Portal – Ion

Newer metal bands in the mid-2000s went one of few ways: the competition among users of extreme techniques caused a degree of one-upmanship that obscured the message of the music of “technical” bands, while the desire to get the audience to move caused the compositions of -core bands to be infiltrated by danceable open-note rhythms, and those left outside these groups grew more and more abstract in execution as if to rebel against conventional songwriting.  The issue here is that all three avenues, despite the latter being the most declarative, require an aesthetic sleight-of-hand to mask the lack of authoritative message in composition while the music is steered with the effects on the listener in mind rather than coming from the innate desire of a composer to communicate.  Portal, along with Ulcerate and Deathspell Omega, ushered in a style of metal that is entirely rooted in audience manipulation through a reliance on discordance that borders on desperation.  A challenge in viewing bands like this objectively is that it is difficult to fully understand whether the intent is holistically realized or if the sound and execution is the result of having no spirit of communication beyond purely aesthetic virtues.  Perhaps the evolution in sound was the understanding that metal did need to progress, and although there were surely undiscovered ways to do so, an analysis of all prior compositions reveal that metal was comprised of a multitude of expressions utilizing the same symbols: songs needed intros, various types of phrases that build tension, bridges, climaxes, and resolutions, and the catalog of conventional music that we have is constructed of various shufflings of these elements.  So, although a new act could in theory have a unique approach to music, they were essentially draping a new skin on a tired skeleton.  Metal, and music in general, had to go somewhere and it had to be led by someone that had a clear vision of something to communicate. And most importantly, it had to be done so without a reliance on the tropes that human nature has formulated with respect to the idea of song; ultimately, it needed to cripple it from within.

Is Portal the band to breach these waters, or are the efforts of the band a reflection of a lack of having anything to say intrinsically while still being able to coast on a formulaic command of discordant textures where fully realized phrases once guided the listener through a narrative journey?

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Black Vul Destruktor – Beyond Time and Portals of Death (2013)

black vul destruktor
The Argentinian (Patagonian) city of Neuquén is an important regional industrial and agricultural center, but it’s still in a relatively remote part of the world and probably analogous in some ways to living in the Great Plains of the United States and Canada. If this compilation by Black Vul Destruktor is to be believed, knowledge of extreme metal has made its way to the region. The material on Beyond Time and Portals of Death seemingly takes more after the proto-underground; its mixture of stereotypical black and death metal technique marks it as a descendant of the Bestial Devastation school of metal, but more often not trading pure chaos and insanity for some level of refinement.

Since Beyond Time and Portals of Death compiles both the band’s Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos demo (from 2012) and an older demo from 2008, there’s a clear split in sound, but not necessarily in composition. The old material is understandably much rougher in production and mixing (although it’s still intelligible), but it shares much of its DNA with the new material. Both recordings showcase Black Vul Destruktor writing loosely structured and performed songs composed of fluent chromatic tremolo riffs over initially sloppy and later more coherent drumming. Everything’s a bit amorphous at the best of times, but this extremely stripped down method leaves enough wiggle room for the band to experiment with structure a bit. The material seems to generally work better on the more primitive demo, although Bestial Obscure Metal Kaos does achieve a higher level of satisfying rhythmic prowess. Everything feels a bit more charismatic on the earlier material, at least in that ineffable early Blasphemy/Beherit/Sarcofago/good “war metal” way; especially in its vocals, which have little regard for meter or prosody. It’s nearly the exact antithesis of how I compose, but the style admittedly has its value.

The end product is far from original, but it showcases some careful study of what made the simpler, more hardcore-inflected black metal work, and it occasionally throws in some threshold-expanding ideas of its own (see the goofy melodic outro of “Slaves”, or the constant variety of tempo and texture on the later material). It is very much of its scene, showcasing a great deal of techniques and stereotypes I’d associate with the South American underground, but what it does, it does well, even seemingly responding to the common criticism of underground metal (that it’s limited to mere worship and aping of the great classics) by pushing for some innovation within its adopted framework.

This album can be streamed and purchased from Bandcamp thanks to the services of Blood Harvest Records.

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Deeds of Flesh – Portals to Canaan

deeds_of_flesh-portals_to_canaanDeeds of Flesh pioneered the West coast version of the percussive death metal innovated in New York by bands like Suffocation and Morpheus Descends, itself a derivative of the more textured muted-chord riffing of speed metal bands like Prong, Vio-lence, Exhorder and Exodus. With Portals to Canaan, Deeds of Flesh hope to expand their style into the future.

As a result, they’ve brought in some influences. Some come from expected quarters, like the Gorguts Obscura influence visible on many tracks, or the modern “tek-deth” borrowings. Others are more obscure: the use of background drones and electronic effects like Tangerine Dream, for example, or the repeated allusions to tracks from all of the first three Deicide albums. This tendency shows a band in touch with how stale both the old school bands currently and the entire concept of modern metal have become.

Portals to Canaan does one better, which is that it attempts to make these riffs work with another. This leads to a sort of game: how outlandish can we be and still pull it off? As a result, the guitar fireworks immediately dive into almost paranoid riffs that despite being primitive show a delicate sensibility of avoiding predictability. Deeds of Flesh love breakneck tempi, but even more, they love to break up patterns, transition through a series of barely related ideas, and then return to the original. Tempo changes explode, riffs invert themselves, and guitars chase each other oblivion and emerge in harmony.

The primary downside of this album is that it borrows from both deathgrind and tek-deth, which both include tropes that are aesthetically annoying. Deathgrind has the chromatic chugging advance while the vocals chant in double time, and tek-deth has its video-game-sound sweeps and noodly squeal riffs. Deeds of Flesh try to minimize this whenever possible, but rely on it frequently enough that it is hard to overcome. What is great about this album however is that it is able to unite its wide variety with the riffs themselves, like an old school band, and not fall into the nu-death trap of being so divergent that the only unification can be found through return to very standard song forms after short deviations.

Culminating in the epic track “Orphans of Sickness,” Deeds of Flesh Portals to Canaan offers a credible attempt to find a new path through metal. I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence. In addition, the use of ambient sound and innovative song construction makes this release a good listen, even if as I do you wince at the core/grind parts.

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Deeds of Flesh release track off upcoming “Portals to Canaan”

This is a boisterous track with the best recursive bashing tendencies of percussive death metal, but it drops in modern metal influences, such as a rather “rock” interlude and some sweeps in the carnival music style of modern metal. However, that’s a minority of this track. The rest is great riffcraft like we saw on Path of the Weakening and other essential Deeds of Flesh material. Please enjoy “Rise of the Virvum Juggernaut”:

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Portal – Swarth

The mystery behind this Australian band as well as their approach to music making has been very appealing ever since they arrived at the scene with their demo back in 1998. The boiling cauldron of Lovecraftian aesthetics, ambient and death metal appears to be potent enough to completely reinvent the genre and this is something we secretly hope for with every Portal release… But it never happens. Well, not quite. There is always something that stands in the way of the pure demonic current: be it compositional flaws, production quality or artwork. The latest release is no exception here.

The servants of Chaos return with their third full-length effort. Following the pattern set by its predecessor, Outre (2007) the songs on Swarth take the muddy path of broken arrangements jumping in and out of focus constantly. The vocals are buried in the mix and thus enhance the overall blurry feel of this sound wall. The jagged, at times almost black metal-sounding guitar backdrop wails and waves over the skittering, jazzy drumming. The band manages to recreate the menacing sonic world of Immolation (an obvious influence here), yet where Immolation weaves their melodies and rhythms into some otherworldly math, Portal attempt at playing “ambient” death metal. These attempts often result in completely vague and non-inspired parts, a gray monotonous sound shimmer. The highlights of the album (“Omenknow”, “Marityme” and “Werships”, the latter being a re-recorded version of the track appeared on 2004’s Sweyy EP) feature some nice half-melodies, “inverted” riffing and conceivable – yet no less chaotic, – rhythm structure. Slowing things down a little definitely helps these Lovecraftian priests to get a better idea of their own conjuring and set up a good involving atmosphere.

An important note: Portal badly needs a good visual artist. With so much of their appeal coming from on-stage imagery, theatrics and general entourage it seems like the obvious Photoshop approach to their album artwork paired with some bad taste comic art doodles is extremely ill-advised. The band pictures are always appropriately evil though. Go see them live at MDF next year!

-The Eye in the Smoke-

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Nameless Therein – Hex Haruspex (2018)

One of the greatest challenges of art linked to mystical practices its concern with being able to codify pathways to the inner experience that is intended to be facilated or transmitted. Nameless Therein have taken a reserved yet thematically rich path towards the accomplishment of such a feat by creating sinister musical vignettes. The compositions in question consist in arrangements for three clean-sound electric guitars, and which arrangements focus on enriching textures surrounding a clear thematic line. The character of the music is one that flirts with different sentiments, with its only constant being a vague sensation of weirdness that is accentuated by the quick evaporation of single pieces. The full effect can only be felt as they are played in succession, allowing their similarities, contrasts and particularities to accumulate in the short term memory, the unconscious and the body’s chemistry.

Codification refers to the placing into intelligible patterns a message that will be decoded and transformed by its receiving agent. The efficacy of art as a portal, as a catalyst, is rooted in its artistry, in its effective deepening or altering of the world. Relation to technique and craft is direct, but the evaluation of its efficacy is its totality, since it will be probably found that the most efficacious experiences are based on craft effectively codifying —thus channeling— the intended experience. Nameless Therein is heard here using each and every ounce of technique and craft of instrumentality and composition to this end, and there are no loose strings in this respect.

What at first seems like a limitation is indeed the source of efficacy as a retainer for evocative suggestions in aural form. Very short pieces form pictures in a stream that allows them their own personality while restraining from elaborating excessively, and so avoiding confinement of the listener’s individual experience. Like beautiful entrances to secluded roads in an enchantingly dark, pastoral setting, enticing first and bewitching after as the path grows beyond the composition, yet within the designs of the composer’s manipulative schemes. Sympathetic strings are pulled, and one hovers above, or is shifted out of position, but incompletely. Perception is rent asunder, but in wild streaks, singaling marks seen by a now disturbed awareness. These are doors opened for journeys that can only be taken in solitary, and which no art can complete: art is always a portal, never the experience.

The dense guitar arrangements here make very natural use of the properties of the instrument. Rather than strumming incessantly, or attempting to emulate usages that are more suited to bowed instruments, we hear craftful arpeggiations supporting the passage of melodies that glide over string activity. The last is the proper use of a clear or acoustic guitar-like instruments, whose sonority lends itself to constant vibrations that form a pool over which appears a face: that of the spirit of the melody. That is the germ that infects the mind, and it is a daemon of possession as well, one that invades and lives in the listener.

The underhanded disalignment induced by the music makes portals of such narrow openings into secretive, wide spaces. The effects can be dizzying, even sickening, submerging us in a vaporous twilight that is neither here or there. As the short pieces pass almost unnoticed, a slow but clear altering of one’s biology seems to take place by virtue of the effective completeness of the “circular motion” that they do possess despite their limited length. Each one moves the eye’s mind, the humors in the chest, and the emotions in differing directions, miniscule in individual magnitude, yet hardly negligible as fifty-six spirits create a vortex at the center of which is the bewildered listener.

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Constantine Charagma and Erica Frevel The Deplorable Word (2016)

Very few works that presume to connect human beings with energies or entities come across as applicable. More often than not, a lack of honesty would appear to be disguised behind impractical demands that defeat the purpose of a magical working as a shortcut. Despite what detractors have had to say on the matter, Martinent Press has excelled in its publishing of books that the reader can take as they come. A reader can survey a relatively cheap copy of any of the titles and judge the contents therein by what they propose, the author’s revealed character in words and style, and whatever insights they are revealing. Interestingly, Martinet Press leaves it to the public to do their own sifting, allowing no-nonsense heavy-weights like Tempel ov Blood Liber 333 lie on a bookshelf beside the more compilatory and derivative works like A.A. Morain Scithain. In the case of the present booklet,  keywords that come to mind upon ‘meeting’ the writer(s)’ character on paper are sincere and honest, energetic and powerful, juvenile and wasteful, obsessive and unstable. But this is only a sympathetic, literary and psychological appreciation, of course, and nothing else.

We find that sincerity and directness is, in fact, at the forefront of the authors’ concerns here, the main concern being the quick leading of the interested individual to the right state of mind: towards at least an aural and psychic clarity regarding alien expectations. As is common within the grimoire tradition, The Deplorable World juxtaposes different literary genres without any transitioning device. The only criteria to the inclusion of each of these parts is what they may bring the reader in terms of an apprehension of the topic at hand. The progression from one section to the next shows a plan designed to implicitly (secretly) address diverse mental requirements in the minds of those seeking after content. However, those looking for fetish antiquary items or page after page of turgid and inconsequential “lore,” with no relevance or substance other than the mirage of words, will have to invest at least several hundred dollars more.

And so, the work opens up with a rather tepid work of light fiction the only value of which is providing a verbal illustration of the situations and atmosphere . Fortunately, the fiction is the first and the weakest section of this publication. The authors proceed from there to references of the Abyss in ancient lore, in a compact section with more substance and referential value than entire books by other, more prominent “occult authors.” Towards the middle, we are presented with plain and simple descriptions of the relevant cosmos and entities, doing away with poetics or any of the masturbatory word diarrhea that is the staple of prominent “occult publications.” Finally come the procedures themselves, starting from simple meditation techniques, advancing towards libations and communion, on to astral exploration and full-out, blood-sacrifice portal opening.

“Magically relevant or GTFO!”

Symbols and procedures lean towards stupor or frenzy, without necessarily naming them so. To those who would get discouraged by the rather unnecessary —even detrimental— opening work of fiction, the rest of the booklet provides concrete working after concrete working, the requirements of which are mainly the capacity for mental focus and a willingness to bend a conventional grasp of sanity in thought and action. The mental investment demanded demands energy, energy that is directed and consumed. Some may leer at the prospect, but they are also those who would not see beyond the intermittent purposelessness that plagues the path of any discipline which develops practical abilities before intellectual understanding or “knowledge.” In this way, we may see in The Deplorable World a potent handbook to develop a raw, focused connection to a cosmic darkness that is ultimately, despite our poetic allusions, beyond explainations.

There is here an unquestionable obsession with violence, that is at the same time juvenile and uninterested. In this, it at once complements and contrasts the involved insights that Georges Bataille derives from what he terms ‘sensuality’. And while this unthinking and ultimately self-defeating drive towards destruction, abandonment and forgetfulness constitutes the praxis, it could be argued that it will remain short of what an evolving human being can become psychologically, physiologically and psychically. For where it used to be a facilitator, there is a point where shock becomes a crutch. If instead of utilizing the capacity for self-shock and channeling towards increasingly potent and predictable results, the practitioner falls into a mindless and never-ending one-upmanship game of inner destruction beyond utility and for their own sake, these methods may instead become a glaring obstacle for the individual’s growth if not understood and assimilated. That such fixation with what the practitioner assumes to be the ultimate “preternatural” reality, and that such obsession with acts of cruelty and violence, can be experienced but transcended into a dynamic exploration and development of the totality of being, is perhaps a first key towards true attainment, or what some call adepthood.

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5 Slam Records that Won’t Insult Your Intelligence

Sometimes in between quests for the perfect transcendent meal, you wind up in the drive-thru.  There’s nothing wrong with that- not every action in life has to be one of self-discovery or grandiose vision- sometimes you just want to destroy yourself as a brief respite from analytical or introspective journeys, which actually provides a contrast that truly showcases the merit in the pursuit of depth but also gives an objective worth to consumables that are designed with much less substance in mind.  There is a place for what is now known as “slam” in the death metal pantheon, and as with any subgenre of course the progenitors are the best examples of it, as prior to its neanderthalic fall from grace it started as marriage of the percussive elements of Suffocation with the over-the-top imagery of gore-focused grind bands while limiting the use of humanistic elements like melody and cyclical structure.  This is a more than valid metal style as it does actually transcend a known formula through divorcing it from song archetypes and instead celebrates an ignorance that is mirrored perfectly in masochistic savagery. Given that is is more rhythmically focused than previous death metal styles is it natural that it would meet its downfall by travelling down an insultingly urban path that betrays the savagery it had once wielded, but it is still worth revisiting a few choice releases to analyze what may unfortunately be the last true movement in a dying genre at the turn of the century.

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