On Metal Transcriptions and Metal Music Percussion

Article by David Rosales

This very entertaining cover of Iron Maiden’s song ‘Hallowed be Thy Name’ as performed by a bass clarinet quartet was posted on Youtube a few years ago. The instruments take on the melodic lines of the song, which was aptly selected as it is rich in them. This experiment is not only fun to listen to but interesting in how a different instrumentation highlights one aspect of the music while utterly losing a whole dimension exploited by the original composition.

The clarity of melody and harmony is quite enhanced here and so their study and appreciation by the guitar student seeking to learn and emulate this aspect of the song will greatly benefit from this adaptation. However, the loss of the power chord, and particularly the power chord played on the distorted electric guitar means the loss of an ocean of artificial artifacts that form the bulk of the richness of sound of the instrument and which lend metal and hard rock music one of its distinctive aural characteristics.

The necessary absence of the drum set is seen by the more classically-oriented music fan or musician as, perhaps, negligible, but this is only because of the widespread ignorance (either through pop culture or academic music indoctrination) about the relevance of percussion in metal. Contrary to the now-traditional view of percussion as a less important aspect of music (which, in fact, flies in the face of many traditional folk musics around the world, where it is recognized and studied by academicians yet still seen with derision as “primitive”), this reliance that metal has exhibited in increasing amounts is not a measure of scarcity of content or artistic deficiency, but rather the appearance of an unknown variable.

Metal percussion in its most advanced states, that is, in its use in the more artistically (as opposed to technically) developed subgenres of death and black metal shows a usage and expansion that just does not exist in traditional or experimental classical music. As such, academicians have no precedent by which to measure or qualify this. They should perform field research, they should listen, but they are too comfortable and busy feeling self-important. This is the sad state of the intellectually self-gratifying (and ‘morally’ bankrupt) art that results from two centuries of overarching materialism, corruption and decay.

Many would point to the obvious origin of metal percussion in traditional rock, and that is factually right, yet its use and direction has gone far beyond it and in some cases taken cues even from electronic music (especially in the case of some black metal)and jazz music (in the case of some death metal). Metal percussion incorporates aspects of these and has built a whole new art out of it that could be considered the more spiritual child of the pleasure-oriented and technically-nuanced jazz (Editor’s note: DMU has written about this very hypothesis in the deep past).

The future and refinement of metal this metal percussion should not to reside in the empty groove explorations of fusion as seen in djent nor in the facetious exercises of tekdeth which may even borrow directly from genres such as samba in their search for “entertaining and interesting” bits to play, regardless of how this may affect the character of the music. Also defunct inside are the dead-end and superficial attempts at applications of abstract concepts in nu-black metal and war metal. As in all other aspects of the already-cemented, fully-formed language of metal, the role of its percussion and its abstract concepts have been made known implicitly in the music of the classics. Go, listen, study, learn, apply.

 

Sadistic Metal Reviews- Mendacious Stork Edition (End of 2015 Series)

loosestool

One list of albums dictated by the masses of sheeple apparently does not provide enough self-indulgence and emotional masturbation for the hordes of mental weaklings that yearn to be called metalheads in order to disguise their lack of direction or ideals. Hence, here we are, clubbing away at one of these sorry piles of shit for the amusement of hessians. However, we also hope that the attentive unawakened reader may start to see a glimpse of the truth through outright disrespect for the inherently contemptible. (We have skipped some items in the original list as to not incur in much unnecessary repetition of releases, thus the odd numbering of the items herein.)

swallow the sun

2. Swallow the Sun – Songs From The North I, II & III

The term “doom metal” is again used to justify slow-coming boredom and lack of originality. Swallow the Sun compile alternative metal slow and simple grooves with the alternation of growls and the clear vocals typical of post-cuckolded Amorphis Scandinavian gay ‘hard’ (ha!) rock. There is an obvious pseudo-progressive intent here as discreet radio moments pass us by in a series of haphazardly-stitched, disingenuous grimaces. Radio emotional pandering for the pretentious.

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3. Draconian – Sovran

Apparently radio gay doom is popular at MS’ website. Only here we have a much more straightforward, perhaps more honest, attempt at the same run-of-the-mill pop rock opera. Draconian switches between male and female vocals, with duet episodes, themselves interrupted by long harmonized guitar lines reminiscent, at least superficially, of Funeral’s early work. However, Tragedies did not fall into popisms and rather took a more traditional popular music approach to vocals and applied it to a quasi classical level which may make one think of European early music. Draconian, on the other hand, stink of Barbie sex.

Shape-of-Despair_Monotony-Fields

4. Shape of Despair – Monotony Fields

Mediocre and dull ‘doom metal’ seems to be extremely popular. It may be that since the average music listener is a terrible one, and that they seek these sounds as stimulus for a purely sensual experience and so can only identify with very simple-minded works, however contorted their outward forms may be. Shape of Despair provide the pop listener with the ‘doom metal’ experience in the same way that Cannibal Corpse provides him the ‘death metal’ experience. Of course, this is the sort of listener that “listens to all kinds of music”. All is imbecility.

galneryus

5. Galneryus – Under the Force of Courage

One day little guitar Syu wanted to find a place for his neoclassical wanking and so created the power metal band Galneryus. Galneryus released a couple of comically-endearing and childish albums until the inevitable sellout moment came. After trying their hand at pandering to a more mainstream audience and wisely switching to writing lyrics in Japanese (realizing, perhaps that their main market was inside Japan after all, and that foreign fans would always be attracted to the sound of a strange and unique language), the band took a wide turn back to a firmly European style inspired on the likes of Manowar-inspired streamlined power metal with augmented structures that balance a manner of unpredictability without ever feeling unsafe and, of course, always remaining singable. Clever and winky, empty as fanservice-crammed anime.

8. Leprous – The Congregation

Groovy, syncopated, modulations disguising poorly-presented repetition, weird clean vocals, just enough electronic noodling and laid-back but ‘cool’ drums. This is the recipe par excellence for the multiculturalist wet dream presenting all forms and nothing but insecurity and hollowness at its center. Here is where the worst overproduced radio pop is peppered with jazz fusion gimmicks. Metal? Music or public obscenity?

moonspell extinct

9. Moonspell – Extinct

A horrible blend of modern industrial tropes and a sissy euro-rock basis, accompanied vocals angsty enough to seem edgy but just safe enough as to not scare away the wimps who listen to this garbage. The high school poser solos do not really redeam this first-world, spoiled-kid, macho pretension.

Enshine_Singularity

14. Enshine – Singularity

Basically, the sonic representation of the sparkly, clean-shaven assholes of fans of these music ready to be sodomized by real metal music. Lacking in all natural self-assertion or distinct personality, this is music for the bottom who craves to be dominated. In other words, music for social justice warriors.

anthropocene extinction

15. Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction

This is as ridiculous as pseudo-progressive core pandering can get. What is worse, this band is playing a dangerous game in which they may lose all of their audiences, or perhaps score with New York hipsters. Crammed in under two minutes you may find explicit deathcore and alternative rock passages, power metal leads, nu-black metal runs lead by duets of inhaled low growls and Chester Bennington’s evil twin brother’s whining, without excluding the use of high squeals. Basically, a puddle of diarrhea that clearly gives away the cause of ailment. Unbearably disquieting in its stupidity.

The Forgotten Role of Drums in Metal

darkthrone

Fenriz as the archetypal metal drummer is perhaps a puzzle to most, perhaps considering his status to be a mere by-produt of Darkthrone becoming an icon. The status of most worthy personalities of metal tends to be double sided in that way. There is the respect for what came before, usually a blind fanhood of what is not understood and is only explainable in terms of some kind of historical relevance and then there is the underground ackowledgement of the musical talents of the artist in question that stand the test of time. The difference in perception arises from the fact that these artists’ greatest merit lies in subtletly. The Subtlety of where to use a specific technique, however rudimentary, so that the music is better enhanced, completed or open to being built on (say the drums got written before everything else).

In drumming in particular, the lack of appreciation for proper arrangement has been greater than in the vocal or guitar departments, perhaps because the only antecedents in this type of percussion come from rock and jazz. In rock, the drums are merely a time keeper and groove-adder. In Jazz, it is typical that they serve that function plus, like all the other instruments, allow the musician to keep masturbating on the instrument with little thought to how this adds to the music as concept and not self-referential indulgence. But in all fairness, there is an old school of jazz in which the music is kept together more neatly and in which the drums play a much more constructive role.

In metal, the drums are not only a support instrument but should blend in into a whole. In fact, ideally, the guitars should be doing this too. The point is so subtle and hard to grasp that even the musicians that acknowledge it have a very hard time translating it into practice. As with all great things coming from a simple concept, it is easier said than done. The most prudent drummers and bands limit the percussion to a function (that in metal is more prominent and important than in rock) rather than the spotlight, and this is at least a first step.

It was the increasing distance between all rock-like perspective in music that made metal approach a more purified and important integration of drums into its frameworks. Works such as Hvis Lyst Tar Oss or Transilvanian Hunger are inconceivable without percussion. That is not to say that the rest of the elements are not good, but they are incomplete without percussion. And so are their corresponding drum patterns without them. Metal had to go back to an extreme minimalism, stripping down every layer to realize the importance of every little element. This Burzum album belongs to end of black metal as an era, but I will place it here even if it appears counter-chronological.

After an initial dive into this primitivism driven (Celtic Frost, Bathory) by gut instinct of the most authentic kind, death metal proper developed and quickly escalated in its use of technical arrangements that went overboard in the sense that they were unnecessary for the point of the music itself, though not necessarily bad. Technicality was set besides essence and communication in importance. The formal music tendencies that are so prominent in classical music started to surface in metal.

A great overlooked exception to this rule was the work of Adrian Erlandsson within the framework of arrangements and indications of Alf Svensson for At the Gates The Red in the Sky is Ours. The fact that these integral arrangements are unmatched in death metal to this very day is a testament to how little understood they are. The fact that the drumming here twists, bends, propulses, stops, counterpoints in a great variety of different drum patterns that while theoretically rudimentary are often technically demanding, especially when performed as  a whole, indicate that a sense of continuity in expression must be kept by the drummer through changes of tempo, time signature and character. What makes this superior to other progressive-oriented albums is that for all this variety, the style of expression is tightly restricted. The reduced repertoire of guitar and drum techniques to the minimal from which it builds its complexity in a language of its own endows it with this distinct personality. Without the guidance of the architect Svensson, though, this band completely floundered in mediocrity soon after his departure.

Today, few bands grasp the importance of the integrated drums let alone being actually capable of translating the concept to a concrete plan and then puting it into practice. As far as I have seen, with very particular exceptions, the most sober drumming comes from the modern tradition that has branched from (old, the only real) black metal. First of all, it may come to those learning it by virtue of studying the past, this makes the grasping of a concept much easier. This does not include the nu-black or post-black camps which represent a departure, regression and deconstruction of metal, a reflection of decadence.

It is rather in the work of Abyssum’s Akherra that we see the role of drums as an essential part of the music. For this, the rest of the instruments must accomodate the drums, not only run on top of it. The naive layering of instruments most bands are used to is precisely what makes them amateurs in this. In proper metal, the drums are inside, not under the music. This is part of what the metaphor “drumming in counterpoint” reflects. Drum patterns that are relatively independent in the sense that they aren’t just there as a support, but come into contact at every moment with the music, bending, yielding and transforming along with the rest of the music.

Such attention to detail goes far beyond just playing slower or faster, stronger or softer when the rest of the music does so. It is not only a matter of intensity or speed in correspondence. The drums must live in symbiosis with the guitars, and not like a running pair of athletes besides each other. Silences and types of drum patterns specifically tailored to different sections are exemplified in Abyssum’s “The Illusion of Pan” in which we see important  decisions taken about the smallest details such as ride strikes in the rhythm of a particular keyboard melody speed, the variations between soft blast beats and other less forward-moving patterns as great inflections and indicators of the song’s pictorial journey that are not as clearly reflected in the rest of the music alone.

This entry is not about judging this or that band over another. The point is the study of drums for the future of metal. The recognition of the evolution in the use of drums throughout the genre. Surprisingly, Black Sabbath Master of Reality shows the kind of thinking that would go into Celtic Frost To Mega Therion in terms of the reduction and powerful use of elements into highly-personalized expressions. In this Black Sabbath showed how far ahead of their times they were. It took metal more than a decade to catch up to them. These musical transpirations in their music were refined through the black metal tradition going through death metal. The best we can hope for is bands today piecing out elements in this way, and being able to identifying what great drumming consists of in metal. But this must start out from the vision of metal as a proper music, as highly-integrated elements which conspire within an indissolubly dependent complex set of relations.

Outsiderness in heavy metal

The world has never forgiven metal for being an outsider. Since the dawn of its creation, metal has not gone along with the love songs, hippie values and cheerful oblivion of the rock/pop crowd.

When other bands were singing about flowers in their hair and how peace would save the world, Black Sabbath — inspired by horror films, which have similar themes and sound — took a view that could only be described as “heavy” and thus as unpopular, inevitably outsider.

Much like Galileo centuries before, Black Sabbath upended the human cosmos. Most people saw themselves as the center of the universe, and their individual desires and concerns as important.

Heavy metal smashed all that down by viewing humanity like microbes on a microscope slide. We are tiny, insignificant, and battered by the winds of history, in its view. The highest goal is not some callow happiness, but to fight with honor for glory!

This sentiment shows up throughout metal in many genres. This is music for war, death and evil. It is music that recognizes hatred and cruelty as a necessary part of the dark half of the human soul. It is natural music, as natural as a predator crushing its adorable prey.

Naturally, this is very offensive to some people.

In the 1980s and 1990s, their response was to try to ban metal, first for sex, drugs and Satan, and next for politically unacceptable speech. Starting in the 2000s they found a better way to smash it: assimilate it.

Their method is simple. They make bands that sound like metal, but are compositionally closer to mainstream rock music. That way people stop seeing a difference between the two, and metal vanishes, replaced by rock music.

This brings us to “indie rock.” In the early 1980s, people used the term to refer to any DIY rock bands, most of which emerged from the DIY punk movement of the previous decade. Because of the punk influence and outlook, most of these bands sounded similar.

Indie bands use punk riffs and power chords, tend toward minor key droning, have a little bit more country and folk music in them, and are less consumer-oriented. Where the big bands sing about politics and getting laid, indie rock sings about being alone and confused.

If big rock ‘n’ roll makes perfect consumers, indie rock does even better. It makes people who pity themselves and need a lifestyle with lots of products to buy in order to fit in. Do all indie people collect records, buy nostalgia toys, and have ironic tattoos? Maybe not all, but most.

In fact, indie rock and mainstream rock are two sides of the same coin. They are both based on the desires of the individual and a need for some kind of consumption to have identity. One appeals to the thoughtless, the other to the neurotic.

On the radio there are songs about disposable relationships, getting laid, feeling good and buying new things. In the dark hipster corners of the internet, indie rock bands pour out songs about having a cup of coffee, feeling empty and giving up on love.

When nu-black metal superground “Twilight” (composed of Nachtmystium’s Blake Judd, Atlas Moth’s Stavros Giannopoulos, Sanford Parker, Leviathan’s Jef Whitehead, and Krieg’s Neil Jameson) announced that Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore would be joining the band, it was a formal certification that black metal was being replaced by metal-flavored rock.

This sleight-of-hand is a play on outsiderness. Paradoxically, outsiderness is the easiest way to sell a product. It says “You’re different, you’re not like everyone else.” Much as birds in the jungle like to have bright plumage to stand out from the others, men and women in modern society like to be different.

However, truly being different is a big deal. It means nothing is convenient, and that you have to live a lifestyle that takes you away from the herd, and reduces your access to easy friendship, mates, business, etc. You have to be a real wildman, underground man or drop-out. Most people don’t want to do this.

As a result, there is a huge profit to be found in manufacturing outsiderness, or taking the same old stuff and re-surfacing it with something tinged with outsiderness. Hence metal-flavored rock: look outsider like a metalhead, but be normal and social like a rocker.

The world experts on having an outsider surface to cover their inner mundanity are the hipsters. They like indie rock because it, too, is a re-surfacing: it’s essentially the same stuff that’s on pop radio, but with DIY aesthetics and lyrics about being an outsider.

Hipsterism has taken over mass culture because, as AdBusters puts it, hipsters are what happens when your culture has died and there is nothing left but interpersonal drama. The hipsterification of metal picked up steam in the late 1990s.

Indie-metal superstars Mastodon are working on a new single collaboration with indie drama queen Feist. Some new horror called “vest metal” is already showing us indie trends in action.

Underneath the skin, however, modern science has officially recognized that all pop music is essentially very similar on a musical level, even if on the surface — its “flavoring” — it’s “different.” This has caused others to wonder if music now is a spectacle that’s all image, with musical quality ignored in favor of novelty and popularity.

This won’t suprise metal fans, who tend to see society as a lost colony of narcissistic sheep rocketing toward an apocalypse, but might upset the “normals.” I guess there really is something to outsider status, after all.

S.V.E.S.T. – Urfaust (2003)

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Playing a style of black metal that became more prominent and perhaps common after the turn of the century, S.V.E.S.T.’s “atmospheric” approach is of the sort that creates a fog out of different layers of intsruments playing different notes to form dissonant chords and having the drums by a vehicle for intensity. Although black metal per se has inclinations towards minimalism and ambience, this explicit brand of atmospheric black metal stretches song durations as long as it is necessary to induce the sense of evaporating time and alienating experience they are looking for.  While many different bands can claim to be part of this, very few retained an anchor in reality and still building something meaningful. S.V.E.S.T. Urfaust is such an album.

The way this balance is achieved in a style of black metal attempting to create a chaotic semblance is to always have one element that is static in proportion to how much other things vary or lash out wildly. For example, this band always keeps some sort of diffuse organlike notes playing in the background, either with some kind of synth or with tremolo-picked guitars, while the drums change slightly more freely, but always responding to changes in the music as a whole, and the lead guitars are allowed to roam around more freely creating the and blending the motifs that lend each piece its personality in a background that is a raging maelstrom.

Of course, the counterpoint between instruments needs to be maintained, it will not do to have an heavy riff underscored by drum patterns that take away the attention from a center in the music  and rather give us two shows in one. Such an event spells out incoherence. The controlled way in which such chaotic force is wielded strongly calls to mind the prophetic work of Colombian pioneers Parabellum.

Urfaust is a gem of an offering whose music lends itself to an esoteric interpretation. Listened to from afar or in a distracted manner, the music may be perceived as a simple repetition of ideas throughout a long time. In part, this effect is intended as the listener is expected to lose himself in the music, instead of counting measures and the number of times this or that theme come and go. Furthermore, the density of the layers covering the details is such that to pierce the uniformity, the listener experiencing this must become acquainted with it in an almost meditative state in repeated visits.

In this, it is similar to the roads taken by Abyssum Cum Foeda Sanie Ex Ore, Kaeck Stormkult and Paysage D’Hiver’s eponymous album. All this leads to an effect in which content is blurred from an unattending audience but revealed to a foccused attention that can both let the music flow and attend to the relationships within it. Masterful music that achieves this must embed these details, progressions and variations behind a strong veil of consistency that also serves to preserve coherence in a rather forceful manner that is vindicated by the overall balance achieved.

This album has an art music work orientation with respect to its overall orientation in concept and publication. First of all, this is a three-song full-length album in which the songs are movements that belong together and not a collection of three songs. The relationship goes beyond a very clear and distinctive choice in voice and is made explicit in motifs throughout the album, with its most obvious gesture being that the opening section of the album in the first movement is the same as the closing one in the third. Another example worthy of attention and presenting an immersive experience is Fanisk Noontide.

The element of chaos is, of course, a metaphorical one, represented in disorienting rhythms that quickly come back to a stable state and are safely supported by anchors. It is their repetition, variation, combination and alternation between different motifs along with the unrelenting percussive attack that create the picture of crumbling sanity from compositions that are technically firm and delineated.

This is where a band like S.V.E.S.T. far surpasses the uncontrolled madness of later Deathspell Omega which incurred in a common mistake in  nu-black metal: the attempt of becoming the atmosphere itself. The so-called experimental disorganization and hispterish disavowal of rules for the sake of breaking conventions displayed by Deathspell Omega leads them to the lazy decision to try to portray chaos by actually making a huge mess out of the music.  Unfortunately, S.V.E.S.T. later took from this band the idea of uncontrolled freedom in fits of post-modern delirium.

The vulgar idea of attempting to imitate what is being portrayed in an overtly obvious and direct manner is not new, although in our era the clowns doing it come out to the unaware as being original thinkers of some kind. Great masters of music like Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Sebastian Bach played in this line and warned themselves and others of the dangers of falling to either side of the narrow wall that music forms between evocation and aesthetics. S.V.E.S.T Urfaust stands proudly and firmly as a monument to this balance where both music is preserved in its formality yet evocation and idea envelop it as the non-destructive organization and manipulation of the aesthetics themselves become the door and medium to the experience.

“(…)a symphony of Beethoven presents to us the greatest confusion, which yet has the most perfect order at its foundation, the most vehement conflict, which is transformed the next moment into the most beautiful concord. It is rerum concordia discors, a true and perfect picture of the nature of the world which rolls on in the boundless maze of innumerable forms, and through constant destruction, supports itself. But in this symphony all human passions and emotions also find utterance; joy, sorrow, love, hatred, terror, hope, etc., in innumerable degrees, yet all, as it were, only in abstracto, and without any particularization; it is the mere form without the substance, like a spirit world without matter. Certainly we have a tendency to realize them while we listen, to clothe them in imagination with flesh and bones, and to see in them scenes of life and nature on every hand. Yet, taken generally, this is not required for their comprehension, or enjoyment, but rather imparts to them a foreign and arbitrary addition; therefore it is better to apprehend them in their immediacy and purity.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

Necromantic Worship – Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death (2015)

Necromantic Worship

Occult-themed black metal that emphasizes its theme/ideology as its guiding light (as opposed to nu-black metal projects who can hardly be said to actually incorporate the ceremonial aspect into their music in any way besides their post-metal meanderings attempts at creating “atmosphere”) often fail for a variety of reasons. More often than not it is because they lose sight of what music is, and thinking only about their meta-presentation and try to justify poorly constructed music with the excuse that the goal lies outside music. In truth, good music is the goal itself, as a medium and experience. Rather than a gateway, it is the vehicle.

Necromantic Worship incorporates a very simple and almost rock-like repetitive black metal played with guitars that are barely set to override (not even truly distorted) and mix this with ambient-like passages that include the use of piano and synths, prayer exclamations and tremolo melodies. The best aspect of this three-song release is the latter. The simple and rock-like sections barely hold up musically, repeating for too-long with the only purpose of supporting the vocal track, itself only the medium for words. The verses that contain rapid-changing tremolo-picked melodies and soft blast beats are the only sections containing “singing” voice that can be rescued.

The sections that musically embrace the occult right and mix ambient and black metal are worthwhile and should be focused on by this artist in the future as his method has huge potential in its progressive bent. An alternative suggestion would be to learn motif-form variations in the black metal style from Varg Vikernes’ work with early Burzum. This, combined with a guitar tone that actually fills in the frequency spectrum of the audio would improve the overall experience.

Spirit of the Entrance Unto Death tracklist:

  1. Nergal, The Raging King
  2. Conjuration of the Fire God
  3. The Dark Young of Shub Niggurath

Funeral Mist – Maranatha

Metal since 1998 has produced a whole lot of favorites that seem to be forgotten six months later. Funeral Mist Maranatha is going to be the latest, although for the next 96 hours people will tell me I’m wrong, stupid, primitive and dumb for thinking that.

While the hype on this album is hot, let me say that it’s the latest to be overhyped and then forgotten, because unlike foundational black metal — what the Scandinavians did with the genre in the early 1990s — this has no organizing principle. It’s a number of imitations of successful things from the past thrown in together, which means it has no spine, no soul and no purpose.

In other words, it’s the musical equivalent of buying a cheap Mazda and putting ground effects, a spoiler, and a phat stereo into it — you can’t polish a turd enough to make it stop stinking. It’s no different than what Dimmu Borgir did when they started making carnival music for those with no attention span. Stuff happens, and then something completely different happens, and nothing ties it together, so after five minutes they add a final-sounding riff and it’s a “song.” During that “song,” it throws in every “different” cliche it can, and tries to be as “diverse” as possible, because there’s no plan — no organization to hold the song together and make it, like all good art, convey something of poetic importance — so the goal is to distract you for five minutes that, if you put your brain hold, you might consider “enjoying music,” later. That abuse of categorical thinking occurs here but in kvlty vndergrovnd extremity, which means that instead of trying to make music to please you, it makes music to remind you how ugly life is.

This anti-hero aesthetic worked when Jim Morrison did it because he used it as a springboard for something else: “Hey, I thought I’d mention… your society’s falling apart… and I’m here to celebrate the apocalypse, until you figure it out.” But people never did. Funeral Mist and their ilk, who are basically Britney Spears styled pop dressed up in distortion and ugliness, use being an anti-hero as a justification. We hate life… life is ugly… we accept you even though you’re ugly… come be ugly with us, because all we care about is that you buy the album… — a ten buck meth whore attitude.

The music, which some have compared to Marduk ROM 5:12, is like the fecal playtime of stupid children. There’s an introduction to every song, usually a riff that gets heard again played at twice the speed. Then there’s a melodic hooky riff. Then there’s an updated Pantera riff, in that the drums fall into cadence but the guitar plays that muted strum off-beat speed metal riff style but starts it on the beat, so it doesn’t sound quite as bouncy — I think they hope it’s grim. Then more carnival music, where phrases wander all over the place with urgency that people hope makes them seem important, then get grim again for some two-chord blasting so you know This is Serious Ugly Art.

Predictably, the album borrows from every black metal band that ever made it big, from most speed metal bands that made it big, and even capitalizes on dumb death metal cliches. Could this thing fucking suck any more? Well — you can always go lower, like meth whores who don’t mind your big dumb friend with AIDS joining in — but for a band of this stature and potential, it’s hard to imagine how people this intelligent can screw up so badly.

We — as metal fans — should just admit that we want to separate the men from the boys. Metal is mostly failure, with a few peaks when smart people got together and made good music, like the NWOBHM or early black metal or the death metal burst of the late 1980s. The rest of the time, it’s kiddie music for simple people who refuse to or cannot mature and face the grim realities of life and yet make something great of them, which is the purpose of art. Do we need songs telling us life is ugly? No, because that’s a half-truth. We need songs telling us life is both ugly and beautiful, but that we can make a new kind of beauty by using the ugly to make the greater beauty out of the fact that in life, we get choices, and if we fucking face reality, we can reign supreme in beauty — even if it is beauty, like metal, made from ugly things like distorted chords and clowns being sodomized noises.

Funeral Mist Maranatha is kiddie music. It hasn’t grown the balls to have something to say, so it apes the past and throws it all into one big distracting ball of fail so hopefully its audience won’t notice for the two weeks they listen to anything before, like bratty kids with cheesy toys, they “get tired of it.” This is not metal for grown men and women. There is a way to hold on to your youth, but it’s in the spirit that continues to view the world as a playground in which you can make beauty. Funeral Mist instead merge the worst of kiddie brats and disillusioned, embittered old men who make excuses for failed lives and want to drag everyone down into their misery. “Life is ugly,” growls the ancient failure. “So you had no choice but to fail, to not grow up, and to be a brat your whole life.”

Nu-black metal like this latest from Funeral Mist gets a lot of hype because everyone has hopes for it. Stupid kids who will be listening to hip hop in six months hope to socialize by buying things. People who failed at life and so work in the record industry so they can justify having a shitty apartment, a sub-par salary, and a spiritual weather forecast of CONTINUED FAILURE have hopes this album will make them seem hip and get them some cash. Bands like Funeral Mist, who aped better bands and seem to have no ideas of their own, are hoping this will keep them afloat for another year or so, after which point it’s back to being hipsters selling novelty releases in record stores.

But these hopes are based on lies, and so this latest favorite will be a hype vortex for another week, and then be forgotten, because it has no eternal childlike soul mated to a warlike adult vision which creates the poetic beauty which made black metal worth noticing in a sea of distracting, pointless, disposable kiddie music.

Maanes – Under Ein Blodraud Maane

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When a genre performs a postmortem on itself as black metal is about to do, it looks back through the years not only to find its peaks, but to find its forgeries. Like the first real black metal forgery, Ulver Nattens Madrigal, Maanes is an artistic fraud that uses the technique of black metal for its own sake, without having any idea of the underlying expression. It does not matter what that expression is because it cannot be policed with a list of rules, but the fact that it exists in actual black metal and not here is a matter of historical record.

“Sensitive guy” metal was nothing new when this was released. Opeth had already been mincing around the edges of the underground for a few years, following up on melodic softer death metal from Tiamat and Cemetary. Paradise Lost was huge and so was the idea of “crossover,” since everyone and their dog realized black metal had a narrow set of ideas that required exceptional people to implement, and that with those exhausted there was now a market for imitators. Maanes starts with the proposition that Burzum can be cloned, and to make that clone palatable to the kids emerging from the suburbs like spores from fungus, this clone could be hybridized with light progressive rock like Pink Floyd. The result is 90% black metal tropes laid out in mellow songs that develop seemingly independently of the melodic and corresponding artistic implications of the riffs, making an experience that is pleasant on the surface but leaves a gnawing emptiness from its failure to deliver the kind of profound transport and insightful revelation that black metal provided.

What makes this release hard to attack is that it is well-executed, well-produced and carefully concealed. Maanes are not amateurs; more likely, they are guys who got tired of having no success in other genres despite being better musicians than the people who were making the big bucks and getting their names in the newspapers. Like other Burzum clones of the era, most notably Abyssic Hate, Maanes make good use of Burzum sweep technique and even give a nod to Filosofem with the production. Using grandiose keyboards alongside somewhat obvious riffs capitalizing on known black metal patterns, Maanes keep up the black metal “sound” but these songs never go through the emotional process of discovering what lies beneath and so rapidly the listening experience becomes like hearing a front-loading washer finish up a duvet cover, if the washer had a good background in rock guitar.

The tragedy of black metal is that while it cannot be cloned it can be imitated, and so bands like Ulver and Maanes emerged to put a black metal surface on the same stuff they would have done with their Oingo Boingo cover bands a few years before. Interestingly, the technical competence as songwriters of these bands has declined over the years as nu-black has set its sights more on punk than on progressive rock. The approach remains the same and the effect similarly hollow, leaving listeners wanting more but not sure they want more of this. These sprawling songs carefully disguise how much they repeat their themes, often for seven minutes at a time, in what is essentially verse chorus songwriting that every two repetitions interrupts itself with a brief divergence. Newer bands do not even bother to do that, but make straight-up pop songs with black metal distortion and a few riff archetypes. Nods to Burzum, Darkthrone and Mayhem bubble to the surface throughout this release but it is unable to build context for its riffs to create the kind of atmosphere that those founding bands manipulated so well. The result is like every other aspect of modern society, ultra-competent on the surface and directionless within.

Quick sadism

These are quick reviews of the stuff that didn’t make it to the next update. These reviews did not end up being all that stellar, nor was the material they were about in any way enduring, so they’re here for posterity — and search engines, in canse anyone is trying to do their Christmas shopping in February.

Black Crucifixion – Faustian Dream

This gothic heavy metal has some black metal stylings, but is about 75% Saint Vitus and 25% Gehenna. The rest is pure gothic rock with dramatic vocals, jaunty rhythms offset against doomy choruses, and all of the theatrical aspects you would expect. It is very simple and composed like rock music with a fixed harmonic frame of reference, and almost no phrasal riffs, but it’s not bad in that context although this style drivers your reviewer to hide under toilets. I’d infinitely prefer this total lack of hiding one’s inner goth to the artifice of trying to be as “hard man metal” as possible to disguise one’s inner eurotrash artfag. Still, I’ll never listen to it again.

Demonical – Servants of the Unlight

The first track on this CD struck me as interesting; it seemed to be evading its own conclusions, and so twisted itself into a sigil and then expanded upon it. It had a Middle Eastern-sounding melody and plenty of atmosphere. After that, the album degenerated into sped-up second-album Grave styled material with a few modern twists but mostly really predictable battering repetition that it seems to relish. If your short term memory is destroyed and you’re relearning to walk, this might be a great CD, but otherwise, get me away from here.

Earthless – Rhythms From a Cosmic Sky

The merger of doom metal into stoner doom/70s jam takes this genre back — in a disappointing way. We’re back at stupid rock music here, complete with the reliance on offbeat to make a rhythm even vaguely memorable, and the spongy way in that these bands noodle around repetitive series of similar patterns of notes, sounding “complex” only to those who have no idea what a scale is. Having no real content, they substitute with all sorts of annoying rhythmic flourishes and layering of instruments, as well as more bubbly drooling soloing. This has nothing to do with metal or anything but amusing the slower learners.

Equinox – demo 1994

If you like slightly cruise-y gothic death metal, this demo provided an interesting jumping-off point, perhaps similar to a more proficient Goatlord. Its rhythms are seductive but easy and so never go anywhere; it’s verse chorus with a few digressions, but otherwise falls into song format. Think Sisters of Mercy doing a doom/death take on Obituary. It’s not particularly bad, and has at least one really solid riff per song, but doesn’t add up to much interest for death metal fans.

Eschaton – Causa Fortior

Of all the trvlt — that’s an abbreviation for trve kvlt — releases out there, this one stands out not at all. Not one goddamned bit. Yes, vicious playing and fast rhythms, sort of like Discharge with more practice. And the melodies? Kind of candy, if you ask these ears, and definitely predictable. Song structures? Follow the development of the main riff through two cycles, one barely getting any airtime. End result: why bother?

Basilisk – A Joyless March Through the Cold-Lands

We’d all love to like this because it has all the elements of second-wave black metal: the Abigor/Emperor melodic drilling, the Abyssic/Negura Bunget vamping slow-strummed drift, and finally the Impaled Nazarene/Zyklon-B chaotic blasting. But it adds up to a whole lot of riffs we heard in the late 1970s with hardcore bands, and they don’t congeal into songs, more like an aggregate: when it’s left over, you’re looking for something or anything to really change. This is too predictably “safe” to be black metal.

Disillusion – Back to Times of Splendor

Great name, awful band. When impetus is lost, people revert. In this case, it’s like a cross between Sentenced and a metalcore band: fast, neurotic riffs that change randomly, then guitar trills and melodic rhythm leads, all in song structures as predictable as cereal commercials. Bands like this convert metalheads to religion just for the better music.

Anti-Cimex – Criminal Trap

Punk is so basic you don’t really need much to differentiate bands. This sounds like an uptempo Discharge with more conventional verse/chorus song structures and more rock/blues leads. Other than that, it’s about what you’d expect. I’d rate it among the top 20 punk bands, but you really have to love repetition to listen to this. I don’t care anymore.

Delve – The Dead Amongst

Imagine a cross between Slaughter Lord, early Grave and Grotesque: dynamic neo-war-metal riffs clashing at high speed and ramming into catchy choruses, with lots of fast drum work and messy guitar playing. The problem is that such a monolith approach ends up becoming predictable and boring after just a few listens.

Trimonium – Of warriors and heroism

Easily one of the more professional bands out there, Trimonium take the formula adapted on the first The Abyss album and wrap it around what is at its heart the kind of boisterous, melodic, bounding material that we find on power metal albums. Thoroughly professional in composition and playing, it is nonetheless the work of experienced musicians who are designing self-satisfying melodies like those of jingles, but in a style that bonds folk music with the bouncing exuberance of soundtracks to pirate movies.

Ender – Ender

There are those who make progressive rock by thinking of an idea, and then ad hoc-ing song structures and ideas to make it work. There are others who look at progressive rock and make a variation of it so they have an iron in the fire. This CD is sadly the latter, because it has potential. Crossing the later prog-punk and emo sound with atmospheric progressive rock, Ender make a very pleasantly floating musical tapestry that also means nothing, other than a manipulation of emotions in themselves, which creates a gentle transition between related feelings with no sense of broader significance. As a result, it’s a lot like watching a commercial for AIDS medication.

Epitaph – Seeming Salvation

Bad heavy metal that resembles Candlemass in its squirrely guitar leads, this CD seems to think because it has a bassy whisper of death metal vocals that it should be death metal. It should not be. Every musical element serves the production of songs that use heavy metal rhythms, aesthetics, song forms and content as their inspiration. Like many bands who make this mistake, Epitaph must be nuts to do it, since if they dropped the death vocals and got quality production, they would have met moderate success in any decade from 1974 onward.

Vociferian – Beredsamkeit

Nu-blackmetal can go a few different ways, and one is the candy of pure melodic sound. That’s what we have here. Through a combination of tuning, melodic intervals and sustain-heavy distortion, this band creates a wave of melodic sound — the affinity of notes for large gaps — without deviating from the basic melodic patterns of pop. It’s an engaging listen, but doesn’t last. If they want to gain real power, they’ll create songs about an idea and wrap the melodic riffs around that.

Athos – Crossing the River of Charon

Like most post-1996 black metal, this perfectly capable release is boring because it’s easy to anticipate and it focuses too much on trying to re-create the “black metal mood,” instead of like the great bands capturing the process leading up to it. There’s no way to nitpick; nothing is wrong except the CD taken as a whole.

Vorum – Grim Death Awaits

This appears to be a melodic speed metal album hidden with a black/death hybrid. The songwriting resembles something that would have come out of a Destruction/later Nuclear Assault hybrid, but it’s tricked out in aggressive rhythms and very basic riffs, with the high intensity chaos brought on by people hitting too many strings, drums and vocal chords at once. Thoroughly not bad but also probably not interesting to those who are more interested in an old school death metal/black metal style.

Arsis – We Are the Nightmare

This is a musical nightmare. Glam/hard rock style twee choruses between dramatic, bouncy blockhead speed metal riffs. Above it a voice howling, then a melodic riff and some fast drumming, all overproduced so it hits really hard and then beats you to death with repetition. CDs like this drive people to apocalyptic religions.

Vulture – Easier to Lie

From the Manilla Road meets Exodus school of choppy speed metal, Vulture make an interesting and experimental album with vast holes of idea in which are filled the dreaded Pantera-style catchy bounce riffing that goes nowhere because it has almost no harmonic motion. Some of the experimental stuff is intriguing, as it crosses low-tech rhythm guitar with jazz drumming and interesting lead guitar that drops into rhythm guitar figures when convenient to emphasize a change in backdrop. I like it, but it flags in intensity, so makes for an uneven listening experience in a style I abandoned years ago.

Vomit the Soul – Apostles of Inexpression

Would it be wrong to guess that this style of music is very subtly influenced by rap? The semi-recursive rhythms of the chortling, gurgling, guttural muffled shout vocals suggest a technique similar to rap. The riffing is glorified, via Suffocation, speed metal percussive strum but falls into that use of minimal melodic motion to make a nice bouncy groove into which they can drop build-ups, break-downs and even more, lots of chortling. It’s genre-typical: competent, not bad, but well past the glory years of this genre and probably only about half as interesting as a later Deeds of Flesh album.

Denial – Catacombs of the Grotesque

Another forgettable band, for all their technical skill in integrating the memes and techniques of twenty years of death metal into a single album. These songs lack subtlety because that they want to express is not subtle, and even more, does not expand from the initial appearance. They adopt from Krisiun the power-blasting technique of full speed ahead drums, with pauses to divide riffs, creating an overwhelming sense of motion even when little corresponds between riff and percussion. These are songs about violent destabilization and in the process of expressing that, they destabilize themselves into chaotic collections of riff unified by rhythm and vocals but expressing little other than a self-satisfied chaos.

Vermis – Liturgy of the Annihilated

Imagine early Grave with greater instrumental ability and a propensity to use Entombed-style slower melodic passages between the storming chords of thunderous rage. This is roughly where Vermis stands, with a few updated stylistic elements, and less of the flowing tremolo of older death metal so much as fast chord changes like a metal-stamping machine. If anything, the habit of picking a progression and working it through basic harmony split into three riffs wears old after a few songs, but not in a tragic way, such that if this band were able to pack more variation into their work, they’d have a killer. Probably especially appealing to fans of KAAMOS, NOMINON and REPUGNANT.

Coffins – Buried Death

Resembling a stoner doom band as executed by early Grave, this death metal act offer us no complexity and very little variation between songs, but they make them engaging and easily heard owing to their familiar rhythms that resembling walking, wrestling and other human activities. The chord progressions alternate between chromatic and comfortable hard rock intervals, giving this an over-the-top feel as if somehow Cinderella, Poison or AC/DC wandered through hell and came out chaotic. While none of it is offensive, and everything fits and feels second-nature, this CD also doesn’t do anything exceptional so it fades very quickly into the background. It gets an A++ for stylistic concerns, and a C- for content.

Unexpect – In a Flesh Aquarium

Progressive rock presents difficulties in tying together larger songs in a way that makes sense. If you want to take a shortcut, take a very basic song and trick it out, aesthetically. Add some fast scales to that riff; layer some voices; use a weird instrument; use strange time changes. Write a melody that is awkward or diminished, use relative scales. All of this can dress up a very basic song into something sounding quite complex that, when you sketch it out on a whiteboard or equivalent, is basically a pop song. Fans of Maudlin of the Well — if they played really fast with female and male vocals competing and Renaissance Fair style quasi-medieval melodies twisted into modern, almost grunge form — would like this mess, as will people who like constant distraction carnival music like Mindless Self Indulgence. For this reviewer, it’s an old dog still trying old tricks without having much to say.