Sadistic Metal Reviews: Fargo of July

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Vandalism, Bumbling Organization, and Antifa Venue Cut Short Caledonian Darkness II

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The organizers of the Caledonian Darkness black metal festival in Glasgow, Scotland were forced to cut short the second iteration festival early after an individual angry with the organizer’s inability to pay them vandalized the backstage area. Pig’s blood meant meant for Pseudogod, Sortilegia, and Ifrinn sets was used to paint six foot tall swastikas all over the white dressing room walls. Copying Dismember and Mayhem‘s shtick when you’re mediocre and not securing your own blood is a no no. Antifascists venue owners ended up canning Dead Congregation‘s and Svartidaudi’s sets, doing what they had threatened to do before the second day of the festival had even started

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Occult Burial – Hideous Obscure (2016)

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Article by Corey M.

Overall satisfying (but not quite inspiring) straightforward songs with equal parts thrash and proto-death metal present. I don’t quite hear the “occult” sound these guys are evidently going for; their music sounds too immediate and, weirdly, fun. The band members clearly enjoy creating this music and therefore their work is free of pretense; no revivalist coat-tail riding here. Expect to hear fairly similar-sounding riffs throughout, without much in the way of dynamics. Compared to their contemporaries in bands like Nifelheim and Aura Noir, Occult Burial are competent and maybe even a step ahead of the more popular bands that mix thrash with modern metal because they aren’t impeded by gimmickry. Their lack of theatrics may work against them because they will probably continue to be overlooked until they learn to cut loose and let their imaginations run a little more wild with their songs. Compared to the more aggressive speed metal classics from Coroner and Razor, parts of Hideous Obscure are downright boring. Even playing a bit faster and cleaning up the recording could do wonders for the effectiveness of these songs. Some parts sound truly terrible. For instance, the snare drum sounds  in the words of my favorite robot puppet “like a bag of sardines thrown up against the side of a pole barn.” Nevertheless there is promise here and I would reserve more judgment until Occult Burial release a proper-sounding album or I can catch them live.

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Infernus – Grinding Christian Flesh (2015)

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Late model black metal features many of these entries: as much borrowed from the days of speed metal as black metal, keeping a constant “jazzercise” style constant tempo and intensity, and while there are some sweet riffs, they are marooned in a sea of throwaway budget riffs and patterns from 1987 Exodus clones. Infernus has great rasping vocals but essentially, doom their album with highly predictable note progressions in the riffs and a constant, incessant droning style of composition. Many heavy metal touches pervade this album, suggesting that like early Gehennah and Nifelheim, this is heavy metal dressing up as black metal and equalizing all of its riffs to the same speed to hide their hard rock, speed metal and heavy metal origins. While the fans of the band will defend it on the basis of irony or some nostalgia, the result is musical tedium because of a failure to come to point. This is like watching the 5,000 slides of the vacation your neighbor just took, except that now the slides are old riffs and old tropes.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-06-14

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The music fan possesses limited resources to achieve the goal of an enjoyable listening experience: time, money and energy. Reviewers tend to write about how cool everything is, but they should be writing about how mediocre most albums are so they can focus on the few that can be enjoyed for the next few years at least. It is hard to be cruel, but it is kinder than kindness. With that I introduce our latest round of Sadistic Metal Reviews

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Villainy – Villainy I

This enjoyable little romp reminds the death metal listener of later Sentenced crossed with the Venom-worship of Nifelheim and other bands who, in the old school days, were simply referred to as Venom tributes. Heavy metal genre riffing, combining the best tropes of the late 1970s and early 1980s, meets a harsh Cronos-styled vocal and updated technique. Nothing sloppy here; the band are tight and the arrangements show no spurious detail. However, despite the somewhat harsh vocals, like Venom this is NWOBHM and 1970s heavy metal revivalism without any particular relevance beyond that era. It skips speed metal textures for a death/black metal styled fast strum and continuous drumming as if taking notes from Merciless, and injects melody, but mostly stays within verse-chorus with introductory and transitional riffs different. The riff forms will be familiar to fans of heavy metal from that era. Lead guitar strikes a pentatonic blitz that is both enjoyable and very much within form. Unlike Merciless however this album focuses on writing hard rocking tunes and does not develop an evolving mood or atmosphere beneath.

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Tenebrous – Arias Toward the Black Sun

Underground metal needs a new trope for a certain type of composition which appears frequently among our ranks. I dub this “80s situational comedy” after the movies where a character makes a bad decision, then to hide it chooses another bad option, then deceives and conceals in a string of events leading to absurdity and eventual plot collapse. Sitcom metal occurs when a band finds a riff they like and write other riffs to fit that riff without having an awareness of what the riff communicates emotionally to the listener, thus what the song is actually about, and so you end up with a cool riff and reactions to that riff which are designed to put it into context but ultimately have the opposite effect. Tenebrous fits this pattern through its work in a style that combines a whole lot of Graveland with some of the more aggressive strains of black metal. They have mastered the basic flowing riff, but not building a song around it, only building a song commenting on it. This is underscored by the cover of “Unpunished Herd” which ends the album and makes the rest of it look incoherent in contrast.

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Pagan Flames – Symbol de Vie et Lumiere

This atmospheric black metal band combines Burzum-styled lead folk melodies over sweeping guitar riffs. Its strength is its melodic composition; its weaknesses are its vocals, which focus on rhythms that are too obvious and thus trite, and its tendency to try to work slamming full-stop and bounce rhythms into what should be a more continuous architecture. Barring those two disadvantages, Symbol de Vie et Lumiere presents black metal that unlike most recent efforts tries for the ancient, melancholic and epic warlike sound that made this genre popular before idiots invaded with thinly-disguised rock music to keep the mouth-breathers occupied. Many of these songs verge on being folk music itself and like the Darkthrone sidepoject Storm, feature trudging rhythms over which pagan lyrics are chanted to volkisch-reminiscent melodies. The fractured aesthetic presented by the overly busy vocals and tendency toward self-interruption with choppier rhythms narrowly keeps this album from being top tier but it distinguishes itself on its essence — attempting to write actual music through melody — from the formless legions of tryhards, shoegazers and hard rockers trying to use black metal as a vehicle for their own failed prior attempts at other genres.

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Skrømt – Sjelebrann

Not since Disharmonic Orchestra Not to be Undimensional Conscious has a hybrid of this variety yet which retained its ability to express itself been cast among the metal minions. Skrømt combine alternative metal, post-metal, rough punk and older black metal influences (Ancient, Enslaved) into a form which keeps the catchy songwriting of indie rock bands but fleshes it out with a rich backdrop of shifting harmonic texture and, like metal, combines multiple riffs into chains to create a moveable part of a narrative. For the most part, songs stick to verse-chorus as augmented by background material and sometimes with a second instrumental chorus to expand upon the first loop. Like alternative metal, songs guide themselves through the vocals and the presentation of lyrics in a combination of shouted, sung and harsh vocals. Where this goes wrong is that rock and metal do not mix on an aesthetic and thus artistic level, and so the end result is rock gilded with metal riffs which are quickly absorbed, and some of the best work of this album exists in the shadow of the alternative rock tropes that it stands far superior to. This is unfortunate as clearly many good ideas and musical insights went into this album. Most inspiring in this release is the technical work applied to making the various riffs and styles fit together. It is rare for a band to understand how to connect different emotions together without following a blatant formula, but Skrømt stitches together multiple moods and styles into a coherent whole on a musical level, even if making it work on an aesthetic level seems difficult.

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Church of the Dead – Vol. 4 – Meet Me in the Tomb

The term “cultural appropriation” seems trendy these days but few realize what it means. Blatant theft of the cultural methods of another group is too easily detected, so people appropriate those cultural methods by translating them into a form that most will not recognize. In this case, while Church of the Dead clearly uses death metal riffs and death metal vocals, its vocal rhythms are influenced by rap and its riff rhythms are closer to Motown than standard issue death metal. Thus while this disc shows some musical promise, it remains a confused aberration that wants to be in one genre but keeps itself in another, losing the spirit and atmosphere of that genre. Each piece tends to feature both Cannibal Corpse style trope cadence rhythm vocals and sing-song jingle-style vocals, making these hard to listen to without a wincing cringe, but also internalizes groove to the point where riffs take a basis in Morbid Angel and Malevolent Creation and become closer to Pantera. As a result, despite the many positives for this album, the overall negative is that its overall presentation is bouncy, poppy, and very much “rock” and not metal in form.

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Deep Wound – Deep Wound EP

At some level all hardcore punk approximates the same thing because the genre solidified certain tropes and combined with the mathematical limitations on complexity, these defined the variety of punk songs. Deep Wound creates songs that sound either like Black Flag without the dissonance, or early Corrosion of Conformity without so many pauses. The vocals strikes a jaunty and sarcastic pause when they are not in full blur mode. As far as thrash goes, this is closer to the punk side like the first DRI LP, and its riffs are less metal than hardcore in minor key, but it beats the recent “crossover thrash” rebranding that verges too much on speed metal territory and becomes either tame or inanely jingle-y as a result. The hardcore spirit lives faithfully in this music but because of the vast similarity of hardcore, it also does not stand out in any particular way — riffs are not radically different, nor song forms, nor even vocals — so qualifies as a fun listen but not as definitive as the albums from DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and COC that defined thrash as a genre. However, this stands head and shoulders above the “party thrash” of recent years and by coming at the genre from the hardcore side, brings in an energetic simplicity that metal riffs make too complex to self-sustain.

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Nidsang – Into the World of Dissolving Flames

  • Basic black metal combined with Angelcorpse-style aggression, but leaning on the latter for songwriting. As a result, not much atmosphere but plentiful aggression. Melodic riffing adds some depth but consistent song form and intensity rob this album of much enduring power.

Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto

  • Aborted took their high-intensity low-complexity grind and gave it the modern metal (a/k/a deathcore) treatment which made it more chaotic. The more elements you add, the more internal complexity (melody, structure, theme) you must have or you reduce your core complexity to nothing, which is what happens here. Catchy chorus + two grinding riffs + hard rock influences.

Abysmal Dawn – Obsolescence

  • Workable death metal with heavy metal influences in abundant lead soloing, melodic riffing and catchy choruses. Very paint-by-numbers however with not much of an intent to put anything into a song but energy and internal cohesion. Good riffs give it strength but do not make it compelling; modern-metal-style chanted choruses ahead of the riff also increase frustration.

Cemetery Fog – Towards the Gates

  • This attempt at Paradise Lost-styled doom metal is both well-composed and artistically relevant, but highly cheesy from the use of melodies that directly gratify pop instincts to the occasional female vocals which aesthetically create the type of cheese that Motley Crue could only dream of. Songs are well-written and express a unique form and content for each, even though they drone on through a series of heavy metal riffs slowed down and are united by a melodic lead shadowed by vocals. While not bad, this makes the album as a whole somewhat sentimental in the sort of obvious Thomas Kinkade calendar way that drives away people like me, but it would be remiss to not notice the quality of songwriting here.

Abigor – Leytmotif Lucifer

  • Black metal needs to stay black metal. Abigor try to work in late Gorgoroth through early Deathspell Omega influences and it makes their already spotty music more spotty. Some good melodies, no continuity, too much style.

Aevangelist – Writhes in the Murk

  • Imagine Teitanblood with melodic riffing and slowed down to fast mid-paced death metal. The one cool effect here is the use of abrupt transitions to create a theatrical effect, but the lack of underlying riff and song consistency makes even this seem hollow.

Bethlehem – Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia

  • Most will notice the creeping Rammstein influence: clean vocals, more dance-able beats, more pronounced use of German lyrics. However, a good deal of this sounds like recent Absurd as well with more of a folk influence creeping in and while the rhythms are more popular music friendly, they are far from industrial, and what appears instead more resembles NWOBHM with more groove than the quasi-modernist sound of Rammstein. Otherwise, the riff wizardry remains but is muted, with more emphasis on vocals and repetitive choruses, but generally these songs fit together well musically and develop an internal melodic sense that produces a multifacted atmosphere.

Agatus – Dawn of Martyrdom (re-issue)

  • Sort of like a cross between Legion of Doom and old Rotting Christ, Agatus uses the full punk style of even strumming speed creating droning riffs. These are pleasurable in themselves, and fit together well in songs, but they are both too obvious as melodies/phrases and too similar as rhythm riffs to make this work. In addition, many of the melodic choices here are simply rudimentary crossing into bad. This could have been an epic album if a more critical eye had been applied during composition.

Acheron – Kultes des Hasses

  • The challenge to Acheron has always been to overcome their cadenced rhythm that comes to a full stop in perfect symmetry, sounding a bit like a child’s song. On this latest album they work up the usual assortment of great riffs in bad rhythm and occasional disorganized order.

Baphometh – In the Beginning

  • Essentially speed metal with plenty of repetition, catchy choruses and circular song structure, this band nonetheless adopts death metal vocals. However, it is better for fans of B-rated Metallica and Exodus clones than anything newer. While none of this is incompetent, songs have no center around any kind of conflict, so the general mode is repetition and circularity.

Authorize – The Source of Dominion

  • Thudding, predictable, circular and confused, Authorize are Swedish death metal in the style of Suffer but with none of what holds songs together or makes them anything but basic guitar practice. Lead guitars totally incongruous, other elements equally out of place. Should have stayed unreleased.

Aurora Borealis – Worldshaper

  • The melodic death metal band works Absu-style jaunty vocals into the mix, but they take over composition too much. Riffs follow the vocal lead which dominants rhythm and creates a kind of circus atmosphere with the MC describing each act and then the trained bears of the riffs, clowns of the background vocals and highwire dancers of guitars take over. Sounds a lot like Warfather but more melody.
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Sadistic Metal Reviews 10-13-14

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The first metal album that you really connect with should be a magic experience, one that transforms your life. But a large group of people want you to apply that same feeling to their album so they can take your money, but their music is mediocre. SMR is the dividing line between the greatness and the forgettable, and we exult in the tears of the latter, for they are the sweetest of wines…

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Solace of Requiem – Casting Ruin

A new epidemic trend grips metal, following war metal, which is the tendency to Angelcorpse — yes, that’s being used as a verb — a mixture of metal influences and tie the mess together with loud vocals. Fast guitars and overactive drums work for Angelcorpse, who clearly came along in the Fallen Christ vein of blasting streamlined death metal, but metal bands now are using that style like a tortilla to dump everything else into, wrap up the ends and make a metal burrito. While some bands that make burrito metal are able to keep interest, the problem with this style and the carnival music high contrast (read: randomness) aesthetic of bands like Behemoth that rose in parallel is that by turning the volume up to 11 for everything, it creates a constant flow of essentially invariant sound that possesses no dynamic and no real progression. It is thus easier to write; songs require no real internal contrast, and songwriters can stack bits of whatever they have on hand and stitch it up with some technicality. I find Solace of Requiem to be unlistenable for this reason. It is a barrage of noise that, if someone were to take any part of it and break it out into parts divided by its internal tension and then make a song of it, might work. But the whole burrito does not. The Solace of Requiem burrito includes more lead guitar and melody and some NYDM style technicality and sweeps borrowed from metalcore, but that does not differentiate its essential approach from all the other Behemoth/Angelcorpse hybrids. Like Taco Bell, it goes down quickly, is easily forgotten and leaves an unpleasant odor lingering in its wake.

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Wombbath – Internal Caustic Torments

This is one of those bands that makes plodding rhythms catchy to the point that a listener will fall into the groove and not mind, but also will not seek it out repeatedly because of the sheer repetition without much of a direction. These riffs came straight out of hard rock, got detuned and had some quick fills added, but remain as predictable as listening to AC/DC covers at the local karaoke bar. The result is that Wombbath batters your brain until it gives up, then pours a layer of relatively obvious material over it, including songs that complete an arc but without any real doubt or tension in the middle, such that like the riffs, the structure of the songs themselves is duplicative and numbing. Nothing is done poorly and this band clearly shows mastery of the old school style, but what it lacks is a reason for a listener who is aware of the best of old school death metal to embrace this. Internal Caustic Torments expresses in many ways the worst of old school death metal and the tendency that caused the genre to collapse on itself, which was nailing the style and then using it to hammer out repetition like propaganda. This album could be improved overnight by introducing actual tension between the first and second riffs, then seeing where that leads and using it to reorganize these songs, because many of the raw elements are there.

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Pilgrim – II: Void Worship

Stoner doom metal happened when 1970s jam music swallowed up doom metal and remains basically stuck in the 1970s, Slacker, That 70s Show, etc. mentality. In other words, it aims to dig out wonder in the smallest of things, much as stoners can find a universe in their toenails. In this case, it is not the “doom” aspect that is problematic, but the fact that this music seems designed to find the fascinating and earth-shattering in simple chord progressions that remind us of Foreigner and Journey releases but without the strong sense of harmony. Instead, it’s every stoner’s dream: just start plodding along, then jam over that until some sort of magic emerges. When you think about it, that is what the Grateful Dead did for decades, blarting out never-ending tuneless solos that incorporated every technique in the book but to no end, because there was no point, only a desire to keep the jam going for as long as possible so the audience and band could take more drugs, be more groovy, pose more in front of the flower-painted school bus and other activities for people who have voids in their souls and no purpose to their lives. Pilgrim are more musically adept than most bands which cross this desk, but they take it nowhere. Songs jam, build up, trail off. Solos and fills drop in competently but express nothing. The album has a big concept somewhere if you read the theory about it that they include with all releases nowadays — I never do — but it is not expressed in the music. Much like a recent failed indie-metal album about whales, the putative topic is not the subject matter, but a cover story for playing the same crap. Really, just go get the first Def Leppard album because it does everything that happens here but with a purpose. A vapid purpose, but no purpose is more vapid than no purpose itself. Flee.

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Midnight – No Mercy for Mayhem

Warmed over NWOBHM with American glam metal glitz under a glaze of alt-death bands like Nifelheim or Gehennah. Remember when that stuff came out? It was 1998 and black metal had officially shot its wad, following death metal the dubious status of having a fully developed form but having expressed all of its relevant content three years or more prior. Thus bands thought, “Well, we have this new technology in the death metal and black metal styles, why not mix them and use them to encode the same old crap that bands were talking about in the 1970s?” You know, the safe stuff: alcohol, sex, partying and pissing off your parents. No one in a modern liberal democracy will argue with you for such an assertion of individualism and defiance of The Establishment. Thus it’s about as challenging and volatile as tap water, as controversial as feeding pigeons in a park, and the perfect product because it takes almost zero effort to make a few catchy hard rock songs with heavier vocals and more intense drums. Anyone can do it! Those were the words they used in the dying years of punk, also, which meant that anyone and everyone did do it, which ensured that the music became boring because it wasn’t about anything. Midnight isn’t about anything either. Its members are fixated only on being in a band and making some tunes that people like. That’s sort of like a chef deciding that he wants to make Big Macs instead of Filet Mignon because “people like it.” Like a Big Mac, No Mercy For Mayhem is soft and uniform in consistency and slightly sweet with a tangy sauce of rebellious high school rock. But it resembles an average of every burger ever made with the never-fail treatment of adding fat, salt and sugar, thus there is no growth, learning or evolution in it. It is simply an object, a product. And like all soulless things, it can only occupy your time, not enhance it, which means you stagnate, and you know what they say about stagnation.

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Cemetery Lust – Orgies of Abomination

I suppose this is intended to sound like Autopsy, but it more sounds like the bad SOD and DRI clones of the late 1980s: really simple sing-song two-point riffs driven by the vocals to keep the rhythmic hook alive because that is basically all the song does. Rhythms are very similar to old DRI, COC and SOD as well. Lots of downpicking. Nothing is poorly done and yet this style, like all rap music, is just too simple to express much of anything especially with these entirely standard song structures. Each song consists of two related riffs, a vocal hook, and support from other instruments. The result is not exciting unless people playing stuff faster than normal excites you. Lots of tropes from middle-1980s speed metal and early death metal, but the songs never really get any momentum going and sound about thirty years old, out of date and without personality. Some things belong in the past and should be buried next to all the bands who didn’t make it because they sounded like watered-down versions of their influences. This band can join them.

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Rippikoulu – Ulvaja

Funeral doom metal with death metal touches in the vein of Skepticism, Rippikoulu on this release create a convincing atmosphere that relies too much on texture of vocals and instrumentation but nonetheless is convincing. These songs begin with simple riffs and expand both depth and tonality, moving from minor-key intervals to more open intervals much like Ancient used to on its longer tracks, creating a sense of a moving target on a lengthy journey. Use of piano, strings and female vocals both soften the abrasive distortion and force more spacious dynamics, allowing other themes more room to move. While these songs clearly focus on atmosphere, the more important idea here is the change of moods like seasons, which gives them a grace and makes the distorted guitar seem actually jarring by way of contrast. Although this release is an EP and thus short, the mood created by this musical approach could be, like Summoning Nightshade Forests, the basis for a short escape from reality that reveals more about existence than direct confrontation ever could.

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Ripper – Raising the Corpse

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From the fertile grounds of the 1980s came many styles in the hybrid of death metal and speed metal. Many of these used death metal as a means of streamlining the more varied techniques of speed metal, producing songs with more internal rhythmic consistency and streamlined effect.

Others pursued a more melodic direction and made music with the intensity of death metal, the musicality of speed metal, and the toe-tapping addictiveness of power metal and the early German speed metal bands. Ripper falls into this category, joining bands like Grotesque, Slaughter Lord and Merciless in a style of short simple songs with the anthemic choruses and fixed chord progressions of speed metal, but the singular technique and drive of early death metal.

Raising the Corpse features a death metal rasp which will immediately call to mind early Destruction and Merciless. Its songs tend to use a single progression for chorus and vary it with texture, then use a counterpart for verses that creates some tension but mostly establishes rhythm. This approach fits within the early speed metal model that formed the basis of great hook-laden German bands like Destruction and Sodom, and this tradition continues with Ripper. Where Ripper succeeds is in removing extraneous material and cutting to the core of its music, eliminating some of the distraction and randomness that blighted later work from the German bands.

Much like Merciless, Ripper know to invoke a melodic hook with a rhythmic hook and gradually bring a song into unity, at which point they hammer home the infectious chorus until the audience is ready to carve it into their own flesh. While some may point out that little new occurs here stylistically, and many of these riff forms can be traced back to Slayer or Destruction, what Ripper does well is keep this music high-intensity without falling into sameness and to streamline into an effective delivery mechanism that outgrows the confused collision of styles that was the mid to late 1980s.

While Raising the Corpse will be too intense for power metal fans, and may strike death metal fans as too simple, those who take the time to listen will find a good, compelling and energetic release. In the history of metal, bands as varied as Aura Noir, Nifelheim and At the Gates have tried to make albums in this style but none are as consistently listenable and as well-organized as Raising the Corpse. This fits with a recognition that nostalgia is suicidal and odious, and that metal must move on with a clarification of its voice to give these older styles new relevance.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ncwQORbhjIU

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Witches Mark – Witching Metal Ritual

witches_mark-witching_metal_ritualThis affectionate tribute to the days of classic metal, both NWOBHM and its more bombastic American cousin, fits into the same vein as material like Gehennah, Nifelheim or Diamonsnake: it’s catchy, with overemphasis on the flourishes of the past, but can be compelling for its sentimental view of the world that comes off as poetic.

Witching Metal Ritual features motives from the initial heavy metal era but played with the energy and less responsive drumming of hardcore punk, with occasional touches of the speed metal techniques of the early 1980s. However, what drives this recording are its melodic moments and the use of lead guitar as a running commentary to create a sense of detachment.

Vocals are chants with harmonized singing at intervals, and these complement the guitar, but it is the six-string that sustains emotion. If the album has an achilles heel, it is that too much of this guitar is lead which introduces complexity with more variety in riff could have been powerful. Similarly, drums may be a bit too detached for this style, although it creates an interesting effect.

Witches Mark are more creative than most of the bands who attempt this style and forge a unique sound for themselves that seems influenced by some of the more proggish material in the metal world of late, but is based very much in simple heavy metal riffs and grandiloquent moments where a collision by one or more motifs creates the kind of “heaviness” that metal is famous for.

However, much like later Ihsahn, the tendency to fill sparse songs with internal complexity can lead to listener disorientation and often prevents themes from fully developing. However, the faithful rendition of the past, including a vocalist with a wide range and crystal pipes, may over-ride that with a mood that is hard not to like.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 8-16-09

Scientists have found that we learn more from our successes than our failures because of the way individual brain cells respond in real time. Like natural selection, this is a process where the winner takes all: when the idiots have run out of steam or exterminated themselves, the smart take over and breed like mad. Metal is exactly the same way. Across the world, tens of thousands of bands launch their albums at one giant egg which is the mass consciousness of metal fans, and a few make it in and become golden classics that people will talk about for decades. It’s not random; it’s about music quality. In the following reviews, we search for the 0.1% of quality in the metal world and mock the 99.9% of directionless gloop that people will talk about this week and next, and then forget.

Medusa – En Raga Sul

You know, post-metal is horsepuckey just like post-punk was. You’re making the same music with a little more dexterity and some slicker exterior. But you can’t escape the fact that your approach is the same. This circularity of doom by ignorance of abstract afflicts Medusa. These guys — normally from indie bands — can clearly play their instruments, but they understand metal on the same level as my parents. “Oh, I get it, be as loud and interruptive as possible, and random if you can.” No way, dueds. Random is an indie hipster thing. Order rising from chaos in a majestic fountain of context-expanding revelation is a metal thing. Like post-rock, post-punk, etc. this is a disappointed because they threw everything but the kitchen sink into the compositional mix, and came out with one giant average that screeches, howls, whines and cajoles like a methed-out whore. This CD will experience the wrath of Lord Bic, my lighter (and the object into which I have projected the spirit of my dead warrior ancestors).

Zebulon Pike – Intransience

This lengthy EP brings three songs in a fusion between King Crimson of the Red era and the mellower, rolling doom metal of bands like Cathedral. Thankfully, there are no vocals, which makes this quite exciting; sadly, it’s still entrenched in the “prog rock” category and does not make a metal voice out of its influences. However, it one-ups bands like Cynic or Maudlin of the Well by escaping the pop song ghetto and going for the gusto with these lengthy, prog-worshipping songs that are not so much intricately structured as they are intricate structures applied cumulatively in repetitive layers, causing a sensation of ascending a spiral staircase that changes geometric dimension at every floor. All instrumentation is straight out of 1970s King Crimson, with occasional bounding punk or doom-death metal riffs, but by the nature of keeping open harmony so it can write melodies through the chord lines in a complex fashion, there’s a lot of clanging open chords and chords formed around the upper notes of the scale, giving it a clangy old school vibe. Fans of Pelican might appreciate this fusion between indie retro aesthetic and the impetus toward topographic space savant rock epics, but if this band really wants to move forward they should forget their influences long enough to fuse a new language out of the shared heritage of rock, prog and metal that fuels this exploratory band.

Havok – Being and Nothingness

Despite the cool song titles and album concept, this is tedious metalcore: a mix of prog metal, speed metal, avantgarde punk and indie rock that uses death metal technique sometimes. Lots of heavily repetitive strumming, “groove” occurring in the midst of rhythmic chaos, and sudden breaks to “unexpected” acoustic or proggy parts in the same self-considered profundity that Opeth and Meshuggah use. Maybe you’ll like it if you like those. But then it would be an imitation of an imitation.

Woodtemple – Voices of Pagan Mountains

I am told by reliable sources that other CDs from this band are not as good. However, this one stays on my B-list of metal and will eventually be purchased. In the 2000s, buying something you’ve had kicking around on mp3 forever is a sure sign it’s destined for repeated listening. In style, this disc is like Graveland Following the Voice of Blood re-done in the style of Thousand Swords, but as if informed by early Ancient, say, Trolltaar. Longer riff-melodies and repetition interrupted by a kind of prismatic re-use and re-contexting of past riffs makes this an engrossing, labyrinthine listen. There’s some hilarious intrusions from later Bathory (Hammerheart), including experimentation with percussive riffing, but on the whole, this is a great disc and one of my favorites from post-entropy (1994) black metal, even if in style it’s a total tribute to the past.

Amesoeurs – Amesoeurs

Proving again that they’re low self-esteem losers, the vocal black metal community tripped over its own feet rushing to praise this release. I understand why; it’s easily listened to, pleasing to the air, and maintains an atmosphere that is pleasant. However, it’s shoegaze and not black metal, and deviates entirely from the moods which produce the epic experience of black metal. For sure, there are moments of storming guitar riff over blasting drums. But musically, it has little in common with black metal, and does a lot of dressing up My Bloody Valentine-style pop as something more extreme, kind of like a brainier version of Marilyn Manson. The problem with the pop approach is that it’s two-stroke: you get two emotions, mix them, and leave people with that wistful sense that something important happened and they missed it. That will not scratch the black metal itch because it’s very karmic,

Worship – Dooom

I really wanted to like this. But playing a heavy metal band this slowly crushes the ability to make riffs that are distinctive, so you end up with chord progressions you’ve heard before in a rhythm too slow to recognize; when that gets arduous, the band pause like waiting for an audience to clap along, and then resume again. And so it goes, for minutes upon minutes. It isn’t bad but it’s not necessary, and it will always gall me to have CDs sitting around that aren’t as good as the other stuff I have, but are “newer” so must be really important. It’s not. Stoner doom is the latest trend and while we all like a trend because it seems like the hand of the world has reached down to offer us an easy solution, usually this means that people adapt whatever they have to the new trend with predictable results. These songs are generic stoner doom of the heavy variety; seek Skepticism instead!

Havohej – Kembatinan Premaster

Paul Ledney makes brilliant albums every other album. You can tell from his history that he has an active mind and explores new methods of making music. Some are communicative, and so make us understand the dark mental journeys he’s taking, and others convey emptiness in a way that not only is un-informative, but also is not much fun to listen to. After all, good art is half Schopenhauer and half “Harry Potter”: it should have the profundity to twist our minds to see a greater context to our lives, but it should also be entertaining and show us our everyday struggles in a new context where we can more easily grasp what we’d rather be doing in similar situations. This latest from Havohej, like Man and Jinn before it, is an experiment in ritual rhythm music using noise instead of guitars and bass. His technique appears to be using ultrasonic noise and sublimated harmony in the drone to create additional rhythms through separation sounds (as used when tuning an instrument). The result is “interesting” academically, but horrible for listening. The sense of adventure is dead. It’s more like a mathematical proof by an interior decorator. Skip this and pick up the excellent Profanatica Profanatitas de Domonatia instead.

Greenfly – Hidden Pleasures of a Nonexistent Reality

This CD is just bad. The choice of notes is predictable; the choice of rhythms is blockheaded; the instrumentation is so competent it’s thoroughly uncreative. It’s so strikingly obvious in construction it’s hard to imagine it as something other than guitar practice that got accidentally recorded. The metalcore vocals don’t help either, nor do the recycled and completely cut-from-form speed metal riffs. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was a parody of death metal. It’s like an angry caveman howling while he beats rocks with his club. I think the worst part is that this band seem to think they’re clever, or pure in some ironic way, for having distilled the genre into this blurting, bumbling, pounding disaster.

Hammemit – Spires Over the Burial Womb

Over the last dozen years, I have become more cynical about noise and ambient music. The reason is that there’s so much of it, yet 90% drops into the category of “goes nowhere, does nothing.” Hammemit straddles the line: a good deal of thought went into these compositions which create a ritual atmosphere of contemplation. The problem is that they do so under the conscious level, and do not form any distinct thought, only a vague impression of something sacred happening. I like that, but it’s not going to motivate people to listen to any piece of music (same problem modern and postmodern “classical” has). These collections of moans, natural phenomena noises, occasional piano and guitar, and found sounds are compelling in that they do not whack you over the head like modern material does, but they also shy away from approaching the clarity of ancient works. My suggestion to this artist is to vary the sound palette between tracks, and to aim at making the concrete form out of nothingness, as that way the mind will retain what’s afoot here.

Ihsahn – Angl

I’m going to say what others are afraid to say: this album is shit. Equal parts Cynic and Meshuggah, it shows nothing of the creativity of Ihsahm during his Emperor days; actually, it’s just a collection of well-done cliches. It’s like Nordic metal is the peak of ability in making songs, but if you feed the same crap into it, you just get a better version of that crap. I think instead we need something, like — just to pull a name out of the hat — Emperor where they made something entirely different, and as a result, were inspired to make better quality music. Repeating the past is painful. This recombines and repeats the past. I had to run across the room to hide my Emperor CDs from this dripping turd.

Demigod – Shadow Mechanics

This refreshing album eschews the pure death metal outlook for a hybrid of death metal and later Voivod-style progressive metal, using complex rhythms and multiple offsets place emphasis of protean phrases; there’s also the usual expanded chord voicings and quirky tempo changes, and while song structures are basically complex verse/chorus in the Rush model, there are enough deviations — usually about two per song — to give atmosphere and create anticipation. Smooth vocals and catchy rhythms give a nod to populism, but it’s unlikely the band thought they were authoring a best seller. It’s more likely that, like Obliveon on Nemesis or Voivod on Negatron, they were simply hoping for a more accessible canvas onto which to splash their brighter ideas, in the camouflage of being an entertainment/leisure product.

Grave – Into the Grave

After enjoying this album during the early days of Death Metal, I set it aside for about a dozen years. I don’t know why I set it aside. I know why I picked it up: I was curious to see what degree nostalgia played in my enjoyment of music, and why I seem to pathologically forget to mention this band or even think about it. Now I know: this is an album with passion, rhythmic intensity, and utterly boring selection of chords in very similar riffs and very, very similar song constructions. Musically, it’s like Asphyx played a lot faster with Slayer-esque drumming, and almost no deviation from a half-whole interval progression. They do a good job of thematic presentation, but every riff is astoundingly self-evident and without much tonal contrast. True, it’s heavy as hell, but like a bulldozer pushing rocks: after a while the dynamic is dead and you have background noise.

Corpus Christii – The Fire God

The Fire God should consume this CD. It’s entirely coherent, but aims so low that fitting together verse and chorus riffs with a bevvy of hovering keyboard trills should be easy. And it is, and that’s kind of the problem: there’s nothing here you could not find somewhere else in a more articulate form. In addition to being basically bland black metal, this CD also incorporates a lot of heavy metal elements blah blah you know the story by now. Throw in too many ingredients, and the recipe turns to mush. So does this CD. It needs a fire god to give it real passion, but for that that, it will have to pick a direction and try to find songs that can express conclusions of its own voice. Right now, it sounds like a clever recombination of things known from other sources and since I own those, well, why would I listen to this?

Demigod – Let Chaos Prevail

Most people confuse external form with content, because they assume form mirrors function. It does, but the function must come first; if there’s no clear function, we end up with an aggregate of misplaced ideas. That’s what has happened here. Demigod have tried to update their death metal sound with the “modern death metal” (read: deathcore, which is deathy metalcore) style, complete with sweeps and jazzy chugging rhythms, and the result is that they’ve adulterated their music — even while producing at the top of their musical knowledge and technical ability. In this, they are very similar to Cadaver, who did the same thing with Necrosis. The bouncy, jaunty, distraction-oriented nature of rock music and metalcore does not mix with the subtle building of atmosphere out of seemingly unrelated attributes of a stream of riffs; instead, on this CD, Demigod sound like a riff/chorus band who periodically jam on alternate riffs before going back to the safe and repetitive. Clearly they are talented, a lot like Behemoth and better than Meshuggah, but this is written in such a blockhead way that the dumbing-down traps all hopeful bits and intelligent riffs in the amber of a soon-to-be-obsolete style called metalcore.

Death Courier – Necrorgasm

What happens to innovators when the music they produce is not all that exceptional? Like Venom, this Greek band helped establish the aesthetic of death metal. Their music is not bad; it’s just boring. Moderately technical, it shows a nice grasp of basic harmony, and is probably about 50% rock music and 50% death metal. There are plenty of heavy metal riffs. There’s a clear influence on early Darkthrone, especially Goatlord, in some of the bidirectional chord progressions used in riffs. Some might point out similarities to Varathron His Majesty at the Swamp as well and not be inaccurate. But listening to this for a modern death metal listener is kind of painful.

Criterion – The Dominant

I really wanted to like this, but the riffs are too… obvious. Not much other than straightforward riffing like cutting bread, at least harmonically. Rhythmically, there’s more space, but with two glitches: their voice is derived entirely from Deicide “Once Upon the Cross” meets later Morbid Angel, and the organization of these riffs goes nowhere. Songs cycle, then end. Thud. The spirit and intent seems good behind this CD but the result is battering repetition.

Code – Resplendent Grotesque

This is really bad. It’s dramatic gothic rock pretending to be black metal, sort of a fusion between the Dimmu Borgir softer parts and Mardukish harder parts. But at the end of the day, it’s the same ranting style of vocals without much organization, recycled riffs, and lots of noise to hide where there’s no real idea. This is to be avoided if you have musical knowledge or just like quality music.

Angantyr – Haevn

I keep trying to like this band and getting halfway there. It’s very pretty; it’s very repetitive; somewhere in the middle, its direction ends up getting simplified and to my ears, not really deviating from its starting point. However, if you want to swing your willowy limbs to something pleasant and droningly melodic, this will fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill. Fit the bill.

Diaboli – Mesmerized by Darkness

Resembling Impaled Nazarene’s Ugra-Karma most in its approach, this is pneumatically-driven high speed quasi-melodic black metal with a relentless attack. Like the most extreme hardcore band you can imagine, Diaboli roar into song with verse/chorus riffing interrupted by some transitional “budget riffs” of rhythmic variations on a couple of chords. As a result, like most hardcore, it wears thin after some time. However, there are some great riffs on here and the intensity stays high. This would probably not make a great go-to album, since it lacks the kind of mystic atmosphere Forest Poetry or the aforementioned Ugra-Karma created, but it’s a good rainy day fallback.

End – III

Someone made the perfect generic black metal album: it’s rugged and rough black metal written as if it were “symphonic” metal and the keyboards got accidentally left off. Heavy metal riffs, black metal drums and vocals, sounding a lot like a cross between Absu and later Immortal if you then crossbred that with something really bouncy like Nifelheim. Even if you’re not an orthodox blackmetaller, you can see how this lack of direction leads to a very confused band who basically jam on some really basic stuff and then try to differentiate it however they can. It’s not badly done but there’s no reason to listen to it. Imagine the best SUV ever made, if you hate SUVs.

Behemoth – Evangelion

No matter what anyone says, this is deathcore or metalcore: it’s not put together like death metal. The idea behind death metal is that a string of riffs makes sense in an expanding context. This is totally cyclic, a bit of verse/chorus dressed up with some transitions, and instead of emphasizing a through-composed outlook, it directs itself toward — just like rock ‘n roll — a rhythmic chorus pattern with open chords behind it. The “carnival music” aspect of pasting together disparate riffs and layering them in keyboards to distract us is gone; these are basic heavy metal riffs done “extreme” with high BPM and lots of distortion. Vocals are masked in some odd way that makes them sound like a crowd of laryngitis sufferers demanding their change at a Burger King. It’s fair to mention that Behemoth know their basic music theory and so this holds together well as music; it’s more harmonically coherent and thus easy to listen to than most death metal. However, it conveys mostly a repetition of battering rhythm, put into the minor-key Gothic theatricism that is a kissing cousin to Marilyn Manson, which makes it more suited to the punk/rock crowd who enjoy metalcore because it’s basically rock music with prog-metal riffs.

Detournement – Screaming Response

For a minute, I was thrown back into 1994 when the fresh-voiced, power-pop-infused posi-pop-punk started hitting the shelves. Like all those bands, these guys try really hard to show both how purist punk they are, and how not punk they are, by cutting a ballad like “No Estan Solos” full of soulful appeal but ultimately pretty repetitive. The rest is surging political punk that tries to keep the outrage high but, as in the 1990s, sounded simply like the children of a post-industrial wasteland howling protests at leaders themselves in the grip of forces they cannot control. Both of these tendencies make the pandering and amateurishness come out, but other than that, there’s nothing wrong with this high-energy modern hardcore EP.

Havohej – Man and Jinn

The difference between the indefinable presence of discernible structure, natural forces and emergent properties, and the world as we experience it of visual appearance and seemingly absolute cause/effect linkages that yet are not universal, afflicts this EP both in its triumph and its failure. Its triumph is that by using sampled sounds of nuclear explosions and other droning material sounds, Paul Ledney creates a recording that sounds like avantgarde black metal without blatantly slipping into avantgarde territory. In doing so, he tweaks our noses for accepting the “air conditioner with a drumbeat” style that black metal has become; unfortunately, the failure of this CD is that it does not provide a better artistic and listening experience, only a demonstration of form. Sometimes, I wish Ledney would devote his considerable talents to writing analysis about metal instead of trying to show us sonic evidence for what only a few can perceive anyway.

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