the first band of day two we encountered was P.L.F. (formerly known as Pretty Little Flower, now apparently going by the name Pulverizing Lethal Force). This Texas grindcore trio was highly impressive with their regressive style, revealing influences from the best of the genre, chiefly Assuck andTerrorizer. The singer/guitarist joked that their merch was available in the back room, and that they brought plenty of long-sleeved shirts, as only true Hessians wear them in such obscenely hot weather. Despite a very short set time, P.L.F. managed to rumble through their setlist with a few minutes to spare, and received mostly positive reactions from the audience.
Since the next batch of bands was not of interest in any way, my friends and I skipped them in favor of finding some food, after which we returned to catch Sweden’s Rotten Sound. Although one may look upon them unfavorably because of their association with the Nasum/groovy-grindcore scene, Rotten Sound are not, sonically at least, deserving of such condemnation. Their music is like Dead Infection or Sweden’s Dawn: wholly unoriginal, but executed in such a manner that one cannot find much fault in what they do. Their brand of grindcore is much more “British” (for lack of a better description), in that it takes more influence from early crust and hardcore than it does groove metal.
Following Rotten Sound, this reviewer chose to relax in the shade with a cool water and rest while Hail Of Bullets played on stage. Their album was not impressive in the slightest, and neither was their performance, despite the ever-present charm of the previous night’s star vocalist Martin Van Drunen. It is quite probable that if the lineup did not include such prominent members of the death metal scene, the album would not have received a second thought or listen by anyone.
Thankfully, Brutal Truth took to the stage next, alleviating the crushing boredom wrought by Hail of Bullets, immediately stirring me from my needed respite. Bassist Dan Lilker commented that his throat was hoarse, and he would be unable to do backup vocals; luckily, their performance was not hindered by this revelation in any way. Frontman Kevin Sharpe, sporting a nice cut in the middle of his forehead from the previous night’s on-stage chaos, was as engaging as ever as the band merged classic and new in a seamless display of veteran competency.
After a short stint of watching Misery Index (who were capable, though nearly totally unfamiliar to this reviewer,), the ever-anticipated Immolation was up next on the outside stage. Baffling is the fact that Immolation is not a more recognized band in the death metal community; they have been together for over two decades, and have received a good deal of praise and notoriety, but when the heavy hitters of the genre are mentioned, Immolation is rarely on the list — modern audiences seem, unfortunately, to be fixated on flashy technicality, blast beats and other novelties rather than on songwriting, one of the talents at which Immolation has always excelled.
A highlight of Immolation’s set was a favorite off of Dawn of Possession, “Into Everlasting Fire.” Unfortunately for them, equipment problems at the beginning of their set forced the band to shorten their playing time. Nonetheless, their performance was top-notch, and those who have not witnessed them in a live setting are truly missing out on one of death metal’s legendary acts.
Atheist was poised to perform shortly thereafter on the outside stage. The long-awaited return of Atheist was most certainly a reason for many who attended MDF. Before their initial arrival, the feeling that one was about to hear such classics as “Mother Man” and “Piece of Time” in a live setting seemed almost unreal. Despite this overwhelming anticipation, it seemed almost immediately that their performance that night would be good, but not great, as might be expected on such a fortunate occasion from these exemplary musicians. Vocalist Kelly Shaffer (who, thanks to his well-known tendonitis affliction, was not playing any instruments) apparently smokes a lot of cigarettes, and it showed in his strained performance almost as if it hurt him intensely to do his characteristic snarl. Despite the slight disappointments, it was a welcome sight to see Atheist performing together again, and musically there were few real mishaps.
Up next outdoors was one of the bands that I specifically wished to see: Napalm Death. Their material from 1985 to 1992 is some of my favorite music from any genre. After that period, a lot of mediocrity and occasional awfulness plagued the band. More recently,The Code is Red had enough fire in it to be a moderately enjoyable album — a breath of fresh air for old time fans. Despite their last two albums feeling more like a band having totally given up, rather than one whose enthusiasm and creative drive are intact, I was still eager to see them perform. All-time classic tracks — “It’s A! M.A.N.S. World,” “Deciever,” “Life?,” “Scum,” “The Kill,” and of course, “You Suffer” — were battered through with the confidence and poise of professionals clearly beyond comfortable with their abilities, inducing the crowd (including myself) to a violent moshing melee. With luck, this confidence will shine through in future recordings to provide the element of desire that has been conspicuously absent in their latest works.
The final performer on the outside stage at MDF was none other than England’s Bolt Thrower. After years of prodding by the event organizers, Bolt Thrower was finally convinced to cross the pond to headline Saturday’s show. A quick glance around the concert area told me that Bolt Thrower had quite possibly drawn the largest crowd of the fest thus far — with good reason, as this would be Bolt Thrower’s first show in the USA in 14 years. A thunderous ovation erupted as the band took the stage. It was a welcome return for some of the older spectators; for most on their first time through, it was a near-magical experience to see one of death metal’s stalwarts performing their numerous classics in the flesh. As expected, Bolt Thrower unleashed an audio barrage upon the helpless audience, the sound rolling over the crowd like an armored division. Particular highlights were “The IVth Crusade,” “Cenotaph,” and “For Victory,” though every song, old to new, was performed flawlessly. The fervent feedback from the audience fed the band members, who thrived off the positive energy.
Day three began like the other two days: with a bunch of bands no one gave a shit about. Apart from Magrudergrind’s violent intensity, there wasn’t much to see until Absu took the stage outside.
When Absu did finally take the stage, they began playing immediately. After a short ambient intro piece, Proscriptor greeted the rather large turnout. Strangely, Proscriptor mostly stuck to drumming, providing backup vocals through parts of the set, but only leading on a few songs. This choice proved to be a bit disheartening, as the new guitarist/singer is comparatively timid = vocally. Absu soldiered onward regardless, doing what they manage given their criminally short set time. With their latest album being a mishmash between excellent instrumental performance and less than stellar songwriting, it wise probably wise that only one song from the album was played.
After Abscess and Aura Noir, who were both competent (especially the latter), Destroyer 666 took the stage to end the final night of outdoor performances. The Australian quartet was greeted with an enthusiasm that was transferred directly to their fiery presentation. Like the other major acts present, D666 were tight instrumentally, and frontman KK Warslut was able to whip the crowd into a demonic frenzy. The booming choruses of “I Am The Wargod” and “Black City – Black Fire” were particularly memorable. All in all, an appropriate high point to conclude the outdoor stage.
Pestilence had apparently run into visa issues, and like Marduk, were not able to enter the USA. To compensate for this, the outdoor stage bands were given slightly longer set times, and it was announced that a surprise performer would take Pestilence’s time slot on the inside stage. Rumors abounded as to who this surprise would be, and it turned out to be Bolt Thrower, who had stayed behind to tear through a second set in top-notch fashion and enthusiasm, which will only further cement their weekend appearance as one of latter-day death metal legend.
Maryland Deathfest, while somewhat choked with vagabonds and hipsters — an inevitable side-effect of the longevity of the festivals themselves and urban environments in which they are nearly always held — was well-attended and exceptionally well-organized. Coupled with the amicable staff, this made for a superbly positive experience often lacking in metal gatherings at this scale. Besides the superb planning and execution in the background, the line-up was likely one of the best of any fest of recent vintage, including several notable reformed death metal acts and a number of rare appearances in the same three-day span.
Refreshing was the fact that the more hipster-oriented bands did not receive nearly the reception of the respectable and established bands; more refreshing still was the welcome that awaited the old guard death metal/grindcore bands — the likes of Asphyx, Bolt Thrower, Brutal Truth, Immolation and Atheist — who after years of struggling against the “deaths” of their respective genres and the attendant mediocre aftermath are finally again reaping the rewards of writing and performing music that embraces original ideals. Perhaps this is just a part of a potential rebirth of metal, hopefully one that MDF will continue to foster by providing sanctuary to the bands of quality that have made these genres exciting to listen to since the beginning.
– Written by deadite
Hail of Bullets
Wolves in the Throne Room
The Red Chord
Kill the Client
Lair of the Minotaur
Pretty Little Flower
The Endless Blockade
Agenda of Swine
Drugs of Faith
Legion of Doom – The Horned Made Flesh
LEGION OF DOOM attempt to channel later ROTTING CHRIST by becoming melodic heavy metal with ranting black metal vocals on the faster verses, but preserve their original intent and consistency over the past few albums: they compose in similar ways, but their technique and knowledge of theory has been upgraded to allow more keyboard interaction, slicker riffs, and correct approximations of some of the riff structures they must have admired in the metal that influenced them. Song structures follow patterns established on past LEGION OF DOOM albums; they are still chasing certain poetic ideas, like the complex song that culminates in a simple three-chord riff, or the slow introduction out of which builds a structural study. That being said, LEGION OF DOOM is ahead of every other oldschool Greek band because they know how to vary tempi and riff styles and are concentrating on atmosphere, which they generate in a melange of BURZUM- and EMPEROR-influenced riffs. This is far better than average for black metal of this time, but many of the old schoolers may find the “soft” aesthetic distancing.
Intestine Baalism – Ultimate Instinct
I believe form follows function but that form can have a wide range of things comfortably expressed through it. For this reason, when a band like GENERAL SURGERY or PATHOLOGIST is wholly derivative of another band’s style but also really good, it’s hard to in any way condemn them. In that sense, INTESTINE BAALISM strike me as realists who took the voice of Swedish death metal and tried to give it another life. They did, in that they’ve created a B-level SWDM offering on par with maybe INSISION or UNCANNY, borrowing liberally from UNANIMATED, CARNAGE, ENTOMBED, SACRAMENTUM and DISMEMBER to create a sound for some death metal of relatively average structure with two exceptions: most songs introduce themselves and slowly mutate their introduction riff to become the first verse riff, and many songs have melodic transitional bridges in the same way stadium heavy metal bands used to do, some featuring really brilliant guitar work. Where this CD falls down is that it tries to throw too much of the newer melodic Swedish “death metal” into the mix, and since that stuff is basically a warmed over ACCEPT/MOTLEY CRUE hybrid, you end up in hard rock territory really fast with death and speed metal riffs zinging around the room like petrified sharts.
Botch – We are the Romans
Before Botch, there was music like this, which interpreted metal riffs as a kind of carnival of opposites designed to cycle around a rock song structure. They focus on the groove that you can achieve, as avant garde jazz did, by wrapping bizarre-sounding spidery phrases around a dissonant harmony that serves as entry point to implied and indirectly stated verse and chorus. In this view, however, the metal and punk technique used by this album becomes decoration to this underlying rock music, and so while it doesn’t appear to be rock music, on the level of design/structure it is, and is correspondingly empty once you get past the fast ripped scales and emo chords unraveling into their root notes. The bounding, two-hit drumming that pervades this album underlines this basic normalcy so, like a hipster, it dresses itself up as something unique and weird but at its essence, is the same old thing given a good dose of technique. I really liked the title. Like the Candiria, Mordred, and Kong of old, however, it creates an oil-on-water separation of metal/punk from rock, and so comes apart in your hands like a boiled squishy turd. Clearly the archetype for most albums of this nature to follow, it nonetheless misses what is unique about metal and in its neurotic desperation to hide its inner humdrum normalcy, succeeds in making a mess where one did not need to be.
Father Befouled – Profano Ad Regnum
These gents try very hard to be the reincarnation of Havohej, with generous doses of early Incantation and Obituary, and come very close. Many of these riffs are note-varied or rhythm-varied interpretations of classic Havohej/Profanatica riffs, and song structures use the same simplistic, almost serial circular advance of riffs to produce a similar sense of dread. Vocals are patterned more after Incantation, and dirge material builds itself harmonically and rhythmically like early Obituary. The result is gratifying to those who want the old school sound but needs to define itself; being on the outside looking in to Paul Ledney’s vision means that we are forever getting an interpretation of an interpretation, and reality is inching away from us. After making sure we know they are trademark NYEUM (New York Esoteric Underground Metal) in the INCANTATION, REVENANT and PROFANATICA style, FATHER BEFOULED develop their own voice. On the third track, an At the Gates-ish affinity for single-note lead melodies comes in, and then on track 5 there’s a reinterpretation of Celtic Frost, and the rest of the album battles for a melodic influence that with the HAVOHEJ admixture ends up sounding like SARCOFAGO mixed with HELLHAMMER using the better technique of early INCANTATION played by a black metal band. In this style, however, Father Befouled is the best yet and what they understand that other bands do not is that songs need to be coherent wholes, where changes in riff and rhythm gesture us the listeners along to some conclusion. For that any reviewer will be vastly thankful — this disc is not random riffs — but at some point honesty compels us to tell this band to innovate its own germinal material. Clearly they have the technical and imaginative ability, and understand the “spirit” of the underground, which makes them one of the few candidates who can do this.
Darkestrah – The Great Silk Road
People are familiar with archetypes. Once they understand one of those, they can modify it. Only the best of them are able to craft a language all their own and use it to express a truth to which it is adapted. Darkestrah have mastered two arts: the art of power metal, and the art of all the trappings of a Burzum-Gorgoroth-Drudkh hybrid. They take the former and dress it up in the latter, and do it so well it takes almost halfway through the album before the veneer fades away like melting frost and the simplistic, bouncing melodies stand revealed for what they are. In a way, it reminds me of early In Battle, but more tricked out with black metal guitars and keyboards. Instrumentally very competent; artistically adrift on a sea of sewage, drinking big gulps from a cup labelled PRICELESS CHARDONNAY.
Kreator – Hordes of Chaos
What an original concept — the elites rule the earth, and so the hordes of the people will rise up and destroy them through chaos and violence and confusion — and what an original style of music to use to express it! Kreator match their signature ominous riffs, about one per song, with a vomit spew of mixed power metal, hard rock and speed metal cliches. There’s a lot of dual guitar activity in the Iron Maiden style thrown right up against later Sepultura two-chord march riffs, then some of the flamboyant lead guitar of hard rock thrown in with power metal fretwalk riffs. Does it add up to much? The first song is compelling if you listen when you’re distracted, but after that the album further lapses into genericism. The hilarious mixed metaphors cover art adds to the sense that, when one lacks forward motion, you throw everything you’ve got left into a conglomeration and duct-tape it together. For all its furious activity, this album bespeaks drained souls and energyless but resentful lives. The result for the listener is a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.
Deathevokation – The Chalice of Ages
Every old school death metal fan would give a left testicle to like this. Killer vocals – check. Awesome title – check. Dumb band name? Skip that for now. Good guitar playing – check. Old school style, from Asphyx to Zemial, memorized? Check. What’s wrong? What’s wrong is that you cannot throw a bunch of random stuff, even in tribute to one of the greatest eras of metal, into a lattice of convenience and coincidence and expect something good to come from it. The style is roughly that of early Amorphis hybridized with later Cemetary, in that it uses melodic lead overlays on top of rushing power chord riffs and builds up to a promenade riff that trots out the inner melodicity in explicit form. It’s like later Cemetary in that cheesy hard rock, death metal, speed metal and heavy metal all take turns bleeding out from the mess, like it’s a bagfull of hostages each fighting to be heard, and the result is so random that it sounds monotone.
Amebix – Risen! promo
All the best punk bands seem to want to become metal in their more mature offerings. The most notable feature of these new Amebix tracks is that they sound like Lemmy Kilmister vocalizing over mid-paced speed metal, like Prong fused with Slayer, which aims for the theatrical impact of the bigger NWOBHM bands. Galloping muted riffs, chromatic shifts to end each bar, and short bursts of lyrics achieve this goal, aided by periodic keyboards and slower, ballad-like choruses which evolve into progressive-ish transitions. In this, Amebix are continuing the state they reached with Monolith but fulfilling it more accurately with the kind of aggression found on “Right to Rise” (off Arise!) but they’re adding more precise drumming and Slayer-styled tight control of tremolo strum to encode multiple rhythms in a phrase. Most interesting is that these effects are applied to three older songs, making them eerie as familiar sounds coalesce from a more technical and dominating assault. Look for an interesting conclusion as Amebix retrofits itself in this style for their new tour.
I Shalt Become – In the Falling Snow
When I Shalt Become first hit the scene back in 1996, he/they were almost instant celebrities because no one in the United States had yet figured out how to clone the Burzum sound and achieve that trance of dreamlike suspension of reality. ISB has mastered the technique; on their first work, “Wanderings,” ISB made half-finished sounds that took us into a vision of beauty in darkness, but had nowhere to go after that. On their second effort, nothing has changed, although technique is even more refined. It’s exactly like the first, maybe a little better, but part of what made the first charming was its unevenness into which we could read possible hope. On this CD, it’s more repetitive and that is why response has been so light.
Devastation – A Creation of Ripping Death
This is everything I hated about 1980s metal. The very block-cut basic riffs, the very obvious song direction, the vocals synchronized in rhythm to the chords of the riff, creating a cadenced shout effect like being part of a mob about to start a pogrom against smart people. Basically, it’s a lot of Slayer rhythms and ideas simplified and made catchier and a billion times more repetitive. Against all science, this recording may lower your IQ.
Krisiun – Southern Storm
More children’s music. These very simple, very obvious melodies are used to interrupt what are some pretty cool speeding riffs that go nowhere because the riffs themselves are not epic enough to give a sense of mood, and because they’re assembled in a rhythmically convenient order that gives you no sense of significance in the change between riffs and tempi. Instrumentally, this is brutal death metal not different from a faster Internal Bleeding or Malevolent Creation, with some of the chanting rhythms that made later Sepultura so obvious the band started thinking of grunge as “a breath of fresh air.” The obvious factor to these compositions is crushing, but even worse is that the band cannot confine themselves to making obvious and simple tunes, but have to try to trick it out with extensive guitar soloing and use of Meshuggah-style(tm) interruption rhythms. Kill it with fire.
Svartthron – Bearer of the Crimson Flame
I’m realizing people will claim to like just about anything because they think liking something not everyone else likes makes them cool. Either that, or they’re trying to set up random combinations of CDs so they can claim to be unique. I know intelligent people like this CD and I respect their opinion. Mine is that it is well-executed drivel, like 99% of metal. The instrumentation is great. The CD itself confuses boredom with a somber mood, and uses that as its artistic guide, producing somnolent drone or dirge material that has no animating spark or cause or worldview that makes it in any way viable, much less unique. If you’re tr00 kvlt, go buy this.
Akimbo – Jersey Shores
This album takes a covertly aggressive punk hardcore approach to a rock/post-rock hybrid, with more space given to the music where hardcore normally dominates it in washing abrasion of distorted guitar. Instead, it packs away its riffs and brings them out from the obscurity like a punch — or, staying on topic, a shark attack. Its weakness is the howling vocals which seem completely unnecessary in that they’re too constant for an album that this ambitiously hopes to use the dynamic of surge rock.
Banishment – Cleansing the Infirm
Fast brutal death metal, like later Malevolent Creation fused with Deeds of Flesh, and not bad for that. Vocalist makes the unfortunate choice to have his voice too closely follow the root notes the guitar is playing, which makes it sound like the whole band is a guitar effect. Catchy, but not particularly enlightening.
Apotheosis – Farthest From the Sun
We’ll pose a little at being epic black metal, then drop you into a Pantera riff. It’s what happens when metal loses direction; everything gets all mixed together, from Def Leppard through Graveland, and thrown into something that ends up being so generic you can listen without realizing the music is on. Skip.
Zemial – In Monumentum
Opens with one of the dumbest hard rock riffs ever, which pauses right on the bounce expectation as if it were anticipating the ears of a retard. I almost drooled. The CD continues in this direction, tossing Motorhead in with Motley Crue and Morgoth, hoping we don’t notice, but really, why would anyone listen to this when there’s AC/DC? Led Zeppelin? Even “Shout at the Devil”? It tries for evil but manages Marilyn Manson, the garage version that the hip kids like and everyone else is like whatever yo. I get the impression they’re trying to be an updated Death SS but without distinction.
Depravity – Silence of the Centuries
Finnish mid-paced melodic death metal; imagine Demigod periodically zooming into mid-period Therion and you have this interesting fusion between heavy metal and death metal. Unfortunately, a lot like Edge of Sanity, it strays too far onto the rock side of things, not understanding the geometrical language of riffs that made death metal song structures so hard to do right. It’s more like later Dio with death metal technique applied.
Unburied – Slut Decapitator
Blockhead brutal gore with a penchant for blast mania, but no real direction to these songs. Bounce, bounce, breakdown, blast, bounce, bounce, breakdown, stop. I understand the title: If you decapitate yourself with a slut, you no longer can hear this noise.
Storming Darkness – Sin-thesis
This is so much better than most of what crosses my desk I had hope despite the silly album name. It’s good. But not good enough. Repetition of melodic metal themes and a type of subtle breakdown that occurs internally to a pounding bass-snare will not do it. Nor will even the harmonically more advanced, well-played chorus passages and transitions. This really isn’t bad; unfortunately, it’s also non-distinct and directionless.
Damnation – Rebel Souls
Similar to Betrayer and Vader, this Polish death metal band fuses a number of post-1991 death metal styles into a format that is very close to Morbid Angel, but in its more “two-step” riffs, a bit more like Terrorizer. By two-step riffs I mean that there’s a phrase, and a counterphrase, and then the riff repeats until the end of a bar, when a two-chord shift turns it around; the riffing is orthogonal, unlike the geometric offsets of Morbid Angel or the even numbered structures of early Vader. Within this, there’s a lot of speeding riffs in a style eternal from Destruction through Massacra, propelled by furious battery reminiscent of Kataklysm and, at times, Deicide. Edges of Suffocation-styled palm muted blast picked death metal and double-time speed metal like later Hypocrisy intervene, but the standard is straightforward ripping death metal. Songs integrate additional riffs but remain mostly verse-chorus with transposition of early patterns into promenade riffs leading to conclusions. Like most material of this type, the constant battering becomes tiring and not exciting over repeated listens. Although this is most well-known for having members of Behemoth in the band, this album can stand on its own but is not distinctive enough for metal history to notice.
Anal Vomit – Demoniac Flagellations
Love the titles, forgot the music already. Standard grind with frenetic death metal touches, like Angelcorpse recording hurriedly in a lean-to studio outside a jail.
Urizen – Autocratopolis
Being avantgarde is easy. Combine everything that’s not popular, and make it groovy, but always do what you think is unexpected. Problem: you’ve thought two levels deep, assuming that most people think one, in a world of infinite levels. As a result, your music comes across as a childish reaction, and bears this out by being an omelette of rejected metal styles thrown together around the lowest common denominator, which is annoying pop songs given an additional level of complexity by dividing verse/chorus structure so that it recombines in a circular fashion. And we had such high hopes from the name.
Dark Fury – Fortress of Eagles
Black metal ended like WWII: after the Americans left and Central Europeans were defeated, the Eastern Europeans surged in with something that looked sort of like the functional governments that went before. In black metal, it is the same. These musicians are talented, and clearly they know their black metal, but without understanding the transcendent goal that compelled early musicians to render their vision in scratchily distorted power chords, the new bands are always outsiders looking in and then making their version. Yet like an architect who knows only how to copy facades and put them on the same boxy Soviet-era architecture, Dark Fury churn through Burzum riffs, Venomish riffs, Darkthrone trudges, and so forth, but never pull the whole thing together because there is no core to the music. It is pure aesthetics and as a result, directionless in the same way good wallpaper is: you don’t want it distracting from the action in the room.
Diabolic – Chaos in Hell/Possessed by Death
Did the completely unoriginal title clue you in? Yep, it’s a tribute to past bands that were much better by hoarding their themes, tossing them in the washing machine for recombination, and then spitting them out with the subtlety of horse rape. Metal like this causes metalheads to listen to Katy Perry.
Mirrorthrone – Gangrene
Ulver, Borknagar and Therion combine in a Summoning-themed metal band. Unfortunately, between gentle keyboard descents like the windsculpted surfaces of sand dunes, the “carnival style” post-Cradle of Filth black metal rears its ugly head as elements are thrown together in a salad of distractions from which each piece returns to a few exactly repeated themes. As a result, there’s a lot going on, like riding a merry-go-round and seeing the world outside flash by in disorienting random order, but there’s no development of theme; it’s just a more complex version of verse/chorus. I really would like to like this but it is impossible. Production and keyboard composition are excellent.
Autumn Leaves – As Night Conquers Day
Years before it became trendy, this band invented the new wave of Swedish melodic “death metal,” which of course isn’t death metal as much as, following the success of DISSECTION and UNANIMATED, melodic heavy metal with death metal vocals. You get some lovely IRON MAIDEN style dual-guitar harmony leading into a DISSECTION-esque rising melodic riff, and then drop straight into PANTERA or MESHUGGAH for a muted strum, offbeat, bouncy aggressive riff over which someone rasps like AT THE GATES. Over time, the album develops more of its melodic side, but it likes to keep that to a few variations on a theme and a contrasting chorus that uses half of the same notes. Much as the first THE ABYSS album defined a pattern for mimicking black metal, this CD defined the New Wave of Swedish Death Metal — basically melodic heavy metal with speed metal technique and death metal vocals — that aped a hybrid of SENTENCED (specifically, Amok), UNANIMATED, DISSECTION, CEMETARY and SACRAMENTUM but in cheesy, crowd-friendly heavy metal form. Better than those which followed in this style, As Night Conquers Day is both exceedingly well-executed and, because it aims for a hybrid between things popular for their unchallenging nature, a lowest common denominator assault of so many catchy things that they all equalize and you get one big unmemorable stream of noise.
Cult of Luna – Eternal Kingdom
If you apply punk rhythms to two-note power chord riffing, then add indie rock fills and metal vocals, you have Cult of Luna. This band was more inspiring when they did wash of harmonizing noise like Burzum and My Bloody Valentine, but now it’s standard saccharine dramatic indie rock which like a hipster, does a good game of raising inch-deep mystique and then vanishes around the corner, leaving a hint of promise in the air that turns to a stench of disappointment. This is a very average album dressed up as something significant and, while it executes that vision well, it leaves no lasting power or vision of life beneath the obvious, trite and controlled.
Cold Northern Vengeance – Domination and Servitude
If Maudlin of the Well had been fascinated by the black metal aesthetic, and decided to combine the quirkiness of bands like Spear of Longinus with about every metal variation of genres that have influenced metal, you would get this atmospheric and technical take on black metal. Like projects from time immemorial that have tried to throw diverse influences together and get a clear voice, it never quite gels, but that keeps its space open. There’s some nice melodies on here and songs that like most technical music, do not aim to be conclusive so much as they hope to pull together an idea from disparate origins. Like Maudlin of the Well, this is probably not for everyday listening, but will garner the appreciation of musicians. What it achieves that is most impressive is breaking the jazz-omelette barrier and making a metal-like, dark and ancient mood within so much modern musicianship.
Ecnephias – Haereticus
More vamping pseudo-Gothic keyboard-infused bouncy black metal. It has no personality at all, other than a fusion of later Cemetary with Skepticism and Dimmu Borgir, a mixture which sounds ideal but in practice cannot find common ground except on the most basic stylistic similarities. Spirit? Idea? Drive? Musically, it’s great and sometimes reminds me of later Rotting Christ. The beats are very similar and the composition staged harmonically much like the more erudite rock. But as a sum total of art, or a listening experience, it delivers nothing.
War Cry – Trilogy of Terror
Cut from much the same mould as Saint Vitus, the heavy metal musicians in War Cry make surging punk-influenced music like Venom but at a slower pace with the galloping rhythms of early speed metal like Satan and Sabbat. Interestingly, the vocalist sounds a lot like James Hetfield in both timbre and delivery. In the ways these vocals dive across large intervals and then present a sudden bittersweet melody and abrupt rhythm the band resembles Angel Witch. The usual gaggle of influences on older metal music emerge, including Iron Maiden most notably, but here it’s channeled into a style of music that hovers in the mid-paced arena but projects a somber aura like a doom band, when they’re not busy rocking out, that is. History swallows up any knowledge of where they would have taken it, but for a demo of its time, this was a solid B+.
Walpurgisnacht – Die Derwaert Gaen En Keeren Niet
Whenever metal starts a new tributary from its river of heaviness, that rivulet runs for some time and then fragments as it explores. After that, some people realize it’s a great opportunity to make a synopsis of those different directions, an opportune compromise if you will, and then norm the structure of the music back to the verse-chorus pop music of your average radio candy band for teenage brats to enjoy before life harvests them as cubicle slaves (pwnt). Some bands are smart enough to add variations like double riffs for verses, adding transitional riffs and making the bridge into a series of riffs that fit together like a telescoping umbrella before dropping you into the predictable. But it’s only a matter of time before the classic heavy metal riffs come out, along with their rock music bounce and simple-minded distraction, and in this case the transition is from Gorgoroth/Gehenna-style dark riffing to Mayhem-influenced epic pentatonics and then with a shrug straight into archetypes out of 1976 heavy metal. Of the bands out there now, this band most resembles Sammath or Fluisterwoud. Despite those additions, which end up being riff-salady, Walpurgisnacht is about blatantly sentimental melodic hooks and recurrent invocation of riffs from black metal’s history. Unlike most of its contemporaries, Walpurgisnacht has a beautiful misfortune advantage: between melodic hooks, rhythmic hooks, and pure speed/violence thrills, it’s catchy as all hell. This bestows the ultimate curse in that it both isn’t bad and isn’t inspiring at all because it too glibly speaks the language of appearance of form without altering the intelligible structure beneath.
Vomit – Rot in Hell
Jump back to 1985 or so. Stereos are blistering with Ride the Lightning and Hell Awaits. There’s no internet and metal publications are few and far between, so you get your news by dubbing a couple tracks from each of your latest finds onto cassette for your friends across the world. You spend your few bucks on postage but get more music than you could ever find in a record store or the flaky, xerox-distorted catalogs of the primitive mail-order of the time. Sound romantic? Then sign up for this hybrid of speed metal, thrash and the early death metal without death metal vocals that was Slayer. Vocal rhythms are profoundly Slayer; song structures and half the riffs are Metallica; the rest of the riffs are a meshing of the ideas behind Slayer, Sodom, Venom, Sepultura and Destruction. It’s extremely engaging music, with lots of energy and the banging of the drums, but it is like the rationalism it finds reprehensible, very fucking linear. I like it but never want to listen to it again.
Vile – Stench of the Deceased
Some albums innovate on the inside of the genre, while others take its disparate aesthetic influences and standardize them. Vile really nailed the sonic appearance of post-Cannibal Corpse death metal, complete with squeals in the Incantation style, Malevolent Creation creeping thunderous choruses, Suffocation breakdowns and windups, Immolation’s riff salad and leaps between tempi. But… this is good, but the gestalt of it is not great: in fact, as the term gestalt implies, music should give off a spirit that like an MD5 checksum gives us a single representation or shape to its direction. Here that clarity is so muddied that what we remember is a cinematic procession of riffs like a nightmare dream movie, inscrutable to those who do not know the narrative passing through the minds of these musicians. Riffs are quality but never so above the board good that they’re memorable, and their arrangements rapidly lose integrity and become a series of techniques. This is an album you will love the idea of but be unable to return to as a classic for inspiration.
Venom – Hell
I’ll give this band credit: they mixed influences, but then knew how to pick selectively the parts that work together. The first track is a Slayer rhythm with a speed metal style infectious chorus, Prong-inspired industrial noises in the background, and a Pantera-ish jaunty riff with monotone vocal deadpan. At this point in their career, Venom as musicians are slick and know the archetypes of their genre, so they pull off a very believable album to the degree that you never think to question whether this is a big band — obviously, these guys arrived long ago, and have been taking music lessons ever since. While the quality of this music is good, by aiming for the simple-minded and catchy, it sort of takes itself out of the running for contemplative profundity and in doing so, shows why Venom was a first attempt at black metal that never succeeded: it couldn’t leave the heavy metal, rock ‘n roll mentality behind. Even Sarcofago, Hellhammer, and Bathory, who I’d consider the first generation of black metal, developed themselves into art with a sense of the sublime and subtle. Venom is just like Metallica and Exodus, barging in with loud declarations where we’re supposed to assume words equal their meanings, like a reshuffling of the hippie symbolism of rock. I respect it but there’s no way in hell I’d ever reach for this CD given the other great options out there, although it’s a vast improvement on Venom’s classics, musically.
Ved Buens Ende – Coiled in Obscurity
You know what else coils in obscurity? Poop. This CD, of live and instrumental rarities by this band, showcases both what they were trying to achieve and why they were ignored by many of us. First, they’re trying to achieve what the reckless yells and blatantly ambitious singing on this CD seems to gesture at; a soul unconnected from awareness of social consequences (this is what people want when they bloviate about “freedom”). Second, the underlying Mayhem-inspired gritty but monotonous riffing shows how they hoped to achieve it, which is the same method every punk band since the dawn of time has used. Huge parts of this are blatant Burzum ripoffs with the atmosphere replaced by a sense of ashen directionless chaos. Dissonant chords howl against the grain of riffs, drums batter out something ironically confrontational, and then the track redirects itself, like the point of a pen drifting across words on a book in another language. The repetition gets old and the CD goes nowhere.
Portal – Outre
This album sounds to me like airplanes zooming over battleships. Their distortion is intensely melodic and they tend to use diminished melodies and abrupt tempo changes, drones zooming into abrupt, jazz-style recursions. In many ways, it’s a lot like what Molested tried to do, except the songs go nowhere. They thrash between different patterns that are marginally related and create a dark atmosphere, but then it doesn’t change, and so what ends up happening is that songs become monolithic and uninspiring. It’s an interesting concept, the idea of removing dynamics from the music except as a rhythm, and inserting small themes within larger patterns, but when it does not reveal any clarity to its changes, the result is like driving around in a maze with the heater on.
Rotten Sound – Exit
People were telling me this was death metal, but in reality, it’s a punk album with blastbeat drums and modified d-beat. It’s not bad but it’s not distinct enough from later Impaled Nazarene or Disfear to really care. They keep the energy going as if they’re afraid to slow down and make sense of their songs, which are two or three riffs and sometimes a tempo change. This stuff is kind of neat but one dimensional, reminiscent of Driller Killer in the way it uses very similar beats and transitions, and so sounds like one continuous linear riffing party with a variation on Swedish d-beat essentials. It’s unclear to me why anyone with access to Discharge, the Exploited and Dead Infection would choose this lesser variation.
Wolves in the Throne Room – Malevolent Grain
Having been a fan of Two Hunters for some time, this reviewer was excited to download and un-RAR the latest from Wolves in the Throne Room, one of black metal’s more successful acts. Soaring drones lace themselves over bracketing drums, and female vocals and black metal rasps guide these songs through mostly extended verse-chorus patternings, with a few discursive flights of fancy leading away and then returning. This is not an album for people who like black metal; it’s an album for people who want black metal to be what they like. Specifically, it’s a studied combination of indie rock, emo punk, crustcore and doom metal, most notably borrowing from Skepticism and Satyricon. It makes itself obvious in the protest rock style of clearly identifying what it complains about — GM crops (author’s opinion on this issue is irrelevant; this is a music review) — and makes that topic safe by construing it in the same Good and Evil game that Christianity likes to play, where moral absolutes are used to control the masses so no one has to think. There are black metal technique additions, for sure, but the spirit is mournful and poignant in that simple way that rock music makes you see a “I love her, but can’t have her, because she’s no good for me, but the sex is great” dual binary complexity to life. Unlike great art, this album never creates the chiasmus, where the opposite pairs recombine and a truth is distilled. Like Velvet Caccoon, the last great Northwest black metal phenomenon, Wolves in the Throne Room carefully study their quarry and put together a compilation of what has worked for indie rock tinged black metal for the past decade, but in doing so, they somehow lose their soul, which is borne out in the music that wanders yet not only never arrives but never decides where to go — it wallows in its opposition, like a surly priest fulminating in frustration beneath a rotting church.
As you may have read on this site, recently Jill Funerus (bassist/vocalist for FUNERUS) who is also the wife of John McEntee from Incantation ran into a spate of health problems. In addition to battling neuropathy and diabetes, she suffered a heart attack and related kidney dysfunction, but has pulled through.
We congratulate her on having survived such an intense health challenge. However, neither she nor her husband have health insurance and thus, they’re facing some intense bills for the surgery, medicine and several days she spent at the hospital.
The metal community is banding together to help them. Through the hands of Brian Pattison, one-half of the Glorious Times team, a benefit show has been established with 100% of the profits going to Jill Funerus’ medical bills.
Jill Funerus Benefit
Thursday, October 17 at 7:00pm EDT
The Forvm in Buffalo, New York
4224 Maple Rd Buffalo, NY 14226
If you can’t make the show, like many of us who are thousands of miles away, you can send money via paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are from a metal band or have something else you can donate for sale/raffle at the benefit, please message the Glorious Times team via email@example.com. See also the Facebook event listing.
List of bands supporting the Jill Funerus benefit:
- Abolishment of flesh
- Bernd Backhaus
- Black Bear Printing
- Blood Coven
- Butchered Records
- Cannibal Corpse
- Cardiac Arrest
- Capathian Funeral
- Chuck “Patchmaster General” Parsons
- Circle of Dead Children
- Dark Descent Records
- Demented Dream States
- Dismemberment (OH)
- Druid Lord
- Fleshbound Productions
- Full Blown A.I.D.S.
- Glorious Times
- Grave Descent
- Gutter Christ
- Jaymz Delisle
- Jeff Standish
- Legacy of Death Productions
- Liquified Guts
- Low Road Revival
- Malevolent Creation
- Mat Romero
- Mike Browning (Incubus)
- Misery Index
- Music Matters
- New Order Records
- Nokturnel Eclipse
- Pathos Productions
- Prime Evil
- Radiation Sickness
- Randy Kastner
- Sam Biles
- Signature Riff
- Stevo (Impetigo, Tombstones)
- Tainted Entertainment
- Vile Records
- Visions of the Night
Over the last half-decade, metal documentaries have proliferated — there are now a handful, which is several fingers more than before. One of the more unique ones is Until the Light Takes Us, a look at the Norwegian black metal scene of the early 1990s, in that it attempts to understand not a phenomenon but the reasons it came about. We were fortunate to get a chance to chat with filmmakers Audrey Ewell and Aaron Aites, who answered these questions in a single voice through collaborative writing, as they took a break from a busy schedule of promoting the film so that it can achieve the crucial next stage of distribution.
What first attracted you to black metal as a subject? Are/were you a listener?
A lot of people seem interested in the fact that we don’t come from a metal background, and that’s certainly true. Neither of us were ever particularly into a lot of metal before (except for doom/stoner rock – things like Sleep, Sunn O))), Earth etc). But we do come from a background of obscure experimental lo-fidelity noise rock. I mean, the leap from something like Harry Pussy or The Dead C to Norwegian black metal isn’t exactly a gaping chasm. (In case you don’t already know this, a lot of the musicians in our film are also into stuff like this — Enslaved have even collaborated with Merzbow). It’s not like we were reaching for a Sting record and accidentally grabbed a Stigma Diabolicum demo. The driving similarity in all the music we love is that it’s intelligent in some way, and psychically or culturally relevant and usually extreme in nature. Whether by way of insanity, artistry, ideology, invention or what have you.
We were introduced to black metal by a friend (Andee Conners who owns Aquarius Records in San Francisco) who knew that it was something we were going to be into. We both really care about music, we had gotten into black metal, and we both just wanted to see a good film on the subject. That’s really how it started. We were looking for a good documentary on the subject and couldn’t find one. So it really just started as a way to find the answers to our questions, and to explore a genre that had deeply moved and surprised us, and which described an experience of being alive on this planet that had not before existed in this way.
What kind of research did you do for the film?
We researched extensively for a year. First, we bought every Norwegian black metal record we could find (as well as all of the precursor bands like Bathory Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Venom etc.). We listened to everything, read all the lyrics, went over liner notes. Luckily, we’re pretty obsessive so that part was fun. Next, we sought out every magazine, fanzine, blog, book, newspaper and anything else we could find and compiled giant bound books of interviews of every musician that we wanted to talk to. These books were massive, they were like telephone books consisting solely of interviews by Norwegian black metal musicians. We also spent a lot of time on review sites like Markus Karlsson’s site, do you remember that? We loved his reviews, if you know how to reach him please put us in touch, we’d love to have him to do something for the DVD.
Did you prepare a project abstract first and shop around for funds in order to make the film?
Yes. Before we filmed, we went to Norway and wrote a fifty page proposal, a thesis essentially, of what the film would be. This took a lot of time. It was actually helpful in that it forced us to refine our ideas, to take into account what we saw around us and to plot the trajectory of the film, of which we had a very clear vision by the time we started shooting. It also forced us to do a second round of research, because in order to explore the ideas of globalization, postmodernism and dissent (ideas that we have thought from day one were relevant to black metal), we had to read up and be sure that our ideas were intellectually sound. One of the big resources for us was a book called Jihad Versus McWorld by Benjamin Barber. Another was The Lexus and the Olive Tree by Thomas L. Friedman. These guys are both cultural theorists and economists, who come at things from a markedly different perspective, but both deal with the struggles of retaining cultural identity within a globalized society, and the tension this creates.
The other big reference point was post-modernism and theories of simulation and simulacra, essentially the idea that a thing can be transformed out of existence if it is copied inaccurately enough times. That the sheer volume of incorrect copies can overwhelm the original truth, until the original truth becomes a sidenote in history, and the degraded or even just altered copy becomes the reality. People ask us all the time if we like current black metal bands. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a trick question. Yes. And no.
What kind of reactions did you get from people when you explained what you intended?
From people that we were trying to raise funds from, or from the musicians? Funders did not get behind this movie until we had done a substantial amount of filming. There were some amazing people who helped and supported us, but we spent a year trying to raise funding and it just didn’t work. Norway was willing to fund us but there was a catch: the movie would have to be about “American filmmakers who go to Norway to investigate black metal.” It would have to be as much about us as about black metal. Um, no thanks. So we scratched and scrambled, begged and borrowed, and ran up our credit cards to get to the point where we could raise finishing funds. We turned down hundreds of thousands of dollars because we weren’t interested in making the movie that they wanted us to make.
With the musicians, it differed. We clicked with Gylve instantly, and he agreed to be in it right away. He was the first person we approached, and I think that helped to establish that we hadn’t just read Lords of Chaos and hopped on a plane.
It would seem to go without saying that a film about Norwegian black metal has to have Gylve, Varg, and hopefully Hellhammer. Just, period. Or it’s just fatally flawed. Gylve and Varg, with Euronmyous, CREATED Norwegian black metal. It would not exist were it not for the three of them each playing a distinct and crucial part in the formation, codification, and dissemination of the genre. There are certainly other great musicians who have contributed a ton to the genre, but it was the originators that we knew we needed to talk to.
We clicked with Gylve immediately, we spent less time with Hellhammer but have great affection and respect for him, and we were prepared to stop at any time, fold up, go home if we weren’t able to get Varg’s participation. We knew it would be very hard. We were relieved when, after eight months of correspondence with him, he finally agreed to meet Aaron. We were pretty confident that if we were given that opportunity we would be able to get his participation, and we did. I admit though, it was a relief, because by the time that happened, we’d been in Norway for eight months and had spent an awful lot of time and money on the film. He used to write us letters that stated that even if we made exactly the movie that he himself would make, he STILL wouldn’t be in our movie. Those were hard letters to get. But we kept on with it, and finally he agreed. Once he actually met Aaron and talked with him and was able to see where we were coming from, it was not at all difficult. He was very open and forthcoming, except in cases where for legal reasons he couldn’t say certain things on camera. Obviously, we can’t and won’t repeat any of that either. But even when he couldn’t state things, he would allude to them. He was very open with us. Of course you can’t blame him for being initially wary. He felt that he had been burned (no pun intended) by the international media circus that erupted in the early 90’s. But we were able to convey to him what our intentions were, and once he realized that we were not there to make a quickie hype piece, and that we’d actually researched the hell out of everything, and I think just based on who we are, he agreed to participate. And we think that he would agree that the film is fair, and most importantly, honest.
Is it expensive to make a film of this nature?
Of this nature — yes. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. A big part of the expense was just the day-to-day cost of living in Norway for two years. But that was necessary. We had to spend time with the people, establish trust, etc. It wasn’t interesting to us to make a film that skimmed the surface. We wanted the film to be from the perspective of the musicians looking out from the inside. For that to be possible, we had to be inside.
Were metal fans and bands cooperative, for the most part?
We didn’t talk to many fans for the purposes of making the film. This isn’t like other movies about metal. But, literally everyone we met was extremely helpful.
The eye may be said to owe its existence to light, which calls forth, as it were, a sense that is akin to itself; the eye, in short, is formed with reference to light, to be fit for the action of light; the light it contains corresponding with the light without.
We are here reminded of a significant adage in constant use with the ancient Ionian school — “Like is only known by Like”; and again, of the words of an old mystic writer, which may be thus rendered, “If the eye were not sunny, how could we perceive light? If God’s own strength lived not in us, how could we delight in Divine things?” This immediate affinity between light and the eye will be denied by none; to consider them as identical in substance is less easy to comprehend. It will be more intelligible to assert that a dormant light resides in the eye, and that it may be excited by the slightest cause from within or from without. In darkness we can, by an effort of imagination, call up the brightest images; in dreams objects appear to us as in broad daylight; awake, the slightest external action of light is perceptible, and if the organ suffers an actual shock, light and colours spring forth.
– Johannes Wolfgang von Goethe, Theory of Colors (1810)
What equipment did you use — were you shooting direct to digital, using film, etc? How did you edit?
We shot on 35mm and PAL minidv and edited on AVID (telecine to tape for the film parts), eventually outputting an HD D5 master, from which we make copies in other formats as necessary. Our original intention was to end up with a 35mm print, but expenses were too great, we couldn’t do it. The film industry imploded a few weeks after our festival premiere in LA 8 months ago. The pressures of the economy, combined with some industry specific factors, drove it into the ground. Six of the top independent film distributors went out of business nearly overnight. Ripples went far and wide, those that were left became extremely conservative in what they would fund or distribute. So the money to transfer to film just wasn’t there anymore.
How long did the whole project take?
Many years. I don’t like to talk about how many. It disturbs me. A lot of my life has gone into this. Aaron got very sick as well and we had to take a year off while he had surgery and recovered. We also had to spend over a year raising finishing funds when we got back from Norway. Luckily, we found that in two great companies who have been very supportive of us and of the film, even in this horrible climate for independent documentaries. We would not have finished without their (continued) support. And we found an editor, Michael Dimmitt, who loved the project and agreed to work for deferred pay. He also made it possible for us to finish the film. He actually hasn’t been paid yet, and that sucks and we feel crappy about that, but he knows we’re good for it. It takes a lot of dedicated people to make a film like this. And we’re so grateful to everyone who has helped us.
What were some barriers you ran into?
Money, health, equipment problems, time. I’ve had a job consistently since a few months after we got back from Norway. Aaron was ill and I was trying to support us, as well as raise money to finish the film. That was a horrible time. It lasted for over a year, and it is a very dark period in my life. I was extremely depressed, as was Aaron, and it felt like we were never going to be able to finish the film. We finally found the funding and support we needed in two companies, Artists Public Domain and The Group Entertainment, and were able to start editing. It took six months just to digitize and log our 350+ hours of footage. Finally, moving forward! Then our system crashed. We lost it all. That was so disheartening. We took a break, regrouped, got a new editing system and editor, and started over, half a year’s work down the drain. It took about two years to edit the film, we had so much material and even though we knew what we wanted, it was difficult to achieve. We were both working at this point, so our free time was very limited, and it all went into the film. I’m not complaining, but there are years of my life dedicated solely to surviving and making this film.
Is it expensive to distribute a film so that the DVD is available on Amazon and in stores? Do you have other options to pursue for distribution?
Well, if you make a quickie movie with a small budget and don’t invest that much into it, you can do things like release it straight away on Amazon and platforms like that. If however, you do what we did, which requires a huge investment of time, money and work, then you can’t and don’t want to do that unless you have no other option. We are currently hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt on the film. We have investors and co-production partners who did not give us nor loan us the money, they invested it in our film. So that’s one aspect of why we are committed to doing a proper release of the film. In order to legally be able to release a DVD, we have to first pay about $50,000 in outstanding expenses. So, that’s just a reality we’re dealing with.
The other reason is that this is a creation that we have made, and there is a certain way that we want it to be presented. The film is about black metal, but we also deal with wider issues and it is relevant to the larger culture, not just fans of the genre. I am a filmmaker before I’m a fan, and a person before I’m a filmmaker, so there are a few masters that I serve when I make something. This is a communication between us and the world, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned from making this film, it’s that if you don’t control your creation to the utmost degree that you possibly can, you lose your ability to do so very quickly. We refuse to see this released in an exploitation context. This is an art film, and if people want to cheapen it, we will make that as hard as possible for them to do. Some people do, by the way, want to cheapen it, just like they want to cheapen metal in general.
Have reactions differed between metalheads and mainstream audiences?
It’s mostly metal fans who have seen it thus far. With our sneak peek screenings, what we have attempted to do is bring the film to places with interested metal scenes and give them a chance to check it out first and give us a chance to get feedback from them. And so far, the reaction from fans has been really great. 95% of them really like the film. Even the ones who thought they weren’t going to like it. You don’t know how many times we’ve heard “I was really worried that I was going to hate the movie, but I’m happy to say that I thought it was incredible.” Mainstream audiences are more mixed in their reactions. Some of them get angry that we don’t make the musicians look like complete assholes or lunatics. But the reactions from non-metal fans has been mostly positive as well. Especially from those who like dark underground films.
What are your hopes for this movie: what should it accomplish, who will see it, where will it fit in our pantheon of culture?
I think it is the best documentary about a music scene ever made. You can quote me on that. It isn’t like anything else. It is not a balls to the walls expose of youth gone wild. It is not sensationalized, nor exploitative. It is elliptical. It is a contemplative look at the evolution of the creators of a scene that has all but morphed out of existence, at the forces in the culture that brought it into being, and the forces of culture that take it into a different place in the culture’s conscious (or unconscious). It’s about mechanisms in society that eradicate authorship, identity, intent. It’s about black metal, a scene and genre of music that deserves to be accurately recorded, once and for all, for whatever place in history it will take.
Beyond that, as filmmakers, we want it to be a work that resonates with the audience. The filmmaker who has had perhaps the biggest influence on me is Chris Marker. While our film deals pretty solidly with a story and characters and a time and a place, it also borrows from Marker the notion that a film can be more than the sum of its parts and that you can weave together seemingly disparate elements and timelines in a traditionally clear-cut documentary mold and create something that will hopefully resonate on levels beyond a linear re-telling. That was our goal anyway, or at least part of it. Hitting the tone that we wanted and striking the balance between telling the story of real people but also getting at the truth at the center of the story, while also exploring the other themes that we see as part and parcel of the story, was always going to be a challenge.
We also know that the contemplative tone and elliptical structure is going to piss off people who think that a documentary about metal should be a certain way, or done in a certain style. Our film isn’t like other works that people would superficially be tempted to lump us in with. I hope that eventually the film will be perceived as a unique work of cinema, valuable as a document of a music movement and a moment in time, but also valuable as a creative work in its own right.
Well, you can’t be objective when you’re dealing with passionate situations, politics and so forth. I guess you can, I never have. For instance if you were objective about Richard Nixon, you would never get him or understand him. You had to be subjective to understand Nixon. You have to be subjective to understand the Hells Angels.
– Hunter S. Thompson, interview with Freezerbox magazine (2003)
Do you think black metal is a subculture in itself, or solely a genre of music? An ideology?
All of the above. It is a subculture, sort of, but one made up of individuals if that makes any sense.
What kind of audience response is required for a distributor to be interested?
We have to reach a wider audience to make the expense of making it make sense to a distributor. And we want to reach a wider audience, because it is a smart and moving and relevant film that deserves to be seen. Due to the collapse of the indie film industry, we’ve had to really think about a way to make this all work. Our current plan is to show the film theatrically at these sneak peek screenings and festivals that we’re currently doing. This does a couple things: 1) Lets the theater bookers know that the film does have an audience, and that they won’t lose money if they book it. 2) Lets DVD distributors know that we will work like that crazy to make it worth their while, and again to prove that there is an audience. And 3) to get a break from all these people writing us all the time telling us to release the film or bring it to their town already!
We get A LOT of requests to bring it to places all over, we plan on bringing the film around the US for special engagements through September, then we’re going to Europe in October, premiering in London at the Raindance Film Festival in October, then bringing it to a few more countries before we head back to the states to finish our theatrical run in the fall. A lot of people have been asking us to bring the film to various countries, and we’re trying, but some are very hard. Like France, they basically won’t screen the film without French subtitles, and we don’t have the money to have it subtitled. But we’re working on these things! We actually listen to the people who write to us and we try to set up screenings wherever we can. I’m actually slightly terrified by some of the ones we’ve set up, I mean is anyone going to go see the film in Atlanta? I really don’t know. But a couple people wrote and asked us to do it, so we set it up. So, I hope so. It’s a gamble. Failure at any screening is very damaging, this is a truly stressful process.
By the way, one thing I should point out. Probably a lot of your readers, who are immersed in the metal culture, look at our film and think “this thing will sell a lot” but believe me, distributors etc. look at it and say “what the fuck is this?” The metal market is a small one by film standards, and not large enough to justify the expense alone (for distributors). Even people who like the film tell us that the film is great, but they have no idea how to market it. So we have to show them that we do. So, that’s the plan. Time will tell if it worked.
Would you want them to show this film on prime time cable?
I want people to have the option of seeing the film in a theater first. Magic and ritual and mysticism is all but gone from the world already, but there is something of that surviving in the ritual of seeing a film in a darkened room with a bunch of people there with the same purpose. Maybe you think that’s dumb, but you don’t become a filmmaker if you don’t respect the power of the medium. And no, that doesn’t apply to all films. A lot of films can be appreciated just fine on DVD only! But my hope is that people take something from the experience of seeing the film in a theater, and leave thinking about it, or talking to their friends, because the film is not as straightforward as some might think before seeing it. We tried to make it multi-layered, and I think we did. It’s meant to be watchable more than once, because there are things that might not be apparent on the first viewing. And that’s true of all my favorite films. But, then, I truly love film! I’ve seen some of my favorite movies countless times, and will see them countless more! And as I change, I see different things in them. A film can function as a statement, as a record, as a cipher, as a puzzle, as an experience, or as a mirror. Or all of them.
Did your attitudes toward metal bands and fans change?
Not really. We are fans ourselves. All fans are different. The film is very specific to Norwegian black metal. It isn’t about the fans. We’ve found the fans, by and large, to be really engaged, smart, and generous. There are always a few people who say that they will never see this film no matter what because they can’t conceive of the possibility that it just doesn’t suck. And that’s fine. There are about half a million movies that come out every year that you couldn’t force me to watch. Then there are a few who say that we should be punished for not releasing it on DVD sooner. That’s retarded. Let them go put their entire life, all of their money, all of their time, and make their own movie and then we can talk.
Anyway, this is like people who get upset because we didn’t include certain bands or certain people, or that there aren’t American bands in the movie, and I just can’t relate to that mindset. Usually I just tell them that sounds like a really great idea for a movie, go make it. What are we supposed to say to this? Did people get angry at Spielberg when he didn’t put giant squids, barracudas, piranhas and sea-snakes in Jaws? This isn’t an encyclopedia. It isn’t journalism. It’s a movie. It’s OUR movie. It’s what we combined to make. There are an infinite number of possibilities, people create what they are moved to create. We were moved to make this, and we’re happy with the film that we made. Most people who see it are happy with it too. And if they’re not, that’s fine too, I like that some people hate the movie, I think that’s healthy. Love it or hate it, a strong response is a victory. Of course, I can say that because so far, most people have loved it. I might feel differently if more people hated it!
Do you see comparisons to other genres and black metal?
You can compare anything to anything else. You can compare a grape to a Ford Taurus. You can compare Einstein to the A-Team. Of course you can compare other genres to black metal. And of course, being a huge fan of black metal and other kinds of music, I see comparisons. But that’s entirely subjective and totally irrelevant. We aren’t doing that. We don’t talk in the film. The idea of the film is that the musicians themselves are the ones who are talking about it. Not cops, not priests, not fans, not musicians of other genres, and not us. Some metal fans call us hipsters (only on blogs mind you) because we like more than metal. That’s absurd.
Do you think black metal was a moment in time, or will it continue to exist like other heavy metal?
Both. Things change. There was certainly a lot of music that inspired the Norwegians and they in turn inspire others.
What other films have you done, and do you plan to do?
Our next film is a thriller that takes place on a commune. I was born on a commune. They can be a bit cultie. Some are stranger than others. Our film will have some supernatural elements as well. We want to call it Possesion, but there is already a great film from the 70’s with that name. So its working title is The Living Day.
You seem remarkably gentle when handling metalheads. What do you think is the psychology of the average metalhead?
I don’t really put people into different categories like that. A lot of my friends are “metalheads.” To a lot of mainstream people, I’m a “metalhead.” To others, I’m a hippie. I don’t believe that there is a generalized psychology to any subculture. There are so many factors in making a person like one thing over another, and so many differences within subcultures. If there is a similarity amongst people we’ve met in the scene it’s a certain interest in looking past the surface of things. Always a good idea.
What would you advise a first-time watcher to do as they see your movie?
Let the movie’s logic do its thing, don’t come with expectations or an agenda.
Art is a creative act. Paul Klee said that art does not simply render nature, it renders it visible. The artist sees something that others do not see, and by seeing it and putting it on canvas, he makes it visible to others. Recognition art. A particle physicist at the University of Texas named John Wheeler has developed something that he calls “recognition physics.” Wheeler says that nothing exists until it is observed. Well, the artist as observer is like that. The observer creates by observing, and the observer observes by creating. In other words, observation is a creative act. By observing something and putting it onto canvas, the artist makes something visible to others that did not exist until he observed it.
– William S. Burroughs, interview in Contemporanea (1990)