Blood must be shed to atone for the sins of these mostly horrific recordings. Every single person who thought releasing these was a great idea should attempt to give themselves a self-swirlie while under the influence. Banging their head on the porcelain toilet tank lid will knock some sense into them or crack their skulls open. Hopefully the latter.
Article by Corey M.
Sewage plants are ever-flowing streams of shit. So is the deathmetal.org promo box:
A swirling miasma of ethanol greeted us upon the last Black Flames of Blasphemy, a festival held this past November in the picture perfect setting of Helsinki. The night before the scheduled Warmup event, I flew into town and made a beeline for Bar PRKL, a space named for the Finnish profanity likely exposed to most readers of this site from the comedy album released by the quirky Impaled Nazarene.
Those of us who live in less utopian societies than Finland often wonder why the idyllic nations in this area are able to produce such incredible music. “Finnish people can’t admit that they have goodness,” chuckled ApeX lead guitarist Arttu, an incredibly young thrash band who were in the process of violating the few revelers in attendance at PRKL that night. Indeed, as such documentaries as Until the Light Takes Us strove to illustrate, perfection has cast a pall on everything in much of the remaining non-disintegrating portions of the globe. It is almost as if the human condition is predisposed to strife, and that ostensibly perfect societies lead the average citizen to turn to perversion to bring balance into life – thus possibly explaining why places like Germany and Japan end up with penchants for coprophilia and bestiality.
Also present at PRKL were two members of Sammath, who descended upon Helsinki specifically for a dose of damage to tympanic membranes and liver. Hundreds of euros worth of alcohol consumed before the festival even started explains the reduced quality of the writing herein. Any complaints may be directed towards those two for rendering me quasi-unable to write let alone think. The fact that the screed was written on a tortured local keyboard and the reviewer is used to a U.S. issued one didn’t help a whit either.
We older, more cynical types were delighted to find youth as enthusiastic about all things metal as ApeX, and though 17 year olds themselves were unusual in their devotion, Helsinki was remarkable for having metal and punk culture literally everywhere one went. Taxis, restaurants, public toilets, airport shuttles and hotels all had a notably worthwhile theme of fine harder music. This trend did display its cellulitic underbelly in billboards featuring nerdwank outfit, Nightwish, hawking air-brushed, wet-dream-inducing Caucasian female thighs and an exorbitantly expensive line of bling suitable for teenagers in wealthy northern countries with too much pocket money for their age.
But I digress. Our focus should be on the festival, and that was one thing that the festival organizers seemed to have done quite well over the years. Black Flames of Blasphemy has been a fairly well attended sub-underground festival, running on and off for the last six years. The early years were vomited forth in a now rededicated cathedral in central Helsinki, and whilst the festival has moved on to less atmospheric surrounds, the organizers’ devotion to only the most rabidly necrotic bands is no small feat. Originally launched by Kold Reso Kult, the festival seems to have taken on a raison d’etre of its own over the years and drawn numerous acts known for playing a very limited number of shows such as Antaeus and Blasphemy. The scarcity of many of the acts led to a non-trite sense of novelty that led to a triangulated feeling somewhere between reverence, arrogance and pride for having been one of the few to have seen such veritable narwhals of the musical world.
This year was allegedly the last, and whilst threats of this sort are often made in the world of underground metal (only 120 copies to be made in hymen blood, and then no more ever again NO CORE, NO TRENDS, . . . until we release it in vinyl again in a few months on an even more ridiculously limited run), there seemed to be little threat that the crowd did not lend it a credence as evidenced by the flagrant hedonism on display at virtually every level of the setting. Nosturi, as the venue was called, must have some connection to vile ‘rhoidrock band HIM, as their logo appears in the lighting-rig and several other locations in the building; but detestable associations aside, the venue was actually quite accommodating.
The staff at Nosturi were kind and courteous, putting up with the sort of reprehensible behavior that one would expect from a down syndrome five-year-old on amphetamines. Indeed, this seemed to be true for most Helsinkians, who were never seen to act heavy-handedly despite the questionable behavior of many of our associates. The drinks were of course ridiculously expensive, as are all things in Finland, (3 euro for the coatroom, 1 euro to retrieve said coat!?!?) but that did not stop the cohort from literally drinking the place into oblivion every single bloody evening.
Black Flames of Blasphemy VI should be noted to have featured the most solid lineup in the history of the festival. Indeed, more than a few have been solidly praised on this site amongst others for their solid contributions to the overall gestalt of extreme metal achievement in the prime years of the scene. Still, it was uneven. As has been reiterated time and again on this site, 99% of metal is absolute shit, and bands like Blackwinged embodied the nadir of human endeavor. The silver lining to this is that more time was made for sightseeing / mind abusing opportunities.
On then to the reviews as they were penned by this reviewer in the classic manner: via sweat, ink and beer soaked notebook clutched between pumping fists, and the contributions of the stalwart brood of iniquitous, abusive pundits who wandered in and out of the fuzzy borders of the violence ringing in his ears.
DAY 1: WARMUP – Grunt / Bizarre Uproar / Ride for Revenge / Obscure Burial / Deströyer 666
Grunt: Said to be a side project of Clandestine Blaze / Northern Heritage sociopath, Mikko Aspa, Grunt kicked off the “Warmup” to the festival by doing quite the opposite. Monotonous, repetitive pulses punctuated by amateur feedback made me wonder why people are still drawn to artrock. Images of highly disturbing matter lent the show a more tolerable air, but pudgy white guys in bondage masks barking at random made me conscious of guarding my asshole too much to enjoy the show. Over all, Grunt in concert were a bit like listening to your fey roommate having an orgy whilst listening to Godflesh on a broken turntable next door. The playing of the belt sander on the thunder machine was an interesting flare, but with all due respect, Mr. Aspa should keep his day job.
Bizarre Uproar: Seems like Grunt just changed into their street clothes and got fatter. A Dutchman near me noted that this band gave him earAIDS. This drove us back to the bar as it wasn’t nearly so interesting as twenty well executed shots of salmiakki licorice alcohol. Cirrhosis is always preferable to aural loss. Look not for the successors to the great Throbbing Gristle here.
Ride For Revenge: Repetitive, sludgy, and coming off like Goatlord, but not quite as inspired, RfR still brought the focus of the show more firmly in a metal direction. The band’s stage presence was directionless, and at times reminiscent of one of those hunting dioramas at a second rate sporting goods store.
Obscure Burial: The writing in my notebook point is smeared by unknown fluids for this act. What is legible bleeds through as follows: “A triple barbed fishhook – much more focused than any other band thus far. An Australian nearby wrote this:
“We walked up to the upstairs area and there were cocks everywhere. It was gay as shit! It was like listening to Kreator in 99! Fuck that shit.”
This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.
Deströyer 666: Maligned in some quadrants for playing in a thrashy, hook-flaying style that may have contributed to the formation of “war metal,” and in others for K.K. Warslut’s obnoxious attitude, Deströyer 666 were a true joy to behold. Filled out by an entirely new band, K.K. and the boys managed to finally shake the torpid audience out of their inertia. Tracks such as the shocking “Raped” gave the listener the same queasy pleasure that one derives from listening to the Fearless Iranians from Hell’s “Blow up the Embassy.” “I am the Wargod,” and “Black City,” were played with more chin-jutted pride and beauty than on the vinyl, whilst the ethereal “Trialed by Fire” raised the hair on necks and the spirits of the dejected. Deströyer even launched a kerosene-soaked rendition of Motörhead’s “Iron Fist,” tipping their chrome-studded hats to Phil “Philthy” Taylor’s passing earlier in the day. All in all, Deströyer 666 certainly made showing up to the festival a night early well worth it, purging our ears of much of the fluff which preceded them.
Day 2: FRIDAY 13th – Blackwinged / Vampire / Hell Militia / Xibalba / Mayhemic Truth / Midnight / Blasphemy
Blackwinged: Guest reviewer – Vlad, Russian virus and vodka enthusiast, and general psychopath: “Blackwinged? FUCK THEM ALL! Suck my fucking wrinkled dick.” It may be said that they weren’t a favorite amongst the crowd.
Vampire: Concho belted, pretty boy Aerosmith antics of the lead vocalist Command aside, it has to be said that Vampire were one of the big surprises of the show. With an approach akin to Kreator’s “Extreme Aggression,” Vampire managed to transcend the Italian horror-film shtick of their stage set, album art and, yes, band name to actually convey the attraction of mortification. Although I was unfamiliar with the tracks, the music whelmed in a not untasteful rock format that seared themes presumably of the undead into the conscious. Channeling Riccardo Freda in the best ways possible, Vampire delivered an entertaining show that was only slightly marred by the less-cocksure presence of the string section.
Hell Militia: 666 – no report – 666
Xibalba: Undeniably shitty drum solos and crude corpse-paint aside, Xibalba stood as one of the zeniths of the festival. These heroes of the second wave of black metal came on with a garage band sincerity that outshone the more highly polished acts throughout the rest of the evening. Thank Satan for this eager aural feast! Tracks like “Sign of Eastern War” and “Sac Ibteeloob Cab” were executed with a grim clarity that were occasionally missed on the original disc. Young new band members injected an off-kilter virility into the music that is essential for such an ambitious project.
Mayhemic Truth: Best known for changing monikers as often as John “Cougar” Mellancamp, and for many of the same shitty dishonest reasons, Morrigan were cut from the same overrated Kraut-tripe, kvlt-as-fvck cheesecloth as their vacuous countrymen Moonblood. In the 90s before MP3s made the obscure-kvlt fad obsolete, I was of the brood vainly attempting to find releases by this act . . . only to be astonished by how over-hyped they were when I finally heard them. Jeffemic Truthship did not fail to disappoint by disappointing with hackneyed black metal cliché after hackneyed black metal cliché. Stay obscure, White Stripes of kvltmetal, so that the rest of us don’t have to hear your sorry excuse for music.
Midnight: This reviewer was looking forward to some sort of decent blackened speed akin to Sodom, and was bouncing off the walls for some old school headbanging. Unfortunately, I wasn’t much impressed, so gave the job of review again to the ruthless peanut gallery around me: “nice thrash. ßit’s not, so fk off! Cheap ass trash. Fucking bollocks!!! Boring. It’s not even midnight assholes. They started at 11:45 – midnight my arse!! Midshite!!”
Blasphemy: Blasphemy’s terrifying Cro-Magnon antics delineated why the genre of black metal flourished for one brief, outstanding moment back at the fall of the Soviet Empire. The Canadian masters of knuckle-dragging avant-garde horror imprecisely dissected the audience as a claw hammer muddles and pulverizes the veiny membranes of a victim’s genitals. While the Ross Bay maniacs may never have quite reached the spacey brilliance of their Finnish protégés, Beherit, the “organized chaos” of their technique was matched that night only by the gunfire lighting up stadiums in Paris 2,000 kms away. Tracks such as “Goddess of Perversity” were executed with an intensity reminiscent of some of the more hyperactive Discharge tracks, and intros were faithfully inserted without a hint of humor. Photos attempted at short range during this show mostly consisted of purple blurs and the back of brutarian ham-hock elbows. The show also illustrated again why Blasphemy have only ever put out two real efforts (yes, I know that there are technically three, but come on – they’re basically fifteen minute punk affairs). The band made their contracted dynamo statement of grunted, jack-booted hate in a blood-clot of chains, crudely applied paint and beer-gutted belches. After forty insanely punishing minutes, the Helsinki authorities carted them off to their respective cells in solitary confinement where they belong.
DAY 3: Satanic Warmaster / Infernal War / Irkallian Oracle / Funeral Winds / Goat Semen / Varathron / Mysticum
Satanic Warmaster: Written by a drunk Finn: HAISTA VITTU VITUN HUORA KUSIPĀĀ, IME MUNAA JA KUOLE! SAATANA LLINEN SOTA HERRA NY LOPPU SAHTI. PRIEKĀ, NO LATVIHAE. LAI TEV LABA DZIVE PRIEKS TEVI SATIKT. Actually, those last couple of phrases might be in Latvian.
Infernal War: 666 – No report – 666
Irkallian Oracle: I really wanted to hate this band. They are so phenomenally over the top. A bunch of ring-wraiths holding sparkly tambourines and bells. Faces masked by silver sheets. The kind of accouterments and flashy hocus-pocus that one would expect from a second-rate Ed Wood movie. And yet, the band was enigmatic. Themes held together throughout the whole concept of a track, cycling back from start to finish to start again, alpha and omega encompassing a solid core. The mystery behind the act was far more compelling than with more gimmicky acts that have been abused on these pages. This band is what GHOST wishes it was. I will be interested to pick up the album to see whether the whole disc sounds as good as it did live.
Funeral Winds: See: Mayhemic Truth. Or just about any Xerox copy black metal.
Goat Semen: Came off as a kind of second rate bully boy Blasphemy. Sure, they have cleaner riffs from time to time, but do they convey the same core of absolute spinning disgust and pummeling loathing? Perhaps it’s just that Blasphemy are so much more familiar from having been played time and again . . . or that they developed this genre, and that anything else emulating it is just that: a plastic reproduction, no matter how faithfully copied.
Varathron: For almost three decades these innovative masters of crawling necrotic horror have forged timeless odes to their Hellenic ancestors. Rivaled in their excellence and originality in Greece perhaps only by the great Necromantia, Varathron have been criminally overlooked by basement-dwelling pseudonymed fanboys more interested in the likes of obscure releases by Moëvöt than incredibly well developed music that perfectly emotes the Dionysian strophe and anti-strophe of ancient cultic form. Varathron took the stage with more presence than could have been imagined from some of the cheesier rock mantras that they fell prey to in the early 2000s, and launched into a barrage of tracks from across their storied career. Recent(ish) drummer Haris is an amazing addition to the band, and one that this reviewer wishes had been present on classics such as “His Majesty at the Swamp,” which suffered from drummachineitis. Guitarist Achilleas decimated the audience much like his warrior-hero namesake, along with twin slayer in savagery Sotiris and recently added bassist, Stratos. Varathron reached their climax with the amazing “Kabalistic Invocation of Solomon,” where band high priest Necroabyssius read from Dogme et Rituel de la Haute Magie, in a huge tome edition, green lights all ablaze, magnificence all ablaze. Incidentally, the entire band are really nice blokes too.
Toxicology report: Mysticum: *Journalist’s disclaimer – order of events may have played out slightly differently than reported – notes were not taken during the actual performance, but recalled from cottony memory* Twin streams of quicksilver lashed the crowd as the techno triumvirate of Cerastes, Prime Evil, and Dr. Best took to the stage. Nineteen years elapsed since this dystopian nightmare last synthesized an audience into freebased crystallized human waste. I had grave doubts about whether this band would be anything interesting live. Idols are often deflating in situ, and although their demos and first album were good, the production levels often made the backtrack sound like bubble paper being stomped on by Japanese girls in platforms. All fears were allayed as the thumping horror of “Black Magic Mushrooms” battered the audience and surreal monochromatic strobewar of lights blistered our retinas. The light show and visuals were truly unique throughout a performance interestingly heavy on tracks from the new “Planet Satan” release, including “Lucifer in the Sky with Demons,” “All Must End,” and my personal favorite, “The Ether.” On the screen, forms morphed from chemical compounds of LSD and other intoxicants, to Nazi soldiers, to skulls and swirling maelstroms of insanity. A paralyzing early intermezzo left the crowd confused and disoriented, after which “Crypt of Fear’s” ominous intro shook them into hysteria. Mysticum left no room for error: they are back to stay, and dominate. 100% pure satanic peyote!
Epilogue: Starting at a flat line
The shuttle bus at the airport is rooted to the ground. Won’t move anywhere. The heater is up way too high. I’m roasting in morkkis, a Finnish term for a kind of hideous hangover defined by creeping dread and a sense of, well, mortification. One poor soul we interviewed might best sum up the atmosphere of the entire festival. He was hobbling around on crutches. When asked what transpired, he confided that early on in the show, he and some colleagues had taken a few doses of LSD. Having come down into a troubled, drug addled sleep he was jolted awake by a fellow reveler, who had hallucinated that the police were raiding their dwelling. His immediate reaction was to jump from the upper story window down to a painful and humiliating full stop below. Morkkis. The human condition is low indeed. Yet I am buoyed by the knowledge that even if most of what moved this reporter was music penned two decades ago, it was a zenith of human achievement, and which could have only been commemorated by the bacchanalian Black Flames of Blasphemy.
The brainchild of James Murphy, a guitar virtuoso who released two instrumental “shred” albums through Shrapnel Records, Disincarnate is in theory an underground metal dream made reality. The band released its one and only album in 1993 on Roadrunner Records. Murphy’s legendary lead guitar work on Obituary’s Cause of Death created the promise of a killer album was in the making, only it was never delivered.
Disincarnate is part of the first wave of post-Human era Death/Cynic bands who were making death metal explicitly play nice with the Headbanger’s Ball and Guitar World audiences under the guise of Floridian rhythmic death metal. This watered-down death metal was designed to appeal to the casual Pantera and Chaos A.D. metal fans of the time. On Dreams of the Carrion Kind, song structures are simple and pop-oriented, reminiscent of an 80s speed metal act like Exodus, which is a riff salad without themes developing within it.
“Monarch of the Sleeping Marshes,” the best composition on the album, fails to capture its surprisingly elaborate lyrical concept, impeding upon the momentum of its inspired introductory riffcraft with an awkward pause after the chorus to make way for an incongruous bridge of generic Benediction mosh fare. Other tracks like “Soul Erosion” and “Deadspawn” sound like Brutality playing along to bouncy Fear Factory/Pantera chugging fare with death metal vocals and lyrics adapted around that framework, no doubt in a vain attempt to bridge two trends from the era. At best, it could be compared to a lowbrow version of the first half of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence.
James Murphy’s dextrous playing and the early Roadrunner Records connection would make this seem innocent, but don’t be fooled. This release is cleverly disguised as something profound but is no more advanced than Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. It isn’t awful to the point where you would rather swan dive into a wood chipper, but the overly bluesy doom riffs and the grooved out relaxed tempos of tremolo riffs in cyclical song structures that break for a “guitar hero” solo suggests this band as having the confused character of something that wants to be morbid and sinister, but also pander to the Dimebag Darrell worshipers of that era.
While some of the wiser among us would simply dismiss this as not up to par with other releases in its genre, on closer inspection, this album alongside Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Obituary’s The End Complete in addition to Roadrunner Records vast distribution network assisted in streamlining death metal into a more rock centric style that allowed the Gutted/Kataklysm mosh fare with flashy distraction breaks to become an Ozzfest/Hot Topic mainstay in the 2000s.
“Styles” are divisions of a subgenre not pronounced enough to warrant a new subgenre. “Sounds” are aesthetic variants of a subgenre. Just as “doom metal” means music that is either heavy metal or death metal played slowly with morbid/gothic surfacing, “sounds” differentiate groups of similar musical approach from each other. The evolution of “sounds” can be viewed as a hierarchy of specialized technique and aesthetic within a genre, the technique creating an effect that reveals the intent of the creators as communicated to the listener.
Technique and “Sounds”
Aesthetic and “Styles”
You can understand the styles of heavy metal by looking at the musical techniques and theory used, the aeshetic created, and the patterns of underlying structure pursued (as you can do in differentiated not just genres but types of music). Styles of death metal, black metal, heavy metal and crossover metal divide into “containers” for stylistic and compositional tendencies which reveal the interpretative structures in the music evoking the larger meta-perception or “life philosophy” beneath.
Aesthetic — or styles, arrangement, and production decisions — “works” where it supports the internal compositional structures of whatever music it encloses. Technique and production and performance come together to produce an aesthetic, which matches a compositional style, which in turn reflects the ideas that inspired the artist to communicate with his or her audience.
Heavy metal, in general, is music of loud, intense, nihilistic, feral, atavistic sound that reduces the individual and places them in a context of history where they are nothing (some would call this realism or nihilism). Accepting the reaction of despair to the violence and paranoia and insanity of human world living in denial of fear/death, and turning it into a living, willful, and distinctive nihilism that affirms nothingness as a gateway into more profound realms of thought — this is the goal of heavy metal, and it has many voices, or styles.
By playing off of internal rhythms, metal bands achieve syncopation — the inversion of stress in a passage. Normally strong beats are weak and the weak are strong; this effect is often achieved through polyrhythmic overlay by double-bass in death metal bands or by the chaotic, threshing blast beat of blackmetal drummers.
The variation enables an excited internal sub-rhythm to drive the song, as many bands do with double bass drums, letting snare and high hat/cymbal disassociate for key structural textures.
“Hell Awaits” and beyond featured the granddaddy of double-bass technique.
“Deicide” featured songs with anti-synchronized pump-beat percussion similar to the “Jaws” theme.
The master planners of moving syncopated air and bass drum integration.
“Shadows in the Deep” used this technique to warlike effect via guitar player forearm.
Using multiple rhythms to enhance layering effects bands create multiple dimensions of rhythmic space, using a normally linear framework in new shapes and often long or indeterminate phrases. This can occur in the dominant rhythmic instrument (guitars) or the background rhythm (drums/bass).
Some bands have taken this to extremes of chaos piling into itself, revealing an inner consistency and beauty, where others have interpreted this in the way of more contemporary ambient composers and have layered counterpoint or complementary rhythms in complex neo-electronic compositions.
“Pure Holocaust” features raging chaotic polyrhythm and ambient melody.
“Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” layered repetition to create epic meta-structures.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” began with an inverted polyrhythmic beat.
“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” used high-speed polyrhythms under ambient guitar.
Explosive or definitive notes in a phrase are accentuated by percussion in drums or stringed instrument. Most often in guitars this occurs in the bands who muffle chords and strum staccato or interplay phrasing for conclusive effect, more than open-ended styles.
“Master of Puppets” used emphatic muffled chords for percussive centering in riffs.
“Effigy of the Forgotten” used intricate polyrhythmic progressions to center complex songs.
“Beneath the Remains” combined speed metal percussive strumming and death metal speeds.
Often bands give texture to rhythms by playing multiple levels of rhythm. For example, a guitar changing chords has a dominant rhythm in the beats on which the change occurs, but the chords themselves have a layer of rhythm in the speed with which they are strummed, or in death metal technique, at which their two most essential notes are varied through strumming or hammering. Even further, often the strumming itself has an independent texture which moves with the composition as a whole.
“Haunting the Chapel” invented the flying wrist technique of achieving hummingbird tremelo strumming.
“Shadows in the Deep” featured slow masterpieces of micromotion and precision.
- Morbid Angel
After their monumental “Altars of Madness” which used this technique to create ambient melody and rhythm, Morbid Angel used it for prog-rock precision in the details of their epic “Blessed Are the Sick.”
“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” features ambient strumming over Bathory-style rigid percussion matrix.
- Rigor Mortis
“Rigor Mortis” and more significantly “Freaks” built this technique into classical melody and structure.
These Norwegians made rhythmic expectancy a part of their half-sliding, half-paused progressive metal.
“Normal” melodies are used by older styles of heavy metal and sometimes by progressive bands integrating a jazz or rock influence. They are built around the scales used by these forms of music historically and in present essence, and as such are more easily recognized by listeners familiar with more mainstream music.
“Unquestionable Presence” built jazz harmony into a style of melodic progressive death metal.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
- At the Gates
“Slaughter of the Soul,” this band’s final work, made use of mainstreamification in the death metal sound.
Using dissonant alignment of notes in melodies produces a mournful yet technical sound, so many bands use this technique in both melodic and harmonic construction.
From “Dimension Hatross” onward Voivod have built songs around dissonant melodic tension.
“From This Day Forward” established the ability of dissonance and atonality to build complex jazzlike compositions.
“Pure Holocaust” and “Blizzard Beasts” feature dissonant melody and use of inversion contra rhythm.
Atonal arrangements of notes produce bizarre and perverse melodies, causing instigation of uprising in the mentality of the listener. The “not tonal” nature of this etymology comes from the lack of a fixed scale, or use of an cycling scale of arbitrary tones.
Most metal musicians use this style of composition in conjunction with chromatic scales, dynamically acquiring tone centers through counterpoint and experimenting with classical music theory in key-less anti-melodic architectures.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” through “Covenant” used atonal solos to great effect over dissonant compositions.
“Legion” used atonal lead guitar to emphasize the nihilism of chromatic composition.
In the style of classical composers from years past augmented with an focus geared more toward an attention span “in the now,” metal bands often use modal layers to create songs.
These layers, each forming a portion of the main melody in the song which changes over time to narrate song development, create a resonant harmony which the composer can change to develop the complex matrix of emotions required to manipulate atmospheric mood.
This style easily succumbs to being only technique, but is useful for developing a language of melody in which harmony serves a subordinate role.
Simple in outcome but complex in how far it varies from predictable in conception, the music of Burzum unfolds longer narrative by manipulating environmental depth to melody.
Short deranged pieces create atmosphere through two or three melodies sequenced in different orders to form narrative, with layers of two-note modal complements influencing direction in mood.
Classical harmonic formations stay within the same key and manipulate different registers of mode or tone. The chromatic scales and intricate arpeggio formations of death and black metal lay their ancestry here and develop into a more direct sense of musical motion.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” evolved this technique into fast-picking and ambient relationship to beat, accentuating it with atonal lead guitars.
“Feasting the Beast” demonstrated this technique in an ambient but violent setting.
“Det Som Engang Var” built simple classical music out of power chord arpeggios.
The freedom and complexity of jazz harmonics attracted many metal composers, who have worked in that area to create bizarre and startling freaks of brutality.
“Unquestionable Presence” built jazz harmony into a style of melodic progressive death metal.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
“Nespithe” built bizarre harmonies from rudimentary fusionesque randomness
Oftentimes rock-n-roll influences creep into metal bands and are easily identified by their influence on the dominant rhythms, and by the more mainstream tonal ideas of the pieces. Since rock is essentially blues filtered through the cowboy hobo country music eyepiece, these bands often bear a lot in common with jazz-influence acts.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
Most rock songs come of the verse-chorus tradition and consequently so does unstudied death and black metal, as well as most grindcore. The tedium of this technique is sometimes temporarily alleviated by adding another structure or riff pattern on top of the double elements of cycle but even this is transparent.
When many riffs are joined to form a progression of ideas not as much concerned with creating a piece but a sequence of moods a narrative composition occurs; others call this “riff salad” or “grab-bag metal.”
- Malevolent Creation
Music created with massive conceptions in mind often builds entirely unconventional structures to serve the individualized needs of each song. At this level of composition, nothing is as fits the norm as each piece has an entirely custom use in unique and intricate compositions where details matter.
“In the Nightside Eclipse” featured drifting and meandering songs built around central melodies.
“Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” used bafflingly simple and distinctive riffs in layers to create epic compositions.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” often sequenced seemingly jarring changes in the smoothness of compositional integration.
“Orion” from Master of Puppets introduced this technique to the metal community at large.
Like rock and blues before it, people sing these. With melodic voices and enunciation of words. Though sometimes it seems bizarre now, most people like ALL of their entertainment to sound this way.
A mid-eighties hybrid of Slayer metal and Iron Maiden rock, their album Nosferatu used sung vocals to pragmatic effect.
Hardcore punk brought us angry shouting for vocals and it re-appears from time to time in death and black metal but is limited by the clarity and monotone of vocal it produces through uniform emphasis.
The majority of modern metal works utilize this style, yet it arose from crossover music like grindcore after being inspired by the grand old growler of metal, Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead, whose membership in both heavy metal and punk communities affirms his historical importance.
Metal originally adopted the gravely cigarette-burnt and alcohol-eroded voice of punk rock’s more deested vocalists, favoring its obscurity and the difficulty of marketing such an indistinct image in the world of concrete images concealing nebulous actualities and negligible rewards.
By reducing timbre from absolute tone to gritty, naturalistic, distortion and shearing melody to textural variance only, this style de-emphasizes vocals while making their presence fit into the texture of the music, allowing more dynamic variation in composition.
- Napalm Death
“Scum” revealed extremes of this technique for their potential in disturbing the aesthetic sensibilities of listeners.
“Seven Churches” brought the voice forth in primal form.
- The Exploited
With a sequence of groundbreaking hardcore albums the Exploited let the voice get growlier each time.
- Morbid Angel
Death metal cofounders Morbid Angel implemented this technique to great effect on “Altars of Madness” and beyond.
A more fragile sound, more like a warning than the guttural vocals of death metal, this high pitched muffled shriek is distorted so that it sounds like warnings from the dead.
Used vocals to accentuate melody in majestic pieces of speedy production and demonic drive.
Fragments of melody in vocals harmonized with miminalist riffing to expand mood.
The master of searing growls with both texture and punctuation in rhythm, MkM paces each piece with violence and depth.
Droning melodic vocals within distorted chaos frame the structural changes in this music.
Taking over from Black Sabbath when too much Led Zeppelin clonage invaded the airwaves, NWOBHM bands used more punkish riffing with more precise, technological structures in phrasing. The imagination ran wild and fantasy/mideval concepts in lyrics developed here.
As Sabbath was slow, the doom metal genre demanded slower and more dramatically manic depressive songwriting. These bands bridge power chords across glacial rhythm for atmospheric impact. Often accompanied by drugs, esp. marijuana.
Probed right after NWOBHM made its appearance, narrative bands strung together collages of riff and transition to make unfolding retellings of experience. This style is eternal and re-emerges every generation.
Viewed by many as the nadir of metal, stadium metal is influenced by post-progressive rock atmospheric bands who used instrumentalism and pure pop hook to make sentimental but explosive songs. In metal this translates to an epic ballad flavor to everything. Once again, an eternal style which recurs with each new cycle of metal.
Punk is simplified 1950s rock voiced in power chords and sequenced to a pulsing basic rhythm. Vocals and aesthetic emphasized dirt and unsteadiness, and disregard of musicality freed bands from the form and compositional dynamic of rock music. Often bouncy or humorous, punk music moves with a friendly but simple motion.
Anthemic workingclass punk with often abrasive sounds mixed with guitar work reminiscent of surf bands from the generation before, Oi came into its own as its own influence in the next generation of hardcore.
Building tension through emphasis on melodic notes within otherwise rigid progressions, a subset of the hardcore community made music with constant unchanging percussion and fluidly shifting riffs.
The earliest hardcore to secede from normalcy became truly a handful of power chords grinding against one another in conflicted progressions and interrupted rhythm. This music is essentially similar to grindcore after the first generation.
The major innovation of speed metal was the muffled, explosive strumming of power chords to produce a sound of impact and resurrect the power of rhythm guitar in rock music.
Bands like Prong produced the first hypnotic rhythm “mellow” metal which while violent in methods of creation produced an atmosphere of calm and allowed emotional aspects of the art within to emerge.
Some bands aspired to the fantasy- and progressive-inspired works of NWOBHM and toward that aim produced neoclassical and often lengthy works. The most commonly known example of this is Metallica’s “Orion.”
From the 1970s progressive bands metalheads began making larger structures and wider gains in technique in the rendering of intricate but impact-oriented music. While power chord riffing remains predominant, many progressive metal bands moved beyond the accepted “progressive” sound and created theoretically literate avantgarde works.
Misnamed speed/death metal hybrid bands were called “thrash metal” because of their violent and self-conflicted music, aggressive attitudes and thrash-based ideological assertions. The origin of the term “thrash metal” is European big corporate media magazines trying to sell speed metal as something more extreme than what it was.
A style that emerged as the speed metal genre was dying, power metal is speed metal riffing played either in an epic heavy metal or tuffguy pseudo-death metal style.
One branch of thrash reveals more of its punk influence, and in bands like MDC or COC expressed itself with loosely hardcore songs played quickly with a metal influence in phrasing, but in punk song structures and major keys.
The other half of the thrash tree demonstrates a more metallic approach and is a proto-death-metal hybrid subgenre, found most clearly in the early works of Cryptic Slaughter and the later works of DRI.
Open intervals and precise furiously fast structures distinguish this variant. Bands like Repulsion and Terrorizer defined this style.
The schizophrenic out of time rhythms and blurry, organic, lavaging rush of this style produced disorientation and loss of individual characteristics in the rising phenomena of chaos.
Loosely derived from Discharge, this genre worked melodic hardcore into a blurring ripple of speed and fury that unleashed itself in short bursts of anger.
In the style of the mighty Assück, these bands created pounding furious rhythms from even intervals of the fretboard, roaring forth in some complexity but mostly disassociative, violent, random, disorienting music.
From the pure origins of death metal, the faster styles took after bands like Slayer, early Sepultura and Massacra in making architectures of intricate rhythm and melodic construction.
Derived from the slamming, explosive street-level speed metal of Exodus or Exhorder, percussive death metal evolved from the New York Death Metal and Tampa Death Metal sounds to become a generic style of impact-oriented, explosive muffled strum death metal.
“Hate” is mastery of this style.
New York Death Metal (NYDM)
Explosively percussive and equal parts speed metal and angst-ridden New York Hardcore (NYHC), this music flew from the depths with guttural vocals, edgy rhythm riffing and essaylike song structures. In two styles, one of which is more percussive than its longer phrased variant.
Florida Death Metal
Some of the most “heavy metal” of the death metal movement, the Florida bands mated bold rhythm to the pulsing rhythm of early percussive death metal and created the most defiant, monstrously simple and direct metal of the era.
Swedish Death Metal
The first major evolution of theory occurred within the Swedish Death Metal movement, where Sunlight Studios/Thomas Skogsberg(tm) fuzztone production and longer phrases contributed to a melodicity fully evolving with At the Gates.
Continuing the progressive tradition in metal, the progressive death bands adhered to a style which was part rock with jazz and classical influences, and part the wily fingered “technical” death metal of a previous generation.
Jazz/death metal hybrid.
Later albums: jazz/metal.
Harmonically rich, offtime rhythms.
Became highly technical.
Technicalists and romantic artists.
Used violin and lead diminishing melody guitar work.
A stylistic hybrid, deathgrind is death metal using the simpler song structures and rhythmic expectancy riffing of grindgore. So far, nothing of stature has emerged from this style.
This term is marketing slang for retro bands making faster speed metal music using death metal picking technique and vocals.
From Göthenberg, Sweden, came a series of bands emulating At the Gates by making technical, jazz-and-rock influenced death metal. This only became a problem after “Slaughter of the Soul,” when At the Gates sent out the word to become commercial rock music hidden within death metal stylings.
Pre-At the Gates.
Template for this style.
Black metal that is heavy metal derived from this death metal style.
The moribund, self-pitying and sentimental style of doom metal has emerged in both heavy metal and death metal genres, where it is essentially the same music played with an emphasis on slow chord changes and resonant, recursive resolutions.
Chaotic and nihilistic blasts of short information in three-note riffs founded this style, which through reduction of assumed musicality focused on the information of its communication.
Early experiments in structuralism allowed melody to serve as a fundamental principle and therefore emphasized use of the melodic sound in riff construction and chord voicing.
Melodic, heavy metal
Some relapsed to a former style and made melodic stadium metal of NWOBHM era with black metal vocals and technique.
For the few who sought more extremity a style of grinding metal with nihilistic clipped emanations of information in abrupt explosions of riff was created, with variants moving closer to grindcore or pure unleashed melodicity.
Descended from the devotees of Bathory “Blood, Fire, Death,” this genre works folk song nationalism and epic narrative of multi-generational movements on the level of a people, creating symbolic black metal with lengthy melodies.
Minimalism taken to the furthest extreme hybridized with metal produced an electronic music influenced genre which favored unchanging simple beats (similar to Discharge) under shifting melodic context- and lexically-sensitive phrase evolution.
“Transylvanian Hunger” is the best of this style.
“Pure Holocaust” is a related idea.
Focuses on matching rhythm to expectation of a tone and then wearing it out, like the tedium of living in a dying society, anticipating radical change.
The music of Kraftwerk and its descendants, this is long melody evolving over a complex beat structure, often without human vocals.
Emphatic and pulsating dance music that was a fundamental influence on developing techno and industrial genres, EBM sounds like what Nine Inch Nails would be if executed by Godflesh or Beherit.
Influenced by throwbacks to mideval and music from before recorded history, ritual ambient uses simple melodic patterns in evolution and a primal sense of rhythm to emphasize its constructs.
Somewhat of a summary of the genre as a whole excluding most popular music influences from EBM, neoclassical ambient/industrial uses technological instrumentation and song structure to emphasize classical influences in melodic construction.
Death metal uses tremolo strummed power chords in phrasal riffs, creating an internal dialogue of melody to project a narrative which takes us from a starting point through internal conflict to an ending radically removed from the start. This often complex music relies heavily on chromatic scales and solos that resemble sonic sculpture more than a reliance on scales or harmony, and use “modal stripes” or repeated interval patterns (such as a half interval followed by a whole) to maintain a mood. Inherently structuralist, death metal can be recognized by its “post-human” perspective, seeing the world through biology, history, warfare and mythology instead of the “I/me/mine” viewpoint of a modern society.
2. Deicide – Legion
3. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick
4. Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
5. Sepultura – Morbid Visions
6. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
7. Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
8. Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
9. Obituary – Cause of Death
10. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
11. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
12. Dismember – Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
13. Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
14. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
15. Demilich – Nespithe
16. Asphyx – The Rack
Projections of a Stained Mind (C.B.R. Records)
Harmony Dies Vol. 1 (Slayer Magazine)
Pantalgia (MBR Records)
Live Death: Vol 1 (Restless)
Sampler Volume I (JL America)
Deterioration of the Senses (Morbid Metal)
Book I: Induction (Hits Underground)
Reviews have mp3 sound samples for each album, coverscan, tracklist and label contact information.
From “Cambyses” over at Ultimate-Metal, here’s a list of death metal releases by year during the glory days of 1988-1995:
Sarcófago – INRI
Massacra – Legion Of Torture
Nocturnus – Nocturnus
Death – Scream Bloody Gore
Napalm Death – Scum
Rigor Mortis (US) – Rigor Mortis
Pestilence – Malleus Maleficarum
Incubus (US) – Serpent Temptation
Death – Leprosy
Nihilist – Premature Autopsy
Morbid Angel – Altars Of Madness
Dead Horse – Horsecore: An Unrelated Story That’s Time Consuming
Obituary – Slowly We Rot
Rigor Mortis (US) – Freaks
Repulsion – Horrifed
Autopsy – Severed Survival
Carcass – Symphonies Of Sickness
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Dr. Shrinker – Wedding The Grotesque
Nihilist – Only Shreds Remain
Terrorizer – World Downfall
Morgoth – Resurrection Absurd
Incubus (US) – Beyond The Unknown
Carnage – Dark Recollections
Disharmonic Orchestra – Expositionsprophylaxe
Massacra – Final Holocaust
Cadaver – Hallucinating Anxiety
Tiamat – Sumerian Cry
Baphomet – Inheritors Of The Dead
Entombed – Left Hand Path
Deicide – Deicide
Master – Master
Atheist – Piece Of Time
Merciless – The Awakening
Death – Spiritual Healing
Benediction – Subconscious Terror
Nocturnus – The Key
Cancer – To The Gory End
Impetigo – Ultimo Mondo Cannibale
Blasphereion – Rest In Peace
Megaslaughter – Calls From The Beyond
Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
Death – Human
Demigod – Unholy Domain
Master – On The Seventh Day God Created… Master
Revenant – Prophecies Of A Dying World
Unleashed – Where No Life Dwells
Gorguts – Considered Dead
Entombed – Clandestine
Death Strike – ****in’ Death
Edge Of Sanity – Nothing But Death Remains
Carcass – Necroticism – Descanting The Insalubrious
Therion – Of Darkness…
Suffocation – Effigy Of The Forgotten
Benediction – The Grand Leveller
Pungent Stench – Been Caught Buttering
Morbid Angel – Blessed Are The Sick
Broken Hope – Swamped In Gore
Corpus Rottus – Rituals Of Silence
Dismember – Like An Ever Flowing Stream
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Asphyx – The Rack
Immolation – Dawn Of Possession
Authorize – The Source Of Dominion
Massacre – From Beyond
Massacra – Enjoy The Violence
Ripping Corpse – Dreaming With The Dead
Grave – Into The Grave
Demilich – The Four Instructive Tales …Of Decomposition
Suffocation – Human Waste
Lemming Project – Extinction
Cancer – Death Shall Rise
Immortalis – Indicium De Mortuis
Gorefest – Mindloss
Cartilage – In Godly Flesh
Pestilence – Testimony Of The Ancients
Incubator – McGillroy The Housefly
Morpheus Descends – Ritual Of Infinity
Mordicus – Three Way Dissection
Incantation – Onward To Golgotha
Seance – Fornever Laid To Rest
Baphomet – The Dead Shall Inherit
Cianide – The Dying Truth
Mortuary – Blackened Images
Atrocity – Todessehnsucht
Demilich – The Echo
Torchure – Beyond The Veil
Rippikoulu – Mutaation Aiheuttama Sisäinen Mätäneminen
Altar/Cartilage – Split
Disharmonic Orchestra – Not To Be Undimensional Conscious
Edge Of Sanity – Unorthodox
Epitaph – Seeming Salvation
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Asphyx – Crush The Cenotaph
Adramelech – Grip Of Darkness
Cenotaph (Mex) – The Gloomy Reflections Of Our Hidden Sorrows
Lemming Project – Hate And Despise
Torturer – Oppressed By The Force
Cadaver – …In Pains
Solstice – Solstice
Eisenvater – I
Unleashed – Shadows In The Deep
Grave – You’ll Never See
Necrosanct – Incarnate
Transgressor – Ether For Scapegoat
Monstrosity – Imperial Doom
Impetigo – Horror Of The Zombies
Necrophiliac – Chaopula – Citadel Of Mirrors
Sinister – Cross The Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Demigod – Slumber Of Sullen Eyes
Vital Remains – Let Us Pray
Deicide – Legion
Disastrous Murmur – Rhapsodies In Red
Miasma – Changes
Depravity – Remasquerade
Malevolent Creation – Retribution
Fleshcrawl – Descend Into The Absurd
Pathologist – Putrefactive And Cadaverous Odes About Necroticism
Brutal Truth – Extreme Conditions Demand Extreme Responses
Merciless – The Treasures Within
Phlebotomized – In Search Of Tranquility
Totten Korps – Our Almighty Lords
Asphyx – Last One On Earth
Infester – Darkness Unveiled
Liers In Wait – Spiritually Uncontrolled Art
Adramelech – Spring Of Recovery
Brutality – Screams Of Anguish
Mordicus – Dances From Left
Utumno – Across The Horizon
Rottrevore – Iniquitous
Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments
Disincarnate – Dreams Of The Carrion Kind
Demilich – Nespithe
Depravity – Silence Of The Centuries
Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
Torchure – The Essence
God Macabre – The Winterlong
Depravity – Phantasmagoria
Benediction – Transcend The Rubicon
Broken Hope – The Bowels Of Repugnance
Ceremony – Tyranny From Above
Seance – Saltrubbed Eyes
Supuration – The Cube
Pestilence – Spheres
Misery – A Necessary Evil
Gorguts – The Erosion Of Sanity
Kataklysm – The Mystical Gate Of Reincarnation
Phlebotomized – Preach Eternal Gospels
Cancer – The Sins Of Mankind
Carbonized – Disharmonization
Grave – ..And Here I Die… Satisfied
Amorphis – Privilege Of Evil
Cynic – Focus – Remastered
Electrocution – Inside The Unreal
Unleashed – Across The Open Sea
Death – Individual Thought Patterns
Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia
Sadist – Above The Light
Resurrection – Embalmed Existence
Suffocation – Breeding The Spawn
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Atheist – Elements
Morpheus Descends – Chronicals Of The Shadowed Ones
Brutality – When The Sky Turns Black
Cianide – A Descent Into Hell
Phlebotomized – Immense, Intense, Suspense
Banished – Deliver Me Unto Pain
Fleshcrawl – Impurity
Gutted (US) – Bleed For Us To Live
Incantation – Mortal Throne Of Nazarene
Pavor – A Pale Debilitating Autumn
Brutal Truth – Need To Control
The Chasm – Procreation of the Inner Temple
Oppressor – Solstice Of Oppression
Uncanny – Splenium For Nyktophobia
Cenotaph (Mex) – Riding Our Black Oceans
Abramelin – Transgression From Acheron
Hetsheads – We Hail The Possessed
Infester – To The Depths… In Degradation
The Chasm – From The Lost Years…
Sepsism – Severe Carnal Butchery
Suffocation – Pierced From Within
Agony – Apocalyptic Dawning
Solstice – Pray
Vital Remains – Into Cold Darkness
Adramelech – The Fall
Incantation – Upon The Throne Of Apocalypse
I wouldn’t say all of these are worth getting, but most of them are, and it’s fun to track the development of the genre.