Sentenced North From Here: the album that exploded melodic metal

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Back in the chaotic early 1990s, most death metal bands were racing to catch up with albums like Morbid Angel Blessed Are the Sick and Deicide Legion. Bands increasingly experimented with complex rhythms and riffs but eschewed the radio-friendly sound of the last generations of metal, including the melodic harmonized guitar attack of Iron Maiden.

Enter Sentenced. Like At the Gates before them, this Finnish band decided to work with melody in addition to complex riffs, and to do so began to work with lead-picked single-string melodies. After their first album of Swedish-inspired primal death metal called Shadows of the Past, Sentenced improved musically and artistically and took the leap into melodic metal. At this point, almost no bands would touch this style as it seemed an anachronism held over from the 1980s where death metal was forging ahead with chromatic riffs and difficult tempi.

Sentenced took the Slayer approach to songwriting with verse-chorus songs interrupted by transitional riffs for emphasis wrapped around a lyrical concept and added to it the Iron Maiden style harmonized guitars producing a melodic effect. Following a lead from At the Gates, the band also allowed melodies to evolve over the course of a song, creating an immersion in similar sound in which slight textural and phrasal changes could take on greater effect. Along with other bands like Unanimated and Cemetary, Sentenced forged a different path which succeeded because it kept the alienated and dark sound of death metal.

Just a few years later, this sound would explode as bands like Dissection mixed more of the NWOBHM melody and even more abrasive death metal and black metal technique into the mix. After that, clone bands like Dark Tranquillity and In Flames took this style further toward radio metal, but for a few years, this small group of melodic death metal bands revealed the potential of this style. North From Here much like its iconic cover transports the listener to a consciousness beyond the everyday in which union with the empty cosmos and the potential of transcendence of the everyday propels the mind through not only darkness but into a sense of magical light which rediscovers life as a visionary journey. Without losing any of the intensity of their earlier album, Sentenced layered emotion on top of aggression and produced a lasting and unsurpassed testament to the power of this genre.

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Sentenced – North from Here

On the 93rd (number of the Thelemic Law) anniversary of the independence of Finland from the Russian Empire, let the northern lights flash their yearning flames beckoning the souls of the fallen warriors of the Civil War. While it may seem to some as a sacrilege to play anything but the Romantic sylvan mystery plays of Sibelius, the true heir of Wagner and one of Finland’s national composers, the early death metal symphonies of Oulu’s Sentenced epitomize a great deal of the same thundering natural melancholy. Following the youthful, reaping, Dismember-esque debut album Shadows of the Past, the musical theory of Jarva, Lopakka and Tenkula turned like the Roman mythical Janus statue two ways at once: towards the pure riffcraft of Iron Maiden and the ethereal, streaming melody of Nordic black metal. Much like At the Gates had captured nearly protestant-religious passion and sadness in Sweden, Sentenced managed to concoct music which was worshipful, raging, realistic (even pessimistic) and imaginative all at once, in defiance of the taciturn apathy characteristic (like alcohol) of the working class of northern Finland. In Sentenced, the pent-up rage of skeptical and prematurely cynical young men was transformed into elaborate poetic reflection.

Power metal riffs in a death metal production would later experience a horrible mangled mutilation death in Children of Bodom’s excessive rock stage theatrics, but the sharp minds of Sentenced treated their source material with such profound affection that heavy metal, thrash, death metal and black metal weave into each other as interminable patterns of tangled paths amidst hypercosmos – a Northern Finnish shaman’s spell. The careful production recalls the most biting moments of Kreator while the technical skills of the guitarists are on par with the hallowed “prog” moments of Atheist and Death. The songs hardly suffer from any useless repetition (the anthemic verse-chorus structure of “Awaiting the Winter Frost” serves a specific purpose in exclaiming the satirical “heavy metal victory” over the forces of light, while it is deliberately obscured whether the narrator is a man, a beast or a spirit). That North from Here was never Sentenced’s most popular or esteemed moment is a total wrongness, as Amok followed on the footsteps of this work adequately, but only that. One of the strongest candidates for the best Death Metal album in the history of Finland, the bewitching maledictions of North from Here, from “Capture of Fire” to “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (and practically any piece since there is no filler), achieved the aims of “Gothenburg” much more effectively and impudently than the horde’s western neighbours.

-Devamitra-

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Shroud of the Heretic – Unorthodox Equilibrium (2015)

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Skillfully bringing together doom/death, modern atmospheric and war metal styles, Unorthodox Equilibrium is more than a fitting name for describing the musical approach used in this album. Bands playing in any of the aforementioned styles have typically fallen prey to different misconceptions. Some have failed by attempting to adopt an orthodox position simplified to the precept that genre cliches guide songwriting and that the result will be good if it “feels good”. Others have taken a route that attempts to bring more original ideas into the mix but whose ultimate goal is still that each section gives them a certain feeling, an “atmospheric/ambient” effect. We can summarize the cause of these blunders by saying that their approach has been too pleasure-oriented.

In Unorthodox Equilibrium we can hear familiar voices bearing the mark of Worship in Last Tape Before Doomsday, Disembowelment (I refuse to follow ridiculous indications as to what letters should be written in uppercase format) in Transcendence into the Peripheral and Esoteric in Paragon of Dissonance.  Unlike them, though, Shroud of the Heretic only slightly avoids falling into complacency with the immediate effect of their arrangements and instead channels these as methods used measuredly. The band manages to promote a sense of movement in each section while maintaining atmosphere without depending on stagnating in the harmony within one section or getting anchored to one kind of texture or intensity level for too long.  This makes the album an incredibly varied experience within the non-restrictive but focused confines of a florid and eloquently coherent language.

Independently of whether this was a conscious decision or not, the heterodox and non-monolithic composition route taken by Shroud of the Heretic avoids this atmospheric metal trap and represents an excellent indicator of an artistically healthy direction for this subgenre of metal.

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Old Wainds / Навь (Nav’) – We Are the North… Mean Cold War… (2003)

The early phenomenon of Old Wainds played an extremely condensed and straightforward style of black metal that represented the ultimate distillation of what the genre had to offer as a sequence of meaningful flows based on guitar riffs that form aggressively articulated phrases the pressure of which is carefully regulated. The project was a great exception to the reliable rule that says, from experience, that black metal (or metal music in general) from Slavic countries has nothing to offer musically. More often than not, what is called “slavic black metal” is anything but, and in the best of cases falls into what has been misleadingly and ironically called “flowing black metal” to describe a pointless, melodic meandering rock music that lacks significant changes in pacing and texture, and so never is never able to produce the necessary dynamics of tension and release. Alas, Old Wainds plays the exalted and unassuming post-1995 black metal form first seen in the condensed masterpiece of Uranium 235, crushing the heads of the genre as a whole, dividing the line between mundane scenester fanboys and solitary black mystics.

Навь (Nav’) was Old Wainds’ twin project, in which at least one of the band members differed. Musically, what distinguished the two was a the attempted emphasis of Nav’ on more fluid tendencies and softer contours, even if ever so slightly in comparison to Old Wainds. Nav’s distinct aim is arrived at in their first full-length, Чертоги смерти (2004), which basically was a pleasant but weak exposition of the melodic component already present in the best of Old Wainds’ music. While Old Wainds from the beginning has a very narrow style, in the sense of being impressively mature and well-formed, rather than incapacitatingly rigid, Nav’ expresses the riffing and melodic avenues that are left over from the former, but which still fall within this aggressive, dark music.

In time, both projects fell out of grace by their own hand, in a rather telling way that perhaps reveals who the artistic luminary was in both groups. While Kull only participates in the Nav’ demo that is reproduced in this split, along with the second Old Wainds demo, he participates in Old Wainds in every release until Oбжигающий холодныйScalding Coldness— (2005), a comparatively weakened but still recognizable expression of the project founded on proper black metal riff-flurry. After Kull leaves Old Wainds, the music changes drastically in to a completely uninspired imitation of itself, a sign that the departing element in the team was the author of the significant phrases at the center of the music. This is also true of Nav’, whose best work is found in their 1998 demo Гимн холодному безмолвию, reproduced in this split, and which sees the only apparition of Kull in the project.

Furthermore, after their first full length, Where the Snows are Never Gone (1997) —and with the exception of this split which uses material from the second demo from 1999— Old Wainds’ songwriting was suffering from debilitating notions ever since their second full-length album. We sense a lost grasp or connection to the powerful pulse that created a maelstrom around an inward-looking conversation between the riffs, which can only be described as a vortex of encircling energy. The energy in a void whence arises this power is said inner dialogue of the music, that can only be achieved by two necessary elements: the first is that each section must have a clear and significant fluxion [1] expressed; and the second, consequent of the first, is that these fluxions must achieve a certain dynamic flow in between each other. The interaction between the individual fluxions is most excellently demonstrated in Old Wainds’ debut, and consists in the sense achieved by the parts arranged in sequence, first of all, but also in how they match simultaneously. They who grasp the meaning of this lexic contradiction, but that is not a contradiction in the phenomenon described, may have a first key to unlocking the more effective value of this black metal to the more superfluous acts considered de rigueur.

Notes

[1] http://www.deathmetal.org/article/black-fluxions/

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Immortal Release Title Track of New Album “Northern Chaos Gods”

Cash grab alert!  After giving the classic board room “fuck you” to cornerstone musician Abbath, the corporate conglomerate of Demonaz and Horgh have secured the legal rights to the band name “Immortal” and are now positioned to promptly squeeze their fans to blindly buy music and merch advertised as that of a Norwegian black metal legend.  Although the pair have only played together on one album out of 12, they’re billing this as “the comeback of Immortal!” and have already gotten the infamously money-hungry Nuclear Blast records to set up the most overused rock n’ roll ponzi scheme.

Together, the pair have released a new song “Northern Chaos Gods,” the title/intro track of their first foray into commercialized rehash.  So how did the miraculous (fake?) recovery of Demonaz’s tendonitis work out?  Exactly how far into the waters of retro-rehash did the band wonder?  Have they evolved even the slightest as musicians or do they remain forever trapped in the 90’s? As trust fund life-dropouts living in the woods at the expense of their family might say:

“Let’s find out!”

(more…)

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: But Wait, There’s More!

More Sadistic Metal Reviews? Yes, yes, yes!

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Slayer Fall 2016 North American Tour with Death Angel and Anthrax

Slayer_Kerry_King cheetah guitar

Slayer are touring North America this fall with lesser eighties speed metal bands Death Angel and Anthrax. I’m still hoping for a SlayExodus tour where the same lineup plays 75% Slayer and 25% Exodux material. Slayer Fan Club members (Does anyone who doesn’t watch the WWF pay to join this?) may preorder tickets now; sales to the general public go on sale Friday.

Kerry King: “It’s always super fun for us to tour with Anthrax. Frank is one of my best friends in the biz!! Put that together with Death Angel, and fans will probably see the best package this year. See you there!”

With more dates to be announced, here is the confirmed itinerary:

SEPTEMBER
9 Jacob’s Pavilion, Cleveland, OH
10 Freedom Hill Amphitheatre, Detroit, MI
12 Sound Academy, Toronto, ON
13 Metropolis, Montreal, QC
15 Stage AE, Pittsburgh, PA
17/18 Rock Allegiance, Chester, PA*
20 Egyptian Room, Indianapolis, IN
22 The Pageant, St. Louis, MO
27 Hard Rock Live, Orlando, FL
28 Fillmore, Miami, FL
30 Horseshoe Casino Tunica, Tunica, MS

OCTOBER
3 Norva, Norfolk, VA
5 Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA
7 Gas Monkey Live, Dallas, TX
8 ACL at the Moody Theatre, Austin, TX
10 Fillmore, Denver, CO
11 The Complex, Salt Lake City, UT
13 The Wilma Theatre, Missoula, MT
17 ENMAX Center, Lethbridge, AB
19 South Okanagan Events Centre, Penticton, BC
20 Abbotsford Centre, Abbotsford, BC
23 Reno Events Center, Reno, NV
27 El Paso County Coliseum, El Paso, TX

* Slayer, Anthrax and Death Angel are all on this bill.

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