Autopsy – Macabre Eternal

The last couple of years have seen a artistic renaissance of a genre that throughout the best part of the mid- to late 90′s, and the early reaches of the millennium, was perceived to be a ghost that had long outlived it’s most glorious moments of artistic clarity. Great quantities of ‘gore’ and ‘brutal’ Death Metal acts have over the last two decades, dumbed down the mystical perversity that gave a genre the likes of Blessed Are The Sick, Legion, Cause Of Death, Onward To Golgotha, Imperial Doom, has in years past given way to acts that aim principally for shock value, sidetracking any of the compositional and dynamic attributes that were the essence of what made Death Metal so vital in it’s 1989-1993 heyday.

It’s great that Autopsy should record such a gem as this, as it serves to vanquish the plasticity and dross that once great acts such as Morbid Angel and Deicide have spluttered forth. Not only does it filter out these negatives, but it also does great justice to many artists who embrace an archaic yet craftsmanlike and refreshing interpretation of Death Metal.

In addition to having put out the excellent ‘The Tomb Within‘ EP last year, Autopsy have eschewed the notion of ‘re-recordings’ or filtering previously released material onto this new record. Instead what we have is a colossal, quite lengthy record, lasting greater than an hour but never straying from momentum and vibrancy.

It wouldn’t be unfair to say that in terms of intricate song structuring, Autopsy have perhaps even upped on what they originally achieved on Severed Survival and Mental Funeral, with a more obvious sense of grandeur. This exhibits itself on tracks such as ‘Bridge Of Bones’ and ‘Sadistic Gratification’, which sound somewhat like a logical conclusion of what was being hinted at on their second album. Eric Cutler’s riffs and modes are the usual tritonal, Black Sabbath meets Hellhammer-esque death dirges, which occasionally recycle patterns and forms familiar in early material, yet also giving the album a renewed sense of consistency. It is this grasp of orthodoxy within the metal genre which always makes for contributing to the collective framework of the artists work, which Autopsy fulfill here.

This is however not to say that there are flourishes of ‘experimentation’. Luckily the band have played a good hand of cards, and have not fallen into the ludicrous corner of ‘evolving for the sake of it’. Particular songs on ‘Macabre Eternal’ show the band using greater song lengths than before (‘Sadistic Gratification’, ‘Sewn Into One’), and also display a greater sense of direct melodicism (‘Dirty Gore Whore’). Whilst Autopsy have never been associated with playing at fast speeds, large stretches of this album are more uptempo.

Chris Reifert is on top form as a vocalist. His ability to evoke majestic visions of dismemberment and perversion seem to contain a greater dynamic than usual, as to suggest that nearly fifteen years of prolonged absence has only allowed his strengths to re-accumulate.

Though certainly not a complaint on behalf of the reviewer, what may potentially put off some fans of earlier material is the production, which is undeniably modern in tone. Whilst Chris Reifert’s drumming is still top notch the only minor complaint being that the compression on his drumkit seems to somewhat nullify the sense of ability, flair and aggression that a more analogous production would bring out. Whilst Macabre Eternal possesses all of the right atmosphere and conviction worthy of great death metal, the more aesthetically orientated listener will notice that the overall tonality is not as analogous as what was committed to tape in the 80′s and 90′s.

In spite of this minor specific, this album is superb, and rightly deserves to be considered a beacon of the revivification of a dark and morbid art form that until the turn of the new millennium, was considered a dead horse. Hail the new dawn. Not only in terms of structural and grandiose perversion does this album triumph, but fragments of it’s lyrical scope only serve further as to compliment the metaphysical and transcendental nihilism that death metal eternally symbolizes.

“Under the sign of a skull faced moon

We rise from abysmal embryotic doom

Existence as torment, yet locked in a grave

A sick fragile cycle from which no one is saved”

Within the recent decade, this is the best ‘comeback’ release that has emerged from any of the elder practitioners of the genre. Undoubtedly, this shall also be a worthy contender for being the best album of the year.

-Pearson-

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Necrodeath – Into the Macabre

What is life? A mechanistic-deterministic reaction cycle of alkaloids, proteins and nucleic acids? A quantum spell of randomness or the whim of a willing god? Certain purposefulness, subtle intentionality and synchronic magic that leaks through the cracks of everyday reality seems to invite both mystical speculation and transcendental philosophy but elude a fully satisfying rational explanation. The brain-melting reaction to existential, eschatological and essential questions such as the existence of sin and afterlife was both more rational and nihilistic (plus masculine and lofty) in the death metal of Protestant countries of Europe (and USA), while the South European and Latin American manifestation was feminine, instinctive, intuitive and categorically destructive of the social place of human in the cosmos.

The sensual Italian attack in Into the Macabre, enveloped by the scents of leather, sweat and blood, is by no accident a bastard brother of the proto-war metal invocations of Morbid Visions and INRI, while the technical details show that the necro-warriors spent years studying the works of Slayer and Destruction. Most of all, Into the Macabre is an opera of rhythm, of intense vocal timings, stampeding blastbeats and onrushing chromatic and speed metal riffs which warp under the extremely analog old tape production into ambient paysages of ghostly frequency, much like the evil and infectious “Equimanthorn” of classic Bathory. Songs like “Necrosadist” seem to have the structure of a grotesque sexual orgy where each consecutive part tops the previous in volume and hysteria, with short breathing spaces in between to capture and organize the listener’s attention. Like the aforementioned Brazilian albums, Into the Macabre is one of the cases where music is about as far from an intellectual exercise as one gets, into the catacombs of a devil/alcohol/glue-possessed teenager’s brain but for the discerning and maniacal old school death metal listener there is no end to the amount of pleasures, revelations and evil moments that make it seem some transcendental guidance indeed dwells at the shrine of the unholy mystic.

-Devamitra-

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The One – I, Master (2008)

Hailing from Rhodes, The One is a black metal project by the mastermind behind Macabre Omen, who, alongside Varathron, have been the most consistent artists in the Hellenic scene during the past few years. The One performs a style of black metal that draws from various influences such as Mayhem, Hellhammer and Bathory, yet it is filtered through the Hellenic prism of longer melodies and warm, ritual atmosphere.

This sound is shaped by multiple layers of guitars and distortion. The ensuing disorienting atmosphere resembles a maelstrom in the river Acheron, sucking the listener inside. Indeed, it feels like this was recorded in a cave; in the same way that subterranean noises can be distorted due to echo, the guitar parts are blended into each other, rendering the act of discerning riffs difficult at certain points. This is a great case-study in modern black metal production, because it helps the riffs hide on the first listen, in order to reappear on the next.

Following the title of the album, the senses are guided from freshly dug graveyard soil to the nebulous regions of the sky, so that through death and a confrontation with the violent forces that sleep in man, a feeling of mastery may be conveyed. The tools with which The One is trying to impose this effect upon the listener are chromatic riffs inspired by Hellhammer that provoke cyclopean headbanging and excellent vocal invocations to Mayhem. Truly, the vocals are resourceful and employ a wide pallete of techniques. The locomotive guitar parts taken from Mayhem lead to cryptic orientalist melancholic riffs in the style of Macabre Omen.

A natural mood pervades the compositions, in the sense that changes happen when they have to; nothing is rushed and there is room for the riffs to breath. They rarely outstay their welcome as they flow into the next riff. However, chromatics are used not to liberate the composer, but to evoke claustrophobia, thus there is not much harmonic movement going on, similarly to church and folk music. This fact interestingly tends to increase the value of such movements when they happen.

The listener has to meditate on the sonic violence, for things that hide and appear on the third listening session. Even the guitar solo which imitates Euronymous can be mistaken as a traditional pipe instrument for a few seconds because of the sound and bending technique employed. Proceeding from the Heracletian philosophical foundations that “All is One”, Byzantine chants, melodies and vocals are chocked in the midst of chaos and appear as a homogenous mixture that propels the song onwards. This atmosphere is very ritualistic and the compositions move with uniformity to reach the epilogue of the record.

For all the talent of its creators, I, Master might pose a few drawbacks on the more experienced listener. To begin with, due to the hiding of the riffs and all the finer details it appears that the album doesn’t want to be noticed. Verily, the hooks of the record are the noisier parts which rely on the listener’s curiosity, like a puzzle. Unlike Aosoth’s early work and other Greek bands, this release is more tempered and doesn’t aim for direct impact. This is not a drawback per se, as it is a really interesting approach to keep the uninitiated listeners away and is in alignment with the spirit of black metal.

The second danger, is that this record belongs to the tradition of occult black metal, which is often dominated by monotonous attempts to resemble a liturgy and subsequently the release flirts with wallpaper aesthetics. However, The One manages to navigate through those reefs by channeling quality melodies and intriguing vocal performances into the mixture, thus keeping the attention of the listener throughout the record.

Therefore, the degree to which The One falls on the above trappings is subjective and depends on the attention span of the listener. An equal case can be drawn for experimental doom rock band Universe 217, which creates a parallel cosmic vibe which escapes post-rock monotony through possessed Janis Joplin vocals and intricate 12-chord riffs that channel emotion so that the composition can move somewhere else. In general, when monotony may infiltrate a composition, a great riff and some fine details can save the day. As Ildjarn demonstrates, passionate performance stands above all and passionate performance stems from passionate composition, which in term depends on the artist’s intention. The One’s intention cannot be disputed.

In fact, the whole record has a personal dimension for many reasons; first of all, the “I” in the title; second, enigmatic whispers on the final track suggest the importance of “creating” for the artist; third, Macabre Omen has already taken a personal tragedy and projected it into historical events, in Gods of War. Therefore, there is a tendency of projecting the personal into the universal, which might account for some addictive elements in the record that assure its replay value. In addition, there is an emphasis on individualism, that can be also witnessed on the early days of the band.

To sum up, this album highlights:

  • How to create a dense cryptic atmosphere without becoming a sonic wallpaper.
  • How to use the asphyxiating production to hide messages, like a grimoire or an ancient artifact.
  • The importance of blood and/or culture, since The One is definitely inspired by the folklore, religion and traditional music of his country on the catchier passages, making those possibly unfitting influences sound honest, true and convincing, because they have been experienced.

However, the strongest part of the record is the translation of its philosophical underpinnings into music. A cosmic ambience resides on some tracks, a vibe of some greater universal force that drowns the individual and helps him reach his potential at the same time. An example where The One flirts with this ambience is on song V, which unleashes a Burzum interpretation of doomy ambience and contains a long melodic riff that covers “Temples in the Shape of the Sky” by Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis. This riff is the high point of the record and hints at a possible ascension, a sort of spiritual illumination.

What is tragic is that when this theosis is attained, there is no escape into the great beyond. The song falls back to the Earth, back into the previous slow stratospheric riff.

This is exactly where The One and good black metal in general differs from the so called ritualistic, occult or “Orthodox” varieties: spirituality is acknowledged yet it complements the Earth and cannot be conceived without the Earth. After all, metal is not about escaping, it is about consecrating reality. The return to this previous riff may feel sad and definitely makes one hunger for more. However, it also creates a feeling of strength over reality, strength gained through experience and understanding. The listener was dominated by the music throughout, but now a sense of mastery is communicated. Albeit tragic, this can feel beautiful and the aim of The One is achieved.

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Thrombus – Mental Turmoil (1993)

The present album is an example of undergorund death metal that, while humble and rather representative of the genre, does an excellent job of crafting good, concise music that delivers a strong experience effectively. Mental Turmoil shows us a band that has not liberated itself and is thus at the mercy of stronger influences, such as the more pensive side of U.S. death metal meeting the aggressive side of the more melodic European flavors —and one can hear echoes of an early Obituary somewhere in here, as well as other voices. Thrombus concots its own little mixture of influences, even if there is nothing quite original in it.
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Metal and Post-Modernity

Article by Bill Hopkins

“We might even say that to be fully modern is to be anti-modern: from Marx’s and Dostoevsky’s time to our own, it has been impossible to grasp and embrace the modern world’s potentialities without loathing and fighting against some of its most palpable realities.”

—Some overweight sociology professor

Metal, like any manifestation of culture, doesn’t emerge from a social vacuum. So much should be uncontroversial. This raises a question in need of reply: What set of ideas and social forces explain the existence of metal? One hypothesis is to view metal as a manifestation of European romanticism [1], the period of European culture from roughly 1789 to 1850. This article suggests a different hypothesis: namely, that metal must be placed against the backdrop of post-modernity in order to be properly understood. In order to make this case, it is vital to understand ‘post-modernity’. Many confuse post-modernity (1960s-) with modernism (1890s-1930s), especially when it comes to art. Thus, a secondary goal of this article is to illuminate post-modernity. I will argue that one key imputes giving rise to metal was post-modernity’s re-engagement with past forms [2].

One naïve view of post-modernity, especially in its artistic manifestations, views it as an elitist movement intent on offending traditional and bourgeoise sensibilities by embracing the ‘shock of the new’ and the absurd: think of the sort of art piece your intellectually disabled 3 year-old could do if given a paintbrush and a blank canvass stretched out on the floor. However, this is to mistake post-modernity with modernism[3]. Modernism preceded post-modernity by decades. It began in the late 19th century and had all but dissipated in time for the lead up to WW2. Not only this, modernism was primarily an artistic movement whereas post-modernity refers to sweeping social and economic changes in addition to artistic ones.

‘Blue Poles’ by Jackson Pollock

As we will see, post-modernity is characterised by a re-assessment of modernism’s ‘shock of the new’. In order to explore post-modernity and its connections with metal more fully, however, we need to take a few steps backwards before going forwards. We need first to understand the broader concept of ‘modernity’ (1789-). What is modernity, such that ‘post’-modernity is contrasted with it?
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Roots of Evil: The Origins of Metal

With the fiftieth anniversary of metal music around the corner, forthcoming years will witness an increase of publications dealing with the history, legacy and defining characteristics of the genre. This could finally resolve the lack of consensus that still exists regarding the definition and origins of heavy metal.

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