For any career metalhead, it’s impossible to hear the name War Master without thinking of the classic Bolt Thrower album of the same name. Like that album, this demo is primitive and powerful grinding material; unlike the Bolt Thrower album, this material is less grindcore than old school death metal that grinds, and if you listen long enough, you can hear other classic death metal influences creeping in.
War Master takes the patterns of later Bolt Thrower, like For Victory… and IVth Crusade, and renders them in the simpler, messier and more rhythmic style of the first two Bolt Thrower releases. With three riffs per song on average, this music moves like a fighter and the riffs complement each other to make sense as a whole, which is the science of death metal. It borrows the best grind from Bolt Thrower and re-shapes it into metal songs like early Deicide or Morgoth.
Vocals are also more distinctively from a newer genre, influenced clearly by classic death metal as well as the newer *core styles, but they imitate the rhythms of old school Bolt Thrower. It’s gratifying and powerful, but these three songs give us only a glimpse. If War Master further develop their own style in which Bolt Thrower is an influence, and not the largest chunk of their template, their talent for creating rhythmically compelling music will take them far.
In a recent blog post, Celtic Frost vocalist/guitarist Tom G. Warrior has publicly disowned BMG’s upcoming double CD reissues of his band’s best output, Morbid Tales and To Mega Therion, and the more pandering and spotty Into the Pandemoniumand Vanity / Nemesis. The embarrassing Cold Lake was omitted at Warrior’s request. While initially on board with the reissues and involved with the creative process, Tom Warrior has abandoned ship because the commercial mega-label BMG refused to print his linear notes as he intended. This blatant censorship was a means of preserving the integrity of the Noise Records liquid assets purchased by the label but had inadvertently overwhelmed the Cold Laker with a plethora of painful flashbacks of the corporate influence that plagued Celtic Frost throughout its existence.
The title probably needs a few instances of “again” sprinkled throughout, but whatever. Metal Blade is presumably in the very early stages of putting out new vinyl presses of early Slayer recordings, as evidenced by their decision to announce this through one of our competitors. This rerelease focuses on Slayer’s earliest releases – their first two studio albums, as well as the Live Undead and Haunting the Chapel EPs. Like many of these vinyl reprints, it seems to be fairly limited in scale – only about 1200-1500 of each album is going to be pressed, and any collector who misses these is going to have to wait for a new pressing or content themselves with one of the many older versions. The actual musical content of these records is worth your time, anyways, which is something you can’t say about every record released.
Blake Dodge, a student at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, did something many students do: write what your professors and peers like to hear about, but give it a new emotional spin. It is a good way to gain favor with the people above you and possibly get their recommendations and other favors students need in the future.
I have the utmost empathy for my male peers. But for every “pretty and smart” comment I get (and for the ones that aren’t even that flattering), for every patronizing inflection and for every inadvertent power grab at my expense, you add a grain of sand to the increasingly heavy load we women carry. You perpetuate sexism in environments where it absolutely cannot belong.
Astute observers will note that we have only her word that these incidents occurred, and they fit very nicely into her thesis. Considering that she spent the first half of the article talking about how unattractive she is, it makes sense to discard at least half of the article. But her message resounds, because her professors and administrators will nod and smile knowingly, thinking how brave she is and how profound and altruistic they all look for standing up for the little guy… er, woman. She is kissing ass in the oldest way possible, which is preaching from an angle of victimhood because none can oppose her or they will be accused of being in league with the victimizer.
Inquisitor: This woman is a witch!
Citizen: There is no evidence of that.
Inquisitor: Oh, so you are a friend of witches? That is the only reason you could oppose this trial.
Citizen: No, I stand up for the freedom of all to —
Inquisitor: — be witches. You are in league with the Devil! To the ducking pond, immediately.
Blake Dodge thinks she is just sucking up to some powerful people in her life so she can get on to the next stage, perhaps an internship or law school. She has pressed all the right buttons, made all the appropriate noises, and has an instant group of champions among those who are professionally miserable. But her real message shines through clearly: I am victim, how dare you not be victim, and especially how dare you be male. These comments are innocuous. Her toxic, passive-aggressive response is far from it.
The slow evolution of Western society (and in consequence of the whole world) into the post-modern paradigm arising inevitably from the purely mechanistic cosmovision of the Enlightment sciences, which in the best of cases allow for a Cartesian separation of the physical and the spiritual, pervade every corner touched by the status quo culture. This results in a relegating of anything which cannot be explained or described in purely mathematical terms to what is referred to as ‘subjective’. Anything that is experienced but cannot (yet) be explained is assumed to be subjective. There would be a certain justice to this if the phenomena that are still unaccounted for by science were squarely placed in a category under a truthful label by the establishment confessing: “We don’t know how to explain this in our terms, but that does not mean it is any less real or without possible objective basis.” What takes place is an arbitrary classification of these into morally-justified beliefs when they are in line with the status quo and into so-called subjective experiences when they are not.
The views held by society must be enforced in every discipline precisely because they are the result of dogma and not actual science (a word unfortunately hijacked by a corrupt establishment lead by weak minds elevated to positions of prestige and power by other weak minds). It follows that dogmatic belief cannot be challenged at any level since any divergence spells out potential intellectual catastrophes and conflicts that are not guaranteed to be won by the powers that be. As a result, not only does education suffer in the form of indoctrination but so do the supposed heroes of objective knowledge that the sciences are said to be comprised of turn into the priests of the temple to whatever the hive believes. It is only to be expected, then, that the humanities and the arts are the most easily and selectively suppressed, limited or made irrelevant, since the processes and phenomena studied by them are even further away from the grasp of mathematical explanations.
In the Western classical music tradition, the tenets of the Common Practice Period have been put into question for a very long time in progressively derisive waves. Very often, revolutionary thinkers that spearheaded such contrarian views had transcendent and elaborate reasons that motivated and justified their moving-beyond. But the hordes of followers understood only a portion of this, often inclined towards its most easily understood materialist explanation. In the case of Beethoven, followers of his defiance of what was expected of music were shielded from degeneration by the very fact that the then contemporary German culture was a very spiritual one, and its artists still acknowledged the magic behind music — occult properties and processes that can only be perceived but not fully explained. Contrastingly, in the age of Anton Webern, his decision based on artistic principle to move away from traditional harmony to work with a self-defined and logical set of rules that he would use without falling into an empty materialism was taken up as fashion — the next “big thing” in classical music development. This directly reflected the way Western society saw the world around it at the beginning of the 20th century: as its playground, where anything “I like” goes and the capricious human will is allowed to do whatever it wants because we are the nihilist masters of the natural world. Gone was the romantic respect of nature and its view of humans as part of it. We must ask ourselves what dissolved the old German mysticism? The simple answer is that they, too, had to change, even if slowly and reluctantly, in order to not be destroyed in a world dominated by French Enlightment and overarching Russian influences — both with primarily materialist tendencies.
Music theory is one such set of occult properties. Yet it is only occult (hidden but observable) because there is no theory developed for the relation between arranged sound frequencies and mental states, especially at increased levels of complexity. Contrary to what scientifically-ignorant artists think, this is neither impossible nor irrational, just difficult. Contrary to the beliefs of Blank Slate – indoctrinated scientists, the study of innate human nature can yield explanations as to why, as a species, certain tastes, visual and sound arrangements and textures have certain effects on the mind (itself rooted in chemical states of the brain). The reason why both groups tend to back away from such ideas is not rooted in reason, but in the fear of not being acknowledged for who they are, which for them translates into what they want, like or prefer to believe to feel validated. In other words, reality is shunned in order to give way to a truth built on the necessities of feable human egos. The ramifications are manifold and most are out of the scope of this article.
Out of the accusations levelled against Common Practice Period theory, one of the most common and often accepted is that it somehow limits the imagination of artists. Presumably, this is because its rules define a perimeter around permissible options in a finite-state machine, thereby prohibiting the random allocation of space and time to music tones selected purely out of gut feeling. And that precisely is one of the defining factors of the post-modern vision of art. At this point, it may seem like I am contradicting my previous statements regarding the possibility of harmony rules being developed and justified on the basis of human nature. If they are, then an artist following only his gut feeling should arrive to at least similar results. First, that these rules are based on human nature does not mean they are free of the constraints of their historical context, including not only cultural implications but also material possibilities for the construction of certain instruments with particular timbres. Second, the rules were developed through collective observations and philosophies over hundreds of years by many different people building on top and beside one another– in the same way that mathematics and modern science were gestated.
While older attitudes were nature-oriented, and tried to keep their understanding of human nature in line with what was then understood of the natural world, the Enlightment sees a rupture between them as a necessary effect of placing human beings over nature as overlords to do as they please with it– thereby setting them beyond judgement within it. It was an ideology-based decision, not a scientific one. As a result, there are those, especially among the post-modernist classical artists, that are not guided by a free search for musical perfection, but by contrarian and politically-charged statements that can only be described as the ultimate incarnation of a hipster’s dreamworld.
The comparison to mathematics is in dire need of further elaboration as it contains the potential to elucidate much about what musical theory is and what it is not. We may start by stating that they are both tools and means to an end. Admiring the organization and arrangement of a music passage on grounds of technique is akin to feeling a sense of wonder when shown a beautifully and clearly derived mathematical formula. But neither of them by themselves attest to the accuracy of the connection of these to reality itself. Both musical and mathematical theory are dependent on premises — they are both arguments developed from a set of assumptions which may reflect conditions and events in the real the world.
Common Practice Period theory arose from organizing tones in the spectrum of perfect consonance to most extreme dissonance as perceived by human beings. Not one human being arbitrarily writing up rules, but scores of audiences reacting to the works of many different composers through lifetimes. Each composer taking notes on the triumphs and blunders of those that came before them and adding their own ideas. It was a veritable scientific effort of occult nature. The fact that the notes were taken not from one society at one point but by the cumulative effort many through many generations also somewhat lends to the tradition a tendency towards the transcendental. Of course, this is completely dependent on a healthy balance between acknowledgement of tradition (whatever that tradition is for the artist) and a continuation of its ideals with a progressive intent.
To round off the metaphor of mathematics, we should stress that no development invalidates or properly subordinates older techniques to newer ones. This fallacy is so pervasive that it is common to hear people referring to the use of newer techniques in themselves as a sign of superior expression. This is related to the malady that is born from the cult of novelty. In truth, when it comes to mathematics, if one person solves a problem using simple algebra yet another fails using calculus, it is obvious that the simple use of a more sophisticated technique is not in itself superior. It may be true that in art and music we do not have the luxury of calling something right and wrong, but the comparison is done in parallel and not on the same plane as mathematics. This is the same as when Newton developed Calculus, he did not ditch arithmetic and algebra developed hundreds of years before he was born, but used them to build this tool that would allow him to develop theories concerning abstract models of the physical world.
Nobody is saying there is a right and wrong dichotomy in music. In fact, this is where it is necessary to part from the analogy. Music is much more comprehensive and complex than mathematics (which only has a cumulative complexity, not a multi-dimensional one). Mathematics is comparable to music theory, the tool, and not to music. Music is the resulting idea crystallized, probably through the use of music theory techniques, the same ways physics derive explanations of the universe by using different techniques from mathematics. By its occult nature, music’s domain being states of mind and evocation, what we do have in music is degrees of esoteric communication through sensory perception. It is a communication at many levels rather than only at the level of reason and goes beyond it and to our instincts and learned behaviors which as a total reflect a unique vision from a unique individual. “Personal taste” advocates need not get too excited as the variation can only be as wide as human minds allow — which scientific research shows is not as much as we like to think. Variation is wide with respect to how we see ourselves, but not that wide when we see the whole spectrum of possibilities. And as an occult discipline guessing at phenomena of the universe (and our mind in it) that we do not understand, music is more liable to wander off more than mathematics in its search for perfection.
Music as the manifestation of experience, as a gateway to purposely changing states of the mind in humans, is something that stands at odds with the idea of absolute music, for which music aesthetics themselves are the goal. This materialist vision based on the fact that current (this is a 19th century idea) scientific limitation of not yet having a mathematical model outside of aesthetics and certain organization cannot accept or encompass the higher-level processes of creation that reach for proportion, balance, direction and movement in an attempt to communicate. Ironically, it is rather this lack of tradition or significance that results in theory and rules being all there is that produces a much more limiting paradigm. The race of stretching aesthetics could only go so far and an artistic compound devoid of transcendental goals quickly gave up as they broke the boundaries of tonality, declaring music as we know it to be dead. Needless to say, this was as short-sighted as limiting literature to the number of “clever” arrangements of words — precisely the dead end of poetry without meaning, or poetry without form, all products of post-modernism. In any case, the disavowal of all meaning leads to music pursued as a sport, for the excitement that its physical acrobatics produce and not from what it communicates in and beyond its forms.
The other branch of a materialist appreciation of music surfaced more clearly in the freedom afforded by the post-modernist world to idiots to call themselves artists and plague us with moronic musical expressions supporting themes of self-pity communicated only through lyrics. Going further, many artists not only took this liberty but openly rejected any sort of tradition or knowledge as being only an obstacle for their expression. Again, ironically, their rejection of it resulted not in a revealing work transcending the ages, but an extremely simple product that even a child banging on the wall and singing with no thought or experience could produce.
This is not to say that you need theory to create good music. As was explained before, theory is only a tool based on cummulative observations over many lifetimes. We do fine geniuses and other people with an outstanding aptitude for music creation who will find ways to create solid music that is often technically rudimentary but complex in communication.
As with any mathematical techniques or grammar in language, theory augments and sharpens the natural talents of the person. But the catch here is that the artistic intent and vision of the artist is often as important as his natural aptitude towards creation. Whereas a Varg Vikernes consistently tries to find an ever-more ephemeral depuration of the essence of his music against the tides of trends in what is fashionable, a Luc Lemay gets lured in by what is chick, his talents wasted on kitsch. Granting a directed vision of music in a clear direction rather than with vague adjectives to justify fashionable aesthetics, the person with average talents can, with appropriate training and dedication, become a Franz Berwald, while the talented may reach the heights of Johannes Brahms.
The importance of following a transcendental route versus a materialist one are exemplified in two products of the 20th century. One followed the mechanistic descriptions of music to the point of absurdity and was hailed as a genius by the hipsters crowding the halls of academia. These were the many frauds of John Cage. Intellectually interesting experiments devoid of the basic dimensions of music: melody, rhythm and harmony. Contrasting the first comes a work that attempts to communicate a sense of wonder in nature without the vulgarity of dissoluting music proper for recordings of nature or other cheap tricks of post-modernism. This is the Fourth Symphony of the romantic Jean Sibelius, reviled by academic theorists and critics looking forward to the mechanistic augmentations of aesthetics and possible transformations rather than for the actual content of music. This was music for the music fan, not the ironic intellectual.
UNITED STATES – JANUARY 01: Photo of SLAYER (Photo by Ebet Roberts/Redferns)
Some people find it odd that Slayer attracts such fanatical devotion from its fans, even 27 years after the last album most people consider classic from the band, South of Heaven. The answer for me is that Slayer stands for something: not just what metal should always be — unsociable, powerful, intense and pushing beyond all boundaries — but what metal should do, which is tell the truth in a realistic but mythological way. Almost all people fear truth and spend most of their time distracting us from it. Slayer turns it into a battleground which inspires the listener to want to get in there and fight it out.
I rank Slayer up there with other heroes like William S. Burroughs, early James Joyce, Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Fred Nietzsche, Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Michel Houellebecq, Plato, Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, William Blake and other absolute saviors who brought some clarity to a life that started enmeshed in lies and that had to gradually claw its way toward clarity. These people gave much of their lives so that humanity has a shot at survival. (Note present tense). Like those literary warriors, Slayer took a look at the world of human denial and shattered it, grasping instead the raw currency of nature: power, conflict and predation. Their goal was not solely to become popular, but to do so by telling the truth that people suppress every day.
For those like me who grew up in a time of denial, such an approach was not only refreshing but became clear it was the only approach worth tolerating. Back in those days, what really scared us was the Cold War and the threat of possible if not probable nuclear annihilation. Humanity finally had enough missiles to do itself in, and had wired those to increasingly hair-trigger decisions which would decide the fate of not just us, but the future. 30,000 years of nuclear winter and death by radiation seemed very final. In addition, our society was torn apart, with the Reaganite big hair Christians on one side and the spaced-out, gibberish-spewing 1968 hippies on the other.
Most importantly however Slayer was what everyone always felt heavy metal should become. Heavy metal is music that rejects social pleasantries for a study of power itself, including the awesome power of nature manifested in death, disease, predation and violence. Slayer sounds like mechanized warfare with the patterns of a summer hurricane. They threw out all the rules and started making heavy metal like punks, with no reliance on traditional song structures, and expanded its vocabulary infinitely. On top of that, Slayer never backed down from being the ultimate hard line of reality. When people started talking about Jesus or how peace would save us (maaaaan), Slayer was the antidote. It drowned out the insanity and replaced it with cold, hard reality.
Walking through the years of classic Slayer:
Show No Mercy corrected the previous fifteen years of metal by summarizing it and turning it up to 11. Using the techniques of hardcore punk and a Wagnerian sense of riff structure, this album took heavy metal from the looping song structures of the late 1970s back to the experimental, prog-style outlook of Black Sabbath. This reduced the rock influence, and brought primacy back to the riff from where it had been languishing with the voice in glam and later NWOBHM. The term “heavy metal” means two things: the genre as a whole, and the sub-genre of music which is still roughly blues influenced (itself passing down the English and Germanic popular music in a form the music industry invented to sell more records). While still the second type of heavy metal, this album showed Slayer developing the techniques that they would later use to — along with Hellhammer, Sodom and Bathory — invent death metal from the ashes of speed metal which died as soon as it was born.
Haunting the Chapel was the weird little EP that came along with the other Slayer albums I bought when I could find them. I put it on and heard “Chemical Warfare” and thought, this sounds exactly like society and why I hate it: the pain of tedium, the sure destination in collapse and self-destruction, the ignorant removal of nature, and the misery of all trapped within it. Other heavy metal tried to be apocalyptic, but this song showed an actual destruction of humanity by our own hand, which was and still is the most likely scenario. Like “War Pigs,” it contrasted a mythology of demons and wizards with the motivations of people in real life, which were every bit as good/evil as the epics of Tolkien. As a high school kid, I was thankful some adult finally told me the truth about something — and it was Slayer!
Although this was a live in studio album designed to promote the band, it has many beauties. It is the ultimate 4 AM after a profound night waiting for the sunrise music. A friend of mine refers to it as his “day drinking” album, but I have never heard a more ridiculous term than day drinking. Alcoholism knows no clock.
Back in high school, some friends of mine and I would cut class and sneak off to the woods to smoke cigarettes and talk about metal. We used to refer to Hell Awaits as LLEH STIAWA to disguise our communication from authority figures, when passing notes in class. This was where Slayer really began, for me. They refined the aesthetics on the first album and changed song structure from the rock/blues/folk origins to the free-form style of hardcore punk bands, which let the riffs take over and guide the development of the song, a compositional technique which is the basis of death metal. Ornette Coleman, who recently died, once said, “I think one day music will be a lot freer. Then the pattern for a tune, for instance, will be forgotten and the tune itself will be the pattern, and won’t have to be forced into conventional patterns.” Slayer was the first pattern-oriented heavy metal band and discovered what free jazz tuned into, but took it to the next level. Thinking about the difference between this album and the first Slayer album started my career as a music writer (such as it is).
I started out as a hardcore kid, cranking more Amebix, DRI, Cro-Mags and the Exploited than heavy metal. All of that changed when I discovered Slayer. Reign in Blood showed me hardcore taken to its logical conclusions: a society ridden by a deep spiritual disease, corrupted and scapegoating as it spirals toward collapse. Facing the emptiness and literality of reality is our only hope, but even that requires a mythos of some form. Not only was Reign in Blood written on the most hardcore topics ever, except put through the mythological filter of metal, but it was written like hardcore if the bands decided to be good at their instruments and compose epic opera-style clashes between good and evil instead of Songs To Hate The Man From Your Squat. Sandwiched between two epic tracks that called to mind the intensity of black metal that came later, this album roars through atonal masterpieces of pure rhythm and structure, using the power of the musical phrase to create metaphorical associations in the mind of the listener. Some bands sing about things; Slayer made music that sounded like those things, come to life as demonic meth-driven zombies created by humans and now returned to destroy them. This album took that sound to the furthest extreme, and nothing since has topped it.
This album first made me fall in love with Slayer. I was blown away by the other material, but here Slayer added a layer of dark poetic sensation like they had on the bookend tracks on the previous album, but they let the whole album carry that vibe. The result is the first really nocturnal album in metal: a meditation on nothingness, a howl of the Steppenwolf, from within a lonely darkness where to avoid the lies is to see the truth that puts the individual on a collision course with society. When your civilization denies reality, your own choice — if you have what my old gym coach called “intestinal fortitude” a.k.a. “the guts” to do so — is to oppose the fantasy with hardcore reality, but like a good heavy metal band to make it epic by turning it into a mythology of itself. South of Heaven did that in an inventive album which sounded like night raids on a dying world. Poetic, dark, apocalyptic and yet it makes you want to strive. Healing and motivational.
I remember Slayer being in Thrasher magazine as a big event this year. At that time, music was still divided between the big labels and the type of music they would promote, which were the big decade-long trends that were sort of like genres, except they were musically very much the same as everything else. Mainstream magazines simply did not mention Slayer and barely would cover Metallica because they disliked the threat to their power. You could find Slayer in the record stores, which were either mainstream like Sound Warehouse or independents that barely made it by, and maybe in zines but otherwise the media kept mum on this new threat, just like they did at first with hardcore punk (as opposed to punk rock). I think I saw Slayer several times over this year and the past, and almost died on a few occasions but that failed to diminish my enthusiasm.
I remember Seasons in the Abyss coming to record stores on the same day as Megadeth Rust in Piece, and sneaking out of school every period to go to the local Sound Warehouse to see if they had it on the shelves yet. Finally an employee pointed me to a cart with new albums not yet stocked, and I saw my prizes and seized them, paid (and was carded — these were the PMRC days! — also the days of low-cost “novelty” Missouri DLs) and got out of dodge. This was where Slayer and I began to part ways, because Slayer actually headed back toward rock music on this: the vocals led the songs, they were more verse/chorus, and the focus was on harmony rather than clashing riff patterns. Much of this material continued where South of Heaven left off but added the more powerful vocals and the confining necessity of certain basic harmonies that always shifts songs back toward the sound of three-chord rock. While the transition never completely occurred, the sensation remained. Still some great material on this LP however.
Finally, Slayer hit some big time and what did it was computers. In the late 1980s, the Macintosh made desktop publishing very easy because it had a built-in graphical interface. More zines started popping up, and the big music magazines felt the heat. I first heard the term “niche genre” at this point, and realized the new strategy was to sell something different to everyone at all times, kind of like postmodernism is an attempt to see any object from all angles. Although Decade of Aggression includes the slower and more emotional Seasons in the Abyss songs, it was a great time for Slayer to release a live album using the production values and performance standards of Reign in Blood on their older material as well. They decided to have very clear production for this live album, and to pan the guitars to opposite extremes so wannabe shredders could tab all the stuff out at home. The result is one of my favorite albums to listen to for outdoor activity and other trying times. I have probably fixed 100,000 machines to this album and, where I can enjoy the Seasons in the Abyss material, it is on this two-CD set.
Slayer: One of the few people who gave me a vision of reality and yet added to it a layer of inspiration in metaphor. You lived ten lifetimes in the one you endured here, like all greats. Slayer also brought heavy metal back to the table after it wimped out and then took a false step with speed metal, which while great in its own right, was not far enough from the herd to gain its own voice and quickly got assimilated (1992). Slayer lived on by birthing much of the underground metal to follow, and being an influence on virtually all of it. As long as I live, you will not be forgotten, and then others will carry on the magic of what you did…
Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.
Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.
Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.
With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.
This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.
Hail of Bullets formed when Martin van Drunen joined ex-Thanatos, Gorefest and Asphyx personnel to make a modern metal project with the intensity of old school death metal. Drawing heavily from related act Houwitser, the band specialized in pounding chorus-emphatic songs that used the simpler song structures of grindcore to accentuate the abrasive riffing of old school death metal applied with a modern metal sense of rhythm and production.
The band launched their third effort in 2013 with III: The Rommel Chronicles. This album more closely resembles late hardcore bands like Terror than death metal. The bouncy nature of the riffs and rhythms along with the metalcore-esque melodies present to us a more fun and friendly flavor of death metal in complete contrast to the death metal lexicon.
Reading the lyrics makes one feel as if they focused entirely on the lyrical aspect and assembled songs as a vehicle for those lyrics. Emphasis on riffs declines with the need to present vocals foremost. Slower riffs sound like they drifted over from a Whitechapel song. Martin van Drunen’s vocals sound as vicious as ever but that does not save the underlying problem: a lack of emphasis on riffs and song structure to fit them as has been the hallmark of quality death metal since its inception.
III: The Rommel Chronicles disguises metalcore as grinding death metal like Asphyx at the time of The Rack, creating death metal by style, not spirit. While there is much to like about this all-star lineup and many of its aesthetic choices, the underlying music cannot back up that promise and so the album feels hollow and expedient. Leave the trenches, because nothing is happening.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Most people think socially, which means to approve of everyone and everything. We think critically, which means to look at the music itself. This means there will be hurt feelings, since 99% of everything is mediocre (at best) and 99% of people are delusional. Welcome to elitism. Enjoy the sweet taste of tears… and occasional quality metal.
Satyricon – Nemesis Divina
In a stroke of great luck and management genius, Satyricon bring together the guitar talents of Nocturno Culto (Darkthrone) with a style similar to that of later Enslaved, in which death metal riffing is varied between chords and single notes at a time, producing an acerbic melody crashing into pummeling buffet of aggressive power chording. Riff forests rotate around a handful of themes per song that are swept up into their own maelstrom and through gated flow control dropped into a final lock-on to a summary motif. There is a carnival atmosphere, owing to both the circular
songwriting patterning and use of keyboards to accentuate dominant beats and central tones. While not profound, this release is enjoyable, and in its aesthetic showed what could — with the help of someone as powerful as Nocturno Culto on guitars — be produced from the otherwise confused fecalization in musical form that is Satyricon.
Oceano – Incisions
This is what Earache Records has reduced itself to: signing deafkore. Oceano plays metalcore with death metal “sounds” that are sandwiched between Meshuggah-esque mechanical rhythms in songs that have the soul of Slipknot. This is one dimensional “angry at school and the gub-ment” music that reveals how norming death metal towards encompassing dancehall conventions (breakdowns and “groove” emphasis) was a bad idea. In the end, this limited and fashion oriented genre at it’s “best” sounds like the musical version of Danny DeVito’s classroom during the beginning of Renaissance Man.
Dethklok – Metalocalypse: The Doomstar Requiem A Klok Opera
Irony is a form of social camouflage. That is, it allows you to conceal your social stumbles under a layer of socially-approved insincerity. When you do something stupid, you claim you meant it ironically. If it’s not funny, it’s ironic. It’s basically a giant excuse for failure that makes you still seem like you “meant to do that.” Dethklok has always irritated me with its wimpiness because it can’t own up to what it means to say. The “Klok Opera” is no different; based loosely on Rocky Horror Picture Show and other send-ups of this nature, this rock opera is a parade of cliches taken to stereotypical extremes to be, you know, funny. I imagine it’s more interesting while watching the video, but as music it’s mediocre at best and strikingly empty. There are no themes here that could stand on their own; this wouldn’t make the cut as ordinary music, but seems to survive because there’s comedy attached. If you like Adam Sandler movies, and think that people doing stupid stuff is somehow really funny, you probably have no life and might think this is OK. The oddity is that when the ‘klok decide for a few moments to man up and try to take life as a real experience, as in “Blazing Star” they come up with passable riffs. Nowhere is there evidence that these could be integrated into any kind of song structure, but let’s face it: comedy is a genre of face value statements, not depth, and so this fits and shows how the limits of its creators determined its ultimate form. I’d really like for metal to have a sense of humor, and thus to enjoy this, but I end up feeling like I’ve just encountered another one of the plastic disposable products of modern society that lacks the balls to own up to what it wants to say. So here’s a one-word review: “lame.”
Whitechapel – Whitechapel
Variations on monotonic chugging patterns are all that could be found on this metalcore release that only pretends to be death metal on the outside through “ANGRY” vocals and an “EXTREME” drum performance. The incorporation of Tool-esque “soft” meandering moments suggest a sense of trying to be “deep”, but like all deafkore releases, this is just another marketing point to check off the list to make this product appear more valuable than their other vapidity pandering peers through gimmickry. A lot of these riffs feel like more downtuned renditions of what we already heard in the mid 90s through Fear Factory, Machine Head, and other bands that brought “metal” into the mainstream by downgrading it into a hip-hop image pandering lifestyle product. The melodic underpinnings are just that — underpinnings — to dress up the chugging variations for the sake of making people “mosh” on the “dancefloor” without any of them becoming self-aware and noticing that everything on here is basically the same thing on repeat for about 40 minutes. Pathetic lyrics show a heritage owed more to Korn than anything from the death metal field. All in all, another excuse for Metal Blade to cash in on trends before severing ties when the easy money dries up.
Disgrace – Vol. 2
The “lost” second album by Finnish band Disgrace sees them throw away the non-linear song structures and underground metal aesthetics to embrace what was hinted at on their Grey Misery LP: rock music. Continuing that albums proto “death n’ roll” grooves but within the context of bluesy rock numbers sees Disgrace making reasonable 90s styled “angsty” rock in the vein of Helmet or Monster Magnet, but this music is so passive and “safe” when compared to anything from the metal realm because there’s no artistry to be found here. Just another reason to “have fun” and “rock out”. In doing that, I suppose this music could succeed in a mainstream level if this band had better promotion, but it also reveals a simple method those without ideas use for making interchangeable teeny-bopper stoner music that makes it no wonder why albums like this exist in the first place.
Boris – Präparat
When bands have nothing to say but want to receive attention, they make fashion statements in the form of ironic gestures and imagery. Boris is a band with no identity and nothing to say, so they comment on existing musical forms by playing up to their conventions and giving it an outwardly “ironic” appearance for novelty’s sake, jumping from genre to genre offering nothing worthwhile the entire time. Here they mimic the dream pop stylings of bands like Jesu and throw some repetitive one riff “sludge” tracks in there to appease their hipster “drone” audience. With so many hipster albums already fitting this description, it’s obvious the only reason Boris is ahead of the pack is through their poorly enunciated vocals and “strange” artwork which Starbucks aficionados will perceive as “ironically different”. A worthless artistically void lifestyle product that serves the same function as owning a season of Arrested Development on DVD.
Cancer – Death Shall Rise
Doomed to stumble upon the evolutionary ladder, Cancer released a very poor excuse for a death metal album. Sounding like WASP on a bad day attempting to make itself sound like older Sepultura or Death through a Morrisound production, Cancer create plodding mid-tempo fare that is so lifeless it makes Benediction look like Dismember by comparison. Block headed riffs are given a “death metal makeover” through the insertion of tremolo picked notes between simple rock chord progressions played on downtuned guitars. If Nuclear Blast tasked Terri Schiavo with creating a Benediction B-sides album, this would be the result.
Animals as Leaders – Weightless
Sounding more like a glitchy video game soundtrack than anything metal, Animals as Leaders make music that is complex on a production and performance level, but very simple in its intent. Underneath melodic shred guitar, jazz noodling, “complex” chord shapes and samples is nothing but rhythmic chugging sounds with a “soft and heavy” nu dynamic that renders all the complexity on the performance front moot since this is very boring and obvious music that sounds like it would function better as stock video game music than a legitimate listening experience. As such, this is the background noise gullible oafs try to pass on to others as “complex, thinking man’s music” but there really is nothing to this aside from functioning as a musical suite where technique is on display, but no artistic vision. With so many releases fitting this bill, this offers nothing more than the gimmick of being a “modern” version of what could be a Shrapnel Records release. Vapid noise for heavily medicated deficients who will soon abandon their “metal” albums for the “mature and contemporary” sounds of A Perfect Circle and The Mars Volta in about 2 weeks. As always, nothing on offer but marketing schtick got the upper hand.
Satyricon – Dark Medieval Times
Temptingly close to the original thrust of passion which made black metal from Scandinavia so popular, Satyricon is everything the original had except the last 5% of “getting it” that entails address of the spirit of the darkness invoked by these bands. Gently harmonizing black metal uses melodic riffing to build a mood and then levels it, going back to its central supposition and basic riff constructions; however, the longer the melodic riffs get, the clearer it is that they have no centering in concept, although they’re clearly central in tone. One has to see Satyr as a tragic figure, being as musically, socially and intellectually competent as his peers, but lacking something that Fenriz and Ihsahn did not, possibly the same void that impelled him to be the one to start the record label that would carry on black metal — including the music of Darkthrone — after its breath of life had died. While there is nothing to disqualify this release, it is the recommendation of this reviewer that the sensible listener avoid it and focus on the great releases instead of this also-ran.
Empyreus – The Burning Path
Better get some penicillin! Proof that black metal is being paraded around by its cliches can be found in the buffoonery known as The Burning Path. Think of this music as [b]lack metal waterboarding, except that it interrogates you until your inner clown is exposed and is used against you… Grim, much like Frankenberry and Count Chocula are “scary” in the cereal industry, Empyreus charge ahead with an additional copy of chromosome 21 to subject the listener to an assortment of late 1990s black metal stereotypes. As a result, the music is a potboiler of haphazardness in which nothing worthwhile is conveyed outside of dinky mimicry. However, The Burning Path sounds like [b]lack metal when you’re not paying attention. Perhaps people who don’t listen to music will enjoy it.
When you review underground metal these days, bands skim across your desk like frisbees flung by absent-minded demons. Most of them skitter and disappear over the other side as you listen, realize it’s about the same, and then move on. Others stick around because they’ve got some spirit or animating force that makes them stand out, and motivates them to write better music.
One such recent discovery is Germany’s Lifeless. Sounding like a cross between Carnage and Unanimated, this Swedish-style death metal band pound out songs of crunchy riffs interspersed with nocturnal melodies that convey both emptiness and satisfaction with the potentiality of that state. It is adventure music for those who would leave behind the comforts of modern society and explore the abyss.
Lifeless released Godconstruct a few days ago, and while this album is just beginning its arc through the metal media, we were fortunate to get a few minutes with guitarist/vocalist Marc Niederhagemann answering a few questions about what it’s like to be Swedish death metal from Germany in 2013.
You’re from Germany and you play brutal but melodic Swedish-style death metal. How many times a day do you get compared to Fleshcrawl?
Well, in general we are not really compared to them but often mentioned as usurpers of their throne, ha, ha. But Germany is big enough for more than one band doing this kind of music. Fleshcrawl are a cult act from the 90´s beyond any doubts. Sven even did some guest-vocals on our song “Sworn to death”, so everything´s fine.
Although the mechanics of your guitar playing and production are more like Swedish heavyweights Carnage, there’s a lot of classic metal using melodic harmonization from the Iron Maiden school in your work, like Dissection or the second album from Unanimated. Are these influences? Can you tell us what else influenced you?
Of course there are various influences. The old Swedish, American and British DM bands from the early 90s. The all time classics like Maiden, Slayer, Metallica etc. And of course bands like Dissection, Unanimated and Necrophobic who did such a fucking great job in combining Death and Blackness as well. Sound-wise one could easily say we are just a Swedish styled OSDM band but if you listen closely there are all these influences in there too.
Is it hard being a death metal band from Germany? Your country is renowned for its excellent power metal, thrash and speed metal, but fewer death metal bands. How did you end up taking the death metal path, instead of going another way? Are you able to have a local fan-base?
The DM scene here in Germany is quite big and there are a lot of bands too. You are right, in the 90s heyday Germany played just an inferior role in the DM scene but nowadays there are a lot of great new DM acts coming from Germany. Sulphur Aeon, Chapel Of Disease, Deserted Fear, December Flower… the list goes on and on. And there is a big fan base for these bands and their music too.
A fan hearing one of your songs for the first time might first expect them to go in a more brutal death metal direction, but like a Kinder Egg(tm) your songs unfold to have a melodic center. How do you write a song like this — do you start with a melody, an idea, or just a fistful of entrails and a beer?
Well, in general there is no masterplan for us how to write songs. I catch my guitar and play around. Some cool riffs come up that might fit together. If there are enough riffs that could match together for a song, everything is arranged and completed in the rehearsal room by the whole band. Some riffs are added, some melodies come up. Everything comes kind of naturally. Step by step until there is this special feeling that everything´s fine as it is.
Do you think the death metal genre has a values system, or an idea behind it? What makes it different from other styles of metal, and why
is it that some bands seem to “get it” and others do not?
No, there is no special value system behind it I guess. Not in the sense of a movement or the like. I think DM is just honest and pure music. Despite the commercial heyday in the early 90s it has always been a passion to those who are into DM. Fans and musicians. In my opinion DM-heads stay always the passionate kids who just enjoy the whole thing with a kind of childish excitement. Despite of their true age, ha, ha…
If bands don’t “get it” they probably lost exactly this kind of childishness. Dunno…
Do you think death metal is dead, buried under these new more “hardcore” style bands, or do you think it still lives? What made you decide to go against trends and release an old school death metal album, instead of a nice lucrative power metal or metalcore album?
DM has never been dead and it never will be. After being trend it just shrunk and recreated in the underground. Nowadays it´s back with the same power and a lot of new stunning bands. Lifeless was intentionally founded to play OSDM. Modern stuff was never an option. Music should be passion, not trend. If you found a band to jump up on a trend you didn´t get what art, culture and the rebellious force from wich styles like Metal came from are about. If you see music just from a commercial point of few or if you just want to be famous, you should better do Pop-music or some other superficial shit…
What’s it like to experience Lifeless live?
Four aged kids rocking a stage, ha, ha… we rather bang our heads and move on stage than to play everything perfect. Playing live should be just fun for both sides, band and fans…
What are you looking forward to in the future? More tours, more recording? Think you’ll make it to see us in Texas (land of sheep-love and inbreeding)?
Yes, more tours/gigs/festivals of course. The next album to be released in about two years. Of course it would be great to make it to Texas/the US… we´ll see…
In the Swedish death metal style, what are the essential releases you think everyone should own? I use the term “style” because not all of these bands are from Sweden or even close!
Entombed – Left hand path/Clandestine
Dismember – Everything
Unleashed – Where no life dwells/Shadows in the deep
At the gates – Slaughter of the soul
Dark Throne – Soulside Journey
Grave – Into the grave/You´ll never see
Desultory – Into eternity/Bitterness
Edge Of Sanity – The spectral sorrows
And so on… too many to mention ’em all, ha, ha…
What’s your advice to new bands starting out now who want to make quality metal and put their mark on the metal universe?
Stay yourselves and don´t give a shit about trends and what people think what is right or wrong for you. If you have skills and talent for songwriting being authentic is the most iportant thing in Metal. Don´t try to be something you aren´t.
Thanks for taking the time to consider our questions. Our readers appreciate the responses, as do I.
Thanx for this interview and all your support. See you hopefully soon on a stage nearby…