Black Flames of Blasphemy VI review

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Review by “Blackcat”

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 "HIM" logo, allegedly tattoo'ed on Steve-O

This tattoo is not completely and utterly unrelated to the HIM logo.

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

Grunt in concert

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

Bizarre Uproar

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

Ride for Revenge

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.”

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, if you're into that sort of thing.

Another picture of Ride for Revenge, in case you’re into that sort of thing.

This was followed by multiple images of genitalia with wings.

Deströyer 666

Deströyer 666

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

Vampire

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

Xiblaba

Xibalba (Editor’s note: It’s a toss-up as to whether “Sac Ibteelob Cab” or “Sign of Eastern War” is the better song. One of the more trivial debates in this world, though.)

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 performs?

Blasphemy performs?

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.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

Blasphemy performing, this time with a more competent photo.

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

Ikrallian

Ikrallian Oracle. Check out the tambourine.

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.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled setlist.

More Blasphemy. This time, their crumpled set list.

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.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

We at DMU like Varathron too. Even their new stuff has merit.

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.

Blaspherian announces Reborn Through the Black Flames of Lucifer for 2015

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Texas subterranean death metal band Blaspherian recently announced the planned release of a new album in 2015, tentatively titled Reborn through the Black Flames of Lucifer. According to songwriter/guitarist Wes Weaver, the band has already written four tracks for the new release.

Following their triumphant Upon the Throne… of Eternal Blasphemous Death 7″, which showed the band solidfying and intensifying the doom-death style of their last full-length, Blaspherian plans to issue a split 7″ with In League With Satan on Blasphemous Art Productions and release two new tshirt designs and a new patch design.

This comes in addition to the band’s tour schedule, which includes regional shows and at least one metalfest.

Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-23-2016

Continue reading Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-23-2016

Sadistic Metal Reviews: Taste the Rainbow!

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Coming soon to a used CD bin near you!

Continue reading Sadistic Metal Reviews: Taste the Rainbow!

Brutality – Sea Of Ignorance (2016)

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My experiences with Brutality prior to Sea of Ignorance‘s release lead me to believe that all of their works take a disproportionate acclimatization in order to properly comprehend, only surpassed in my experience by the wall of voodoo that is Incantation’s debut. This album has little to do with Incantation’s style, like most of their others, but it has only reinforced my hypothesis. Brutality’s take on “melodic” death metal consistently contains enough harmonic hooks in the riffs to draw a listener in, but odds are you’ll only find their music truly rewarding if you give it some time to sink in. That’s not exactly suited to the fast paced world of online music criticism (advertising thinly veiled as criticism), but odds are you’ll get more out of Brutality’s latest than your average death metal album even if you don’t give it a proper chance.

In general, Sea of Ignorance varies only subtly from its predecessors, and most of these changes play out on the surface. Brutality settled on their current approach early in their career, occupying the liminal space between their often sparser Florida contemporaries and the emphasis on structural and harmonic complexity of a band like At the Gates. The comparison to the latter has come up on occasion when DMU covers this band’s exploits, but Brutality synthesizes enough disparate influences that pulling any one out is difficult, although in my more comparative moments I might bring up Autopsy, since the band plays around with speed and atmosphere enough to significant enhance their formula. Sea of Ignorance follows from previous works in a fairly predictable way – more emphasis upon melody and simpler, more streamlined song structures than the past, but when they aren’t flat out covering Bathory (“Shores in Flames”), the lineage is obvious.

My opinion on this album is ultimately very similar to how I felt about Skull Grinder, although like most of the comparisons I’ve made in this review it’s a comparison of convenience as opposed to significant musical similarity. Sea of Ignorance is a stylistically appropriate if not particularly ambitious continuation of Brutality’s previous work; while it’s not particularly essential if you own any of those albums, it’s still a valuable purchase for those who want to study the strong points of this sort of death metal, and a good enough release to be worth financially supporting.

Tranquillizer – Des Endes Anfang (2015)

Tranquilizer-Des-Endes-Anfang

Sold to us by a promo company as “melodic” death/black metal, Des Endes Anfang by Tranquillizer (sic) is an ungainly fusion of In Flames type melodeath, Pantera flavored brocore grooves, and maybe a slight hint of extreme metal writing at times… by mistake. It occasionally amuses me to see a long-abandoned style of pop metal get some attention after years of neglect, but that doesn’t detract from the fact that this album is simply terrible. It’s so bad that I’ve decided to explicitly label it a bad album, in spite of my tendency to pass off most of the review subjects here at DMU as mediocre (medio-core?) and forgettable.

The songwriting here, admittedly, is only weak in a pedestrian fashion. If you were to strip away all the references to past forms of mainstream metal, you’d end up with just another set of random, generic metal riffs like so many albums before this; nothing actually worth discussing. To be fair, Tranquillizer’s “varied” influences give them a wide set of material to pull upon, similar to something like Children of Bodom‘s latest. I Worship Chaos is actually a decent comparison; Tranquillizer doesn’t have the neoclassical backing that helped contribute to that band’s popularity, but they do replace it with slightly more varied (albeit stupid sounding) vocals. In this reviewer’s opinion, that’s not a great trade, but it’s not like either point of comparison has any real merit.

While the substrate of this band is hollow at best, most of what I find contemptible in Des Endes Anfang is its immediately apparent, surface level stupidity. A clean, dry, sterile production allows the panderingly simplistic rhythms of this album to burst forth, as well as a dual vocal system of generic shrieks and vomited grunts. For our purposes, it should suffice to say that this is, at best, a modern rehash of older substyles. You could make the case that none of this is innately bad, despite its similarities to previous bad metal albums, but even if you did, it seems apparent that Tranquillizer doesn’t have the musical knowledge or aptitude to make this album come off as more than half-hearted worship of a warmed over god. Not that I should be raising our old whipping posts to the level of divinity, but the analogy is sound, and Des Endes Anfang isn’t exactly worthy of more precise flogging.

Developmental variation and underground metal

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What is developmental variation?

The term developmental variation was coined by Arnold Schoenberg as a name for the principle which governed his compositional technique, which he claimed to have inherited from the music of the great Germanic composers such as Haydn, Beethoven and, in particular, Brahms. The technique consists of generating development in a piece through variation of an initial idea. Each new slice of content is developed from, and naturally connected to, the previous one, so that the whole piece is an elaboration of an initial idea. This provides unity and logic within dramatic movement and variety.

Why developmental variation?

Since the end of black metal around 1996, underground metal has found itself in a rut. As if struck dumb by the dizzy heights achieved by its greatest practitioners, most underground metal bands have veered into three equally fruitless directions:

  1. Blatant imitation of a specific set of bands from the past (New wave of old school death metal, Thrash revival, Darkthrone clones, etc.)
  2. Commercialization of the aesthetic, achieved through simplification of lyrical themes and musical structure (In Flames, Dimmu Borgir, deathcore, etc.)
  3. Experimentation in texture and instrumentation, fusion genres (Norwegian avant-garde, Djent, etc.)

One would assume that the practitioners of this third path feel, at least, the anxiety that naturally comes with working beneath the shadows of giants. Their response, however, betrays that anxiety to an excessive degree, as they scramble madly to distance themselves from those past greats, usually through the most immediately striking means they can find. Often with releases of this variety one is left with the sensation that they could be truly great works of art if they stopped hovering uncomfortably around the ghost of metal, and simply embraced their external tendencies. In other words, the solution most of these artists seem to find to the problem posed by the intimidating canon is to escape metal altogether, as many of them ultimately do.

This is not, however, because of any inherent flaw in the style, or any linear finality implied by the greatness of the canon. There is no denying that, in a sense, underground metal is a restrictive style. There are strict boundaries regarding instrumentation, tonality, and even lyrical themes (that old Euronymous joke about carrots notwithstanding). Though these may at times be somewhat malleable, when they remain blatantly unobserved the music simply stops sounding like underground metal. It is largely the imposing presence of these boundaries that has scared many promising musicians away from metal, and into the realm of the often masturbatory and self-referential pseudo avant-garde.

What this ultimately means is not that there is no room for growth within heavy metal, but that said room is to be found in a less immediately evident, but ultimately more significant element of musical construction; structure. Underground metal’s unpitched vocals allow it freedom from many structural conventions of popular music in which vocals are the lead instrument. Its literary and historical inclinations give it plenty of places from which to draw extra-musical influences. Heavy metal titans Iron Maiden have successfully done this in the past, shaping their more structurally ambitious and musically exciting pieces around the contours of literary or historical subjects.

The aforementioned underground metal greats have already exploited these natural tendencies. Albums such as Altars of Madness and Far Away From the Sun have expanded rock’s traditional strophic structures through the use of expansive melodies and conflicting themes, creating instrumental sections of great intensity, which modify the meaning and intention of the strophic recurrences. Greater variety in the stricter tenets of instrumentation and mood has been justified within the framework of a modified structural thought-process, for example in the Burzum albums Det som engang var and Hvis lyset tar oss. There are countless other examples of individual structural voices developed by bands in order to best fit their particular path or concept, from the intensely concentrated minimalism of Beherit and Skepticism to the outwardly chaotic narrative intricacy of Demilich and early At The Gates.

However, this was underground metal at its youthful best, when it was still discovering what it was and what it could do, and many of its greatest achievements were at least partially the product of amateurish accident. Metal is no longer a young musical style, and perhaps in order to age gracefully bands will need to sacrifice some spontaneity and be more strict about inwardly articulating their goals, the structure that will best fit these goals and the compositional process that will get them there.

Underground metal is a genre with entirely unique thematic concerns, which prizes the ability to create works of musical individuality that are still ultimately works of underground metal. Developmental variation is the perfect technique for this situation, as it allows content to organically generate form, which would not only allow for individual songs and albums to craft an individual perspective without resorting to surface gimmicks, but also lead to a deeper level of thematic coherence. In a style whose fans expect recordings to hold up on repeated listens, not for weeks or months but for years, the increased layered complexity of musical relationships created by this technique would heighten, not obscure, the expressive power of a particular song or album.

It is not enough for underground metal to simply lift structural arrangements from sources more sophisticated than rock and pop music, such as European classical music. Though this could work individual songs or albums planned around the idea, as it did for Fanisk on their debut Die and Become, it is not a suitable long-term direction. This is because at the end of the day, the practice is not too distant from the simple lifting of vocabulary from other sources, a practice whose short-lived capacity to produce quality content the underground has already witnessed.

However, there is a lot to be learned from the music of the Common Practice Period. There is a tendency to view classical forms as being set in stone, but this could not be further from the truth. The image of Beethoven stressing over whether or not theme B of his sonata form modulated to the bloody dominant or not is silly enough to dispel the notion. The truth is that these structures developed organically throughout the lives of many composers, growing around the type of thematic material and harmonic conventions of their time and style, until they became intuitively standardized elements of musical grammar. It is only much later, once their development had been completed, that theorists could attempt codifications.

Attempting to imitate such a process of could prove fruitful for underground metal bands. The idea would be for bands to create their own structural grammar, not by adhering to a new set of rules, or worse, an old one belonging to a different tradition, but by developing a new, more sophisticated intuition. It is this author’s belief that the technique of developmental variation could be extremely helpful towards this development. It will of course always be important to have a good idea first; no technique will write good music for you.

In the interest of getting all of this across to the reader’s musical instincts, as opposed to getting it across merely to his or her understanding, where it is useless, we will now undertake a case study of how this technique worked for the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius in his early tone poem, En saga. Sibelius faced a dilemma similar to that of the young Hessian today, standing in the shadow of a beautiful but intimidating tradition. By molding the structure of his piece around his material, through the technique of developmental variation, Sibelius managed to find a powerful individual voice for his piece, without resorting to gimmicks, or leaving the tradition he loved behind.

En saga: a case study in developmental variation

En saga is an orchestral tone poem, meaning that it is an entirely instrumental piece meant to describe or depict something outside of itself. The piece’s title translates simply to ‘a saga,’ and throughout his life Sibelius never specified whether it was based on any particular one. This clever bit of ambiguous programming presents Sibelius with a very malleable structural mold that nevertheless presents a general framework within which to work.

Sibelius builds nearly 20 minutes of music around four simple themes. All but the last of these has a length of four measures or less, and all of them keep the melodic action centered around a perfect fourth or fifth, emphasizing stepwise motion. The reader may have already noticed that this description could fit many metal riffs like a glove, and this proximity of thematic character to underground metal is one of the reasons why this piece is particularly relevant to our interests.

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The relationship between themes I and III is evident: they have the same range and an identical ending, being distinguished from each other by slight rhythmic variation and harmonic context. Though theme II might initially seem out of place, its ‘justification’ comes with the introduction of theme IV, a majestic melody that combines rhythmic and melodic elements from themes II and I-III. It also emphasizes the motivic element that unites all four of them; the repeated insistence on the starting pitch. This characteristic in particular is the one that betrays the tight relationship between the themes, allowing us to comfortably refer to them as variations on the same idea. The imaginative reader will begin to see how the relationships and conflicts between these four simple themes begin to lay out sketches of a large-scale work, or, in other words, how developmental variation suggests not only material, but also structure.

The piece starts off with a short introduction that leads into the uncomfortable minor seconds of the first theme (0:17), establishing the tension that drives the whole work. The theme is then pitted against wave-like arpeggio figures in increasingly tense juxtapositions, which seem to be leading towards an explosive climax, but then simmer away into an uncomfortable silence. The way this opening minute mirrors the structure of the entire piece, like an eerie premonition, is an indicator of the piece’s impressive unity, and a perfect example of the way relationships between related themes can be the basis for entire compositions, an idea we will return to later.

I said that I admired its (the symphony) style and severity of form, and the profound logic that created an inner connection between all of the motives. — Sibelius, conversation with Gustav Mahler, Helsinki, 1907.

This silence is broken by the sudden introduction of theme II (1:08) by the bassoons, in a tonal center very distant from that with which the piece began. However, the reappearance of the insisting note motive makes its appearance seem like a natural response in a conversation. After the statement, the conflict of the piece is laid out for the listener and the piece unravels with absolute naturality. Theme II passes around the orchestra, competing with increasingly dissonant response passages until its motives flower into a wonderful heroic melody in the double basses. This initiates a dialogue in the string section that spells out the conflict between the two main theme groups with great clarity.

Sibelius then goes on to present themes III (in the violas at 4:09) and IV (in the strings at 5:07) in a similar way, declaiming them lyrically throughout the orchestra and pitting them against transitional passages, often arpeggiated. The seeming culmination to which the piece comes after the presentation of triumphant theme IV is suddenly interrupted by a short bridge passage (5:44), tellingly outlining a fifth, which leads into a section centered around permutations of theme III and a flowing legato response idea that begins to overpower the theme itself. Theme IV’s conquest remains unattained.

Then, suddenly, the momentum collapses and we are led into the second part of the piece. This second section consists of a series of crescendos, in which particular themes seem poised to triumph and reveal themselves as ‘the’ theme. Yet, time and again these crescendos collapse in on themselves, eerily, almost unnervingly. Until, at the very last of these peaks, a response figure once again takes over the climax. Yet the fanfare quickly dissipates, and the piece ends with an extremely quiet and nearly uncomfortable uncertainty.

This second section appears to be what the themes themselves initially suggested, thanks to their close “variation” relationship: a conflict in which one of them emerged triumphant. In order to get a more intuitive sense for the depth of this relationship and its importance, notice how after a few listens of the piece the themes will be stuck in your head almost interchangeably, to the point where it is sometimes hard to tell which one you’re humming to yourself. This is the sort of conflict that arises naturally when material is created through developmental variation, and it is what makes it such an effective technique for the composition for styles that thrive on dramatic tension.

Now, Sibelius’ choice to make none of the themes triumph and to end the piece the way he does is not something intrinsically suggested by the themes. As a matter of fact, if we are allowed a guess, this was probably the narrative idea that Sibelius started out with. However, once he had his material, he had a pretty good outline for a conflict, as themes I-III and theme II clearly converge and culminate on theme IV. However, as previously noted, the first triumphant statement of theme IV is quickly negated by the aforementioned bridge passage, a dissonant entry of the theme and then the shifting of focus back to theme III.

The series of increasingly chaotic and dramatic anti-climaxes that constitute the second portion of the piece are the ones that outline the thematic conflict proper, along with the ultimate failure of any of the themes to impose themselves, even as they alternate and hybridize. However, in order for this section to make any sense, especially given the piece’s light programmatic tinge, the opening section in which the themes are presented becomes absolutely necessary. In order to establish the tension that rules the piece and give it coherence, the strange introductory section dominated by theme I becomes necessary.

This introduction mirrors the development of the whole piece, with its agonizing rising and falling motions, which eventually dissipate into a tense silence. Sibelius found his large-scale structure through his themes, and then constructed every other sub-section around the same general curve. This creates an immersive fractal effect, potent evidence of Sibelius’ developing genius despite the orchestration failings and occasionally meandering quality of the still young composer. A dramatic idea and four simple, closely related, themes allowed Sibelius to reach heights of structural ambition that, though not yet fully realized, would become the germ for his future masterpieces.

Closing words

I am by no means suggesting, of course, that is ‘the’ path metal must follow in the future. This is a suggestion, and idea, and more so than it hopes to be accepted, or even fully understood, it hopes to ignite some spark of creativity. Metal does not necessarily need developmental variation in order to escape it relative stagnation, but it does need to look at itself more seriously and its surroundings more seriously, and ask itself musical questions in a more articulate manner. Hopefully this article will be of some help to that end.

Interview with Abscession

abscession-band_photo

We have kept our eye on Swedish death metal style band Abscession who make a somewhat modern version of the classic sound of bands like Entombed and Cemetary. Their first album Grave Offerings touches down early in 2015, and has already generated interest and criticism in the metal community. We were fortunate to be able to chat with the two active members of Abscession, Thomas and Skaldir, about the band and its music.

When did Abscession form? Why did you choose the name that you did?

Skaldir: We formed in 2009 and it was important to us to choose a one word band name. Since almost every word is taken by some metal band by now, it wasn’t easy. The name also should have a classy feel. Brutal and concise. We all had bands before. Personally I had my first band in 1992, which played some kind of melodic Doom never heard before and after. I started playing piano and then later also tried guitar.

Thomas: I’ve been in various bands since the mid nineties both as a guitarist and as a vocalist. I’m a pretty lousy guitar player though so nowadays I tend to focus on the vocals. I’m also active in blackened death act Throne of Heresy, and have been in Zombie Destrüktion since 2002 together with Markus Porsklev who also plays the drums on Grave Offerings.

Your style runs the gamut from old school heavy metal through 1990s Swedish death metal and perhaps beyond. What are your current influences? Have these changed over time?

Skaldir: For me there are always some records that never get old. The first stuff I liked as a teenager, like DEATH, HELLOWEEN, EDGE OF SANITY. But I listen to a lot of different music from AOR, Progressive Rock to Death metal. And even if I have a lot of favs from the early 90s, there are happily also some new albums that can excite me from time to time.

Thomas: Well, I find it interesting to mix things up a bit and I like lots of different music. My death metal influences are mainly from Swedish style death like EDGE OF SANITY, BLOODBATH etc but I also enjoy more progressive stuff like OPETH. I always like stuff that has hooks in it but which also grows on you with every listen. I think maybe that’s where our death ‘n roll-style influences come from, since I really like that kind of stuff when it’s done in moderation. But then there’s a whole range of bands outside the realm of death metal that influence me in different ways. Everything from classic IRON MAIDEN to FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM have had a huge impact on the way I write lyrics for example.

Where did you record Grave Offerings and how did you achieve the sound you did? Was it to your satisfaction? Would you do anything differently next time?

Skaldir: Since I am a sound engineer most of the recording was done at Studio Kalthallen.

Thomas recorded his vocals himself, and everything was mixed in my studio in the end. We decided to let Dan Swanö do the mastering.

It is a classic BOSS HM-2 guitar sound. That is a distortion pedal a lot of people will know from ENTOMBED. Actually I used two and combined two different stages of distortion and mic’ed the cabinet with three microphones. I am pretty happy with the sound, but I think next time I will rather mix a “normal” distortion” in to a HM-2 distortion.

Are the members of Abscession full-time musicians, or is this a “spare time” project?

Thomas: We’ve all got other jobs outside of the music since it’s not something we can really live on (yet…). But we’re all dedicated to this art form and see it as something more than a part time project — it’s been a part of all our lives for many years and makes us who we are.

Why, do you think, is Swedish metal 1985-1995 so legendary? Even though that was two decades ago?

Skaldir: I think it was a good time for metal in general. People just did what they liked and a lot of new genres were founded. Those old bands didn’t exactly play perfectly and the sound also wasn’t perfect at all. But it was unique and it was something never heard before. Doing something new these days isn’t so easy.

Thomas: Sweden has been a big music nation for decades with everything from ABBA to Europe paving the way. A lot of people growing up back then learned to play instruments in school and of course it all helped to pave the way for successful metal bands. Even if they didn’t play perfectly there was something experimental and organic over the music from that time which also made it interesting to listen to.

Did you ever consider composing in a newer style of metal, like metalcore or “melodic metal”? What do you think is different between those styles and the classic underground Swedish metal sound?

Skaldir: I would say we are a rather melodic Death Metal band. The style we play at the moment is exactly what we want to play, and maybe the only thing we are good at. It’s not like we want to copy the old bands, but it is just our thing to sound that way. We will develop within the sound.

Thomas: Well, I think it’s always difficult and often unnecessary to brand everything within preconceived genres. I can’t remember a single discussion over the years where we’ve said “we’re gonna play within this or this genre.” We’ve written the songs we’d like to hear ourselves within our own capacity and it’s some kind of death metal. So no, we never sat down and considered writing metalcore or melodic death, even though our songs ended up having some melodies in them. I still wouldn’t brand it melodeath since we’re nowhere in the vicinity of IN FLAMES or other melodic death bands.

How do you compose songs? Do you start with a melody, a riff, an idea, a visual concept or something else?

Skaldir: I wrote a lot of riffs on my classical guitar here when I felt like writing riffs. Then later I thought about which riffs to combine. Normally you start with one riff and the rest just happens and you just know what has to come next and how you arrange it. At least that is how it is for me.

Later Thomas will listen to the song, and the mood of the song will inspire him to write lyrics.

Thomas: Yeah, Skaldir’s music sort of paves the way for the lyrics. I often have themes or ideas in my head that I wanna write about, but I never really know where to start. But usually after a few listens to a song I find a lyric rhythm and just start putting words in there that fit with the theme I want for the song. Sometimes it becomes clear very quickly but other times the lyrics takes on a life of their own.

For example The song “Plague Bearer” on Grave Offerings was supposed to be a really rotten track about a plague victim but ended up being an allegorical and anti-religious text instead. And to be honest, it’s a much better text now than it would have been if I had stuck to the original idea.

Where do you feel your demo “Death Incarnate” and Grave Offerings differ?

Skaldir: I think having a more technical drummer on Grave Offerings is the biggest difference to the demo. The songwriting is still pretty simple with the same trademarks the demo has.

Thomas: I think we’ve sort of found our path. A three track cassette like Death Incarnate can’t show the full range of a band’s sound as well as an album. And Skaldir has worked a lot with the overall production so it all sounds fucking great!

Grave Offerings is your first signing to a label. How is that working out? What do you plan for the future? Is there a tour in the works?

Skaldir: Well the demo tape was also released by a label. Suffer Productions is a small underground label though. Final Gate is a bit bigger, but still underground. We just signed for one album and will see what will happens next. So far we are pretty happy.

Thomas: Even though the current deal is for one album only I feel confident our next release will be a label release as well. We’re actually already working on the next album so no matter if there’s a label or not, ABSCESSION will go on. As far as tours go we’re not planning anything yet, even though we’d like to at some point in the future.

If people like what they hear, where should they go to learn more about Abscession? Are the demos still available? Do you think you’ll ever tour UK or USA?

Thomas: I actually don’t know if there are any demo tapes left, maybe Suffer Productions have a few but I doubt it. There are probably some underground metal webshops that would consider trading or selling it if you look hard enough.

But it’s also available as a digital release on our bandcamp. In this digital world we’re of course also present on facebook/abscession.

That’s probably the best way to learn more about us. As for touring the UK or the US, who knows… I guess we’ll have to wait and see how big the demand is once the album is released in early 2015!

5 metal bands that took their blasphemy seriously

metal-blasphemy

Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation. — Mark 3:29

Many metal bands feature occultist or Satanic imagery and lyrics. However, some metal bands took this Bible verse as a challenge and created blasphemy on a theological level, denying God with a philosophical basis.

Since metal has always been fervently anti-dogma and a firm believer in a boundaryless existence, the notion of sin is, in itself, a sin. Here are five anthems of rejection that took the final step and committed the unpardonable sin.

Incantation – “Rotting Spiritual Embodiment” (Onward to Golgotha)

Taking a mortalistic approach, Rotting Spiritual Embodiment claims that the Holy Spirit dies with the body that it inhabits, thus affirming an absence of all metaphysics and a sheer physical basis to life itself. This form of materialism proves more dominating than even atheism as it denies the basis for a holy presence and argues instead that it is mere physical illusion. The crushing and darkened power chords seem to compel the embodiment — the physical form of the spirit — further and further into obscurity.


Holy apparition, seeking death to save.
Sins of the flesh, the cadaver is unfit.
Penetrate the mind and body, spirit is incarnated.
Spiritual entrapment.
Spiritual deformity…

Foolish ghost of god.
Embodied with the putrid corpse.
Trapped within the flesh.
Forever rots in misery…

Morbid Angel – “Blasphemy” (Altars of Madness)

A call to arms for blasphemy and a declaration of a life free from the clutches of religious dogma, this song takes a straightforward approach to blasphemy through invective condemning God and arguing for his invalidity. It also directly blasphemes the holy spirit in the chorus. Complete with Satanic and Thelemic philosophy, this is a sonic symphony straight from the fiery depths.


I am the god of gods
Master of the art
I desecrate the chaste
Writhe in the flesh

Blasphemy

Chant the blasphemy
Mockery of the messiah
We curse the holy ghost
Enslaver of the weak
God of lies and greed
God of hypocrisy
We laugh at your bastard child
No god shall come before me

Blaspheme the ghost
Blasphemy of the holy ghost

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law
Rebel against the church
Drink from the chalice of blasphemy
Rise up against the enslaver

Immolation – “I Feel Nothing” (Here in After)

Immolation, while anti-religious, never took much of a Satanic approach to their opposition. They present their views from a more atheistic standpoint, and in the pulverizing song, “I Feel Nothing,” Immolation pose the question: Where is the Holy Spirit? The song describes a person who cannot feel the Holy Spirit within them and they refuses to force themselves to believe, so they reject its existence along with the rest of the trinity.


Your prayers,
I don’t feel them in my heart
It is not hate
That I stare coldly at the son of god
I can not force the blood of Christ
To flow through me
God is love and his love is dead

Drown your sorrows in prayer
But your prayers will never change the world
I separate myself
From those who chase the spirit
I can’t fall to my knees
And pretend like all the rest
This is a soul that doesn’t need saving

Their paradise not mine; an illusion I will not believe
Divine presence of perfection, turns sour in my gaze
Why should I feel compassion for the suffering of your God
For all the pain he allows, I give him what he deserves

In the name of the Father,
In the name of the Son
Where is the Holy Spirit, I feel nothing
As I stare upon the crucifix, I feel nothing for a God I never knew
I refuse to embrace, and live by his word

I take not of his body
I take not of his blood
I don’t need salvation
Or his forgiveness
I don’t want his kingdom
My kingdom is here

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEb8S49w-Oc

Deicide – “Behead the Prophet (No Lord Shall Live)” (Legion)

When you think of blasphemous death metal, Deicide undoubtedly comes to mind among the first few entries. Not only does the band name advocate the murder of God but the entire approach of the band denies any form of inherent or mystical order. In “Behead the Prophet (No Lord Shall Live),” Deicide describe the Holy Spirit as foredoomed and proclaim a devilish victory over the holy.


Deny resurrection, behead the Nazarene son
Foredoomed holy spirit, our war at last be won
Legion crush Jehovah, see through the faceless dog
Untie our world from Satan
You know it can’t be done

Wipe away this world of unworth
Decapitation, Satanic rebirth
Off with his head to sever his soul
Beheaded prophet the suffer is yours
“Forever…..”

Virgin, mother murdered, once warned but now is dead
Destroyed heaven’s kingdom, in flames the righteous fled
Legion, thou has waited, to face the sacred dog
Satan’s revelation, this world will always be ours

End of god the way it must be
Behead the prophet, let Satan free…

No god, no lord shall live
What always has should never been
No god, no lord shall live
Behead the prophet and we win

No man to begotten, infant Jesus dead
End of god forever, cast among the souls of Hell
Thou who has imprisoned, suffer by your own demise
Execrate the revelation, MASTER SATAN RISE!

Deny resurrection, behead the Nazarene son
Foredoomed holy spirit, our war at last be won
Legion crush Jehovah, see through the faceless dog
Untie our world from Satan
You know it can’t be done

No god, no lord shall live
What always has should never been
No god, no lord shall live
Behead the prophet and we win

No man to begotten, infant Jesus dead
End of god forever, cast among the souls of Hell
Thou who has imprisoned,
Execrate the revelation,
MASTER SATAN RISE!

Havohej – “Dethrone the Son of God” (Dethrone the Son of God)

Concluding this list is a cold and blasphemous sermon from the great Paul Ledney of Profanatica, Havohej, Incantation and Revenant among others. To go too far in depth about this piece would be to undermine its experiential value to new listeners. I’ll say only this: “Dethrone the Son of God” is the spirit of rejection translated into a litany embracing hell over the “pure” but delusional spirit of believers.


Rip the sacred flesh
Sodomize the holy asshole
Drink the red blood of the mother of earth
Masturbation on the dead body of Christ
The king of Jews is dead
and so are the lies
Vomit on the host of Heaven
Masturbate on the throne of God
Break the seals of angels
Drink the sweet blood of Christ
Taste the flesh of the priest
Sodomize holy nuns
The king of Jews is a liar
The Heavens will burn
Dethrone the son of God
God is dead
Holyness is gone
Purity is gone
Prayers are burned
Covered in black shit
Rape the holy ghost
Unclean birth of Jesus Christ
Heaven will fall
Fuck the church
Fuck Christ
Fuck the Virgin
Fuck the gods of Heaven
Fuck the name of Jesus