Num Skull – Ritually Abused re-issue has fatal flaws

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The late 80s were an extremely volatile time for metal music. The speed metal movement that had started a handful of years prior was simultaneously peaking and sounding its death rattle. The noises coming from Europe and developing in New England were firing warning shots across the bow of metal as it had been known in full-out, transformational revolution. 1988 saw the release of Bathory Blood Fire Death, Bolt Thrower In Battle There Is No Law, Napalm Death From Enslavement To Obliteration, Carcass Reek Of Putrefaction, and demos from Paradise Lost, Samael, Rotting Christ, Rigor Mortis (pre-Immolation) and Exmortis, just to name a few. One can only imagine that this must have placed tremendous pressure on fledgling speed metal bands as the music world they thought they knew crumbled around them.

Very few of them escaped this period intact. Bands that had issued one or two great albums seemed to perceive that they could not continue as they had been. They saw a fork in the road: either trying to emulate one of the “big four” or struggling to “get harder” to keep up with the tectonic shift death and black metal were creating. Either move alienated the fan base they had built and universally failed as a result. This writer cannot think of one band that consciously changed vocalists and/or styles that got better because of said shift at that time.

This is not a lesson in music history or an album review, but it is important to understand the context of a given release. It is easy today to call up a band, a song, an album, and sample it immediately, piece by piece. Consuming historical output in a vacuum, outside of the understanding of the environment in which it was produced and unleashed, is simply folly. The timeline of modern metal, now at over three solid decades, conveys the idea that there were obvious plateaus and curves, slow and deliberate. However, focusing in closer reveals that there were a great many peaks and valleys along the way, some single high points among a lot of noisy low points.

Focusing on the US, 1988 saw some fine thrash releases from Nuclear Assault, Rigor Mortis, Vio-Lence, Wehrmächt, Wasted Youth, Wargasm, and the subject of this writing, Num Skull. Num Skull’s release of Ritually Abused, while not a game-changer, was significant. It toed the line of death metal; one can hear some hints of Immolation in some of the riffs on this album. The spitting delivery and effects on the vocals were very unique and helped set them apart. And, perhaps most importantly, it remains one of the very few releases from a midwestern-US band at that time. The midwest had the proto-death stylings of Macabre and Impetigo, the progressive metal of Anacrusis, the punk of Life Sentence, and the thrash of Zoetrope, but for thrash that edged closely to death metal, Num Skull were it. Ritually Abused caught them at their peak, before they decided they needed to be yet another poor-to-mediocre “brutal” death metal band to be discarded as also-rans. They were extremely talented, high-energy, and unique in a musical world filling up with same-ness.

Fast-forward to 2014. The original Ritually Abused is criminally difficult to find, with the lone CD pressing fetching triple-digits on eBay and in trading circles. When Relapse announced that finally, after much pleading, they were going to reissue it, complete with bonus track, it seemed time to rejoice. A limited-run of 300 units, pressed on purple vinyl, was promised, along with a CD and new apparel. This was an opportunity for younger listeners to hear what was a peak during the swan song of the US thrash movement with some proto-death metal tendencies, and for the label to pay respect to one of their deceased children, Medusa Records, with a release that helped put them on the map.

Upon inspection, the colors on the cover appear richer and the back cover has a new layout. Opening it, there is a basic lyrics sheet and plain sleeve. OK, so it’s not a deluxe reissue — this is not ideal but it is forgivable. After all, at least this piece of history was unearthed and given new life. Dropping the needle, fond memories of youth are replaced with jarring incongruity and disjointedness. What was originally a quick, seductive and declarative introduction of “The End” (“The end is near…”) followed by the huge, rhythmic hook of the title track was now the machine gun blast of “Death And Innocence”. Confused, a listener might consult the track listing again. As written, it shows the familiar order with the addition of a bonus track originally written for one of their demos:

  1. The End
  2. Ritually Abused
  3. Death And Innocence
  4. No Morals
  5. Friday’s Child
  6. Off with Your Head
  7. The Henchman
  8. Pirate’s Night
  9. Turn of a Screw
  10. Kiss Me, Kill Me
  11. Rigor Mortis
  12. Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)

However, the lists of tracks as present on the disc is as follows:

    Side A

  1. Death And Innocence
  2. No Morals
  3. Friday’s Child
  4. Off With Your Head
  5. The Henchman
  6. Pirate’s Night
  7. Side B

  8. Turn Of A Screw
  9. Kiss Me, Kill Me
  10. Rigor Mortis
  11. Murder By The Minister (Bonus Track)
  12. The End
  13. Ritually Abused

The CD is also thus plagued. Such a clear display of “no fucks given” from the label dismantles the flow and intent of the original album and leaves the listener with a much less effective product. The lack of even basic quality control on this, after over a quarter of a century of waiting, demonstrates the fact that Relapse had no respect for this band or this release, a piece of its history. Relapse passed up an opportunity to finally give this release some deserved love and perhaps atone in some small way for the massive ignoring and lack of promotion payed to this upon its original release in favor of a quick cash-grab from their back catalog.

One wonders what little effort it may have taken to reach out to the band and seek their input and involvement on such a reissue. This has been done repeatedly lately to a high degree of success and satisfaction from fans; albums from Sacrifice, Darkthrone, and Bl’ast are prime examples of how to do proper reissues. Alternately, a few sentences from label leaders or peers about what the band meant to them at the time, initial reactions to hearing the album, etc. — anything — would have been a nice inclusion. At absolute minimum, a simple CD-to-vinyl rip using the 2002 disc as source material, while not giving a proper vinyl sound, would have resulted in a correct track listing and required exactly zero effort. It seems Relapse went out of their way to fuck this up, as though they gave the pressing plant some idea that there was a band called Num Skull that once upon a time had an album entitled Ritually Abused and let them figure out how to press it, never once checking any test pressings prior to collecting money and shipping another product about which they are ambivalent.

At their genesis, one likes to think that most record labels start with the idea of giving voice to deserving artists that would otherwise go unheard and unnoticed by other labels. In the mind of the listener, a label also bears the responsibility of curator of a slice of music history. Dear reader, what is the half life of such a fantasy? At what point does a label simply become a business with no artistic integrity left in their empty souls? At what point does churning out album after album of whatever flavor of the day fits best into the accepted formula that will sell enough product to turn a profit become more attractive than unleashing quality, moving music? Some rhetorical questions without answers, but one would think re-issuing a “lost” gem that requires minimal investment of money or time would be a simple feat if the label had one cell of shit-giving left.

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Num Skull Ritually Abused to see re-issue on Relapse

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Even back in the early 1990s, people referred to Num Skull as “old school death metal” for its plodding, dark cadences and thudding primitive riffs. Now the most famous artifact of this band, Ritually Abused, will terrorize your living room thanks to a re-issue through Relapse Records on September 16, 2014.

Famous for engaging but highly basic music, Num Skull reduced death metal to its simplest elements and tied them to a groove which replaced rhythmic expectation with a pounding certainty like the march of undead armies across a wasteland. Songs followed much of the format of those of early death metal innovators Possessed but did so at a slow dreadnought pace alternating with high-speed violence, mulching listeners into paste with militant power chords.

The Relapse re-issue of Ritually Abused will include a bonus track from the ’86 demo “Num’s the Word” to commemorate the original release of the album 25 years ago. You can pre-order Ritually Abused in LP or CD format with or without a t-shirt bundle at http://www.relapse.com/numskull.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Crush the Skull

What does any band deserve? A fair review. If the band is good, it should be said so, to what degree. If it just sucks, it also needs to be said. And that’s why we’re here with the latest edition of Sadistic Metal Reviews.

weekend_nachos-stillWeekend Nachos – Still

If their stupid name didn’t already clue you in, the atrocity that is Weekend Nachos represents a lesser acknowledged evil in the underground music scene: nu-grind, or powerviolence played by MTV2 jockcore fans. Similar to other Relapse bands like Benümb, except all the fast strummed “anger” is a holdover for later day “tough guy” or straight-edge 90s hardcore “everyone mosh on the dancefloor” gimmickry that preys on low IQs who don’t listen to music beyond “breakdowns.”

hate_forest-ildjarn-those_once_mighty_fallenHate Forest / Ildjarn – Those Once Mighty Fallen

The title on this may be ironic because it can apply only to Ildjarn, and only if the band ships something bad. This isn’t bad, but it’s an entirely different form of music. Where older Ildjarn was an idiosyncratic expression in equal parts ambient black metal, drone hardcore and forest Oi/Rac-influenced metal like Absurd, this new material is clearly designed to sound like black metal. Its songs use typical black metal intervals, develop according to the pattern, and even use vocals in the same rhythms as early Dimmu Borgir or other first-and-a-half wave bands. If you’re tuning in to Ildjarn, you expect something at least as lawless and feral as his later work on keyboards; this will be a problem for many listeners. As far as quality, it’s not bad at all and in fact is very natural-sounding, sort of like the first Dimmu Borgir or Graveland albums. Some have hypothesized that Ildjarn did not write the material, and the production changes and incorporation of additional instrumentation, in addition to the stylistic changes, suggest either a casual interest in this as a project to “stay in the game” or delegation of many musical tasks to a new team. Production sounds more recent than the early 1990s Ildjarn material. Use of background keyboards, faster bass riffing, textural discontinuities and other distinguishing effects show an interesting set of musical tools emerging, but the band may need to rediscover its voice. Hate Forest never struck me as being all that significant, but they make a very credible effort here, with production that matches the Ildjarn but is very carefully adjusted to sound as distinctive as possible. Their songs are fairly regulation black metal with an attempt to insert complex fills and transitions, and then to balance that, simplify the chorus riffs. The result is not atmospheric per se but achieves a relaxed atmosphere in which the focal point becomes the interruption, like a sunny sky with an intriguing cloud cluster. None of it is particularly distinctive but it’s not bad either. Songs maintain atmosphere well but there’s not a huge amount of development here, so the band sensibly rely on circularity to keep from appearing jagged. A rumored Ildjarn interview claims that this release was an early 1990s project between himself and Ihsahn of Emperor, which could explain the resemblance to post-Reverence Emperor material.

melvins-bullheadMelvins – Bullhead

Entropy embodied, this is the band that provided inspiration for Southern Lord’s entire catalogue of musical abortions. Deconstructive, linear riffs that seek to express nothing except ennui, combined with faux-crooning self-pitying lyrics ensure that this will continue to be a favorite band of mentally vacant children for decades to come. This is the mentality of grunge in a different form.

code-augur_noxCode – Augur Nox

For a brief while, power metal (speed metal w/death metal drums) looked like it would save True Metal. The problem is, however, anytime you walk back up the metal family tree, you get back toward the stuff metal was formed to run away from. As I listened to the first tracks on this, I thought, they’ve got some interesting riff ideas — let’s see how long it last — however, they sound like they want to be a rock band that’s primarily about vocal performance and personal identification with the vocalist. About half-way through the album, they shifted to tap-dance rhythm riffs and soaring vocals, the combination meaning no ideas but how to rip through some 1960s material. Eventually it got so bad it sounded like Queensryche on a bad day as a disco combo covering old CCR B-sides. If you don’t have an idea, by definition, you are an imitator recycling the old in a new form, and we have a word for that: stagnation.

immolation-kingdom_of_conspiracyImmolation – Kingdom of Conspiracy

Continuing their decline, Immolation return to the bouncy simplicity of Harnessing Ruin, only this time they downplay the “nu” sounds and try to make it sound more aesthetically in line with their old sound. This doesn’t change it from being a predictable verse-chorus version of NYDM and shows Immolation in their most neutered form yet, trying to pander to a metalcore audience whilst retaining their trademark sound. After the last album, I reckon the only reason people see these guys tour anymore is to get a Failures for Gods longsleeve. Linear, predictable, and disappointing considering this group’s potential.

izegrim-congress_of_the_insaneIzegrim – Congress of the Insane

After a few brave people direction-find their way to a new genre, in come the people who want to partake. They often bring superior skills but they don’t understand what they’re doing. Izegrim is a fine example. It’s chanty metal. When metal gets chanty, which is the nerdy equivalent of rapping, you know that a central narrative has been replaced by adherence to appearance and where that doesn’t work, filling in the gaps with the same old stuff. While this band is instrumentally superior to your average metal band, they don’t know what to do with the odd bits and ends they’ve assembled as songs, so they tie it all together with the simplest elements possible. That meants chants, crowd-pleaser but repetitive riffs, and lots of bombast to cover up for the big void within.

nachtmystium-silencing_machineNachtmystium – Silencing Machine

When a band wishes to play black metal without embodying any of its spirit, this is what’s produced. Lethargic, tremolo-strummed droning with ANGRY MAN vocals and uninspired drumming produces an album of tracks that are indistinguishable. Albums like these would be better off as hard rock, because at their heart that is what these musicians are aiming to create…though at least it’s not as bad as the the latest Satyricon abortion.

broken_hope-omen_of_diseaseBroken Hope – Omen of Disease

After failing to become “Oppressor meets Deeds of Flesh” with their last couple albums, Broken Hope return after a long hiatus and have churned out what can best be described as a Unique Leader band covering mainstream hip hop tracks in double speed. Considering their “beefs” with death metal bands and Source Awards concert turn outs, it should be no surprise that this has more in common with Tupac than it does Suffocation, approaching death metal from the same “gangster” outlook that Six Feet Under did in the 90s.

secrets_of_the_moon-seven_bellsSecrets of the Moon – Seven Bells

“Artistic” black metal, otherwise known as black metal watered down with fruity “post-rock” produces a product that is post-art. Designed for a generation that believes interrupting narration with pointless deviations is artistically viable, in form this shares for more in common with modern metal than with relevant black metal bands. Listen to this only if you enjoy consuming pumpkin spice lo-fat frappuccinos.

laibach-sLaibach – S

These three tracks — “Eurovision,” “No History” and “Resistance is Futile” — comprise 2/3 of the EP S (which can be streamed here) released in advance of the new Laibach album to show where the band is at this point. Some might think it odd to review industrial music on a metal blog, but Laibach has been supportive of metal in the past, including the notorious Morbid Angel remixes and positive statements made in public. Further, industrial and metal share a root, which is that we deny the happy vision that came about in the 1960s of love, peace and uniformity that would save us from the horrors of the modern time. Our vision is to point out that the beast is within, and as long as humans refuse to discipline their minds, they will end up re-inventing the horror, futility and self-destruction of the near past and the ancient past, before civilization evolved. Both genres also point to a path outside of what is acknowledged as “higher values” or “the right thing to do,” seeing morality as confining and misinterpreted. That being said, it seems that industrial hasn’t changed much since the EBM days of the 1980s. In fact, much as Nine Inch Nails basically made a more pop form of that genre with added guitars, Laibach have simply made a more stern form, albeit a self-mocking one. What you will find: compelling beats, blasts of static, sampled voices, a surly European-accented voice almost chewing out the lyrics in a conversational growl, and even bits of other musics woven through the material. Ultimately, what makes industrial different than metal is that it knows how to pull off a good pop song and make it sound good, even with machine-ish touches, where metal tries to make something beyond what people consider music. As a result, these songs have heavy dead-beat grooves and build up to a compelling motion. There isn’t as much internal development as metal so there’s some question of whether a metal fan would enjoy hearing these repeatedly, but it’s hard to ignore the sheer pop power and terrifying view of the world brought up by this assault of music and (if you go to the site) imagery.

sepultura-the_mediator_between_the_head_and_hands_must_be_the_heartSepultura – The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart

Claiming to be inspired by the old science-fiction movie Metropolis, Sepultura collaborate with tone deaf AIDS guru Ross Robinson to create an album that, much like recent Sepultura, is high in pretension and low in musical payoff. Death metal sounds are utilized here but only serve as what sounds like Pantera or later Sacred Reich occasionally lapsing into a parody of Slowly We Rot at its simplest than anything from their 80s output. A guest appearance by Dave Lombardo doing a “tribal” drumming outro feels more like a marketing gimmick, lacking any of the imagination found in his instrumental track for Grip Inc. (incidentally, their only good song). Most of the songs devolve into effects laden meandering, which is to be expected considering the producer. Even then, nothing is gained or lost on this album. Sepultura is still like a fish out of water, churning out another vapid reiteration of their 1998 album that will piss off old fans and make no new ones.

cattle_decapitation-monolith_of_inhumanityCattle Decapitation – Your Disposal

The first riff sounds like screamo, then clean vocals played over what sounds like a “post-black” abomination, then the breakdown with “eerie arpeggios”… this is metalcore. Looking past the “shocking” image stolen from early Carcass made to appeal to self-loathing Starbucks regulars, Cattle Decapitation now seem to be in direct contact with the same focus group Gojira employ when coming up with their gimmick ridden, indie rock friendly vapidity, eschewing the F-grade death/grind of their past for metalcore acceptance. Beyond the aesthetic drape of underground metal, this is nothing more than a random collage of parts “EXTREME” bands play for mainstream appeal under the pretense of having “matured” as “artists.”

twilight-monument_to_time_endTwilight – Monument to Time End

The “supergroup” of a bunch of hipsters that convinced Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth to ruin the genre alongside them, Twilight perverts black metal by using the treble guitar tone and anguished vocal styling to dress up what is middle of the road “post-sludge”. Members pool their collective inability to write metal into one product that comes off like a brain washing tool Scion would use to convince Gojira fans to purchase SUVs, all the while looking “edgy.”

cromlech-ave_mortisCromlech – Ave Mortis

This imaginative release explores the world of Iron Maiden-tinged power metal with an epic metal mindset, preferring extensive clean vocals, lengthy melodic parts and high-speed pickup riffs of the Maiden style. However, it also works in a fair amount of newer technique, sounding sometimes at the edge of later At the Gates. This is interesting material and an ambitious offering. However, this band has a few things it needs to work on. First, the vocalist is too present both in the composition and the approach to songwriting, and needs to go back to being one of the instruments. Second, this CD weighs in at 1:10 and is a B- album at that length, where if they boiled it down to 35 minutes would be closer to an A. (Note to bands: if you can’t listen to your own CD, while doing nothing else, on repeat for several times in a row, make changes). It has genre confusion problems that need to be resolved by getting more comfortable with its own style. Finally, Cromlech should learn from Iron Maiden and focus on making song structures clear: one intro, a theme, a countertheme, and some kind of developmental area where the melody grows before returning to the more predictable parts of songs. This is about their approach anyway, but it’s muddled by uneven application of technique. In addition, it wouldn’t kill them to look through for repetitive themes and excise or consolidate them. All in all, a great first effort, and I tack on all these suggestions because starting bands often need a push to fully develop.

gojira-l_enfant_sauvageGojira – L’enfant sauvage

The biggest sham in metal to this day. Being a propaganda tool used by hippies to turn metal into rock music, Gojira continue what they’ve done since the beginning: making “heavy” parts out of rhythmic chugging with pick scraping sounds before playing “soft” parts that sound lifted from A Perfect Circle. Rock made for angry menstruating Deepak Chopra reading faux-guru hippies. Add the cringe worthy “deep” lyrics and it’s no wonder people thought the world was going to end in 2012 when both this album came out and a new record was set the world over in dolphins beaching themselves.

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Buried treasures: Adversary – Forsaken (2001)

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Adversary came to us from the heartland of Indiana and released two solid old school death metal albums, the second of which, Forsaken, may deserve more attention. This one is misunderstood because its form is old school death metal, but its heart is in classic heavy metal with melody and groove, as well as some of the more atmospheric 1980s rock.

As a result, listening to it presents a dual experience. It sounds like Num Skull or Nunslaughter doing their version of a Possessed-Venom hybrid, but with more attention to melodic guitar hooks. Vocals take the form of barfed out gruff explosions, guiding the rough-hewn riffs like a second drum track, but the heart of each song is a 1970s heavy metal riff with a broad chord progression through which melodic lead-picked figures wind. Songs mostly follow the speed metal pattern of verse-chorus with interludes and transitions, but each song is wrapped around a presentation of dynamics to bring it to a dramatic close.

While other bands worked with this formula, none have done so with such old-school technique and so this album neatly slipped between its potential audiences. Compounding this fact was the trouble that Adversary’s first album, The Winter’s Harvest, used a drum machine and so was overlooked by many. But for those wanting the feeling of 1985 — that nexus of different influences and unresolved potentials — this album deserves a second look.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 01-12-15

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A few speak the truth, but most lie, not because they mean badly but because they think it helps them “get ahead.” Later do they learn that unearned merit simply means they are trapped in a world of having to uphold false images and it destroys their souls. To avoid this, we just cut the chaff from the wheat with pure linguistic and musical cruelty. Welcome to the latest installment of Sadistic Metal Reviews: come for the tears, stay for the (occasional) corn in the turd.

rippikoulu-musta_seremonia

Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia

Musta Seremonia is clearly B-level death metal that imitates many of those that went before it in the 1989-1991 period. It is excessively primitive, like Grave or Obscurity. Much of it tries to be doom metal, which is — with a few notable exceptions — boring music for boring people. Expect cudgel-primitive low-end power chords rumbling against each other and moveable melodic patterns which create an atmosphere of forward motion and near-symmetry. Like the best of the doom-death slice of the death metal genre, including Asphyx, Miasma, early Atrocity and Funerus, this band creates a grinding atmosphere but refuses to make it wholly repetitive, creating the sense of a plane flying through a ruined city to observe new interactions each time like disconnected visions of a mad prophet. The point is to lower you into the darkness and not let you up, which is excellent as an experience but like many bands in the doom genre, probably not an everyday experience. Unlike its contemporaries, Rippikoulu understand how to put contrast into a song and yet keep it focused on a goal of expression, even if in utter primitivism this goal is so basic as to be very similar from song to song… If this band falls down, it is the intersection of the disadvantages above that brings it down: the B-level death metal with citations in rhythm or melody from Amorphis, Incantation and Deicide; the repetition and relative similarity of approach; and the extremely basic nature of these riffs which, as in Swedish bands like Uncanny and Suffer, can create a sense of pervasive doom bordering on total entropy instead of preparing us for reconquest of the wasteland in the name of terror. And yet, Musta Seremonia lives on with infectious rhythms and a distinctive presence to itself which distinguishes it from others who have traveled this lonely path. It is less rhythmically recursive than Grave, and songs hold together better than Obscurity, and it does not fall into the reheated speed metal patterns which doom Insanity and Num Skull. It simply thunders, aiming to be primitive and basic in the same way Belial or Agonized. While this will not hold a candle to the best of Finland, like Demigod Slumber of Sullen Eyes or even Amorphis The Karelian Isthmus, it stands above the other retrospective acts for at least having a sense of purpose.

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Deconstructing Sequence – Access Code

Tragically progressive and technical metal have become gigwise, or in other words are composed for an existing audience on the basis of what they have liked in the past, instead of forging their own path to attract an audience on the musical merits of the composition. Deconstructing Sequence launch into this arena with a highly informed, creative and periodically musically elegant entry which bears a second look. The surface adornment will unfortunately drive away many die-hard fans and simultaneously attract the type of greebos who were drawn to Opeth because it made them look musically profound among the fedora m’lady crowd of NEETs and hipsters. Much of the surface aesthetic involves voice overs about space landings, lead guitars that cleverly emulate the beeps and quirks of digital computers, and jazz fusion-inspired riffing that mates the ultra-texturalism of Meshuggah with the harmonic depth that bands like Dream Theatre and Gorguts used to establish contrast for their melodic themes. A mixture of Pestilence from its technical years with Dream Theatre and Meshuggah might accurately describe the sound, but the composition here hearkens back to simpler — think Rush or Camel-level — interpretations of mid-1970s classic progressive rock, although this is sometimes hard to find under the layers of postmodern configuration. Underneath all the layers, much of the riffing here as in Meshuggah is the same early 1980s speed metal where guitar serves a purely rhythmic role with a secondary melodic role, as harmony is impossible, thus adopting the chromatic fills that death metal later turned into phrase; a comparison between Meshuggah and Linkin Park is appropriate because they both have their origins in blending this essentially keyless, harmonically-moveable style with jazz fusion and rap/rock respectively. If I have any advice for this band, it is to lose everything but the music. We’ll understand the space exploration theme from the cover and the Hal 9000 guitar noises. Then it might make sense to worry less about writing the heavier riffs and to focus instead on why people will like you, which is your harmonically-rich composition in which melodies stand out in context and are not used as a production quirk-cum-purpose as they are in most “melodic death metal” bands. Access Code compares favorably to works from Sadist and other progressive death metal bands even if its heart shares dual loyalties in the 1990s and 1970s.

sacrocurse-unholier_master

Sacrocurse – Unholier Master

If you want to make metal strong, be hard on metal, especially of the type you like best. Otherwise, in the absence of quality control, that which is mediocre and predictable but familiar gets promoted and any musician who wants his or her work to be heard will avoid that genre like the plague. This is the problem with the NWN/FMP attitude toward classic metal, which is to find an aesthetic imitator that is “true” by being extreme and unrelenting and uphold it as an ideal. These bands are neither satisfying with the same musical punch as the individuals had, nor do they present a quality level markedly different from the newer metalcore hybrids, and thus they maintain a small but diehard audience while driving everyone else toward the newer material. In this way, the “underground” labels maintain a symbiotic relationship with the big media pap labels dumping warmed over hardcore with jazz fusion fixins onto a clueless audience. Unholier Master on its surface fits the underground with charging power chord riffs and extreme death metal vocals under high-speed drumming. The problem is that every riff on this album is excruciatingly obvious and repetitive, song development is near zero, and the main focus has thus become the vocals chanting repetitive but semi-catchy choruses. This reduces death metal to the same level of entropy that speed metal hit toward the end of the 1980s when tons of bands appeared who composed with almost exclusively chromatic rhythm music and hoped to distinguish themselves with vocals and increasingly random guitar solos. This album is an insult to the underground; throw it out and embrace natural selection instead, or you weaken death metal with your good intentions.

monuments-the_amanuensis

Monuments – The Amanuensis

Excruciating: soaring Gospel-like power metal suddenly breaks into some dude… rapping… in a death metal vocal. The album proceeds in this pattern, with simplified (but less chromatic) Meshuggah style riffing banging out hard rock tunes and then, as if nu-metal went underground, the rap-influenced death vocals kick in. The whole thing seems designed to distract at any given moment which is probably palliative care for the listener who presumably could not be dissuaded from putting the album on and, short of a power failure, will not be immediately delivered from it. Not only is the heavy metal part of this music as cheesy as humanly possible, the brocore rap/metalcore side of it is as insulting to the intelligence as possible. If you are a person of no intelligence who likes stupid things because they make it seem like the world is compatible with your utter lack of positive mental attributes, purchase this immediately and get the tshirt too so we can spot you at a distance, adjust for windage and elevation, and do what is necessary. An experienced listener hearing this is immediately embarrassed for the band, and those who listen, and those who accidentally must hear this album, which would confirm every negative stereotype of metal (maybe it is a counter-astroturfing effort by vegan techno bands). It combines everything stupid in rock, rap, metal and inspirational music into a single ball of string which drips a fermented slime of human oblivion over all that it touches. While normally I oppose censorship, this album makes me re-think censorship on a level of excluding bands of poor musical quality, since all this album does is create a heap of landfill that even bacteria will find insults their intelligence.

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Infra – Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibration

From the tryhard realm of the underground comes love for a new type of band that combines the simplistic Blasphemy/Incantation clone with “high art” and produces music that seems stately, deep and profound. Somehow all of these bands explore spiritual philosophies or ancient religious texts and invent large mythos for themselves. This parallels the tendency of nu-metalcore acts to write about whatever literature they remember from high school, or spiritualist topics of peace and love like Cynic did, which is a way for metal bands to improve their image through pretense. The problem with this approach is that it leads to a flood of metaphysical bullshit which is ill-advised for bands to mention. This band from Portugal, and that fact seems important from the bio, makes this new hybrid low/high-brow grinding black metal. Where Blasphemy channeled the id, this music may be too self-conscious, but is nonetheless well-executed but from these two tracks create a lukewarm effect because song-form and “purpose” rather than content dictate what occurs in each song. Thus we have songs about songs, a kind of theory about black metal, and they never come to a point. Further, they like to stack primitive riffs up against melodic ones, which creates a kind of “precious” response which is every bit as contrived as numu bands switching from distortion and shouting on the verses to acoustic and singing on the choruses. On Initiation on the Ordeals of Lower Vibrations, the black metal moments express themselves and fade into the background as we wait for Profound Moments… but these come not from this kind of preciousness, but in the form of melodic/atmospheric material that exemplifies the best of the old school, both simple and evocative of events in life.

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Bleed – Seven Billion Demons

What is it that is so appalling about judging a band by its style? It is OK with some forms, clearly, since no one ever said “Well, you shouldn’t write that band off just because they’re disco.” But in metal we shy away from it, ignoring the fact that some styles are designed to reduce music to what attracts like moths to flame the most basic, blockheaded and purposeless human tendencies. Brocore is one such genre, and while Bleed is clearly above-the-fold brocore, it is still brocore: the ranting speed metal of Pantera, updated with the chromatic riff texture noodling of Meshuggah, but simplified to fit around hard rock chord progressions in the background, against which all the riffery serves as simply decoration. Thus when you peer down into the core of this album you find something closer to Look What the Cat Dragged In or Hysteria than Meshuggah or Pantera, just done up in a new (or should I say… “nu”) aesthetic for a new generation of the credulous and inexperienced who will spend their parents’ money on dreck that will keep the slacker jobs program known as the music industry operating for another year. No offense intended slackers, and none taken; as a proud slacker I defend the right of everyone to slack off as appropriate, but wish the music industry would admit this fact and stop wasting time with clear filler. Nothing on Seven Billion Demons is badly executed and in fact the album as a whole is quite professional, just empty, like a streetcar at night or an entry-level job. Thus if you have a soul — and you might if you’ve kept reading this far, not sure — you should probably avoid this. But if you’re looking for Brocore 2.0 and something to chant along with as you drink beer and (no homo) wrestle with your buddies at a keg party on the beach, Seven Billion Demons may be for you. Kegstand!

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The Best Underground Metal of 2012

The year is done. It brought many things: a new wave of hipster metal that blipped and died, an old school revival that’s been percolating for years, drama and sadness with the recent death of Rigor Mortis’ Mike Scaccia. Above all else, however, it brought us some quality music, some of which is heavy metal and some of which is metal in spirit only. Enjoy this survey of the best of 2012.

The Best Metal (and related) of 2012

  • Abhorrence – Completely VulgarThis legendary band existed before Amorphis and plays a grittier style of the bold, warlike and heavy yet melodic music that graced Amorphis’ first album, The Karelian Isthmus. These Abhorrence tracks show the band that would later write that album as they emerge from early grind/death stylings and gradually work more melody into their work. This is metal’s holy grail: how to be both epic and amoral in the nihilistic sense of worshipping power, darkness and nature, but also use melody and harmony to give the works some staying power. As this collection of re-released demos progresses, the fusion of the two gets more confident and deft, leading us up to the point where the greatness of the first Amorphis album was inevitable.
  • Angel Witch – As Above, So BelowAfter a lengthy absence, this classic NWOBHM band returns with an album that shows integration of more recent influences, specifically American heavy metal and progressive metal, but still keeps up the power. These songs are not as distinctive or as oddball as the heavily personalitied offerings from their self-titled album, but As Above, So Below is important because it takes disparate influences and places them under the control of one voice and style, which gives others room to build on. The oil-on-water aspect of bands switching between influences is gone and replaced by a smooth enwrapping of these styles into the substrate of Angel Witch’s lauded and learned evil heavy metal.
  • Beherit – Celebrate the DeadIf death metal was modernism, with its emphasis on structure, black metal was postmodernism, or an attempt to show through atmosphere the many facets of an idea in a clarity which could not be confined to a single statement. This was a quest as old as humanity, which is how to communicate in such a way that people who do not understand it do not simply imitate it from the outside-in and make something that looks about like it, fooling most people. Since the late 1990s Beherit have been at work inventing the next wave or movement of metal, one in which multiple statements co-exist in contradictory opposites that reveal the shadow or silhouette of an underlying truth. Two forms are in tension here: the “loop” form of traditional ambient music, in which layers are poured on top of a basic dub to create a simple sonic tapestry, and the pure narrative form which electro-acoustic music (and even some dubstep) touches on, in which a story is told through the change of riffs. This is closer to the original death metal idea of structure, but it is structure created through atmosphere, like old Tangerine Dream and Brian Eno albums, or even classical music. To this end, Beherit has re-released two demo songs from Engram which are ambitious longer (13- and 15-minute) works which show a deepening and changing of atmosphere, using both looping and narrative constructs at the same time. This is a valiant and clear-headed attempt to resurrect black metal, which has fallen into the hands of those who imitate the “external” aspects of the early classics like simple riffs and fast songs, but understand none of the underlying ideas or songwriting methods. While it seems unconventional at first, Celebrate the Dead is a return to the truest form of black metal by expanding its orthodoxy to include the transcendental narrative of those more experienced in both this world, and the realms beyond. Be not fooled — evil pervades this release, so subtly that you will not know until it has seized your soul.
  • Dead Can Dance – AnastasisFor their return after some absence, Dead Can Dance have taken the style on Spiritchaser and refined it even more with the sensibility of modern club music and soundtrack influences. Rhythms and tempo work like you might expect a big label ambient album to work, fitting very much into the slightly picked up chill-out range with gentle backing beats that are still identifiable enough to make it easy to listen to. Consistent with even earlier work, songs use extended structures, but they fit the pattern of an early MTV video or short film more than a musical one. The result is that these are immersive little sonic ventures that are both easy to hear and not surprising, and also, rewarding in their consistency and adept arrangements. Melodies themselves are not as adventurous or period/locale-specific as older Dead Can Dance, and in fact more lifts from earlier influences can be heard (check out the Doors “The end” inspirations on the first track). For a purist, this will not be the best Dead Can Dance album, but for something that has stepped into the Loreena McKennit or Enya range of “accessible,” this is far beyond what most would encounter otherwise and makes for a pleasant listen on its own.
  • Demoncy – Enthroned is the NightAlong with Beherit, this shares the top spot as album of the year. In 2012, a wave of bands like Cruciamentum and Heresiarch rediscovered the sound of classic Incantation from the Onward to Golgotha area. Having come from the same school, joined to Incantation by Ixithra’s former band Havohej’s primary composer, Paul Ledney, having been an original member of Incantation, Demoncy launched into the same by creating a faithful followup to 1996’s Joined in Darkness. In this case, Demoncy add a bit of melody and atmosphere, channeling from first album Unleashed and other Swedish death metal classics, thus combining the two most intense areas of death metal into what is really a death metal album with a black metal sense of atmosphere. The result is a descent into a dark and primal place in which occult spiritual warfare transpires through the battling of motifs in this complex album made of simple parts. Like Joined in Darkness, it is otherworldly and foreboding, but a bit less purely alienated; instead, this album creates a sense of symbolic significance emerging like melody from the clouded obscure. Very little black metal of this intensity has been made since the mid-1990s which makes this both faithful to the spirit and pushing the boundaries of the genre, a simultaneous advancement that eludes most musicians and fans alike.
  • Derkéta – In Death We MeetArising from the ashes of Mythic, the all-female doom-death band from the early 1990s, Derkéta follows in a more purely doom metal path including some of the juicy 1970s heavy metal style doom metal that audiences enjoy with bands like Pentagram and Witchfinder General. 24 years later, this album is the first for this promising band, and holds back nothing. Like Mythic, the music is formed of giant bolsters of tunneling power chords colliding slowly over a changing melodic landscape. Atmosphere emerges from within. The simplicity of it removes the glitz and contentless enhancement of current doom metal bands, and takes the listeners back to the essence of the genre, which is an unsettling sense of pervasive dread. A prominent Candlemass Ancient Dreams influence seems to be present in these compact and droning songs.
  • Desecresy – The Doom SkeptronDesecresy approach Finnish death metal the way others might approach doom metal, using melody and abstract song structures to convey an experience not unlike watching the helmet camera of a pilot flying through a vast and ancient underground cave in which demons seem to lurk behind every stalagtite. Comparable to a hybrid between Amorphis and Skepticism, this album nonetheless keeps up the umptempo riffing and lets its melodies emerge to construct an emanating atmosphere. The result is both aggressive and enjoyable from a purely death metal perspective, but where appropriate, it uses the moods of doom metal to complete that raging insanity to produce an experience that is like a journey. There are doubts, fears, joys, rage and sadness, but pervading all of it is a sonorous melancholy which indicates a change in viewing life from orientation toward what is safe, to prizing what is adventurous and as such being alone on a planet of people concerned with safety labels and microwave cooking.
  • Drawn and Quartered – Feeding Hell’s FurnaceImagine a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Num Skull. These songs are extremely basic, like the melodies of horror movies, but are put together with interlocking rhythms that propel them forward and give them atmosphere. As a result, their themes feel intuitive like paths through a forest remembered from a childhood story. There will not be surprise at the ways these tunes twist and bend, but appreciation for a well-done interpretation on a necessary idea. In the same way you might appreciate an excellent sword or well-executed painting of a familiar subject, these songs will be appreciated for how well they do what they love. Just as most musicians make their best work when they design it to be enjoyed repeatedly by people with their own tastes, this faithful and yet creative interpretation of the old school death metal genre will be shared among those who can appreciate it, for taking the past and making it live on by keeping it current to itself and through inventiveness, an enjoyable listen.
  • Faustcoven – Hellfire and Funeral BellsThis release is not particularly metal, or at least underground metal, even though it aspires to the aesthetics of it. Rather, this is like Marilyn Manson interpreting classic heavy metal in a gothic doom metal context as informed by death metal aesthetics but not technique. It’s basically blues rock with short phrase power chord riffs and highly compelling rhythm, underneath leads that are reminiscent of a friendlier version of St. Vitus. Good use of theme allows this release to be a faithful listen and also have some staying power for those who like this style. Like most doom metal, it is designed to build a repetitive atmosphere that is part curl of enjoyment, and part linear path of a melancholic mood. The death metal vocals would normally be out of place here but with the heavy reverb they take a backseat and let the guitars talk, which is the point of this band. It will probably not delight those who like underground metal, but if you’re looking for someplace to go for your next Cathedral or Sleep fix, this furry doom band holds the ticket.
  • Grave – Endless Procession of SoulsGrave return to the Swedish style which they helped make famous. Like later Fleshcrawl, this music is simplified from the original riff-salad which was reverse-assembled to make a journey into darkness emerge from thin air, but although it uses plenty of verse-chorus segments, they are not the entirety of each song. There are enough labyrinthine twists and turns to be fun, a good motivational rhythm, and an atmosphere of darkness and aggressive that is also (oddly) comforting and natural. Although musically this is fairly basic, like early Grave, it shows more use of melody and harmony, which adds an appreciable dimension of compactness and centering without falling into standard rock music. The result is easy to listen to and yet brings out its power in moments of sudden clarity which, as in life, make the listener think there might be more afoot than the obvious.
  • Imprecation – Jehovah DeniedThis four-song EP shows the resurrected Imprecation: more consistent in its songwriting, slightly less manic, and more inclined to create a pervasive atmosphere of darkness. The occult death metal founders from Houston originally shone in the early 1990s, when their demos and later CD were released, but returned after inaction and the lending of band members to other acts. Their earlier material had more of a Morbid Angel influence and presented itself as clear occultism, where the newer material goes back more toward where Possessed and early old school death metal (Morpheus Descends, Massacre) were headed back in their day. Mood-enhancing use of background keyboards gives an aura of the mysterious to these dark melodies and the organic rhythms which suffuse them. Influences on this music span from pre-death metal, through the walking and stalking rhythms of speed metal, to the later black metal works in song structure and atmosphere. This EP presages a killer full-length but stands on its own as quality music with a voice particular to its worldview.
  • Incantation – Vanquish in VengeanceWith new personnel and possibly the strongest sense of unity in a long time, Incantation very sensibly took influences deliberately from their own two greatest successes: Onward to Golgotha and Diabolical Conquest. The result is an album that self-consciously borrows from those albums in style but tries to create new songs to wrap in that style, and with the aid of new guitarist Alex Bouks (ex-Goreaphobia) shapes its works around melodic shapes but does not adorn them in melodic riffing, creating a sense of an inner region of hidden energy within the exterior of rugged chromatic shapes. The result is one of Incantation’s most conventional albums but also a festival of the methods that made early Incantation so distinctive and powerful, which combined makes for a good later death metal listen.
  • Legion of Doom – The Summoning of ShadowsThis oddity of an album begins with some form of sung prayer and launches into songs that are both adorned in the harmonic glaze of melodic playing and also possessed of the manic simplicity of early black metal. Like the primitive era of black metal, these songs are specific structures fitting the content of each song, with droning riffs that interact and build to a culmination before dissipating. On this album, Legion of Doom use more death metal and speed metal technique in with their Burzum-inspired black metal, ending in a result that sounds more like an ornate and elegant version of Gorgoroth’s Destroyer. Like all Legion of Doom releases, The Summoning of Shadows features songs that accelerate thematic intensity in layers and produce an immerse, ambient experience that suspends reality through the sheer dominating power of its riffs. This album is more efficient than the last couple of releases of this band, and by embracing a listenable style, makes the type of outsider album that Marduk or Watain wish they could.
  • Lord Wind – Ales StenarIf you want to immerse yourself in ancient sensation, Graveland axeman Rob Darken’s ambient/neofolk/soundtrack project Lord Wind is a good place to start. Unlike previous Lord Wind efforts, Ales Stenar mixes real vocals and violin with electronic music that is roughly inspired by the Conan and Red Sonja soundtracks. The goal however is less like the rock-ish folk songs of neofolk, or the grand accompaniment for cinema provided by soundtracks; this is music like Burzum or Graveland that is designed for the listener to lose themselves in its repetitive hypnotic surges, like a catechism or mantra. Its soaring melodies and plunging dynamics give it a familiarity like the rush of blood through veins in the ears, and the result feels natural and yet inspired to rise above the mundane at the same time. Like entering a forest, the songs open up to repeated listens and soon each part is distinct, but our natural way is to hear it all at once and derive a sentimental feeling, perhaps warlike, from it. This is the most proficient and perhaps most profound of the Lord Wind albums, proffering a complete escape from reality to a world that is both fantasy and more real than the stuporous dream of modernity.
  • Master – The New EliteOver the past few albums, punk/heavy metal hybrid Master has steadily been migrating toward late-1990s death metal. This new album presents a more technical view than the verse-chorus-exposition songs that Master (and related Speckmann projects) evolved from. Much like On the Seventh Day God Created…Master, riffs are strummed with precision at high speed and tend to lead away from stable grouping by adding riffs to the existing loop. These riffs use longer progressions and more chromatic fills, giving the music a mechanical terror that makes it sound like technocracy taking over. Speckmann’s vocals are tighter than in the past and urge the music along, but somewhere in this musical process of evolution, his overall tone has started sounding less like protest music and more like a cheering of the coming conflagration. Seeing that Master keep improving over time provides a great incentive to follow this band as they evolve further.
  • Profanatica – Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Masters SessionsSometimes, in order to reach your next aspiration, it is necessary to part with the past. Profanatica have done this in grand style by accumulating old tracks and re-working them in parallel, with one disc containing newer versions done in the early 1990s style, and the other containing older session takes on the same songs, interspersed with acoustic landscapes by Aragorn Amori, the band’s much-admired deceased former guitarist. Through its long history, the entity known as Profanatica/Havohej (or: Paul Ledney and friends) has consistently released material showcasing a truly artistic brilliance. Usually, between moments of brilliance there are experiments and less intense offerings that make it easy to forget that when they are in full swing, these musicians are unstoppable forces creating a unique type of black metal that is closer to ambient death metal but unlike most black metal at this time, possessed of a full mythos and unique view of the world. Like the best of Profanatica/Havohej, these two discs are ripping sonic terror that transcend daily life and divulge the essence of the feral spirit of pre-civilized humanity. In that vision of evil, Profanatica offer us something both inspiring and instructive, and do so through some of the best music of their career.
  • Terrorizer – Hordes of ZombiesPeople love change if it is constant and hate it if not. Terrorizer misstepped with their first post-World Downfall album, but came back with a strong contender on Hordes of Zombies. It does not attempt to be World Downfall II which is intelligent since outward-in emulation of the past usually produces hollow shells, and a good many classic bands have gone to their graves in disgrace by doing the same thing. Instead, this aims more at the territory scoped by Napalm Death with Fear, Emptiness, Despair: a modern form of grindcore that is musical and listenable without being commercial, and aims less at creating an atmosphere of terror and misery than creating motivational, energetic and yet literalist/realist music. These songs convey a desire to look at a dangerous situation with hopeless odds, then jump in and fight it out. It’s war music, but music of a normalized war, like going out into a declining civilization and fighting for mundane survival. Hordes of Zombies does this through a somewhat overused metal metaphor, that of the zombie takeover of society, but as a movie/musical trope this theme has remained consistent since the 1960s because it so aptly describes egalitarian society. Consumerism, mass trends, fads, panics, elections, Black Friday sales, save-the-children; it’s all in there. Terrorizer may be brilliant satirists for transforming all of that mass neurosis into a simple symbol and then making these engaging songs about it. Each piece uses a combination of rhythmic and slight melodic hook to lure us in, then pits grinding riffs against one another while fitting them into bounding rhythms that unleash an inner fury in their conflict between the fear and the mundane. The result is a stream of ferocious riffs in songs that hold together as songs in the Terrorizer tradition, creating an experience of immersion in conflict that is both justified and everyday. For a genre such as grindcore, this more stable form is preferable to re-living the past or trying to “innovate” by including outside elements. As a result, Hordes of Zombies is not only a great listening experience but an archetype others will follow.
  • Thevetat – Disease to DivideOne of the more interesting entries comes from ex-Ceremonium musician Thomas Pioli who has assembled a new team to make music that sounds like early NYDM mixed with the melodic undertones of heavy but intriguing bands like Montrosity, Malevolent Creation and Gorguts. The result hits hard with a rushing wall of chords and then drops into socketed rhythms that invoke a change in riffs, causing a twisted inner torment to emerge in Protean form. This gives old school death metal a new life without giving it a new form, since the form is the result of the content, which is essentially unchanged but slightly updated since 1992. No concessions to “modernization” (a/k/a mixing death metal with rock, jazz, metalcore, disco, punk, etc.) occur here, which allows this music to be in touch with its own spirit and flow freely from the source of its own inspiration. It is thunderous and yet perceptive, bringing with it the spirit of doom metal and its introspective melancholy. Although a three-song EP, this release beats out most albums released this year for pure death metal intensity.
  • Timeghoul – 1992-1994Metal developed its own sense of “progressive” and “technical” music long before it imported jazz-fusion in order to help it. In fact, part of metal’s birth was from the original progressive rock in the 1970s and the soundtracks of horror movies, which gave it a predilection for this direction. “Progressive” itself is a misnomer since nothing new gets discovered in music, but probably more accurately means “complex”: music with unconventional song structures, extensive use of harmony, melody and key; possibly linked to some kind of story outside the music itself and the usual topics (love, sex, drama) of pop songs. These songs craft winding riffs and intricate structures, using embedded melody to transition between more chromatic riffs, and culminate in odd twists of fate that translate them into seemingly the reverse of their initial outlook. Culminating in the epic 10-minute “Occurrence on Mimas,” this collection of early works by this band showcase the enjoyably weird variety of death metal in its early days.
  • War Master – Pyramid of the NecropolisThis modern band attempts to revive the death metal style, starting with the deathgrind of its namesake Bolt Thrower and incorporating influences from many of the bands of the era, and succeeds by staying true to its own enjoyment. As a result, it’s working in a style, and not from a template; the band want to create old school death metal, but aren’t doing it by imitating songs or styles, but by writing in that style based on similar inspirations. As a result, this band has its own voice despite being very familiar in technique, and has chosen its own path for subject matter and thus the arrangement of many of these songs and the types of riffs used. Its aesthetic mixes the grinding mid-tempo riffs and repetitive choruses of grindcore with the circuitous riffing of death metal and its tendency to unveil changes in layers of rhythm, guitar and vocals. While the style shows the influences of later death metal, its sensibility is firmly grounded in the early years, which makes this a great old-school death metal experience. However, its most salient factor is that it’s also interesting music. Songs are formed around their topic, with riffs and structure contorting to resemble the object, and riffcraft shows learning from the past but creation of its own new forms. Guttural vocals which maintain an ascetic detachment from the emotional content of the music help to give Pyramid of the Necropolis the ultimate death metal point of view, which is as a dispassionate observer amongs the ruins detailing the conflict that created this mess, and must endure after its collapse.

Disappointments of 2012

Abigor – Quintessence

Apparently this is new and old material. The shift between the new and old is like jumping out of a sauna into the snow. The newer material shapes itself to an expectation, much like the newer Swedishy bands in the style of Watain, that combines melodic punk with raw and random riffing in catchy rhythms. The result is like a painting made of painted dog turds, in that from a distance it is appealing, but as you get closer its mundane nature is revealed. Abigor have always suffered from being too quick-thinking and inventive for their own good, because they can always throw together a bunch of quality riffs and make most people think a song happened, but here that model breaks down. The songs feel more like slide-shows than organic wholes. The older material is good however.

Absurd – Asgardsrei

This remaster of the 1998 album was in theory supposed to improve sound quality. Had they simply done that, this would have been a shining victory. Instead, it has been standardized. The drums have been pumped up to emphasize rhythm, and the guitars doubled and bass-maximized, with vocals shrouded in reverb. Alone that removes much of the distinctive sound, but attempts have also been made to lower the volume on elements that are not orthodox black metal-cum-oi that Absurd makes now. The result is a loss of detail and an emphasis on the simpler parts of each riff, not the interesting interplay of riffs. They’ve made this album sound more like their remakes of earlier material and by pandering to one audience, lost a lot of what made Absurd interesting.

Acephalix – Deathless Master

A highly-praised release, this album purports to combine Swedish death metal and crustcore. What it ends up with is neither, but a mishmash of riffs around a rollicking beat, changing entirely at random. You hear a little bit of old Entombed, some Dismember, and a lot of filler riffing that really goes nowhere. For about three songs, it’s pleasant listening because you can tap your toes to it and it reminds you of Left Hand Path. Then you realize the songs never went anywhere. They’re like wallpaper. And to the horror of any crust fan, this is built on the bouncy beats and song structures of pop-punk. It’s closer to Blink 182 than Entombed or Amebix.

Aura Noir – Out to Die

Once upon a time, I referred to Aura Noir as a black metal Britney Spears because their music is pop dressed up as black metal. However, it’s normally fun pop with high energy and catchy riffs, even if in verse-chorus structures so repetitive that you have to background it. But with this album, they go into the boring zone. This is almost like a drone with a horse galloping in the background to keep up energy. And yet, like the lady that doth protest too much, the more “energy” you need to inject, the less the music is actually compelling. And on that level, this album is basically the same speed metal/Motorhead style riffs that bands were rehashing back in the 1980s, but now revived in an even more exhausted form.

Coffin Texts – The Tomb of Infinite Ritual

The people behind this band are good, and their intentions are good. The result of their efforts however is bog-standard death metal, not so because it imitates anything else, but because it is unreflective of any purpose outside being death metal. It’s predictable in the sense that nothing is surprising, and yet, it doesn’t really gesture at anything more than being death metal itself. I hope these guys stop trying to be whatever they think they should be, and find whatever they actually enjoy instead. Best yardstick for your music: what you enjoy and would listen to on your own, even if you knew no one in the band.

Graf Spee – Reincarnation

Some things should stay in the 1980s. This is prescient in that it emphasizes the kind of bouncy riffing that fits on the spectrum from Anthrax to Meshuggah and onward to metalcore, but it’s disorganized, inconsistent with the vocals, and feels more like a pile of spare parts than a smoothly running engine.

Hellevetron – Death Scroll of Seven Hells and Its Infernal Majesty

2012 was the year everyone rediscovered Onward to Golgotha. I agree, it’s a killer album. There’s nothing wrong with Hellvetron, who seem like competent musicians, but this album attempts to imitate the outward form of Onward to Golgotha without grasping the underlying tension in the music that makes it work. As a result, Hellvetron impose current song structures (loops) and standards onto the aesthetic of the past, which makes for a decent listen until it becomes apparent that it’s not really about anything except itself.

Impiety – Ravage and Conquer

It’s hard not to enjoy this album, which is like a hybrid between Angelcorpse and Mortem with a squidge more melody. However, it is highly repetitive because it doesn’t go much beyond that concept. Like Krisiun before it, the concept is full speed ahead skull-crushing aesthetic, and this is so powerful it squeezes out most artistic content. This leaves you with some creative riffs, some talented use of tempo, but nothing that holds together long enough to listen to for a decade.

Inverloch – Dusk | Subside

These ex-Disembowelment musicians have a bit of a cult formed around themselves. Part of the reason is that unlike almost every other band before black metal, they knew how to write melodic music, which they do here as well, in something that resembles a cross between death-doom like Asphyx and melodic doom like Candlemass or Paradise Lost. Crashing riffs coexist with gentle melodic fills and overlays that create a dense atmosphere of nocturnal wonder. However, beyond that, the direction seems confused, which is appropriate for a re-entry EP but excludes it from this year’s best of.

Mantas – Death by Metal

Before the first Death album, Chuck Schuldiner tried out his riffcraft in Mantas, named in tribute (by educated guess) to Venom. There’s a reason these sort of re-releases are confined to collectors, and that is that these demos show a young band trying to get the order of riffs in its songs correct and at the same time develop an image, sound and voice. The result is great, if you like listening to parts of the same six songs 18 times each. A true-blue die-hard ultra-kvlt collector will put this on the stereo next to “Scream Bloody Gore” and “Spiritual Healing” and start working out each riff until he’s sure how everything works. Then again, with the hindsight of nearly thirty years, we know exactly how it should turn out, which means that for the rest of us, this will sit on the shelf in perpetuity except as a conversation piece.

Maveth – Coils of the Black Elite

This album reminds me of middle period Immolation, in which creative riffing often fell into very similar rhythms and as such, the songs sort of became a continuum which resembled pulled taffy: cut off a length of Immolation, let’s listen to that. Oh look, sliced Immolation! It’s the same way here. Maveth has very creating riffing with excellent right-hand control, but the songs themselves are a muddle because the riffs are the direction and as such, there’s not really a way to put the riffs together that makes sense, so the band converges on a mean and drops into very similar trudge rhythms to make the songs catchy. At first listen, especially the first three tracks, promise is everywhere; by track five, it’s clear that circularity has occurred.

Purtenance – Sacrifice the King

This EP suffers from a primary flaw, which is disorganization. It’s not random, but it’s what happens when you decide to make death metal and so treat that as a container, and then “write to fill” and twist the riffs into place so they work with each other. It’s not about anything, and thus is “random” in the sense that it could mean anything. As a musical experience, it mostly conveys a sense of disorganization and frustration. The best bands mold that sort of raw emotion into something which rises above the confusion and achieves clarity. If not beauty, truth, goodness, etc. at least something that is desired more than it is hated, and so inspires them, even if that goal is hatred itself.

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Death Metal

Death metal uses tremolo strummed power chords in phrasal riffs, creating an internal dialogue of melody to project a narrative which takes us from a starting point through internal conflict to an ending radically removed from the start. This often complex music relies heavily on chromatic scales and solos that resemble sonic sculpture more than a reliance on scales or harmony, and use “modal stripes” or repeated interval patterns (such as a half interval followed by a whole) to maintain a mood. Inherently structuralist, death metal can be recognized by its “post-human” perspective, seeing the world through biology, history, warfare and mythology instead of the “I/me/mine” viewpoint of a modern society.

House recommendations: Morbid Angel, Slayer, Monstrosity, Cryptopsy, Suffocation, Therion and Vader.

BEST EVER

1. Massacra – Final Holocaust
2. Deicide – Legion
3. Morbid Angel – Blessed Are the Sick
4. Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
5. Sepultura – Morbid Visions
6. Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
7. Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
8. Necrophobic – The Nocturnal Silence
9. Obituary – Cause of Death
10. Suffocation – Effigy of the Forgotten
11. Atheist – Unquestionable Presence
12. Dismember – Like an Ever-Flowing Stream
13. Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
14. At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
15. Demilich – Nespithe
16. Asphyx – The Rack

COMPILATIONS

Projections of a Stained Mind (C.B.R. Records)
Harmony Dies Vol. 1 (Slayer Magazine)
Pantalgia (MBR Records)
Live Death: Vol 1 (Restless)
Sampler Volume I (JL America)
Deterioration of the Senses (Morbid Metal)
Book I: Induction (Hits Underground)

Reviews have mp3 sound samples for each album, coverscan, tracklist and label contact information.

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Thoughts of a Metal Hipster

If you don’t like CYNIC, you’re homophobic.

If you don’t like ARCH ENEMY, you’re misogynistic.

If you don’t like GOJIRA, you’re racist.

If you don’t like NILE, you’re Anti-Semitic.

If you don’t like SUFFOCATION, you’re classist.

If you don’t like LAMB OF GOD, you’re religiously intolerant.

If you don’t like CAVALERA CONSPIRACY, you’re elitist.

If you don’t like CRADLE OF FILTH, you’re closed-minded.

If you don’t like OPETH, you’re not intellectual.

If you don’t like MESHUGGAH, you’re not one of the good guitarists.

If you don’t like DEVIN TOWNSEND, you’re arbitrary.

If you don’t like JIMI HENDRIX, you’re uncultured.

If you don’t like SIX FEET UNDER, you’re not in touch with the common man.

If you don’t like BORIS, you’re unimaginative.

If you don’t like JESU, you’re insensitive.

If you don’t like ANIMALS AS LEADERS, you’re unintelligent.

If you don’t like MASTODON, you’re unartistic.

If you don’t like BARONESS, you’re uptight.

If you don’t like THE SWORD, you’re celibate.

If you don’t like WOLVES IN THE THRONE ROOM, you’re just no fun.

If you don’t like ULVER, you’re uneducated.

If you don’t like ISIS, you’re illiterate.

If you don’t like BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, you’re shortsighted.

If you don’t like KVERTELAK, you’re antiquated.

If you don’t like SUNN O))), you’re obsolete.

If you don’t like AGALLOCH, you’re one-dimensional.

People like you who sit around listening to classics like DEMILICH, INCANTATION, MASSACRA, OBITUARY, INFESTER, DEMIGOD, IMMOLATION, ATHEIST, THERION, HELLHAMMER, BATHORY, SLAYER, DISCHARGE, AMEBIX, DARKTHRONE, BURZUM, EMPEROR, IMMORTAL, ENSLAVED, GORGOROTH, RIGOR MORTIS, MAYHEM, MERCILESS, BOLT THROWER, SUFFOCATION, NIHILIST, CARNAGE, AT THE GATES, SKEPTICISM, WINTER, DISEMBOWELMENT, MORBID ANGEL, POSSESSED, NECROVORE, MASSACRE, GROTESQUE, DISSECTION, ILDJARN, BLOOD, MASTER, CIANIDE, BAPHOMET, BEHERIT, SUMMONING, BELIAL, DBC, COC, DRI, FEARLESS IRANIANS FROM HELL, DEAD HORSE, LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN, MALEVOLENT CREATION, GEHENNA, FRANZ SCHUBERT, ANGEL WITCH, JUDAS PRIEST, IRON MAIDEN, BLITZKRIEG, WITCHFINDER GENERAL, EXODUS, NUCLEAR ASSAULT, ASSASSIN, CORONER, SAMAEL, FALLEN CHRIST, ANTON BRUCKNER, OBLIVEON, GORGUTS, SUPURATION, LOUDBLAST, KONG, WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART, NUNSLAUGHTER, NUM SKULL, SEPULTURA, SARCOFAGO, MOTORHEAD, PRONG, ROBERT SCHUMANN, IMPRECATION, BLASPHEMY, NUCLEAR DEATH, MOLESTED and UNLEASHED are just bitter, old, gray, ugly, failed, burnt-out, dumb, uneducated, trailer-dwelling, smelly, unsociable people that no one really likes and no one will have sex with, so you’ll die alone in the stench of your own waste.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Fargo of July

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