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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.25 Comments
Tags: abhorrence, Angel Witch, beherit, best of, Black Metal, Dead Can Dance, death metal, demoncy, derkéta, desecresy, Drawn and Quartered, faustcoven, grave, imprecation, incantation, lord wind, master, profanatica, terrorizer, thevetat, timeghoul, war master
Article by David Rosales
While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.
After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.
Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.
II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal
You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.
True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.
Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.
To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.
Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.
One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.
Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.
III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul
Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.
One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.
Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.
Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.
The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.
I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.
Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).
The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.
It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.
1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.
2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.
3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem
4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.
5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.
6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.
7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.26 Comments
Finnish death metal band Desecresy grew in recognition over the past half-decade but still finds itself overshadowed by the obvious Swedish death metal tributes and other shallow pitches to the purchasing sensibilities of information overload numbed fans. This band has more to offer than many realize, crafting death metal in the old school style but with the sparse melody and emotional mood tapestry of a doom metal, even slowly and cautiously introducing some newer influences so that it never loses its old school appear at its core, in its spirit and its intent.
Sounding very much like a submerged horror launching itself on humanity, Desecresy came about in 2009 from the ashes of previous bands. It consists of two members, Tommi Grönqvist and Jarno Nurmi, who somehow produce this massive sound on their own. As a result, Desecresy does not play live but has built an audience by putting out successively improved albums, although which is the best may depend on taste as these are highly idiosyncratic and expressive works. They are also remarkably consistent in that the sound the band forged on its first album continues through its third but not unchanged, only added to and refined, so that it grows organically.
This band successfully evokes the sensation liquid evil rising from the depths through its death-doom attack. Its death metal uses rhythms like those of Bolt Thrower merged with the powerful two-layer riffing of Abhorrence, possibly influenced by early Paradise Lost and the second half of Burzum “Key to the Gate,” with other influences such as Fleshcrawl and Incantation for its dark and doomy passages. Its distinctive technique of melodic lead rhythmic riffing overlaid on dirge power chord riffs makes Desecresy instantly recognizable, and creates an atmosphere more like a doom metal band or traditional heavy metal without the friendlier rock trappings of such band. On top of this float strongly enunciated death vocals that guide the developing feast of riffs and unique song structures.
Arches of Entropy (2010)
The first Desecresy album shows the band attacking their sound from the most traditional death metal viewpoint. These songs attack from a mid-paced death metal standpoint, and then build on that with successive riffs that grind against one another in the Bolt Thrower style, leading up to the atmospheric riffing with melodic leads stitched over it like silver linings of clouds. Vocals take a gruff and bassy enunciation of death metal vocals that is difficult to correctly sequence but here the timing is both impeccable and vague, adding an air of mystery. As the technique is new, it sometimes overlaps in memory, causing these songs to seem indistinct, although when listened to separately they stand out. These songs have a groove, but instead of being centered around stretching between offbeat notes, it starts on an offbeat and drifts into cadence, creating a feeling of entering a dream. Of the Desecresy albums, this may be the most idiosyncratic, owing much of its perceived randomness to attempts to stretch this style in ways that most bands would not envision. Its mood evokes early evening on a dry clear night, when the wind murmurs through the leaves and strange noises echo from the surrounding mountains, a noisy organic voice arising amongst them which promises certain doom and, within it, adventure.
The Doom Skeptron (2012)
For its second album, Desecresy attempted to introduce more of a death metal sound as contrasted to the melodic-layered half-grind of the first album. At the same time, the band experimented with making its songs more distinctive and so tried to vary tempo, notes and rhythms radically. The result sounds more like an Immolation album with an Asphyx plus Carnage vibe, in addition to the aforementioned influences. This provides a more energetic album and isolates the melodic doom parts between different sounds, which makes this album an interesting and varied listen like driving through unknown countryside. The intensity of it however lost some of the doom appeal, and this seems to be the least atmospheric of all the albums, but also the most satisfying to those who enjoyed the later years of death metal. The Doom Skeptron carries the intensity of the first into a more confrontational vein, and brings out some of the implicit conflict in these songs in more abrupt collision. Presaging the next album, this work also makes more use of simple melodic patterns to create a sonic backdrop for riff change. If the American influences behind Desecresy make an appearance, it is here that they stand out the clearest and to the greatest impact, although the droning resonance that makes this band appealing to doom metal fans also makes itself known. Best enjoyed on bright days at top volume from a distance.
Chasmic Transcendence (2014)
Most bands decay as the years go on. Not so with Desecresy, who on this album integrate the grinding approach of the first album with more of the doom and black metal influenced atmospheric pieces which now dominate songs instead of relying on a sandwich of death metal to make them pop out. As a result, like Burzum Filosofem, this album induces a mood of suspended disbelief and then sinks further into it, creating like Summoning an environment where melodies seem to extend each other across songs because they are similar in parts but different in end configuration. On Chasmic Transcendence, Desecresy show a more fluid rhythm and more high-speed tremolo death metal riffing to drive it, and also start borrowing patterns from the newer post-metal bands like Cult of Luna, but very carefully adapt these to old school underground metal melodies and riff structures instead of becoming alternative rock like every other band who has tried this. In the Desecresy universe, riffs talk to one another to create and shape a transition between moods like an architect assembling a design, and the result showcases both the resonant emotion from melodic rhythm leads — now focusing more on internal harmony — and combinations of riffs evoking a labyrinthine passage between physical obstacles toward internal learning, like the best of adventures. This album provides excellent listening on nocturnal escapades.
The odd state of metal in 2015 is that many of the best bands are acknowledged by those who can understand them, but this is a small group, so they seem overshadowed by larger bands that appeal to the bread and circuses type. However, Desecresy has been steadily gaining momentum for its elegantly designed and thoughtful music that refuses to sacrifice the raw guts of death metal to make an atmosphere, and as a result portrays the type of desolate conflict that we expect from dystopian literature, but in sonic form with the riffs like serpents taking the form of the things we fear in our dreams and see shadows of in the reality around us, rushing at us from a yet indeterminate future. With this musical power, Desecresy presages the next age of metal, along with other pioneers like Sammath, Blaspherian, Demoncy, Blood Urn, War Master and Kever. The spirit of the old school lives on by refusing to emulate the past, and instead carrying forward its ideas in the abstract with implementations specific to the bands, in this case the fertile imagination and dark prophecy of Desecresy.8 Comments
Being a split, it is necessary to judge both bands here separately and the release itself as a whole. Both bands play death metal, but while the former is provisioned with a modern war-doom arsenal, the latter seem at least partially influenced by Scandinavian old-school black/death tremolo riffing. The production itself is much more clear and powerful in Into Oblivion’s songs.
Into Oblivion play death metal in a combination of modern voices including saturated style of war metal and the heavy, doom-oriented riffing of certain sludge bands. The more impetuous of these is reminiscent of Teitanblood or Heresiarch, except it is difficult to distinguish an original personality present in Into Oblivion’s music. Individually, some sections are engaging, even mesmerizing and beautiful (the beginning of By this Marvel Overthrown) but as a whole, the result is far from outstanding. Construction of the songs could be deemed lazy and/or cheap, advancing through alternations of saturated and doom textures by inserting riffs that are played until their momentum runs out and its balancing counterpart is inserted, and not according to a direction or necessity of expression in the music.
Disinterred also play with this alternation of fast and slow sections, except that Disinterred is better able to maintain a train of thought and expand it. The songs in this latter half seem more mature, the converging styles in it being more difficult to disentangle, a more solid product arising from a clear vision making use of its influences. One can also observe the use of saturation, but instead of a modern war metal, we have a disguised and worked Scandinavian spell at work. A strong advice for Disinterred would be to get rid of the triggered drums and do away with the cheap double-bass-drum-saturated drum fills that sound like Godflesh Apocalypse hiding its lack of ideas. This second half of the split brings a visible shape into focus, a haunting shadow reflecting the maddened character of the music. Still, it is only a vague shadow which Disinterred have not finished summoning just yet.
At this point, Oblivion’s Oceans shows us what is mostly a soulless collection of voices. Despite this, there is some promise in the music. Personally, this writer would not place too much hope on the nature of these bands changing or growing much as the nature of proper death metal bands itself seems to be monolithic. Any attempt to change them often results in their destruction and watering down. Few manage achieving the required reincarnation, often coming to life again as a simpler life form.
Classic hybrid of aggressive black metal and tunneling death metal in the Incantation style, Demoncy Joined in Darkness not only set a new high point of intensity for the genre, but also created a feeling of dark ritual foreboding that remains distinct to it. On February 9, 2015, Forever Plagued Records will re-issue this classic album.
The new Joined in Darkness will feature cover art by underground artist Chris Moyen and be remastered so that fans may hear it “as it was always intended.” While the re-issue will be a digipak, a format not beloved of fans or collectors, this will allow more of the artwork and imagery to show through where it would otherwise be obscured by the spine plastic of the compact disc case. As this release is the second re-issue of this classic album, care has been taken to show the original intent.
Demoncy manifested out of the mind of Ixithra, who previously served in Havohej/Profanatica, and shows the influence of the style that Ledney-linked bands Profanatica, Revenant and Incantation developed of long phrasal riffs with internal structural counterpoint, but takes this further with the incorporation of melody and a Celtic Frost styled setting of theatrical transitions in song, creating an atmosphere changing like scenery at a Wagner opera.
- Hymn To The Ancients
- Impure Blessings (Dark Angel Of The Four Wings)
- Joined In Darkness
- Winter Bliss
- Hypocrisy Of The Accursed Heavens
- Spawn Of The Ancient Summoning
- Hidden Path To The Forest Beyond
- (Angel Of Dark Shadows) Goddess Of the Dark
- The Dawn Of Eternal Damnation
- Embraced By The Shadows
- The Ode To Eternal Darkness
This tracklist adds “The Ode To Eternal Darkness” which was not present on the original Joined in Darkness.2 Comments
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Most humans understand reality through social definitions because this flatters their pretense of being important in cold and empty universe. Others prefer to find meaning through bonding with reality in all of its darkness. For noticing the difference, we get called sadists.
Algebra – Feed the Ego
Late 1980s speed metal gets a strong infusion of Slayer-styled energy and tempo. If you can imagine second-tier speed metal bands using the riff patterns and rhythmic shifts from Reign in Blood, you grasp the basic idea here. This makes for fun listening but underneath the surface, an ugly hard rock influence shows, and the derivative nature of the riffing makes it hard to take seriously.
Cradle of Filth – Total Fucking Darkness
They released the demo of the band that initiated the downfall of black metal. Like Opeth, Cannibal Corpse, Meshuggah and Pantera, Cradle of Filth made a name for itself by taking a new style and dumbing it down for an audience that wanted spoon feeding. Notice the idiotic hipster trend of inserting the word “fucking” to make an otherwise recombinant title seem edgy. What you will hear on this lengthy demo is basic deathgrind verses with melodic heavy metal choruses kicked into high speed and aggression with borrowed technique. Oh wait, there are keyboards so you can feel more profound than your friends for listening to such an open-minded band. This entire thing is transparent and shows how from an early date, this band was scheming to make a vapid but “profound” (like dreamcatchers, Ansel Adams posters and Eckhart Tolle) sound. While it is not explicitly terrible it also fails to make any lasting connection to the inner layers of being, like higher brain functions or what we sometimes call a soul.
Ending Quest – The Summoning
In my dream, I was in a vast house by the seaside. In the east wing, the hallway had endless doors. I opened one and immediately recoiled. I was in the retro-Swedish death metal room again! Ending Quest provides a better than average take on the retro style but does not achieve any level of impact such that it must be listened to. Imagine mixing a melodic Necrophobic-style lead rhythm riff into a more rock ‘n’ roll version of Entombed Left Hand Path in the riff department. Then work in elements of the death ‘n’ roll that came a generation later: abrupt cuts, bouncy grooves, relatively standard song format and lots of melodic hooks. The problem is that after a while it starts to sound like sonic wallpaper because it uses roughly the same approach and template to writing each song. Thus what emerges is a dozen songs that feature familiar motifs and all run together into a blur of Swedish-tasting death metal with hard rock undertones.
Final Conflict – Ashes to Ashes
I always enjoyed this late hardcore offering but never found it as hard-hitting as the Cro-Mags, Amebix or Discharge. There’s a good reason: if Descendents decided to make a hardcore, it might sound like this. Riffs fit the patterns of basic California hardcore adapted to the stream of powerchords attack of the Exploited or Cro-Mags. But ultimately, this is melodic punk. Vocal melodies predominate with heavy focus on chorus and riffs work in enough melody to be predominantly hook-driven. Add to this lyrics that span a gamut from radical anarchistic sentiment to mainstream right-wing moderate calls for defense of rights and freedoms, and you sense a movement looking for a purpose. However Final Conflict create an album without filler that hits hard and keeps riding that violent energy which makes this a hardcore album you can appreciate without descending into total alienation. It’s probably a great workout album.
Greenleaf – Trails and Passes
Do they ever tire of peddling the same hackneyed crap? This sounds like early 1960s angry rock, with a heavy MC5 influence. Bluesy, with extended rhythmic breaks and emphasis on a hippie vocal, this band might think they are related to metal but this is purely on the aesthetic basis that they use distortion pedals. Baby Boomers love this stuff because it lets them revisit their ancient pointless youth in the free love and whatever-stupid-shit-you-think-is-OK-man 1960s, but for the rest of us this retro detour is a dead end.
Humut Tabal – The Dark Emperor ov the Shadow Realm
Some of our writers here think highly of the Texas scene but it seems to me that much like Texas itself, the scene there is composed of odds and ends. Such is the case with Humut Tabal who are jack of all trades and master of none. The basis of this album is promising melodic black metal with too much influence from the ersatz article like Watain, but the band know how to write some songs that verge on the beautiful. Then they drop in some idiotic riff straight off a Pantera album and reduce the IQ in the room to Juggalo levels. While their melodic approach, reminiscent of Dawn and Sacramentum, is basically really good, the band overplay it and end up with an album that disappears into its own sound. On the plus side, these songs remain distinctive enough to tell the difference, which suggests this band has the ability to have a bright future if it wants it. But maybe drop the two-word trendy name and the ridiculous “ov” style spelling, get more of a purpose, and stop trying to please everyone at once. You can’t do it because it should never be done.
Mordbrand – Imago
As a genre descends, it improves in attention to details including basic musicality but fails at its center where meaning lies. This Swedish death metal revival band bash out a formula at either fast or slow speeds, but the effect is the same. It is focused on chorus as hook like the later Sodom records and never really develops past having a cool melodic idea for a riff; songs are essentially in standard format and take huge influence from later crustpunk which was by definition formulaic. There are parts of this to admire but the whole adds up to less than the parts.
Steel Prophet – Omniscient
Middle 1980s style speed metal picks up a few stylistic flourishes from power metal but basically stays in the great quest for a catchy chorus that can be backed by lots of muted downstroke strumming. Melodically, it closest resembles Judas Priest but adds some Manowar-like touches. Songs fit more into the rock ‘n’ roll mold of building everything as a support structure for the vocals, and drums, bass and lead guitars generate a backgrond that is too busy to make this anything but the kind of sonic assault waged by a fast-sell commercial. The vocalist exhibits quite a bit of talent and none of the players are bad, but the way they choose to combine this material resembles the frenetic activity at a shopping mall in that for all that it is busy, it never gets anywhere.
Dawn – Nær Solen Gar Niþer For Evogher
This re-issue tempted me but ultimately I have decided it lives in a duality: it has great melodic ideas and riffs, but insists on the type of semi-random songwriting that later became famous with metalcore. Riffs shift into other riffs without any real sense to the arrangement; by rock theory, this is OK since they’re in the same key. But in metal, the riffs talk to each other. Sometimes this band tends to like to bash out fast repetitive melodies on a plodding rhythm until the audience shoots itself. But scattered throughout this album in abundance are good melodic ideas and some really great riff pairs. If the band had worked on song structure and arrangement more, this could have been an A-level black metal album.85 Comments
Dark Funeral, the Swedish black metal band started by Necrophobic guitarist David Parland (whose untimely demise this year shocked the metal world), has a long and storied career. The band is now re-releasing its earlier works with the usual remaster and rare tracks treatment.
The important album to look forward, however, is In the Sign…. This one, which features the guitar work and composition of Parland, shows melodic Swedish black metal at its raging best. With the energy of Belial, and the general aesthetic of a simplified Dissection, early Dark Funeral is a more heavy metal take on black metal that often resembles tremolo-picked version of Ride the Lightning.
In the Sign… as re-issued will be almost twice as long, with the original self-titled MCD/EP combined with four Bathory covers to produce an approximation of an eight-song album. These titles will be released in Europe on September 9 and in North America on November 12 via Century Media Records.
In The Sign… (re-issue+bonus) track-listing **available as CD, LP (plus poster), digital download**
1. Open The Gates (4:36)
2. Shadows Over Transylvania (4:22)
3. My Dark Desires (3:52)
4. In The Sign Of The Horns (3:43)
5. Equimanthorn (BATHORY cover) (3:21)
6. Call From The Grave (BATHORY cover) (4:34)
7. Open The Gates (live 2003) (3:54)
8. Shadows Over Transylvania (live 2003) (3:16)
9. My Dark Desires (live 2003) (3:48)
NOTE: tracks 1-4 are taken from the self-titled MCD (1994), tracks 6-7 are taken from ‘In Conspiracy With Satan’ BATHORY-tribute sampler
The Secrets Of The Black Arts (re-issue+bonus) track-listing **available as 2CD, Gatefold 2LP (plus poster), digital download**
1. The Dark Age Has Arrived (00:18)
2. The Secrets Of The Black Arts (03:40)
3. My Dark Desires (03:46)
4. The Dawn No More Rises (03:58)
5. When Angels Forever Die (04:06)
6. The Fire Eternal (03:54)
7. Satan’s Mayhem (04:52)
8. Shadows Over Transylvania (03:41)
9. Bloodfrozen (04:20)
10. Satanic Blood (VON cover) (02:12)
11. Dark Are The Paths To Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal) (05:56)
1. Shadows Over Transylvania (Unisound version (03:39)
2. The Dawn No More Rises (Unisound version) (03:40)
3. The Secrets Of The Black Arts (Unisound version) (03:26)
4. Satan’s Mayhem (Unisound Version) (04:48)
5. Bloodfrozen (Unisound Version) (03:36)
6. My Dark Desires (Unisound Version) (03:21)
7. Dark Are The Paths To Eternity (A Summoning Nocturnal) (Unisound Version) (05:39)
8. The Fire Eternal (Unisound Version) (03:38)
Vobiscum Satanas (re-issue+bonus) track-listing **available as CD, LP, digital download**
1. Ravenna Strigoi Mortii (04:26)
2. Enriched By Evil (04:40)
3. Thy Legions Come (04:11)
4. Evil Prevail (04:28)
5. Slava Satan (03:56)
6. The Black Winged Horde (04:37)
7. Vobiscum Satanas (05:00)
8. Ineffable King Of Darkness (03:38)
9. Enriched By Evil (live 1998) (04:43)
10. Thy Legions Come (live 1998) (04:14)
11. Vobiscum Satanas (live 1998) (05:00)
12. Ineffable King Of Darkness (live 1998) (03:28)
“Styles” are divisions of a subgenre not pronounced enough to warrant a new subgenre. “Sounds” are aesthetic variants of a subgenre. Just as “doom metal” means music that is either heavy metal or death metal played slowly with morbid/gothic surfacing, “sounds” differentiate groups of similar musical approach from each other. The evolution of “sounds” can be viewed as a hierarchy of specialized technique and aesthetic within a genre, the technique creating an effect that reveals the intent of the creators as communicated to the listener.
Technique and “Sounds”
Aesthetic and “Styles”
You can understand the styles of heavy metal by looking at the musical techniques and theory used, the aeshetic created, and the patterns of underlying structure pursued (as you can do in differentiated not just genres but types of music). Styles of death metal, black metal, heavy metal and crossover metal divide into “containers” for stylistic and compositional tendencies which reveal the interpretative structures in the music evoking the larger meta-perception or “life philosophy” beneath.
Aesthetic — or styles, arrangement, and production decisions — “works” where it supports the internal compositional structures of whatever music it encloses. Technique and production and performance come together to produce an aesthetic, which matches a compositional style, which in turn reflects the ideas that inspired the artist to communicate with his or her audience.
Heavy metal, in general, is music of loud, intense, nihilistic, feral, atavistic sound that reduces the individual and places them in a context of history where they are nothing (some would call this realism or nihilism). Accepting the reaction of despair to the violence and paranoia and insanity of human world living in denial of fear/death, and turning it into a living, willful, and distinctive nihilism that affirms nothingness as a gateway into more profound realms of thought — this is the goal of heavy metal, and it has many voices, or styles.
By playing off of internal rhythms, metal bands achieve syncopation — the inversion of stress in a passage. Normally strong beats are weak and the weak are strong; this effect is often achieved through polyrhythmic overlay by double-bass in death metal bands or by the chaotic, threshing blast beat of blackmetal drummers.
The variation enables an excited internal sub-rhythm to drive the song, as many bands do with double bass drums, letting snare and high hat/cymbal disassociate for key structural textures.
“Hell Awaits” and beyond featured the granddaddy of double-bass technique.
“Deicide” featured songs with anti-synchronized pump-beat percussion similar to the “Jaws” theme.
The master planners of moving syncopated air and bass drum integration.
“Shadows in the Deep” used this technique to warlike effect via guitar player forearm.
Using multiple rhythms to enhance layering effects bands create multiple dimensions of rhythmic space, using a normally linear framework in new shapes and often long or indeterminate phrases. This can occur in the dominant rhythmic instrument (guitars) or the background rhythm (drums/bass).
Some bands have taken this to extremes of chaos piling into itself, revealing an inner consistency and beauty, where others have interpreted this in the way of more contemporary ambient composers and have layered counterpoint or complementary rhythms in complex neo-electronic compositions.
“Pure Holocaust” features raging chaotic polyrhythm and ambient melody.
“Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” layered repetition to create epic meta-structures.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” began with an inverted polyrhythmic beat.
“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” used high-speed polyrhythms under ambient guitar.
Explosive or definitive notes in a phrase are accentuated by percussion in drums or stringed instrument. Most often in guitars this occurs in the bands who muffle chords and strum staccato or interplay phrasing for conclusive effect, more than open-ended styles.
“Master of Puppets” used emphatic muffled chords for percussive centering in riffs.
“Effigy of the Forgotten” used intricate polyrhythmic progressions to center complex songs.
“Beneath the Remains” combined speed metal percussive strumming and death metal speeds.
Often bands give texture to rhythms by playing multiple levels of rhythm. For example, a guitar changing chords has a dominant rhythm in the beats on which the change occurs, but the chords themselves have a layer of rhythm in the speed with which they are strummed, or in death metal technique, at which their two most essential notes are varied through strumming or hammering. Even further, often the strumming itself has an independent texture which moves with the composition as a whole.
“Haunting the Chapel” invented the flying wrist technique of achieving hummingbird tremelo strumming.
“Shadows in the Deep” featured slow masterpieces of micromotion and precision.
- Morbid Angel
After their monumental “Altars of Madness” which used this technique to create ambient melody and rhythm, Morbid Angel used it for prog-rock precision in the details of their epic “Blessed Are the Sick.”
“De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas” features ambient strumming over Bathory-style rigid percussion matrix.
- Rigor Mortis
“Rigor Mortis” and more significantly “Freaks” built this technique into classical melody and structure.
These Norwegians made rhythmic expectancy a part of their half-sliding, half-paused progressive metal.
“Normal” melodies are used by older styles of heavy metal and sometimes by progressive bands integrating a jazz or rock influence. They are built around the scales used by these forms of music historically and in present essence, and as such are more easily recognized by listeners familiar with more mainstream music.
“Unquestionable Presence” built jazz harmony into a style of melodic progressive death metal.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
- At the Gates
“Slaughter of the Soul,” this band’s final work, made use of mainstreamification in the death metal sound.
Using dissonant alignment of notes in melodies produces a mournful yet technical sound, so many bands use this technique in both melodic and harmonic construction.
From “Dimension Hatross” onward Voivod have built songs around dissonant melodic tension.
“From This Day Forward” established the ability of dissonance and atonality to build complex jazzlike compositions.
“Pure Holocaust” and “Blizzard Beasts” feature dissonant melody and use of inversion contra rhythm.
Atonal arrangements of notes produce bizarre and perverse melodies, causing instigation of uprising in the mentality of the listener. The “not tonal” nature of this etymology comes from the lack of a fixed scale, or use of an cycling scale of arbitrary tones.
Most metal musicians use this style of composition in conjunction with chromatic scales, dynamically acquiring tone centers through counterpoint and experimenting with classical music theory in key-less anti-melodic architectures.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” through “Covenant” used atonal solos to great effect over dissonant compositions.
“Legion” used atonal lead guitar to emphasize the nihilism of chromatic composition.
In the style of classical composers from years past augmented with an focus geared more toward an attention span “in the now,” metal bands often use modal layers to create songs.
These layers, each forming a portion of the main melody in the song which changes over time to narrate song development, create a resonant harmony which the composer can change to develop the complex matrix of emotions required to manipulate atmospheric mood.
This style easily succumbs to being only technique, but is useful for developing a language of melody in which harmony serves a subordinate role.
Simple in outcome but complex in how far it varies from predictable in conception, the music of Burzum unfolds longer narrative by manipulating environmental depth to melody.
Short deranged pieces create atmosphere through two or three melodies sequenced in different orders to form narrative, with layers of two-note modal complements influencing direction in mood.
Classical harmonic formations stay within the same key and manipulate different registers of mode or tone. The chromatic scales and intricate arpeggio formations of death and black metal lay their ancestry here and develop into a more direct sense of musical motion.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” evolved this technique into fast-picking and ambient relationship to beat, accentuating it with atonal lead guitars.
“Feasting the Beast” demonstrated this technique in an ambient but violent setting.
“Det Som Engang Var” built simple classical music out of power chord arpeggios.
The freedom and complexity of jazz harmonics attracted many metal composers, who have worked in that area to create bizarre and startling freaks of brutality.
“Unquestionable Presence” built jazz harmony into a style of melodic progressive death metal.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
“Nespithe” built bizarre harmonies from rudimentary fusionesque randomness
Oftentimes rock-n-roll influences creep into metal bands and are easily identified by their influence on the dominant rhythms, and by the more mainstream tonal ideas of the pieces. Since rock is essentially blues filtered through the cowboy hobo country music eyepiece, these bands often bear a lot in common with jazz-influence acts.
“Kill ‘Em All” brought metal’s separate blues legacy into focus with new styles and heavy metal essence.
Most rock songs come of the verse-chorus tradition and consequently so does unstudied death and black metal, as well as most grindcore. The tedium of this technique is sometimes temporarily alleviated by adding another structure or riff pattern on top of the double elements of cycle but even this is transparent.
When many riffs are joined to form a progression of ideas not as much concerned with creating a piece but a sequence of moods a narrative composition occurs; others call this “riff salad” or “grab-bag metal.”
- Malevolent Creation
Music created with massive conceptions in mind often builds entirely unconventional structures to serve the individualized needs of each song. At this level of composition, nothing is as fits the norm as each piece has an entirely custom use in unique and intricate compositions where details matter.
“In the Nightside Eclipse” featured drifting and meandering songs built around central melodies.
“Hvis Lyset Tar Oss” used bafflingly simple and distinctive riffs in layers to create epic compositions.
- Morbid Angel
“Altars of Madness” often sequenced seemingly jarring changes in the smoothness of compositional integration.
“Orion” from Master of Puppets introduced this technique to the metal community at large.
Like rock and blues before it, people sing these. With melodic voices and enunciation of words. Though sometimes it seems bizarre now, most people like ALL of their entertainment to sound this way.
A mid-eighties hybrid of Slayer metal and Iron Maiden rock, their album Nosferatu used sung vocals to pragmatic effect.
Hardcore punk brought us angry shouting for vocals and it re-appears from time to time in death and black metal but is limited by the clarity and monotone of vocal it produces through uniform emphasis.
The majority of modern metal works utilize this style, yet it arose from crossover music like grindcore after being inspired by the grand old growler of metal, Lemmy Kilmeister of Motorhead, whose membership in both heavy metal and punk communities affirms his historical importance.
Metal originally adopted the gravely cigarette-burnt and alcohol-eroded voice of punk rock’s more deested vocalists, favoring its obscurity and the difficulty of marketing such an indistinct image in the world of concrete images concealing nebulous actualities and negligible rewards.
By reducing timbre from absolute tone to gritty, naturalistic, distortion and shearing melody to textural variance only, this style de-emphasizes vocals while making their presence fit into the texture of the music, allowing more dynamic variation in composition.
- Napalm Death
“Scum” revealed extremes of this technique for their potential in disturbing the aesthetic sensibilities of listeners.
“Seven Churches” brought the voice forth in primal form.
- The Exploited
With a sequence of groundbreaking hardcore albums the Exploited let the voice get growlier each time.
- Morbid Angel
Death metal cofounders Morbid Angel implemented this technique to great effect on “Altars of Madness” and beyond.
A more fragile sound, more like a warning than the guttural vocals of death metal, this high pitched muffled shriek is distorted so that it sounds like warnings from the dead.
Used vocals to accentuate melody in majestic pieces of speedy production and demonic drive.
Fragments of melody in vocals harmonized with miminalist riffing to expand mood.
The master of searing growls with both texture and punctuation in rhythm, MkM paces each piece with violence and depth.
Droning melodic vocals within distorted chaos frame the structural changes in this music.
Taking over from Black Sabbath when too much Led Zeppelin clonage invaded the airwaves, NWOBHM bands used more punkish riffing with more precise, technological structures in phrasing. The imagination ran wild and fantasy/mideval concepts in lyrics developed here.
As Sabbath was slow, the doom metal genre demanded slower and more dramatically manic depressive songwriting. These bands bridge power chords across glacial rhythm for atmospheric impact. Often accompanied by drugs, esp. marijuana.
Probed right after NWOBHM made its appearance, narrative bands strung together collages of riff and transition to make unfolding retellings of experience. This style is eternal and re-emerges every generation.
Viewed by many as the nadir of metal, stadium metal is influenced by post-progressive rock atmospheric bands who used instrumentalism and pure pop hook to make sentimental but explosive songs. In metal this translates to an epic ballad flavor to everything. Once again, an eternal style which recurs with each new cycle of metal.
Punk is simplified 1950s rock voiced in power chords and sequenced to a pulsing basic rhythm. Vocals and aesthetic emphasized dirt and unsteadiness, and disregard of musicality freed bands from the form and compositional dynamic of rock music. Often bouncy or humorous, punk music moves with a friendly but simple motion.
Anthemic workingclass punk with often abrasive sounds mixed with guitar work reminiscent of surf bands from the generation before, Oi came into its own as its own influence in the next generation of hardcore.
Building tension through emphasis on melodic notes within otherwise rigid progressions, a subset of the hardcore community made music with constant unchanging percussion and fluidly shifting riffs.
The earliest hardcore to secede from normalcy became truly a handful of power chords grinding against one another in conflicted progressions and interrupted rhythm. This music is essentially similar to grindcore after the first generation.
The major innovation of speed metal was the muffled, explosive strumming of power chords to produce a sound of impact and resurrect the power of rhythm guitar in rock music.
Bands like Prong produced the first hypnotic rhythm “mellow” metal which while violent in methods of creation produced an atmosphere of calm and allowed emotional aspects of the art within to emerge.
Some bands aspired to the fantasy- and progressive-inspired works of NWOBHM and toward that aim produced neoclassical and often lengthy works. The most commonly known example of this is Metallica’s “Orion.”
From the 1970s progressive bands metalheads began making larger structures and wider gains in technique in the rendering of intricate but impact-oriented music. While power chord riffing remains predominant, many progressive metal bands moved beyond the accepted “progressive” sound and created theoretically literate avantgarde works.
Misnamed speed/death metal hybrid bands were called “thrash metal” because of their violent and self-conflicted music, aggressive attitudes and thrash-based ideological assertions. The origin of the term “thrash metal” is European big corporate media magazines trying to sell speed metal as something more extreme than what it was.
A style that emerged as the speed metal genre was dying, power metal is speed metal riffing played either in an epic heavy metal or tuffguy pseudo-death metal style.
One branch of thrash reveals more of its punk influence, and in bands like MDC or COC expressed itself with loosely hardcore songs played quickly with a metal influence in phrasing, but in punk song structures and major keys.
The other half of the thrash tree demonstrates a more metallic approach and is a proto-death-metal hybrid subgenre, found most clearly in the early works of Cryptic Slaughter and the later works of DRI.
Open intervals and precise furiously fast structures distinguish this variant. Bands like Repulsion and Terrorizer defined this style.
The schizophrenic out of time rhythms and blurry, organic, lavaging rush of this style produced disorientation and loss of individual characteristics in the rising phenomena of chaos.
Loosely derived from Discharge, this genre worked melodic hardcore into a blurring ripple of speed and fury that unleashed itself in short bursts of anger.
In the style of the mighty Assück, these bands created pounding furious rhythms from even intervals of the fretboard, roaring forth in some complexity but mostly disassociative, violent, random, disorienting music.
From the pure origins of death metal, the faster styles took after bands like Slayer, early Sepultura and Massacra in making architectures of intricate rhythm and melodic construction.
Derived from the slamming, explosive street-level speed metal of Exodus or Exhorder, percussive death metal evolved from the New York Death Metal and Tampa Death Metal sounds to become a generic style of impact-oriented, explosive muffled strum death metal.
“Hate” is mastery of this style.
New York Death Metal (NYDM)
Explosively percussive and equal parts speed metal and angst-ridden New York Hardcore (NYHC), this music flew from the depths with guttural vocals, edgy rhythm riffing and essaylike song structures. In two styles, one of which is more percussive than its longer phrased variant.
Florida Death Metal
Some of the most “heavy metal” of the death metal movement, the Florida bands mated bold rhythm to the pulsing rhythm of early percussive death metal and created the most defiant, monstrously simple and direct metal of the era.
Swedish Death Metal
The first major evolution of theory occurred within the Swedish Death Metal movement, where Sunlight Studios/Thomas Skogsberg(tm) fuzztone production and longer phrases contributed to a melodicity fully evolving with At the Gates.
Continuing the progressive tradition in metal, the progressive death bands adhered to a style which was part rock with jazz and classical influences, and part the wily fingered “technical” death metal of a previous generation.
Jazz/death metal hybrid.
Later albums: jazz/metal.
Harmonically rich, offtime rhythms.
Became highly technical.
Technicalists and romantic artists.
Used violin and lead diminishing melody guitar work.
A stylistic hybrid, deathgrind is death metal using the simpler song structures and rhythmic expectancy riffing of grindgore. So far, nothing of stature has emerged from this style.
This term is marketing slang for retro bands making faster speed metal music using death metal picking technique and vocals.
From Göthenberg, Sweden, came a series of bands emulating At the Gates by making technical, jazz-and-rock influenced death metal. This only became a problem after “Slaughter of the Soul,” when At the Gates sent out the word to become commercial rock music hidden within death metal stylings.
Pre-At the Gates.
Template for this style.
Black metal that is heavy metal derived from this death metal style.
The moribund, self-pitying and sentimental style of doom metal has emerged in both heavy metal and death metal genres, where it is essentially the same music played with an emphasis on slow chord changes and resonant, recursive resolutions.
Chaotic and nihilistic blasts of short information in three-note riffs founded this style, which through reduction of assumed musicality focused on the information of its communication.
Early experiments in structuralism allowed melody to serve as a fundamental principle and therefore emphasized use of the melodic sound in riff construction and chord voicing.
Melodic, heavy metal
Some relapsed to a former style and made melodic stadium metal of NWOBHM era with black metal vocals and technique.
For the few who sought more extremity a style of grinding metal with nihilistic clipped emanations of information in abrupt explosions of riff was created, with variants moving closer to grindcore or pure unleashed melodicity.
Descended from the devotees of Bathory “Blood, Fire, Death,” this genre works folk song nationalism and epic narrative of multi-generational movements on the level of a people, creating symbolic black metal with lengthy melodies.
Minimalism taken to the furthest extreme hybridized with metal produced an electronic music influenced genre which favored unchanging simple beats (similar to Discharge) under shifting melodic context- and lexically-sensitive phrase evolution.
“Transylvanian Hunger” is the best of this style.
“Pure Holocaust” is a related idea.
Focuses on matching rhythm to expectation of a tone and then wearing it out, like the tedium of living in a dying society, anticipating radical change.
The music of Kraftwerk and its descendants, this is long melody evolving over a complex beat structure, often without human vocals.
Emphatic and pulsating dance music that was a fundamental influence on developing techno and industrial genres, EBM sounds like what Nine Inch Nails would be if executed by Godflesh or Beherit.
Influenced by throwbacks to mideval and music from before recorded history, ritual ambient uses simple melodic patterns in evolution and a primal sense of rhythm to emphasize its constructs.
Somewhat of a summary of the genre as a whole excluding most popular music influences from EBM, neoclassical ambient/industrial uses technological instrumentation and song structure to emphasize classical influences in melodic construction.No Comments