Death ‘n’ roll goth rockers Tribulation will be touring North America for their first ever headlining run of the continent.
Popularity contests are good for one thing only: determining the degree of decadence the mentality of a certain group. Given the state of sedation and apathy of the general public, it is no surprise that this list shows the contemptible character and inability for self-criticism and assessment the average man is aflicted with. Also, like anything mainstream, very little here is actually metal, even in spirit. Loute Vire especializes in democracy, bringing the average stupidity back to the average person, feeding them their own filth.
1. Iron Maiden – The Book of Souls
Free us from Glam-rhythm Maiden. Character-wise, this nu mid-paced Iron Maiden is a combination of eighties hair metal, power-doom-epic metal in the vein of Candlemass but with the emphasis of catchy Murican posturing. Structurally, it manages to be both formulaic and pointless in its overextension, basically taking the worst from both worlds. Iron Maiden have become the kings of posturing, and even if butthurt fans complain, one must say that this downfall was evident ever since Somewhere in Time and was pretty evident with Seventh Son of the Seventh Son. Stick to 1985’s Live After Death as a synthesis of the band’s golden era and you’ll be fine. Stop feeding Steve Harris’ ego machine.
2. Ghost – Meliora
Caricature music that disguises carnival thinking by providing a steady, unchanging background. Ghost know how to fool the enemy, the audience is hooked, distracted by fireworks to the right and to the left, without realizing they are paying for an empty but colorful cardboard box. Ghost, master deceivers, everything is so in your face, that the decadent masses love the fake but safe entertainment that ironic bullshit provides. Surely this would also be released in vinyl format, that’s what hipsters do. They need to keep piling up appearances and hip products. The best thing you can do with one of these is break it and use the shards to cut the throats of Ghost fans.
3. Tribulation – The Children of the Night
This hard rock-ish outfit is probably what Opeth would sound like if they focused on their weirdo rock side instead of jumping around genres without musical justifications or proper transitions, or if Ghost took itself seriously and had a little talent. Tribulation’s may be the best album on this list, as pop and hook-based as it is, it retains the basic decency of proper music in its continuity and coherence. The focus is completely on the guitar lines. Unfortunately, songs do lapse as they are overstretched for the false ‘complexity’ appearance that hipsters, high school nerds and college SJWs like. Worthy of from radio airtime, not more, no less.
(Editor’s note: You know a band is bad when it gets double-SMR‘ed.)
4. Amorphis – Under the Red Cloud
I may not have been paying enough attention but, when did this originally Finnish death metal band turn into American high school rock balladers with queer Scandinavian leads? (Editor’s note: It began in 1994.) Amorphis seems to have abandoned all sense of pride for a couple of more greens. This is selling out clearly exemplified. Bands, this is what you should not do. Fans, you will only find plastic here.
5. Enslaved – In Times
Progressive rock for those who lack the subtlety for progressive rock. Black metal for those too soft to brave the intellectual challenge of not being a sheep. This is long-winded pop and rock artificially styled to appear complex for insecure posers.
6. Between the Buried and Me – Coma Ecliptic
Dream Theater meets Avenged Sevenfold with a strong Pink Floyd influence. How do these guys manage to sound exactly the same again yet be so vague in content? All semblance of continuity here, apart from tonality, is only maintained at some cerebral level in the imagination of the band or of the fans who will like any catchy & ‘complex’ turd that distracts them from their monotonous lives. The music itself is a disparaged parade of funny moments.
7. High on Fire – Luminiferous
Speed metal on the outside, borish NWOBHM on the inside. This gets old quick and leaves no mark. Like many others, it tries to be an updated, more tough version of Motorhead, and use the old excuse of just “wanting to play good ole rock”. Forgettably redneckish.
8. Queensrÿche – Condition Hüman
It is difficult not to laugh when listening to this macho-man bullshit for young, white posers. However bombastically pop and girly these songs are, they flow well. On the downside, the band never develops or resolves songs, meaning they are only good as groove and hook inducing. Radio garbage.
9. Paradise Lost – The Plague Within
Boring as ever, or perhaps more than ever, Paradise Lost is still trying to make the album they almost achieve with their earliest music. Never rising above potential mediocrity, this band is a collection of dull moments peppered with pleasing leads. An unexpected heir to this hooky combination of candy and nutrition-less filler is Sylosis. Anyone looking for a casual hit may dig into some of the tracks here, otherwise, refer to classic underground so-called doom metal.
10. Intronaut – The Direction of Last Things
Alternating angsty with pretty boy vocals, the mark of immaturity. Groove-based music without a clear thematic line, the mark of an empty mind. So, this is basically unthinking, puerile nonsense for people who want to “feel” metal but do not actually like metal. Destroy not only any copies of this but the factories and corporate buildings in charge of producing this mindless heap of catchy garbage.
Black Breath – Heavy Breathing (2010), Sentenced to Life (2012), Slaves Beyond Death (2015)
Smegma crust derivative deathcore. There’s sludge in here too as this was released by Southern Lord, the idiots who brought us Kim Kelly Kore like Nails and Wolves in the Throne Room. No Swedes are spared by these gang rapists. Black Breath even spread apart the cheeks and felch the fecal matter from Wolverine Blues’ asshole. Listening to any of their releases is hearing them play metal hot potato by passing around that firm bowel movement mouth to mouth like a mother bird feeding her babies. Black Breath lick that shit up and down to get the turd glisteningly slick before shoving it up Kim Kelly’s meat-hooked Hellraiser cunt. From there it will be squeezed out like soft serve ice cream for Pitchfork and Vice’s hipster cones.
Demonical – Black Flesh Redemption (2015)
Demonical wants to play with the big boys. They have Boss HM-2 pedals and riffs Dismember rejected when writing the not-so-classic Death Metal. What they don’t have is any idea of how to write an adequate death metal song; these guys can’t even hammer out an effective two and a half minute verse chorus verse thrash basher. The four tracks each attempt to pander to a different lowest common denominator metal audience with their individual use of breakdowns, doomy interludes, and cheesy keyboards. The rhythm guitars take a backseat to the cheesy Amon Amarth vocalizations. There is about a minute of semi-enjoyable generic material on this record.. Snort the line of borax on the floor failure.
Entrails – Obliteration (2015)
Three strikes is life in many states. Singapore will hang anyone who walks off a plane with enough junk. Medieval England executed children caught stealing anything worth more than two loaves of bread; mercy meant limbs lopped off. This is Entrails’ fourth offense. These recidivists need to overdose in a Cambodian shack on a cocktail of liquor, Valium, and chloroquine.
Interment – Into the Crypts of Blasphemy (2010)
Yet another fourth rate band from the early nineties finally recorded an album. The songs are again dick beat punk and the metal riffs were pilfered from Entombed and Carnage. Just like Entrails no label gave these fools money to record an album back in 1993 for good reason. Now that they’re adults with jobs, this garage band can afford studio time to bore us. Interment need to quit trying to live out their delusional teenage heavy metal dreams and spend time with their kids on weekends.
Verminous – The Unholy Communion (2013)
Verminous return with more punk rock masquerading as death metal. More bouncy hardcore riffs, more lame samples, and more gang chants. Whatever catchy riffs are on this CD are quickly worn out through strict verse chorus verse pop punk structures that make three minute long songs drag. I want to throw it at a homeless person. The lyrical themes are inconsistent too. Pop Satanism? Okay. Bukkake? Barbatos? Verminous are the Blink-182 of Svensk Döds Metall. Repeatedly listening to The Unholy Cumunion is equivalent to fucking your girlfriend wearing a used condom picked up off the sidewalk.
Drowned – Idola Specus (2014)
Soulside Journey simplified into pop music. Drowned grokked the underground’s current nostalgia for the early nineties and rehashed a beloved classic into an easily digestible rock format. Pointless introductions and incongruent atmospheric verses are thrown in to appease doom halfwits and bore everyone else. Darkthrone is being bowdlerized for hipsters just as early rock ‘n’ roll whitewashed rhythm and blues for suburban teenagers. Truly Katy Perry death metal.
Tribulation – Children of the Night (2015)
Tribulation first moved from Grotesque and Merciless worship to Rust in Peace meets Queensrÿche on The Formulas of Death. Children of the Night abandons metal altogether, becoming Moog synth laden regressive goth rock. Tribulation aren’t horror score Goblin now; Tribulation are strict, just out of the closet Lestat cosplayers. Where are the clean vocal hooks for the Cradle of Filth faggots? How the hell are Tribulation supposed to get into Hot Topic next to Deafheaven? They need to put away the Vampire Diaries, pull the buttplugs out of their rectums, and hire a real singer. Then go to Safeway, buy four gallons of bleach, and chug them like forties in the parking lot. That will clean out Tribulation’s gastrointestinal tracts.
Ghost – Meliora (2015)
Repugnant failed miserably at death metal. Now Repugnant fail miserably at Duran Duran. Ghost have no musical influences from Blue Öyster Cult or Mercyful Fate; rather they play vocal pop with occasional speed metal riffs. Pop music centered around singing that makes Dave Mustaine sound like Ronnie James Dio. This has to be trolling: the vocalist sounds like Seth Putnam on Anal Cunt’s indie wuss rock parody Picnic of Love; grown men are playing dress up pseudo-metal like little girls having a Satanic tea party. Tobias Forge should lick lead paint chips off the floor and bash his brains out in the back of a police van.
Cut Up – Forensic Nightmares (2015)
Cut Up? What kind of lazy band name is that? What happened to metal bands whose names actually referenced death? Treblinka? Autopsy? Immolation? Cut Up wondered what Dismember meant and looked it up in the dictionary. “What does Dismember mean bro?” “It means to cut people up.” Cut Up cuts up old death metal riff phrases into licks and rearranges them into death ‘n’ roll forensic nightmares. Songs are structured like Cannibal Corpse filtered through the randomness of metalcore. Ample slams and breakdowns disorient into a brain cell holocaust. The target audience is those australopithecines who believe death metal a more extreme version of beatdown hardcore. Go cut up your vegetables.
Dismember : Lethal Weapon :: Cut Up : Samurai Cop minus the amusing bits
The title track of Suffocation’s third LP is a very interesting subject of analysis (as much as other excellent songs such as “Depths of Depravity”, “Suspended In Tribulation” or “Brood Of Hatred” from the same album could be) because it is a great example of recurrent motives reused in multiple different forms, of riff (musical ideas) progression and of narrative structure that ends with a climax and a release that brings a satisfying conclusion. The first step before going further is understanding how each idea of this song is crafted around the very simple and overused concept of two intervals a half step away from each other. The song is rather chromatic and has to be looked at with this idea in head.
In this case, as I will (try to) demonstrate, the most important interval is the major third, and then the perfect fifths/fourths. From this basis we can establish five constant elements that will be identified throughout the whole analysis.
- Element “a” is the collection of pitches that represent the major third intervals. Suffocation plays a lot with those intervals to create new motives and harmonies. It could also be considered as part of a harmonic minor scale (the last 3 degrees and the tonic).
- Same thing applies to element “b” but with the intervals of perfect fifths (and thus fourths), although the relation between the chromatic 5ths/4ths will gain another larger dimension sometimes.
- Element “c” is a diminished chord, something we will encounter frequently (Suffocation also uses frequently tritones and augmented fifth chords, especially in the Breeding The Spawn LP).
- Element “d” is a precise motive (and not collection) that finds meaning during the development of the song.
- Element “e” is just an ascending 3-notes chromatic scale that is used many times to partially conclude motives and phrases. It is of secondary importance.
I am not claiming that Suffocation used those leitmotifs very carefully and consciously like a classical composer would have, but my point is rather to show how, despite the lack of tonal material in the song “Pierced From Within”, unity was achieved between all components and how it creates a great song, structurally.
*From now on all the examples are in the F-clef*
The song starts with a long phrase at a fast tempo (riff 1) that is twice repeated. As shown in the score below, it is a mix of power chords and fast, technical strumming. We can see many manifestations of “a” as well as the repetition of rhythmic cells to create coherence. With its additional time, the last bar helps to generate an effect of oddness and temporal confusion through a more simple and effective way than modern bands trying over-technical rhythms and time signatures. This technique is used a few times in the song as you will see. Some have written the 3/4 as 12/8 but I prefer the former to adequately show rhythmic accents.
Riff 1 is followed by a short bridge made of an arpeggiated diminished chord (element c) and an augmented fifth chord (constructed upon two major thirds, suggesting “element a”).
From this long and complex riff, the music moves on to a generic “br00tal” verse (riff 2) where the vocals enter. However, it still manages to rhythmically catch interest due to the triplets at the end of the phrases.
Suffocation used different basic textures (tremolo, then muted power chords) to make both verses different while keeping the same harmonic outline, but this is not much of a big deal since the difference is not very flagrant:
Between the two verses appears riff 3(a), an intricate “melody” which marks a break for the vocals. This interlude introduces Suffocation’s technique of creating long musical phrases by the juxtaposition of motives that share different conclusions, yet constructed with the same material, as explained below. In addition of this, the different parts of the whole riff shift between “tonalities” or “regions”; where in the first bar the notes revolve around a certain fifth chord, in the next bar this fifth chord will be a semitone lower, hence the “larger” utilisation made of “element b” versus “a”. This is a very common (and cheap) way to make your material sound less repetitive when you are a bad and unoriginal death metal band, but in this song it becomes justified by the fact that the underlying concept of this technique is also used within a single part of a riff (and not only between parts) as the basis to craft multiple different melodic elements (just like the beginning of each bar in riff 3).
Right after our second verse, the song returns to the riff 3, but only for one bar because Suffocation shifts to a complete variation of it. While all the verses and riff 3a were written in 4/4, Suffocation adds another 4/4 bar after this first one (of riff 3b) and with the help of a drum fill switches to 6/8, once again destabilizing the listener. The ideas of riff 3a are then developed under groups of 6 sixteenth notes and constitute an even more intricate melody. Descending and ascending power chords bring us to an atonal cascade of notes which contains, of course, our previously identified elements rearranged in many ways. Mike Smith contributes to this by adding a lot of unexpected snare accents. Once again, Suffocation added a beat to the last bar to create the same effect as riff 1, but this time it is silent. This stop-start technique will be used a few times and is now an overused element of many technical bands. As usual, the whole riff is repeated with changes at the end to form a different and better transition.
Fun fact: the total of eighth notes comprised within the repetition marks of the riff is 47, a prime number, which proves the total irregularity of the “melody”.
Riff 3b, containing less literal repetition, brings us to what I called a “development”, because it is a short section of unique bars. Bar 1 and 4 are similar in concept, and the latter builds tension according to the former that will be released with another break and two violent snare hits. Between this, bar 2 and 3 offer chaotic rhythm where low palm muted chords meet high pitched tremolo notes and artificial harmonics. Notice that bar 1 uses what could be identified as harmonic minor scales, and thus suggesting our “element c” of diminished chords.
After this, riff 4 comes in as the powerful and savage release of the tension with its unmerciful tremolo phrases. You can see once again the technique of using different conclusions to the motive that starts each bar. On second repeat, the riff stays almost the same but emphasis is put on the phrases’ end with the removal of all instruments but one guitar to play the first beats of each bar, and with the addition of power chords on “conclusions”. The interesting element is right at the end of the riff: element d is heard very fast both times with both techniques. Then, again, the song stops and is followed by a slow, apocalyptic moment.
Breakdown and return
This moment is what I called (more or less rightfully) the “breakdown”. Now here is the trick: the first phrase of this section is exactly the same “element d” that concluded riff 4 but played way slower with power chords. Suffocation plays once again with textures and creates different accents with the use of palm mutes. And for another time, the last bar of the riff has an additional beat for your daily dose of rhythmic anarchy (or nihilism, as would say a controversial metal reviewer). This last bar present a rising chromatic phrase that we can interpret as developing “element d” and that presents a new 4-notes collection than in the first two bars. If you take those 2 pitches collections, you can notice that they are a major third away from each other (element a). I am not saying this was intentional or not, but I try to point out (coincidental?) links between all parts of the song.
The slow breakdown leads us to a sudden fast solo. I won’t analyze it here, but you can find a lot of “scales” constructed with “element a”. Listen also how the guitar sometimes melts with the triplets of riff 2.
The song returns to riff 3a, and then instead of continuing with riff 3b moves on to a new variation of the idea, riff 3c. This time, the riff takes a more urgent turn and creates the final tension, while Mullen cries the last lyrics: “I am your savior/Shapeless to your perception/For I am you/Pierced from within”. You can see how some melodic elements are now harmonized with major thirds. As usual, the second phrase (bars 3-4) uses a different conclusion.
After a repetition with a new ending, this rising tension is interrupted by a suspended chord that brings us to riff 1, played once. The song concludes abruptly before the end of the riff while the last words, “Pierced from within”, are repeated on the last four power chords. I did not talk much about vocals’ rhythm but it is cleverly constructed to fit the different parts of the song, and I am personally fond of how the lyrics are arranged in riff 3b.
As I said earlier, this approach might be over-technical and exaggerated, but the important thing for the reader is to at least understand how the song is well-crafted on every aspect and not entirely a sequence of random ideas. An analysis of a less technical song that contains great development would provide a good counterbalance to this article. Something out of Cianide’s The Dying Truth comes to my mind.
It is sad to think that after this album, Suffocation would never come up with anything on par with their previous material, because they certainly had to potential to improve and create new highly artistic pieces of aggressive and intelligent death metal. I still think their recent (post-reunion) albums are getting better each time and Pinnacle Of Bedlam, despite a terrible production, showed promising signs of great songwriting even though they apparently opted for a more tonal and melodic modern metal-like approach.
Opeth made a career for themselves out of making death metal that was not death metal. Instead, it was rock music that dropped in death metal riffs during the choruses, kind of like how a nu-metal band plays quasi-acoustic and whispers so it can explode into angry dad-hating rage. This allowed the audience to feel like outsider rebels while being low-risk conformists.
Over time, the Swedes in Opeth found their original inspiration, which was to be the Dave Matthews Band for the vegan chocolate Tumblr set, and stepped aside from being death metal-flavored entirely. Never fear! The labels have brought you Tribulation which is essentially the Opeth sound updated with some hints from Enslaved about how to be metallish without using metal riffs and, thankfully, uptempo and catchier songs.
Tribulation is what Opeth always should have been. Essentially hard rock, using somewhat linear but expanded song structures, they create the atmosphere of a Gothic band with the guitars of heavy folk rock, making atmospheric and pleasant music that keeps the hoarse whispering vocals of death metal. For fans of Cradle of Filth, Opeth, Tiamat, newer Paradise Lost and Pyogenesis, this is a perfect fit.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…
Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.
The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.
This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.
Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.
This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.
If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).
Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.
If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.
The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.
Androgel is a testosterone supplement that you take when you’ve heard too much weepy mainstream pseudo-metal and become a useless person. Here’s a list of bands designed to make you mute, impotent and masturbatorily dramatic.
For a band supposedly attempting to harness the beauty of nature, this is an astonishingly vapid album. Bland synths interact with tired black metal riffs you’ve heard too many times before…but then again, recycling is green. Listening to this album gives me the overwhelming urge to buy a used Scion, then take my Macbook to Starbucks and drink overpriced coffee. There’s nothing resembling wolves here, more like domesticated house dogs. For music that actually plumbs the full depths of nature in its transcendent glory and gore, see Ildjarn.
When hipsters want to play metal, what do they do? Well, after picking up a Frappuccino they head to Guitar Center and get lessons on how play guitar solos, pick up a few effects pedals, and buy a chord progression songbook. After studying said book for three months, they book studio time and record their album. The vocalist is into that “heavier shit, brah” and thus records his vocals in the style of a strangled animal. The guitarist is into pop rock and thus records bouncy powerchords in that style, though sometimes gets a bit adventurous and throws in a folksy breakdown. Meanwhile, the drummer was arrested for selling marijuana under the overpass and has to be replaced by the local high-school band teacher, who really can’t stand this music but needs some extra cash. The band finishes recording and takes the finished project to their fair trade commune, where the community listens to it while getting stoned and spray-painting peace signs on walls. Afterwards, the band teacher goes into class and tells his students; “Don’t ever turn into those people.”
Big news this week is that thud-metal band Skinless has reformed with a new guitarist named Dave Matthews. Cue jokes about Dave Matthews Band, who more resemble Opeth than Skinless. The truth is that if Skinless started playing Dave Matthews covers, it would be a huge improvement. There would be… like… music and stuff to it. Instead, we go down memory lane to the first Skinless album, which is the musical equivalent of opening your high school locker with your forehead. Peel back the skin, and this is standard grunt-and-bash death metal of the type that was an also-ran back in the day. But say what you want about the Skinless guys, they’re good businessmen. So what do with generic metal? Dress it up as a new style influenced by hip-hop and techno that uses breakdowns like a rave set and jaunty bounce riffs like nu-metal if it were influenced by underground hip hop. The result is this: thud thud thud, thud thud thud, whuuuttttt, smash smash thud thud, thud. These rhythms are catchy in the same way sirens on emergency vehicles are. And it’s death metal in the same way Apollo 13 was a successful mission.
Opeth stopped pretending to have balls and have now fully embraced their feminine side. This is a good thing because they were never “heavy” or “death metal” in the first place, but here their true nature is proudly on display: angry fat women complaining about washing the dishes because it interferes with their power block of eating cheesecake while crying to daytime soap operas. Perhaps the most honest Opeth album yet, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is a sign of legitimacy — it’s still Melissa Etheridge with Jeff Goldbloom on vocals.
Avril Lavigne parodying the demo from post VON project Sixx, only not as apt. Like other Swedish pyramid scheme acts like Tribulation, Repugnant, Ghost, and other bands created by androgynous men who lack the ability to grow facial hair, listening to In Solitude is akin to getting a chemical castration and attending a Culture Club concert simultaneously.
This is another stunner from Skinless. Imagine that you took someone, and drilled through his forebrain and sucked out the tissue. Hollow-headed, he might turn to a record store and come home with this one and love it. Its heritage betrays a link to Pantera, who also liked stop-start riffs with chromatic progressions, but this is almost amusical. It is “first five frets” music exclusively, in chromatic patterns exclusively, using the most bone-poundingly basic rhythms, exclusively. It sounds like a special education field trip to a dynamite testing plant.
Clearly this band took Fenriz literally when he said black metal consisted of playing up and down the neck. Seemingly random chromatic riffs inch their way up and down with nothing connecting one section of a song to another. Sounding like a bastardized version of modern black metal and Godflesh-style industrial grindcore, confusion runs rampant over aggression. While this album may appeal to hearing-impaired wrist-slashers, it has nothing to offer functional people.
The end product of metal-archives regulars finding a way to make Ulver’s first album have more indie rock parts and appeal to Meatloaf fans, this brain bleaching, testosterone sapping travesty has no purpose other than to appear as another “artsy” product that hopes to one day occupy the same void of purpose Wolves in the Throne Room currently inhabit.
The tragedy of this album is that Skinless finally refined their formula to the point where it rolls smoothly out of their instruments like an infectious bowel movement. What makes it tragic is that, despite being at the top of its game, this music still sucks in ways that would require a thousand philosopher-kings to explicate fully. The basic problem is that it aims at a moronic vision of music. In this vision, people want very basic riffs pounded into their heads. These riffs must resemble the process of hammering a stump out of the ground or beating dead horses. As with most truly annoying and terrible albums, there’s nothing wrong with the musicianship or even songwriting ability. It’s just that Skinless intends to make music for morons doing moronic loud and repetitive things, and they succeed. And now they’re back, and THEY’RE GOING TO DO IT ALL OVER AGAIN. AAAAAAHHHHHHNNOOOOOOOO!!!
How these albums get filed under black metal astonishes me, as inept metalcore and 2 DEEP 4 U lyrics are all this band has to offer. If you think: “Hey, that sounds like every transcendental French post-black metal band in existence”, you’d be right. ANGRY MAN vocals are present, but it’s never clear what exactly he’s angry about.
Let’s take a look at the lyrics for a clue:
Two glances overwhelmed with woes
Reflecting the echoes of a fall upon a bed of rocks
Such a hideous clamour
An agony that stained the azure
The light of the world
And the wretched olive tree
Stars receded with shaking grace
Degraded holy essence, the third hypostasis
Well, that clears it up.
Sadistic Metal Reviews started sometime in the early 00s in tribute to the reviews of fanzines from earlier eras, in which a single sentence correctly categorized a band as the type of useless filler it was and dispatched it to the cut-out sale bins of history.
The grim fact is that as in nature, in heavy metal there are a few winners, and everyone else fails. This isn’t because they are fated to do so, but because they made the wrong choices. Usually, they have no actual artistic motivation, and so are imitating other successful acts for chicks, beer, prestige, an excuse for being stoned in the basement for a decade, whatever.
A band may have spent years learning its instruments, rehearsed for months, hired a good studio, taken all the right notes and had all the right parts, but something didn’t add up. This band had nothing to say, and so no one should listen.
The guiding principle of Sadistic Metal Reviews is that no amount of surface aesthetic can cover up a lack of conviction, content and motivation within. No one can paint-by-numbers imitate, or its cousin the recombining of known styles, and hope to get anything but a polite nod and “It’s OK, I guess, if you like that kind of thing.”
With this edition, SMR takes on the retro phenomenon. Every seven years like clockwork the great factory of wannabes runs out of “new” (usually basic math, like adding two genres together and getting a mystery) ideas and decides that ripping off the past is the safest path to fame and riches.
Hence these imitators are on the altar of sacrifice, awaiting our Sadistic Metal Writers for today’s edition of SMR, which tackles possibly the worst form of retro ever… the wannabe be 1991 Swedish death metal retro.
Our writers, from left to right: Daniel Rodriguez, Cory van der Pol, Max Bloodworth and Jon Wild.
Despite being disguised in every “Swedish death metal” cliche known to man, Repugnant appears to be a retro-thrash band that re-purposes early Entombed lyrics for ironic comic book appeal. This vapid gimmickry with a glossy coat betrays the similarity between this band and Ghost, with whom it shares personnel. Why not try the same shallow stunt, but dress it up as old Entombed for extra clueless metal tourist nu-fan dollars?
This album of Carnage riffs played backward between stolen Nihilist d-beats feels like a flowchart experiment in paint-by-numbers Swedish death metal cliches, with added groove so that even lobotomy patients can tap their feet to it. Entrails lay claim to the early Swe-death scene, but even a blatant clone band can be aim for higher than almost passable. If you take away the buzz-saw distortion, these are just old Saxon tunes sped up with more howling.
Why do bands constantly recreate Slaughter of the Soul? Perhaps because it’s so easy to do. Evocation make forgettable muzak by giving laundry detergent commercial jingles the mid-90s Swe-death post-Deliverance-style rape treatment. This pop muzak sounds every bit as bittersweet as a sad Blink 182 song but in disguise as mid 90s Scandinavian metal to allow Century Media to market it to metalcore kids on Youtube. More “another day at the office” unremarkable mellow-deaf who are given more legitimacy than the other bands for being around in the early 90s. It’s still butt rock with polka drumming and laryngitis vocals.
What most people got out of Swedish death metal was a certain guitar tone and vocal delivery. Complex riff arrangements, time signatures, melodies? Over their heads. So why burden the little dears with something they can’t understand? Instead, take the same music that bad Exodus clones were making in 1987 and dress it up in a “Sexy Swedish Slut Death Metal” Halloween costume. The only people who fall asleep when listening are the smart ones, and we should probably shoot them anyway.
Classic death metal is hard. What’s easy? Metalcore, which is any variation of metal where you use hardcore songwriting with metal riffs. Don’t worry about making the riffs make sense, just have the song go from one ludicrous riff to the next as if they were connected. Then have a mosh part. Hail of Bullets is aggressive like old school death metal turned up to ten, but disorganized so you hear mostly noise.
Remember all those Swedish bands who were almost up there with Entombed, but then dropped out? They dropped out because “not good enough” doesn’t mean you missed good by a hair, but a mile. Kaamos is reconstituted from also-rans in the Swedish scene and it sounds like it. These two chord riffs have zero personality mainly because their creators are obsessed with sounding Swedish. If this band were honest, Samba music would come out of the speakers instead.
What happens if you dress up Def Leppard in Swedish buzz-saw distortion and death metal tempo? I don’t know, because this isn’t as good as Def Leppard. It is however candy heavy metal with every third riff an AOR melodic transition but put into typical Swe-deth(tm) packaging, including Sunlight Studios (Boss Heavy Metal pedal dimed) production, wacky energetic drumming, and barfing pit bull vocals. But once you look below the surface, it’s a power ballad.
Bloodbath is just a bunch of jaded guys from whine rock bands (Katatonia and Opeth) making a parody out of death metal by throwing backwards Dismember riffs into a blender alongside Pantera groove metal riffs. For credibility they add the tremolo riff from Morbid Angel’s “Dawn of the Angry” to be a sufficiently quirky lifestyle product for people who ironically wear Entombed trucker hats and talk wistfully of the early 1990s, when they were four.
This all-star band with Scott Carlsson (Repulsion) and Nicke Andersson (Entombed) applies the Clandestine model of pairing up horror movie motifs on guitar with d-beats. Using a rhythmic approach that alternates between Repulsion’s high-intensity riding blast and a Motorhead-derived groove, this band is competent but formulaic. It escapes the rancor derived at its genre-mates for being what seems like something closer to an honest effort.
Morbus Chron suffers from flowchart death metal syndrome: play d-beat punk played on down-tuned guitars like the old school bands, toss in a stolen Sabbath riffs to remind people of the obligatory Autopsy influence, then maybe inject a zany Demilich/Cadaver “wacky sounding” riff to come off as “outside the box” and “original.” It feels like Entombed met up with a focus group who accidentally purchased a bunch of Oxycontin and tried to replicate Autopsy’s Acts of the Unspeakable.
Human progress will forever be linked to those most primal memories of our species, wherein there emerged that intrepid curiosity that formed the crux on which history could be built. Moreso than the will to merely survive and subsist, it was the will to forsake the paradise of safety and pursue instead the harsh, untamed dusklands of the unknown, where intense tribulation could reveal the fiercest potentials of the few that could overcome. Within the realm of music — that most iconically Romantic of arts — this sentiment persists as a striving to expand the capacities of willful expression into an all-encompassing whole, swelling into symphonic full bloom during the 19th Century. But now, in the dreary modernity that constitutes post-World War II planet Earth, Metal music has proven to be an improbable successor to this upward-climbing composing ethos, and its 40-year history itself resembles less some linear development than it does the genealogy of a warrior race: evolving as one from troglodytic Rock origins, but then splintering into variegate subdivisions as established kingdoms become ever stiflingly overpopulated. If it is those most radical of subdivisions commanded by wildcat eccentrics, hermitic technicians, and sadistic savants that best define the nebulous label that is “progressive metal”, then ‘Mean Deviation‘ — the new and exotic pet project of Metal Maniacs veteran Jeff Wagner — is the one book ambitious enough to fasten a historical yoke around such a chaotically polymorphous Metal strain.
It’s a ridiculously exacting task to try and chronicle the entirety of a musical subgenre that isn’t really a subgenre, and whose content cannot be readily identified by formal analysis alone. And yet Wagner, being the dauntless historian that he is, enters the Nocturnus Time Machine® with naught but the earnest objective of highlighting whichever works were exceptionally bizarre, brainy, or both. Placing his starting coordinates in the late 1960′s when progressive rock and early ambient music had already begun to explore more neoclassical avenues, Wagner narrates the concomitant emergence of heavy metal, and oversees its unprecedentedly rapid appropriation of prog complexities. The most non-canonical, wildly erratic career choices of Black Sabbath, King Crimson, and especially Rush receive extensive coverage, and upon this foundation of classic radio giants, Wagner uncovers many of the grandiose intellectual motivations that would plant the seeds of ambition in the burgeoning ’80s underground — an explosive era that Wagner veritably lived and breathed throughout.
From this point is of course where the bulk of the book begins and where divergent paths are most numerous and dramatic, starting with an initial divide between what is now commonly known as Progressive Metal proper — Fates Warning, Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and [must we mention them?] Dream Theater as examples — and the more abrasively progressive styles that were set in motion by speed metal aberrants Watchtower, Voivod, Celtic Frost, Coroner, and a small conglomerate of other leaders whose names consistently haunt the chapters further on. The subsequent outgrowth of extreme metal within the following decade then takes the spotlight for what seems like a third of the book, and the magnitude of its proliferation logically finds Wagner having to document deviance on a steady, region-by-region basis. But in this manner, he is as remarkably thorough in his examinations of familiar prog-extremists as he is with some of the more impossibly obscure names, reliably identifying which recordings showed noteworthy marks of ingenuity. A study of Finland, for instance, seizes Demilich by the tentacles and takes special interest in Beherit‘s darkwave transmogrification. Norway’s chapter highlights Mayhem‘s early adoration of Swedish prog band Änglagård and of course German synthpop and kosmische musik, and goes on to investigate the growth of Manes, Burzum, Enslaved, and Neptune Towers. Continental Europe reveals a constellation of luminaries ranging from Supuration to Atrocity, whilst the melting pot frontiers of the Americas yield regional anomalies as diverse as Gorguts and Obliveon up in Québec to Atheist and Hellwitch down in Florida. And, wherever possible, Wagner takes great efforts to cite any intellectual influences or achievements on the bands’ parts; tellingly, Classical and ambient music is a frequent subject here, as are academic degrees in a surprising array of fields.
It is surely impossible to write a “progressive metal” book that will be accepted in all circles of the culture, as controversy and even widespread disapprobation seem to be taken for granted in the music itself. But for the particular minority who identify themselves as hessians, it is certain that many will lose interest as the final hundred pages close in, simply because almost all of the so-called cutting edge Metal bands of the late ’90s and onwards fail to contribute anything significant to the genre; but in Wagner’s defense, there are many instances where he does bring attention to the growing problem of entropy. The more philosophical among us may further object to the very grounds for Wagner’s criteria for “progressive-ness” — that is, how much the work in question defies convention and expectations. To build from an early example, Wagner argues that Voivod’s ‘Angel Rat‘ — an album widely lambasted as a sell-out for its regression to verse-chorus, consonant indie stylings — is in fact a progressive step for the band because it was so utterly unlike any of the albums that preceded, or anything else in the scene at the time. But this is nothing if not the most prostrate kind of optimism, which accepts an undesirable antithesis — in this case, total artistic decline into meaninglessness — as a necessary part of a dubious process towards some ideal of absolute artistic freedom or whatever. It’s true that to speak of “progress” we need to postulate an objective or end of some sort to move towards, but externalities like novelty and individuality alone are insufficient; something more intrinsic to Metal’s being must be identified, otherwise you allow for a flood of the same self-obsessed, irrelevant music-as-product to garner the association simply because it’s clever enough to imitate the distorted aesthetic. Therefore it is best to assert as an axiom that for the subject to be Metal, it must have as its essence that visceral if rather elusive-to-define spirit of vir, whose amorally creative will to power is partially outlined in the introduction to this review. From here, determining progression in Metal is only a contextual (and decidedly more limited) matter of whether the subject meaningfully transmits its central motivation using methods previously unexplored, for any number of nuanced reasons ranging from technical breakthroughs to conceptual maturation to ingenious angles of arrangement; of course, the ironic consequence to progressive forms is that they are often seized upon by the majority and ossified into standard forms over time. So, based on these tenets, you would have to re-evaluate progressive-labelled, impostor Metal bands like Opeth as actually not effectively progressive as a band like Morbid Angel, who were significant not only for innovative technique, but for using their talents towards representing death metal philosophy with hitherto unheard-of imagination and perspicuity. Take this same critical hammer to the “progressive eras” of Enslaved, Amorphis, Death, and all related corrupted prodigies who allowed themselves to be domesticated into entertainers, and suddenly ‘Mean Deviation’ is chiseled down from a bloated tome to a slim pamphlet.
Now it’s apparent that ‘Mean Deviation’ surely has its points of contention, but then again the book’s stated aim isn’t to illustrate a concrete and ontologically-sound definition of what progressive metal is, nor is it out to namedrop every single band that may have garnered the label through whatever happenstances of popular delusion. Essentially, the book’s aim really is as simple as what its title conveys: to reevaluate the Metal timeline with a specific interest in whatever was outstandingly highbrow and/or shunned by the hypothetical average headbanger. It is a scholarly, well-referenced, yet personable inquiry of metallurgical innovation, which harbors aspirations towards objectivity and acceptance amongst society’s intellectual elite, but never mistakenly reduces the art to a mere science. Rest assured that trivia in abundance is here to tantalize the reader’s inner nerd; just remember to take it all in with a sizable grain of sodium chloride.
Written by Thanatotron