Alexander Jacob – Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen (2015)

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On his previous album of classical piano interpretations of the music of Richard Wagner, Alexander Jacob converted a contemplative opera into an ambient soundtrack in which melodies emerged evanescent and drifted toward the surface. With Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen, Jacob takes the more robust thematic material of that opera and makes from it an album of stormy but passionate classical piano pieces as we might find from Chopin or Brahms.

The piano attacks these pieces with a stormy bluster followed by periods of long contemplative expansion on the melodies, compressing lengthy operas into a classical piece that can easily fit into the listening of a normal classical listener, with more of a Romantic style on piano than the hybrid Romantic-Modernist style of the Wagner operas. In this, Jacob and the transcribers Richard Kleinmichel and Karl Klindworth translate Wagner into an entirely different style while distilling his lengthy compositions to the internal dialogue of complex but approachable pieces.

Where the last album occurred as waves of ambient melody as fit Parsifal, for the more sturm und drang material of the Ring cycle Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen takes an appropriately forthright approach in reducing many layers of orchestration and voices to a piano monologue. As an introduction to Wagner, this album may be more approachable than the first, although that may show more of Wagner’s technique in composition as it distinguishes itself from others. For those who want a classical piano experience that delivers intensity without veering into bombast, Richard Wagner: Der Ring Des Nibelungen will be a delight.

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Alexander Jacob – Richard Wagner: Parsifal (2015)

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Richard Wagner wrote epic operas based around primal mythology as based on Nordic and German folklore. Almost two centuries later, Alexander Jacob sat down with piano scores by Richard Kleinmichel and created an album of spacious, otherworldly music using that interpretation of the original. Numen Media released Richard Wagner: Parisfal on digital and compact disc for an audience wanting to explore Wagner in a sitting and not an afternoon.

The selected scenes from the opera translate into music with strong themes emerging from dense backgrounds, giving it both the textural feel of contemporary electronic music and the depth of heavy instrumental complexity as is found in most classical and progressive rock, but in the single voice of the piano this becomes a comforting shift like transition from city to country to town via train. Themes arise and then recede, like ideas in a dream, and play off related ideas in a shifting scenery which reveals its contours only slowly.

Transitioning to a single instrument from the multi-layered score written by Wagner, which famously required larger orchestras than were normally used, requires sacrificing some detail as many voices become one. The piano, on the other hand, demands lack of outright repetition as it becomes too obvious. Jacob and Kleinmichel navigate those obstacles by isolating different leitmotifs and working them into the piano as complementary voices. The result strikes the listener as more peaceful than Wagner, and relies on subtlety to bring out its power, manifesting out of a background ambiance a striking and sudden clarity like an explosion in darkness, then returning to a piece that almost conceals itself in calm. As a result, Richard Wagner: Parsifal serves as soothing music which inserts its intensity like a revelation in the mind of the listener after the fact, leaving a lingering sense of being transported to a different and more epic era.

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Death Melodies Series: Richard Wagner

RichardWagnerThe Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with modernist Richard Wagner.

Born in Germany during 1813, Wagner composed his first opera The Fairies when he was 20. He wrote many operas and had successes as a composer and conductor. However, political controversy hindered many aspects of his life.

Wagner was discontent during the industrialization of Europe. Mankind’s lust for advancing technology left many areas poverty-stricken. He became a Socialist in hopes that a revolution would rectify the issues in Germany. Wagner had a small role in the May Uprising in Dresden which proved unsuccessful. He fled to Paris, then relocated to Switzerland for eleven years.

While in political exile, Wagner desired to resurrect the Norse spirit of ancient Europe. He’s best known for the monumental work Der Ring des Nibelungen, which is the most ambitious undertaking by any one person in European music. The Ring Cycle took Wagner over 25 years to accomplish, as well as having a playing time of 15 hours.

Wagner delved into many different Scandinavian sources and fashioned a grandiose medieval drama. Dwarves, Valkyries, heroes and monsters all had roles in the operas. He wanted his work to help strengthen political principles, but he also managed to craft some of the most stunning works in classical music.

In 1840, Wagner started composing his Faust symphony which was inspired by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s play Faust. The symphony was never completed and it was instead turned into a single-movement concert overture.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fuKDMRhHFKQ

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Jeff Wagner – Mean Deviation: Four Decades of Progressive Heavy Metal

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 SabbathKing 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 WatchtowerVoivodCeltic FrostCoroner, 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

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Strijd: Black Metal Götterdämmerung

Underground metal was rapidly dying by the mid nineties. The more musically successful death and black metal bands became disenchanted with their resulting limited financial success as the hordes of poseurs poured in through the gates of Byzantium, creating commercial rock that merely imitated the tones and texture of the monumental statues of the metal greats. The more popular death metal bands tried and failed at becoming rock stars while many of the more luminous minds in Norwegian black metal bands were dead or imprisoned.

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Warum ist Averse Sefira sehr Schwach?

Article by Raimund Weiner. Ffans und die Untermenschen may recognize me from the comments under such alter egos as Brainer Rascalslut und Strainer Weidensbutt; yes, the veil has come off, liebe Untermenschen.

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Interview: Chupacabra

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Article by Corey M.

Chupacabra’s music comes from the heart – that is, the part of the individual that is between the mind and the gut. Working without an established template, the songwriter finds and applies sounds in a unique organization specifically to reflect a profoundly idiosyncratic perspective on existence. This is a risky move: Most musicians are content to operate within an established paradigm, adapting to the constraints and handicaps offered by the genre that produces music with which they most closely identify. To abandon paradigm altogether and strike out on one’s own, neither with nor against the current but out of the river itself, is quite bold. But for Chupacabra, it is completely natural. Take a listen to this musical example of what Jung called “individuation”; the process that unifies the unconscious and the conscious, completing a powerful circuit through which ancient genetic memory is filtered and refined by real-time intelligent planning and analysis.

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Chthe’ilist – Le Dernier Crépuscule (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Chthe’ilist’s debut has been expected by underground death metal fans for some time.  To them, it seems like a promising project faithful to the ideals of atmospheric technical bands such as Demilich and Timeghoul, from whom it takes unmistakable cues. Less fortunate are the influences of popular (in the underground) but ultimately less effective acts Rippikoulu and Crematory. The first two lend a constructive helping hand while Crematory’s contribution distracts with purely technical and empty nonsense detached from clear evocation, and the unimpressive Rippikoulu lends its spacious approach that suffers from the blunders of Wagnerian operas: sparsely located treasures in a sea of boredom. Worth mentioning are a couple of very Voivodesque moments that are surprisingly integrated in a way that they do not seem out of place.

There are several reasons why this release is worth taking a close look at independently of how close we consider it to come to a masterpiece. Existing reviews come awfully short of a real musical insight, opting instead to spend a huge chunk of the time in talking about how cool the guys in the band are, or how ‘awesome’ the vibe is. They are utterly useless when they reach their faux attempts at providing any meaningful observations on the technical side of things. At most, they manage a colorful picture of the mental impressions that the music gives them; this at least is inspiring. Chthe’ilist’s album gives us so much more to discuss not only from its plentiful contents but what they relate to as descendants and composers.

In the interest of a well-rounded critique, Le Dernier Crépuscule should be observed from two different vantage points. The first is to place it within its historical context, and keep present whatever musical influences it appears to have. The second is to ignore everything but our intuition (which is dependent on past experience and understanding, in any case), so that we allow it to articulate and speak out for itself as it draws energy from predecessors we take notice only as an afterthought.

I. Technical Overview

Le Dernier Crépuscule can be roughly divided into two sections, the first consisting of the first five tracks and the second of the remaining two. The first track itself should probably be excluded as it is little more than an intro. The structuring of the next four follows a certain pattern while the last two each follow a freer approach than the one preceding them. The first is Crematory-dominated, while the last increasingly shows a predominant Timeghoul presence. Throughout the record one finds Demilich’s riff style in about half of the individual riffs. This emulation ranges from almost outright shoplifting from Nespithe to more respectable yet still recognizable inspiration. The rest of the riffs also contain the less distinct (read as ‘more random’) but technically recognizable influence of Crematory and some war metal filler while the more creative and original single sections probably come from general Timeghoul influence, which allows for more open interpretation.

Tracks two to five follow a rough plan of riff variations1 lined up one after the other until the solo comes to mark a climax, after which there is a reiteration of previous material and the song ends. It is the “easy way out” of death metal structures, albeit expanded by a greater quantity of riffs. Le Dernier Crépuscule takes the most relaxed route when it comes to conceptualization as well, choosing to go for Crematory’s2 brand of strands of riff variations connected in riff salad manner. Now, Crematory’s style is marked by another particular aspect, and that is that it places technical flare and variety at the top of its priority list. Its choice of allowing runs of related riffs is more the following of what was in vogue at the time, since one can observe that songwise, there is very little keeping it all together but the general tag of the genre. Something similar happens to these first songs by Chthe’ilist.

The sixth and seventh tracks are clearly steeped in a more progressive mindset, allowing for creativity to bubble up as the band tries to craft a narrative. This is conducted with far more success on the last track, ‘Tales of the Majora Mythos Part 1″, than on the hybrid ‘Vecoiitn’aphnaat’smaala’. This emphasis on following a far-reaching narrative reaches formidable proportions in this last track where I would venture to call it a storyline. Variety in riff type is actually richer here than anywhere else in the album, yet through this story-telling technique (that is very much reminiscent of the dramatic flair of Timeghoul on Panaramic Twilight) Chthe’ilist achieves something beyond mere coherence — a smooth flow of ideas connected through careful considerations in texture and rhythmic contrast between sections. These considerations must reach further than adjacent riffs or mere riff-strands so that the song itself does not fall apart.

Unfortunately, although this last track shows us the brightest future for Chthe’ilist, Monsieur Tougas has yet to learn how to finish a song, and what could be an incredible opus is watered down by an unsure appendage after the coda following the solo, a four-minute long welling up of unnecessary nothingness. Content-wise, this adds nothing to the song except confusion, since it is mostly noise and blast beats, which we may presume is an ill-achieved attempt at creating ambience3. The rest of the song itself might be as clear-minded as Timeghoul’s best work, but it is still a work in progress.

I. Aural Impressions

Le Dernier Crépuscule is constantly touted as “Lovecraftian death metal”, and while I get the reference, it seems to me that the character of the music is much more cartoonish than even the original stories, which is saying a lot considering that Lovecraft’s work is already minimalist pulp horror. Taking only a chunk from this author’s work and making a concept album out of it becomes a bit redundant after 2 or 3 songs, and in this album I mostly hear At the Mountains of Madness with some more general references to the Cthulhu mythos towards the end. This limitation results in a bloated album with more words than actual things to say.

In fact, I’d say that for a Lovecraftian experience this is too limited. Timeghoul’s sound, for instance, is very appropriate for expanding on the whole range of cloudy feelings and visages that Lovecraft exposes, not only the mouth-tentacles of his famous monster-deity. Proof of this is that while a Demilich sound on a Crematory template can at most show entrails and guts and an in-your-face horror, the last track had me catching glimpses of R’lyeh through the oceanmist. In Lovecraft you find not only the gnarly gore of slimy and ghoulish creatures, but visitations to otherworldly views in a variety of dream states, alienation from reality expressed through either an increasingly horrifying vision of the world or just not knowing at which side of the sleep curtain it lies.

Lovecraft condenses the very essence of the death metal spirit in its several manifestations and a project with the gigantic potential of Chthe’ilist is surprisingly limited in its choice of evocation, while playing around withtoo many riffs than needed in what appears to be that Crematory-like bloating of content for its own sake with little reference to anything beyond it. Chthe’ilist has a potential of ‘epic proportions’, as the common saying goes. It could have us contemplating at Algol, wondering… it could take us on a bizarre journey through perilous Kadath, and it could make us doubt the very truthfulness of our material existence. In short, it could be the long-awaited metal Messiah that crystallizes the whole of Lovecraftian experience from the essence of the most meaningful obscure acts of the past. But it isn’t.

III. Integral Critique

Bringing together the last two discussions allows us to properly discuss the results Chthe’ilist has achieved. Most bands seem to create a division between music making and lyrical topics, which is not necessarily a bad decision if everything is flowing from a same wellspring of inspiration. The pitfall of this approach is that the sources could end up being distinct, even if compatible, so that the impact of either is dulled by even the slightest hint of cognitive dissonance. This dissonance may even occur in music that is supposedly unified with its lyrical content, and in the case of technically-oriented bands like Chthe’ilist it usually comes about in the form of what could be called ‘riff distraction’.

Riff distraction is a phenomenon that consists of the metal artist losing sight of perspective as he lies on the floor, dull-sensed on proverbial soma. This sends riff-writers off in a mythical quest for the perfect riff combination until they end up with a mass of exciting but ultimately meaningless mumbo jumbo. This is the plague that afflicts this release; its most obvious priority seems to be riff-making, and the clearest sign of a climax is the guitar solo. This album’s is very intentional and varied, but with no precise evocative purpose in mind, so that this huge ball of varied rhythms ends up being a uniform mass when seen from afar. The guitar solo, then, becomes the only way of bringing the song to a breaking point so that at least something in the landscape stands out as a signaling agent for the ending to come with at least a semblance of an excuse.

Alas, the limitation that is holding back Chthe’ilist lies in the mindset of Master Tougas: his towering talent and creative juices ooze with latent power, but his imagination appears to be held back by rationalist prejudices of modern thought that reduce a powerful mythos to mere cartoon. This results in tongue-in-cheek funny horror, which may be an overplaying of the purposely awkward feeling of Demilich that is often perceived simply as funny yet interesting. Timeghoul’s immense aural depth could be the answer here, as the flexibility of its approach lies in the dramatic expansion of predefined techniques within a limited (yet more varied, at the same time) vocabulary that makes even its most complex statements convincing and manifestly intelligible4.

IV. Final Remarks

As pretentious as the thousands of words I’ve already written might make me sound, I would still like to encourage Monsieur Tougas to continue this general line of thinking, while paying closer attention to composition and evocation aspects that lead to a stronger narrative in longer songs. These seem to possess, at least in their present state, the greatest potential of his technical and atmospheric style. His work can bring to reality not only what Timeghoul could have become, but something beyond it, with a long-awaited deftly and graciously applied riffcraft inspired by Demilich. Ditch the Crematory when it comes to structuring decisions, and refactor out any content that isn’t completely indispensable5.

Personally, when it comes to heavily-charged albums such as Le Dernier Crépuscule, I hold a 10-time listening policy: testing how well and in what manner a music album holds up after listening to it completely the first ten times in less than a few days. This has several interesting effects, the first of which is that initial shock effects fade away, technical flare appears more fixed to context, everything gains perspective. Sadly, this album only made it to six listens before losing its luster, and this is mainly because the overall structure of songs and the character they evoke fall into place as an integral whole, revealing the utter simplicity lying behind the tons of riffs and tasty guitar licks.

The reason why the most convincing underground metal has almost always come from the minds that are most “out there” is because their music flows from deeply-ingrained convictions, veritable nightmares that are as real as the sun’s burning sensation, or the excruciating pain of sincere longing for a different reality. While your metal remains “meta”, while it remains only a “fun” way of exploring “spooky” images that are “not real”, your metal will also remain a laughable cartoon.

In earlier ages, as instinctive concepts welled up in the mind of man, his conscious mind could no doubt integrate them into a coherent psychic pattern. But the “civilized” man is no longer able to do this. His “advanced” consciousness has deprived itself of the means by which the auxiliary contributions of the instincts and the unconscious can be assimilated. These organs of assimilation and integration were numinous symbols, held holy by common consent.

In earlier times, these principles were worshiped in all sorts of rituals, which at least showed the psychic significance they held for man. But now they have become mere abstract concepts.

— Carl Jung, Man and His Symbols

1 By riff variation, I mean a grouping of related riffs that arise as variations from a seminal idea.

2 When taking Crematory’s Denial as a point of reference, we can observe how Crematory cannot hold a mood and a line of thought for too long. The music is based on providing variation; for instance, it introduces contrasting ideas in rhythm in extreme fashion so that even very Latin African rhythms pop up right besides more grindy ones with no particular purpose. It may be more difficult to notice, but Demilich already contains such range of variation, but it is much better organized, so that it does not feel haphazard. Furthermore, Demilich is able to stamp their own seal on each section by delimiting certain combinations of rhythm and mode, while Crematory pretty much just throws whatever it can find in your face as it desperately clutches for more content to display a different drum technique.

It’s not that Crematory plays no positive role in the music of Chthe’ilist, but it should be used within its effective scope: the riff variation; and taking note from those who excel at long-range composition when organizing structure.

3 This is a distractor that infects the mentality of modern death metal musicians; it’s almost as if they feel that the music is not enough, that they need to add more “stuff”, whatever it is. This fools the less-focused sort of listeners (apparently, the majority), but not those who would listen to music from multiple angles so as to extract all it contains and more.

4 That is to say, although the difference between the opposite styles within Timeghoul’s vocabulary (from pounding, crowded gnarly riffs to clean-vocal lamentations) may be wider than Crematory’s, the consistency with which they are used imbues them with a more meaningful sense of purpose.

5 A lesson might be learned from Ludwig van Beethoven’s own methods. He is probably the most respectable of classical composers with an inclination for “wild progressive” ideas, since he did not slip into avant-garde stupidity. Beethoven’s music was shocking in its own time for its juxtaposition of apparently contrasting ideas, but he would not leave them there. They were justified, as it were, through their careful development and envelopment throughout the rest of the piece or even in later movements, creating an unprecedented technique in bringing together content in long-range fashion through a process of entanglement.

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