The wizards of Profanatica/Havohej experiment extensively with their music in both form and content, and as a result, their releases are widely varied with differing degrees of success as listening (as opposed to “theoretical”) experiences.
Thy Kingdom Cum, the most recent offering which will be unleashed by Hells Headbangers Records on November 26, unifies the threads of Profanatica by being noisy and avantgarde in its blasphemy and song structures while keeping focus on fast-paced black metal with melodic undertones and creative riffing.
Like Impaled Nazarene’s Rapture, Thy Kingdom Cum re-interprets black metal in the late-1980s ideal of fast single-string riffs which combine hints of melody with unrelenting energy. The result is like a hybrid between industrial music, punk and Wagnerian classical: great towering themes emerge from riffs that resemble bent bits of wire or the symbols on schematic diagrams. You may notice similarities to proto-black metal like Sarcofago here.
Profanatica as usual do not shy away from blasphemy but unlike some past works, on Thy Kingdom Cum they’re not writing protest rock; they are here to enjoy the blasphemy and this demonic relish gives this album the playful sense that made 1991’s Dethrone the Son of God so thoroughly a forbidden pleasure. What you’re hearing is musicians having fun raising hell, even if underneath that humorous pleasure is a deadly serious message.
Like early Havohej, Thy Kingdom Cum is fast and simple and abrades the ears with intense riffs and unique but compressed song structures. Like the band’s musical peak in Profanatitas de Domonatia this newer work shows a dedication to producing depth of music in addition to pure noise and evocative rhythm from the ever-adroit Paul Ledney drumming.
Where Profanatica‘s last album, 2010’s Disgusting Blasphemies Against God, ventured into pure textural rhythm and a grinding atmosphere, this newer incarnation of the band shows more dedication to highly motivational ripping metal riffs and through periodic melody in a shorter version of the style on Profanatitas de Domonatia, an expansion of the relevance of riff structure beyond rhythm.
As the ongoing story of Profanatica/Havohej evolves, Thy Kingdom Cum will likely be remembered as a unification of their more cerebral esoteric black metal with a digestible and intense form that conveys their message like pastoral landscapes carved in flesh. As such, it may re-awakening blackmetal to its roots.
Demonic occultist black metal band Profanatica, also known sometimes as Havohej, continues its quest to demolish holiness with impure sexual abuse of the incarnate divine.
This legendary band have been active in many forms since the late 1980s, with founding member Paul Ledney contributing to Revenant, Incantation, Havohej and Profanatica as well as being an anchor of the true black metal movement in North America.
Thy Kingdom Cum will see release on Hell’s Headbangers label in both CD and LP formats on November 26, 2013. This follows up to a series of releases following Profanatica’s Profanatitas de Domonatia, which in 2007 marked the rebirth of this vital blasphemous cult.
Profanatica return with a tuneful reinterpretation of their sophomore album, Disgusting Blasphemies Against God, refined by the sensibilities of the successful Sickened by Holy Host / The Grand Master Sessions EP compilation. The band presents a newfound confidence in ambient noise by using amplifier feedback as its own instrument in a more integral fashion than previous releases. The Curling Flame of Blasphemy opts for a slow burn approach where literal variations in tempo are suggestive rather than experienced. The result is ceremonious yet there is no culmination of the ritual, no climax; the whole procession ends on a dour note which does not feel conclusive regardless of its efficacy.
Five years have elapsed since 2010, a year that seemed to mark a slight renewal in creative forces, a kind of premonition of a metal renaissance that came after 15 years of horrid decadence following the decease of black metal as a movement. By 2013 this force was still incipient but already showed potential for future development as acts with more refined views about composition grounded themselves in tradition, promising to build monuments to a past glory for future times. Musicians from the metal underground’s classical era also formed the bulk of this rebirth, either through perfection or purification of their own take on the art.
The last two years have seen a manner of steady output that is weakened in quantity of quality releases, little manifest presence to speak of, with a few exceptions. The same can be said of the years between 2010 and 2013. This seems to be in accordance with a 3-year pendulum swing as the small cycle of metal. The long one probably signaling stronger points of birth and decay – probably decades: 1970-birth, 1980-underground, 1990-golden era, 2000-dark ages, 2010-renaissance.
It was a different time, and when Slayer, Metallica and Iron Maiden were doing their thing at the beginning of the 1980s, metal was also at a mainstream high with many poopoo acts dominating the scene. When mainstream metal drowns in its filth at the end of the decade and the 90s leave them with unmetal metal like Pantera or Soundgarden is when the underground rears its head in greater numbers.This coincides a little with what is happening now, as nu-funderground and mainstream whoring like female-fronted so-called metal flourishes in numbers just as the shock rock and glam metal (hard rock) plague in the time of Slayer.
To make matters more complicated, we have the internet, along with other means of communication and technology that allow for pockets of both good and bad music to survive with less regard to overall trends. Metal is not yet at another apocalyptic end of an era like the one that saw the explosion of death metal, we may have to wait another decade for that, but there is rise not dissimilar to the rise of underground NWOBHM and soon after speed metal. The next ebbing of the tide is at hand, but not yet its climax. What changes is not the fact that there is or there isn’t more mainstream crap, but how much excellent underground music there is. The year 1990 was a very special time marker that signaled the advent of a climax low for the mainstream and climax high for the underground.
Now, that we posit the existence of such critical years does not mean that no excellent albums occur outside of them, but that there is a sort of genre-wide, or community-wide, perhaps, pulse that pushes general tendencies. Now, according to this idea, the next “big year” in the small cycle would be 2016. Below we give an overview of these so-called big years and some band releases we are looking forward to this year.
What are your expectations in metal releases in 2016?
A quick reference to distinguished metal works in the ‘pulse’ years. Not especially comprehensive.
Black Sabbath – Master of Reality
1974: (Not really metal, Black Sabbath is WAY ahead)
Deep Purple – Stormbringer
Rush – Rush
King Crimson – Red (Editor’s note: Probably closer in spirit to future metal than others)
Judas Priest – Sin After Sin
Motörhead – Motörhead
Iron Maiden – Iron Maiden
Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell
Angel Witch – Angel Witch
Cirith Ungol – Cirith Ungol
Metallica – Kill ‘Em All
Slayer – Show No Mercy
Iron Maiden – Piece of Mind
Mercyful Fate – Melissa
Manilla Road – Crystal Logic
Manowar – Into Glory Ride
Slayer – Reign in Blood
Metallica – Master of Puppets
Kreator – Pleasure to Kill
Morbid Angel – Abominations of Desolation
Sepultura – Morbid Visions
Fates Warning – Awaken the Guardian
Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus
Sepultura – Beneath the Remains
Morbid Angel – Altars of Madness
Bolt Thrower – Realm of Chaos
Voivod – Nothingface
Helstar – Nosferatu
Powermad – Absolute Power
Rigor Mortis – Freaks
Pestilence – Consuming Impulse
Burzum – Burzum
At the Gates – The Red in the Sky is Ours
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
Morpheus Descends – Ritual of Infinity
Therion – Beyond Sanctorum
Sinister – Cross the Styx
Amorphis – The Karelian Isthmus
Deicide – Legion
Incantation – Onward to Golgotha
Atrocity – Longing for Death
Autopsy – Mental Funeral
Cadaver – …In Pains
Asphyx – Last One on Earth
Cenotaph – The Gloomy Reflections of Our Hidden Sorrows
Darkthrone – A Blaze in the Northern Sky
Emperor – Wrath of the Tyrant
Graveland – In the Glare of Burning Churches
Immortal – Diabolical Full Moon Mysticism
Sacramentum – Finis Malorum
Skepticism – Stormcrowfleet
Suffocation – Pierced from Within
Vader – De Profundis
Gorgoroth – The Antichrist
Graveland – Thousand Swords
Summoning – Minas Morgul
Deicide – Once Upon the Cross
Sacramentum – Far Away from the Sun
Immortal – Battles in the North
Abigor – Nachthymmen (From the Twilight Kingdom)
Funeral – Tragedies
Dissection – Storm of the Light’s Bane
Iced Earth – Burnt Offerings
Gorguts – Obscura
Vader – Black to the Blind
Incantation – Diabolical Conquest
Dawn – Slaughtersun
Sorcier des Glaces – Snowland
Angelcorpse – Exterminate
Blind Guardian – Nightfall in Middle-Earth
Symphony X – Twilight of the Gods
Rhapsody – Symphony of Enchanted Lands
Suffocation – Despise the Sun
Absurd – Asgardsrei
Soulburn – Feeding on Angels
Arghoslent – Galloping Through the Battle Ruins
Master – Faith is in Season
Skepticism – Lead and Aether
Gorguts – From Wisdom to Hate
Absu – Tara
Martyr – Extracting the Core
Lost Horizon – Awakening the World
Deeds of Flesh – Mark of the Legion
Averse Sefira – Battle’s Clarion
Graveland – Raise Your Sword!
Krieg – The Black Plague
Avzhia – The Key of Throne
Quo Vadis – Defiant Imagination
Blotted Science – The Machinations of Dementia
Avzhia – In My Domains
Krieg – The Isolationist
Burzum – Belus
Divine Eve – Vengeful and Obstinate
Atlantean Kodex – The Golden Bough
Graveland – Cold Winter Blades
Profanatica – Disgusting Blasphemies Against God
Autopsy – The Tomb Within
Overkill – Iron Bound
Decrepitaph – Beyond the Cursed Tombs
Black Sabbath – 13
Condor – Nadia
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Satan – Life Sentence
Argus – Beyond the Martyrs
Autopsy – Headless Ritual
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
Deströyer 666? (Editor’s note: I have my doubts about this one’s possible… transcendence)
As another year ends and a new one begins, many “best of” lists pop up here and there, among them our own here at DMU. While others may be eager to know about what is ever new, we are more interested in what stands the test of time. Today we will look at some albums that were highlighted here as the foremost products of the year 2013, which was a year of renewal, great comebacks, startling discoveries and a general wellspring of inspiration. In the opinion of this writer, 2013 has been the best year for metal in the 21st century.
To start off, we shall pay respects to long-lasting acts with a black metal background, namely Graveland, Summoning and Burzum. While the last has left the metal camp for good, its approach and spirit is still very much enriched by the essence of the deepest metal infused with transcendental values. Summoning is still doing their thing, ever evolving, trying a different permutation of their unique style. Fudali’s project has become the warrior at the frontlines of the strongest nationalism grounded in music that uplifts the heart with an authentic battle feeling (as opposed to those other bands playing funny-jumpy rock and acting all “dangerous”).
Sôl austan, Mâni vestan is an ambient affair that uses short loops which revolve around clear themes in each track. The approach is a little formulaic, thereby limiting the experience with a feeling of repetition. However, as with many good works of art, this self-imposed canalization serves to speed the result in a direction. As with a lot of Burzum’s work, this is a concept album that must be listened to as a whole. When this is followed and one stops looking for novelty and instead concentrates on the details that bring variation within the familiar landscape, the somewhat arduous experience brings great rewards once the summit is reached and the journey is taken more than once.
Something similar can be said of the slightly pop-minded Old Mornings Dawn. This effort by Summoning certainly lacks the density of their masterpiece, Dol Guldur, but is no less effective, although perhaps shallow. But what isn’t shallow when compared to that masterpiece? As with every Summoning album, Old Mornings Dawn has a very separate personality, and in this case, it is one of heroism, light, regeneration and hope. Something that will never leave the band’s trademark sound is the deep feeling of melancholy and longing for ruins.
Graveland materializes in Thunderbolts of the Gods one of their most warlike efforts to date in a smooth trajectory that has gone from rough-pagan to long-winded and epic to heroic war music. What raises this offering above others in Fudali’s current trend is the awesome bringing forth of destructive energies mustered in the imposing drumwork. Gone are the clumsy rhythms of Cold Winter Blades and the redneckish tone of the (nonetheless great) album Following the Voice of Blood. This is the technically polished and spirit-infused summit of this face of Graveland.
One of the most deserving releases of 2013 was Black Sabbath’s 13. More expectations could not have been placed on anyone else. Yet the godfathers of metal delivered like the monarchs they are: with original style, enviable grace, magnificent strength and latent power. Along with the last three albums just mentioned, this album shows itself timeless in the present metal landscape. It encompasses all that it is metal, and brings it back to its origin. This is an absolute grower which will age like the finest wine and is, in my opinion, the album of the year of 2013.
In 2013, Profanatica finally achieved amazing distinction with Thy Kingdom Cum, which can be considered the fully developed potential of what Ledney presented in the thoroughly enjoyable Dethrone the Son of God under the Havohej moniker. To say this is the natural outcome of Profanatica’s past work is as true as it is misleading in its implications. This is not just a continuation of what the band was doing before, but a deliberate step, a clear decision in the clear change in texture quality that means the world in such minimalist music where a simple shift in technique or modal approach defines most of the character of the music.
Cóndor’s Nadia was probably the hidden pearl of the year. Never mind the metaphor of the “diamond in the rough”, there is nothing rough about this. It is polished, but it is hidden. The shy face of this beautiful lady is covered by a veil that turns away the unworthy, the profane! This is immortal metal artwork which to uninitiated eyes and ears seems but like the simple, perhaps even amateur, collection of Sabbathian cliches and tremolo excuses of an unexperienced band. The knowledgeable and contemplating metal thinker recognizes the Platonic forms under the disfigured shapes.
Imprecation’s Satanae Tenebris Infinita and Blood Dawn by Warmaster draw our attention to the strong presence of a more humble but profoundly (though not obviously) memorable album and EP. These will stand the chance of time, but will not necessarily remain strong in the mind of a listener in a way that he feels compelled to come back to them often.
Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves by VON seemed more enticing at the time. It’s definitely a solid release, but it is however a very thinly populated album with more airtime than content. Whatever content it has is also not particularly engaging. The enjoyability of this one is a much more subjective affair and like a soundtrack is more dependent on extra-musical input from the listener’s imagination.
As delightful as the three heavy metal albums Argus Beyond The Martyrs, Blitzkrieg Back From Hell and Satan are, the intrinsic qualities of their selected subgenres makes them a difficult candidate for long-lasting and profound impact. That is not to say they have no lasting value. If anything, these are albums one can come back a thousand times and perhaps they will not grow that much, but they will never truly grow old.
Autopsy’s Headless Ritual is one of the strongest yet most understated albums of the year. The extremely rough character of the music may contribute to how it carelessly it can be left behind. Fans of brutal music will find it little different from the rest and will quickly forget it. Fans of wider expressions and deeper thoughts will pass it by with little interest. Such is the tragedy of this very respectable album.
A few stragglers in this group; Master’s The Witchhunt, Centurian’s Contra Rationem, Derogatory’s Above All Else, and Rudra’s RTA proved to be more impact and potential than manifest presence. These will remain fun and quaint for a very occasional listen, perhaps even a sort of throwback feeling, but lacking the long-lasting impact of others in this list.
A special mention is deserved by Into the Pantheon, the essential synthesis of Empyrium, being their most revealing, powerful and clear release. While not outwardly metal, this live recording everything that is to be metal at the level of character and spirit. As such it is the perfect closing note for this recapitulation and reevaluation of past selections.
Black metal emerged as a reaction to the trend of death metal which had already established a musical vocabulary and through that achieved a higher degree of technicality as well as abstraction.
These bands took inspiration from the proto-black Hellhammer, Venom, Bathory and Sodom. The music of these early hybrid bands was quite unlike what became the second wave of black metal or death metal in that its motifs were simple yet concrete; overlaid onto a structure which juxtaposes seemingly unrelated motifs next to one another in an uncomplicated and often superficially nonsensical form. Yet, the result was surprisingly successful as a visceral and chaotic experience of raw, concrete, sensory imagery.
The black metal to follow refined this approach through retaining much of the simplicity and visceral nature of the earlier music while placing the motifs in a more logical format through phrasal composition, in which each riff has a shape created by its phrase and these form a language within each song. This and the trademark atmospheric riffs driven by waves of reverb and tremolo picking – largely invented by the Norwegian bands of note – came to define the public perception of black metal as a genre. Consequently, the Norwegian sound moved away from the rhythmic lineage of rock to music to something closer to the traditional western sensibility: harmony and melody over static, invariant rhythm as famously codified by the experimental gothic sensibilities of Transilvanian Hunger.
Profanatica, from what can be intuited from rare interviews, had strong reactions towards both the Norwegian sound and death metal itself. As such their music took on a different character which has not garnered the band near as much acclaim. The Norwegian sound is, after all, is the standard against which all black metal music is held. Given the fact that all genres are imposed by observation after the fact, it seems that the difference between Profanatica and the Norwegian giants is not one of quality, but of a band not fitting within the aesthetic boundaries of a genre that the audience expects. That and the mad rush for Norwegian black metal pushed Profanatica to the boundaries of the black metal movement where its influence on artists and hardcore fans tells a different story of its importance.
Much like the Norwegians, Profanatica refined the approach of its influences by emphasizing an incoherent structure and seemingly random construction. The motifs themselves are anything but abstract; often sounding vaguely familiar if not recycled both literally and intuitively. The listener will detect a clear sense of familiarity with the image of a particular motif, yet its contextual placement is such that it reveals a new perspective on something familiar. To draw a metaphor, it is as if one obtains a view of the same landscape from the peak of different mountains. This freedom of association allows a particular feeling, idea or image to be used as appropriate, anywhere in a song without sounding out of place. That particular innovation is unique to this band alone.
Structurally, Profanatica develop the proto-black method by emphasizing its motif contrast and non-rational composition. The infamous “Weeping in Heaven” demonstrates this technique through a collection of riff ideas which bears little relationship to one another, nor are treated in such a way that might cause the music to blend seamlessly. The contrast is emphasized which leaves the listener in a position to experience the music on an intuitive level. The result speaks to the body and it speaks towards the id. Logical progression, causality and abstract musical language are rejected abjectly. Profanatica embraces the rhythmic tradition of non-Western forms; using it to give meaning to chaos and incoherence of raw experience. Where one might perceive conceptual weakness and compositional immaturity in the early black metal music, Profanatica matured their approach to the point of strength.
The greatest contrast between the Norwegian sound and their influences lay at the relationship between the subject and the perceiver. The musical component of the proto-black bands described the emotional reactions to a phenomenon portrayed, resulting in the internal discourse one expects when reacting to the representations given to them by their nervous system. The Norwegian sound attempts to paint the external world through its musical discourse. The valuations of the perceiver are never absent quite absent and serve to describe the relationship of the internal world to the external. It asks the question, “where do we fit in the image of the world as presented?”
In a sense it attempts to categorize a dark forest in nonverbal symbols. Profanatica, resting firmly in the proto-black tradition, presents the terror of a solitary human being in a forest without describing the forest itself through its musical symbols. The dialogue then, becomes a matter of internal sensation which is untamed and instinctual. In terms of artistry, that innovation ultimately expanded the initial range of expression without reasoning categorically about it.
The effectiveness of this particular approach may be observed on the medley from the Grand Masters Sessions release. The track consists of portions of the band’s demo material stitched together to form a single track. A listener familiar with Profanatica’s back catalog will no doubt sense the familiarity of the material yet what is most striking is the functionality of the piece as a whole. Despite being composed from entirely different songs, the song involves juxtaposition of each motif and its partial ordering, and as a result manages a level of unity as a stream of consciousness which reveals new perspectives on the material through context.
Profanatitas de Domonatia (2007) distills the familiar Incantation sound made famous on their debut record Onward to Golgotha – which Paul Ledney had a strong hand in developing – by stripping the material down to its most basic instincts. The result is a fierce and destructive force of will whose aim is deconstruction. The follow up Disgusting Blasphemies Against God saw the band barbarizing the famous emotional sensitivity of black metal’s melodic heritage and assembling those remains into hideous totems. The record’s defining characteristic is, after all, something of a crescendo implying the process of construction, perhaps out of the remains of that which its predecessor tore down. The latest record, Thy Kingdom Cum, lays siege to its two previous approaches by simplifying its rhythms to the point of idiocy while contorting its melodic forms to the point of mockery. The defining character of its predominant motifs is laughter which can be gleaned easily in the opening moments of the track “False Doctrina.” The aforementioned qualities are not something which need to be abstracted from the music; they are clear and obvious.
Profanatica’s approach is much like an uncivilized warband conducting raids on the civilized. Such groups are as much a tribal patchwork out of violent young men as they are a patchwork of the spoils of their activities: contradictory compositions of the basic human and technological components of a greater civilization whose assemblage is entirely pragmatic and allows for them to serve functions other than intended, but no less effective than their original purpose. Out of elements bound tenuously is something effective, something purposeful, something deadly. The world this music operates in is one which is defined almost entirely by nature rather than one defined by humans.
Where proto-black metal is defined by its visceral nature and deconstructive character, Profanatica embrace the ignorance in a brash display of unconcern for the perfume-soaked intellectuals which decry those outside their borders. Dwelling within the primitive backwater fringe has its advantages by bearing immunity to the abstract and desperate silliness of the rest of the genre. The similarly-goaled war metal attempts to reach back into black metal’s foundations but does so in a way which reduces the motif as an objectified emotion or image into pure texture reducing its communicative efficacy. The work of Ledney and company retains the concrete sensory experiences which drove metal in each of its original incarnations and were later given musical scrutiny before completely fossilizing, allowing their art to pick the last of the low-hanging fruit of metal as a form while others languish in petty revivalism, soulless displays of technical mastery, or vapid experimentation that desperately seeks revitalization by looking to external music genres; copying but not transforming its clichés.
Many of us old school death metal fans watched the rise of zine Codex Obscurum with growing interest because it, like Glorious Times and Underground Never Dies!, represents an attempt to look back at the underground and figure out what made it as powerful as it was. Part of the answer is selectivity, which is a gentle person’s form of “elitism,” meaning that one selects quality over quantity and vigorously promotes and defends the quality. This is what zines did, what radio shows did, and what labels did, back in the day, by choosing some bands over others. The vague smell of blood in the air is the shadow of long-forgotten predation and natural selection that also shaped us as humans, which means not so much “survival of the fittest” but that all who make a meaningful contribution get kicked upstairs and everyone else is forgotten.
Codex Obscurum represents the best kind of selectivity because it targets bands of note but does so broadly, thus you avoid both the “hey kids, everything’s great!” attitude of the commercial providers and the narrow perceptual slot of the kvlt vndergrovnd. This issue advertises swamp death metal band Autopsy, second-wave crust band Doom, cavernous old school death metal band Blaspherian, multifaceted heavy metal/folk band Primordial, melodic drone metal band Sacriphyx, abrasive occult death metal band Father Befouled, Icelandic modern black metal act Svartidaudi, and several more. While not everyone may like (or admit to liking…) these acts, the spread makes it clear that both broad-minded attention to music itself and a high level of standards apply here. This explains why the editors of such a zine might want to go underground and stay there, where they are not beholden to the ugly cycle of advertising revenues and thus being asked to pimp the latest platter of re-heated Carpenters tunes spray-painted with the vaguest appearance of “metal.” Indeed, Codex Obscurum is funded entirely by user purchase price, which is why for $5 or so this arrives at your door with no ads.
For the uninitiated, this zine presents the old school zine style in every detail, which is both practical and a nice atmospheric touch. The hand-numbered issues, the xeroxed pages complete with copy artifacts, occasional typos and sometimes surly answers to perfectly reasonable questions by bands who clearly have done too much press lately, all factor in to the appeal. Use of cardstock for the cover gives this issue a more permanent feel than older photocopied heap zines had, which shows a positive advance of technology. Similarly, quite a few of these interviews seem to have occurred through email, and the use of office software to lay out the zine makes it more readable. The rest is pure old school, from the writing style which is both personal and projected into the mind of an idealized metalhead, looking for that nearly indefinable quality that makes a metal band distinguish itself as a classic in the making rather than news of the week.
The primary content for Codex Obscurum is provided by its abundant interviews, which are conducted in a familiar yet inquisitive style, like the best of Joan Didion-influenced hip journalism before it forgot the word “investigative” in its title. These questions aren’t all softballs like you would expect in a mainstream magazine, but sometimes force bands to confront their own internal struggles for self-definition. To their credit, most of the bands here rise to the occasion and reveal their thinking and intentions in the actions they have taken. The Doom interview is particularly revelatory as the interviewer walks the band through the past and makes connections to consistent patterns across their career. The Autopsy interview makes for a stunning read since it is Eric Cutler giving a candid and somewhat aggressive portrayal of where the band is and how past events shaped their present outlook. The Svartidaudi interview goes in-depth into how this band is struggling to find its own voice while under onslaught from the many trends of current black metal, despite being inspired by the best of the past (which is different from being inspired by the past alone). One oddity that would be called a “quirk” in any less just-the-music-ma’am magazine is the lengthy interview with the creator of the RPG Cave Evil, which accompanies the amazing artwork from that game with a nearly existential exploration of the purpose of RPGs themselves.
Profanatica “Thy Kingdom Cum” (Hell’s Headbangers)
You cannot defile nuns
While wearing sweatpants.
The sizeable block of reviews at the back of Codex Obscurum show where this zine is determined to keep its hand in the current music industry. Any band that is roughly connected to old school death metal and black metal, with a wide spread because of open-mindedness, qualifies for inclusion here. These reviews take a conversational outlook which seems too removed from the music at first except when you realize that it’s gonzo journalism of the first order. When writing about metal, don’t pretend you are not a metalhead; it’s a lie. Further, think of what you like and then extrapolate to what others like. It helps them shop for music. It also avoids troubling pretense and complications as reviewers try to get more “in depth” and end up producing thousand-word inspections that result in no clear conclusions. Here, the conclusions are clear — in fact, one section even puts them in Haiku form — and give roughly the kind of synopsis one would get from an experienced record store owner, label head or producer, issuing forth a rough summary of the band, its importance and its staying power and audience, in about a sentence each.
For the past several issues, Codex Obscurum has reserved its final pages for experimental content. In this case, it is facially an inspection of why a famous metal musician flaked on an interview… and beneath the waves, a deft revelation of the disintegration of the underground into warring self-interested parties while no one keeps their eye on the wheel or the road. That leaves the future of the genre up in the air, since everyone is too busy cashing in to steer, and the results are about as you might expect: all the has-beens in warmed over hardcore, emo and indie rock bands have rushed through the breach and set up shop making parasitic versions of the older material, except nowhere near as good. Codex Obscurum shows a good way to reclaim the past of the underground for the future, namely to start paying attention to the steering again and to be unafraid to be selective and to not give reasons why some bands simply suck. Just be honest. The editors and writers here have given it their best shot and it makes for not only informative and entertaining reading, but a glimpse into the old days without the smarmy fug of solicitous nostalgia for marketing purposes that normally hangs around such ventures.
I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.
This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.
Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.
When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.
The following albums are those that merit such a standard:
Argus – Beyond The Martyrs
Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.
Birth A.D. – I Blame You
What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.
Black Sabbath – 13
Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.
Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell
This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.
Burzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan
People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.
Centurian – Contra Rationem
For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.
Cóndor – Nadia
This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.
Derogatory – Above All Else
In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.
Empyrium – Into the Pantheon
Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.
Master – The Witchhunt
Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.
Rudra – RTA
The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.
Satan – Life Sentence
The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.
Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.
Von – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves
Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.
Wardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil
Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.
War Master – Blood Dawn
Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.
Album of the year:
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.
The following were considered, and then not so much considered:
Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.