Nameless Therein – Hex Haruspex (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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Osi and the Jupiter – Uthuling Hyl (2017)

Osi and the Jupiter play a mostly acoustic ambient with synthetic overtones that borrows heavily from ancestral Nordic cultural remnants for its conceptual, and musical, orientation. In Uthuling Hyl, this takes the form of what we could call a European Pagan Drone music, with all that each of these words could imply by themselves and together. As European, it seeks that connection in instrumentation and tone to pre-traditionalist roots. As a Pagan affair, it is based on a numinous connection to surroundings, contemplative and wordless reflection, and an unfolding wyrd presencing a quality that has come to be known as ‘honor’. As all ambient, the music depends entirely upon its ability to very explicitly maintain a continuous flow of sounds that are not allowed the minimal digression. Thereby is a more esoteric teaching concealed in the construction and balance of the music itself, which is as all art should be. For in trying to bring to bear a connection human beings can have to nature when they place themselves within it with respect and devotion, the music also reflects how delicate this affair is, and how quickly it can all be burnt down by our hubris. In truth, it would take a mundane simpletone —or an utter imbecile— to relegate the experience presented in Uthuling Hyl to a debased utilitarian function such as serving as soundtrack to some ill-advised television show.

The hidden drone component here dictates that the variation of the elements must be done ever so slightly, taking care that texture and tone are gauged with due attention to craft. Texture is sustained while introducing and remaining particulars, relying on relatively abrupt changes in pacing or timbre only in very specifc cases and with a very specifc aim in mind. In general, and above all, the delicate fullness in unity that marks this work serves as a mantle for a whole cosmos in which organisms live a precarious existence but whose essence eternally flows. The patterns of said fabric are sewn by the threads of individual musical voices, surviving as they do mindlessly, but doing so only because their actions fit the pacing and balance of the whole. The endings of those existences are timely and waste not energy nor leave space unmarked. Sounds of worship and numinous contemplation permeate this summoned spiritual world. The cello parts by Kakophonix do not overimpose nor indulge, but enhance ekstasis, bringing an energetic waves that travel the landscape across darkened wood, mountain and sky. In the midst of this interpretation, the mournful, pleading vocalizations stand out as the human presence submerged, wailing, unnoticed in a sinisterly-numinous ocean of flowing forces in colossal dimensions perhaps quantified by some physicist, but ultimately undreamable by our daytime minds.

While all manifestation is One, we can highlight aspects or levels of it as they come to the fore of our impressions. In the case of Uthuling Hyl, this would be more unconscious vaporous tension, the watery flow of emotions that lie below reason and will. The humid web that holds things together here is ever so vulnerable, our transgressions the probable cause of dissolutions that are no crimes but mere effects to causes. The listener, the conscious human, intrudes upon this space, and a decision must be taken to coalesce or see it all dry up, and waste into cold —or perhaps burn up into merciless hatred and ambition. Such is the picture that Osi and the Jupiter reveal in pattern and spirit. As numinous worship, the present work calls for our knowing our place, and seeking our destiny; for our seeking a voice and power, for our evolutive ascendance, in a picture of our cosmos that finds beauty in bleakness.

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Mørketida – Panphage Mysticism (2018)

Written by Merlin Lemasters

Hailing from Finland, Mørketida present us their debut album which, unlike most of the festering horde laying claimant to the precipitous banner of black metal this year, has some actual merit. Perhaps what is most impressive about this release is that, despite its utter reliance on the most elementary of black metal chord and note progressions, there is such a wealth of depth in the interplay between elements that the essential lethargy and entropy prototypical of the modern form of this threadbare genre is fully exceeded. Verily —and in traditional, true black metal fashion— they have made the utmost out of rudiments. Every section here is wrung out, thoroughly, meticulously and by means of layering, coalesced into a microcosm of sound. This is aided by the production’s overlaid murk, an intensely atmospheric affair; manifold veils reveal obscured information upon close inspection, in this way taking its cues from early Burzum. Indeed, most parts of this album can be traced back quite easily enough to the cornerstones of the genre. As mentioned before, the language that makes up the barest essence of this genre is present here in full force and yet that language has been twisted to fit its needs, to create an experience. There is no concession to vanity here, all is arranged in service to a pervading darkness and this puts the craft of this album above most. In this way, it is true, it has not simply regurgitated the requirements of the genre but used them in expression. Traces of Darkthrone, Gorgoroth, Graveland, Ancient and Burzum, all make appearances here, though not in imitation by any means. These classic bands have indeed scribed the language but the arrangement and order of its morphemes is fully Mørketida’s own.

A deliberate brooding pace sets the tone for much of this album, at times finding brief resolution in well-worn, thrumming tremolo bursts, hallmark of the Norwegians. Drums too, are played in the classic way, wisely devoid of any clutter they rumble, blast and accentuate without syncopation, pure in that they do not attempt to suffer arbitraries upon the listener. Vocals chant in intonations obscure, oft buried in the umbrage and at times barely discernible, only made known by their echo, like chanting heard from a cave some distance away. Some brief sections of keys, emphasize moments of power or ambience, they are present in much of this album however, usually as another layer in the foggy production. In its most fervent moments, there is force of passion here, etched out as sharp contrasts between the meandering stride. The brunt of this work appears uniform with its slow chords and droning arpeggios but sections are arranged in repetition only with the greatest patience, never failing to end that which has dwelt too long. In fact, this album is utterly untouched by the inertia of lingering thought-forms past their day; all sections have been measured diligently and like the ancients they shift when it is time, never after or before.

This organic sense of composition is much missed in these days of note clamor, where the essential power of the black metal language is roiled by the entropy of an unnecessary, incessant changing of riffs, vomited out with little application of artistry. Songs are well wrought, there are no loose ends to composition and another impressive facet of this release, there is no excess of vanity, no flirtations with extraneous influence. The uniformity of this approach, with just enough discernible waymarks to keep the listener guided throughout its realm, lends a rare strength to this release. Very few parts make any attempt to be seen as indelible, and of these, the title track in particular sets itself apart by letting the bass wander, exploring different trails and in one glorious moment lets it solo, a longing sonority against the melancholic scratching of the guitars. Moments like this one are rare and with good reason, this is the type of black metal that longs to dwell in worlds away from modernity, it crushes the ego, it spurns the trappings of the mundane. The goal of a permeating, consuming, crepuscule is always in mind and with it; the apprehension of an atmosphere pure, reveling in its fealty to an ultimate darkness. A mature and conservative work in all aspects, what may at cursory glance appear to be contrived or unremarkable will soon prove itself well worthy of study.

Experience it as a whole and experience it with headphones!

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Constantine Charagma and Erica Frevel The Deplorable Word (2016)

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

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

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

“Magically relevant or GTFO!”

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

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

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Helwetti – Unholy Extreme Black (1999)

Released in 1999, Unholy Extreme Black is the second of two demos released by the transitory Finnish black metal project Helwetti. Here, Helwetti provides richness through depth in the reach of its rather brief material by making constrained technique malleable to the natural requirements of a flow aimed at bringing in new ideas in a coherent yet always evolving stream. The secret of the elite, almost non-existent underground to producing rare minimalist music of such sublety is a rather bestial and ritualistique effort fueled by dark spiritual ideas founded on enacted reclusiveness. Within this darkness embraced, the true artist manages to bring a powerful invocation of infernal —lower-world, unconscious to the uninitiated— forces in a way that most of the later, allegedly more mature, projects have never reached by a long. The racing melodies of Helwetti’s music in traditional black metal dissonances arranged through percussive changes, opportune breaks and vocal overlays raise its minimalist expression to the best that could possibly be achieved while remaining so simple. The vocals on this recording are an incredible delight to listen to as they express a nuanced wealth of emotions, within this limited framework as the rest of the instruments, greatly adding to the overall atmosphere. The necro sound resulting from the tampering with the original sound gives it a veiled that is certainly not a detriment to the sound of the instruments. Thereby, the clarity of the instruments is not only maintained throughout, but it actually attenuates distractions typical to the metal genre, allowing the merit of the musical arrangements to come to the foreground.

In the matter of technique, guitars do not go beyond softly strummed power chords, not quite fast downstrokes and “tremolo picking” on one string. The bass serves as a proper low frequency holder that does not get in the way but noticeably reinforces the texture of the music. Drums vary between laid back, standard rock patterns in duple time, sometimes with triplet feels, that go on smooth crescendos of double-bass runs; these patterns are then alternated with “d-beats” at different speeds, depending on the location within the pieces. These are all very standard and quite basic techniques, but what raises this demo in musical, rather than technical quality, is arrangement of the parts. Logic is not enough, but a sense of naturality must be expressed that can only be correctly represented by the use of intuition. Black metal in general prides itself in placing intuition before mere logic or the debasing —often clownish and overbearing— technique flaunting of death metal. However, intuition depends entirely on an inwardly developed or innately inherited talent of the individual that is not produced by the application of logic. Also, under close inspection, music resulting from the application of logic (structure-oriented death metal, for instance) is quite different from music prominently steeped in the application of intuition (like the best of black metal). Which means that a lot is outside the normally conscious, calculable control of the individual composing. It is just in this trap that the elitism of black metal lies.

Within the seemingly narrow constraints of raw black metal, we can appreciate how Helwetti creates a rich variety of fluxions which overflow one into the next. Without leaving any question regarding the soundness of their transformations, adjacent patterns are related by transitions that flow smoothly as water downstream. More interestingly, the four different pieces in this demo act as movements within one work. Arguably, many underground demos were compounded in this way. And without there necessarily being a conscious intent in relating it to the classical tradition, the effect is somewhat similar when a release of the stature of Unholy Extreme Black manages to present variety of texture and theme within a coherent and consistent style, bringing interrelated pieces together further under an hidden phantasm grasped by the artist’s senses. It is in communion with “Satan,” “satans,” or “dead things,” and in their consistent, focused sensations thereof, that the black metal musician brings a stream of riffs directed at channeling patterns which vibrate with what is perceived in altered states. The extent to which such a communion is attained, and perhaps the authenticity or the quality of the experience, is what makes the results vary —not to mention actual musical talent. This is precisely the “ritual” to which many a wordless black metal acolytes (For who is truly an adept in this inherently left-handed path?) refer when attempting to describe what this music is as opposed to other kinds of “music” that are aimed at entertainment or technical exercise or narcissistic indulgence.

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Liana Saif The Arabic Influences on Early Modern Occult Philosophy (2015)

The present book explores different mystical and metaphysical ideas related to astrology and magic that fall under a philosophical framework that assigns the living cosmos a hierarchical order of influences that make the mechanics of the cosmos possible. The works studied here are chosen for their inherent worth, but here also for their influence over the developments in Western Occult Philosophy of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. They are termed ‘Arabic’ by virtue of the language the authors wrote the works in, although some of these authors were not themselves Arabs at all. Furthermore, Liana Saif strikes a very insightful balance in that she strives to truly understand this tradition of occult thought from the inside out, as a coherent system of thought from its own vantage point and not in relation to later philosophies.

It must be highlighted that the Arabic treatises explored in this book are of a ‘rational’ character, even if treating of magic and astrology. As Alfred Ayer —who would nonetheless be against notions of magic, said regarding systems of thought— explained in Language, Truth and Logic about philosophy and metaphysis: the only requirement for them to be valid is coherence. From then on, the connection that a system of thought has to ‘reality’ has to do with how its accuracy is gauged, and so how it is applied to achieve any kind of results. In the case of these Arabic influences, “knowledge of resemblances, analogies and sympathies,” played the role of mechanistic causality in these system, even though the system was treated as a living organism in which forces —dynamis, according to Georg Luck— are spirits with volition in a graded hierarchy of beings of descending intellectual power and self-awareness.

Astrology is said to be first of all dependent on a knowledge of astromony. But whereas astronomy attempts only a mathematical calculation of the movements of the heavens, astrology seeks to find causal relations between said movements and the states of beings on our ‘sublunar’ plane (basically, the planet Earth). To this end, many a creative rule of resemblance, sympathy and anipathy is applied, but with the ultimate end of finding a sense, not of feeding superstition. If the conjured explanation is unable to provide a satisfying unifying pattern of ideas with the actual manifest movements, then it is invalid. Furthermore, and most obviously, if within the parameters of the worldview no actual predictions or results are achieved from any presumed astrological knowledge or magical working, these are not supposed to be valid either. It is in this sense that astrology and magic are treated rationally, from its own chosen metaphysical premises.

Liana Saif tells us that explanations based on “causality,” even those that are now deemed “scientific,” do not in any way invalidate interpretations of a spiritual or semiological kind. In this regard, Carl Jung has stressed that human reality lies within phantasia, and neither in the purely physical nor the mental. What this means is that we percieve and act in a world that comes together between the two, and which phantasia eventually follows its own rules and patterns independent yet fed by the upper and lower worlds of the physical and the mental, correspondingly. And so, if a consistency of signs and meanings is achieved from an observation of nature in relation to the human mind and its ability to perceive details, then the efficacy of magic has thereby been attested.

The book itself is pleasant to read in many respects, not least of which is the fluid prose which, while academic in tone, is not bogged down by a lack of style or attention to clarity. What makes the present work powerful and congruent in that respect is that the author uses all modern advantages of systems and knowledge in the service of better understanding and explaining the worldviews and metaphysical propositions of these medieval Arabic thinkers on occult philosophy. It is exciting and fulfulling to read Liana Saif move seemlessly into the mentality of medieval occult thought with full attention and in an apparent “inner comprehension,” even as if she held a stake in this alternate “world,” only to then slide out and provide respectful commentary in the light of modern academic research.

“…the natural way of doing this is to start from the things which are more knowable and clear to us and proceed towards those which are clear and more knowable by nature.”

—Aristotle, Physics

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Sabbat – Envenom (1991)

Sabbat are a cult Japanese band known for primarily for being Japanese and playing a heavily Venom influenced style of Heavy metal that sometimes crosses over to real black metal though rarely and for the briefest of periods. This record is actually more known for the exotic origins of its creators rather than the actual quality presented here. Replacing the seriousness of other similar bands with a certain rock and roll cheese and tongue in cheek lyrics that ultimately pull this band behind the rest.

Sabbat have a terrible habit of wearing their influences on their sleeves with far too much pride. “Satan Bless you” has a main motif particular similar to Venom’s “Black Metal” and all of the speed metal parts can be attributed to the English Sabbat. “Evil Nation” is so reminiscent of Iron Maiden’s “2 minutes to midnight” that you can easily sing the verse parts on top of it and there would be almost no difference as the chord progression, rhythm and techniques are practically identical. Carcassvoice steals the first two passages of Mayhem’s “Deathcrush” and only slightly changes the rhythm and added to this package is a hilarious imitation of Maniac’s high pitch rasp. Though these are the most obvious acts of plagiarism, the entirety of the album is drenched in déja-vu and this refrains the album from reaching the same level as their Norwegian and Brazilian peers.

Arrangements tend to be in the classic pop style except for some brilliant moments of over the top soloing and the inclusion of speed metal breakdowns. Though some tracks experiment with the stop and start mechanics from Motorhead’s Overkill (1979) but ultimately fail as the individual parts function in solitude but do not combine as a whole and we are treated to separate songs encapsulated within a single track. There is nothing to be found of the narrative Death and Black metal structures here as this album is firmly rooted in Heavy metal.

The note selection stays within the usual combination of the natural minor scale and the minor pentatonic except when the band allows themselves forays into fully developed black metal territory as seen on track “King of Hell” which has a long droning sequence with a lot of chromaticism that contrasts most of this record but then on closer inspection this feels more like a reject on Bathory’s The Return (1985). The drums hint towards more developed black metal at times as they play a martial techno beat here and there without fills but this record is exceedingly behind what was going during that time period. The best part of the entire record are the solos and how are they given the kind of space and freedom suited for the more commercial strands of metal. The solos first and foremost obey the whims of the accompanying riffs and seek to amplify what they convey with the use of a large repertoire taking from the most famous relevant shredders. The compositions do have their charm in how they use the energetic approach of their heroes to create uplifting and fun music but ultimately play on shock rock tropes like main influence Venom.

The best composition here is the instrumental “Dead March” which takes a simple Judas Priest like motif and advances it forward with perfect control of mood as the motif twists and turns and the interactions between it and the second guitar that either harmonizes in conventional thirds or plays some contrapuntal melodies. The song conveys perfectly a march of the dead and escapes the pop structure through the reuse of certain passages and a complete lack of chorus. A fantastic bridge between the Heavy metal of the past and the Black metal of the future as it takes those elements and applies it in ways that the Norwegian bands would then apply on darker melodies.

Envenom shows a band going through multiple periods as this album was released seven years after the band initially formed and shows this progression from NWOBHM worship to Mayhem’s Deathcrush unfortunately this record shows the timeline of the genre but fails to do anything with it nor add a unique twist to it. Envenom remains a fun record but lacks any transcendent quality that separates it from some of the more forward-thinking acts in the genre and probably because there seems to be not a single ounce of influence from what was going in the Death metal or a willful ignorance to the innovations brought over. An easy listening album to bring over neophytes but for the experienced listener this is enjoyable for a few listens with a beer or two but has nothing else to offer.

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Serpent ov Old – Withering Hope (2012)

S E R P E N T  O V  O L D

Withering Hope

2012 Era Horrificus

It is the way of things that genres arise from culture and philosophy, as well as from personal interpretions of that culture and philosophy. In the case of metal, we see its subgenres and styles mingling in different ways to different degrees of acceptance and satisfaction by audience, artists and critics. In the case of Serpent ov Old, this has taken the form of an amalgamation of black metal and power metal, which has surprisingly and graciously bypassed the technicisms of death metal. And while there is word of power metal taking up death metal techniques into its repertoire, the mainstay of power metal has never executed this transition. The truth of the matter is that the melodicity and emphasis on comprehensible chord progressions of power metal has more to gain from the elegant emphasis on melodies-made-flows that the best of black metal has mastered inwardly. At the same time, Serpent ov Old makes music that stands primarily as evocative music elevated above discussions on techniques or style, even if the techniques and ways of expression have been clearly adopted from the sources mentioned above.

Serpent ov Old builds music by stating themes in the fashion of power metal, while balancing —purging— the saccharine effects by the application of black metal underpinnings in percussion, vocalization and guitar strumming. What we can hear is a music dominated by harmonic movement across which significantly active melodic lines move. Tension is built and released and then recaptured by both the melodic-harmonic interplay of lessons learned from black metal here, and those adopted from power metal there. Furthermore, the textural effects of the percussion and how these affect impulse, constriction and relaxation are taken primarily from black metal. The band makes this work by connecting power metal and black metal techniques to their common speed metal foundations, meaning that in many of the cases, the approach of the central riffing and percussion could fall into a nebulous area which both genres share in mature forms of speed metal, although this ambivalence is usually resolved towards black metal. As a whole, power metal is used as a bombastic paintbrush that allows Serpent ov Old to magnify the usually understated dramatism of black metal.

All this has to be accomplished tastefully, and we never find a reliance on trope or techniques: compositions are driven by the central, “invisible” essence of motion and contrast, and fluctuations of power and direction, by and for which the instrumentation exists. The “shredding” abilities of the guitarists in this work are used much in the same way that Trey Azagthoth’s atonal noise solos ripped through old Morbid Angel songs: as hyeroglyphs rather than as pretentious elaborations. These are to be taken as impressionist impressions, and should not be confused as baroque virtuosic displays, for such scale-based quasi noise shreds lack the self-sufficiency of the proper baroque solo instrument that we would hear in a work for viola da gamba by Marin Marais, for instance. And as one listens to the music more and more closely, subsequent spins allow the listener to perceive these relations properly, allowing them to see where the backbone is located, and how the peaks and valleys are formed by the creators of this landscape of poetic rashness.

The music of Serpent ov Old is fierce romantic dramatism akin to powerful forces of nature that destroy yet also create. By adopting and moderating the extroverted expression of power metal and delicately subsuming it under black metal, Serpent ov Old makes the music genres escape the narcissistic trap and makes them serve a transcendent expression of inner experience. Furthermore, this profound experience, if authentic, is one of darkness and anguish; but which darkness and anguish, if contronted and assimilated unto individuation, can presumably lead to the creation of a new type of being. However, the music is still limited by this personal flavor, which still tends to be merely inward looking, but not yet deep enough that a new space is opened up through the self as a gate. We may say that this is ultimately a question of personal experience, reflection and individual meaning. But ultimately, as music, it must be able to develop the ability to somehow come up with an aural language that can communicate a general intimation of what is presenced from beyond.

Note: We might yet see Withering Hope released under the banner of Deathwave Nexion.

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Capharnaum – Reality Only Fantasized (1997)

Capharnaum were a short-lived “tech-death” band hailing from Connecticut but then after the release moved to Florida in the dying of the Floridian movement in an attempt to gain recognition for what is a technical Death metal album that genuinely has musical quality beyond mere feats of virtuosity. Influences range from bands like Monstrosity, Death and Iron Maiden with various Jazz techniques inserted. Though this formula has led to an infinitely long list of terrible tech Death bands, Capharnaum avoid these shortcomings by implementing these techniques within a genuine Death metal context and a true passion for genre not halted by technical acumen.
(more…)

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Putrid Offal – Premature Necropsy (split w/ Exulceration) (1991)

At its most direct and well-calibrated, grindcore is a viciously effective medium for both emotional and corporal catharsis. But, as is often the case with experiential intensity, those equally delightful and terrifying moments seldom endure and will at best leave us grappling with a sensation of unresolved clarity. Whether or not this observation resonates with the reader, it may well be applied as an analogy for the grindcore phenomenon at large. Once a fortuitous offspring of hardcore punk and primordial death metal, early grindcore managed to tap into the deeper recesses of human discontent and paranoia and somehow channel this raw force into musical form. However, it didn’t take long before this short burst of essentially intuitive creativity gave in to rationalization and before anyone had realized it: game over.

The main point in case here would be Carcass. As have been previously chronicled on these pages, early Carcass lifted grindcore out of its self-inflicted musical and ideological circumscriptions with their debut Reek of Putrefaction (1988) —somewhat ironically, given its crude nature and presentation— before embarking on a steady slope into insignificance as the band got caught up with making music to please audiences. Since then, a veritable substyle has been founded upon Carcass’ earliest works reaching up to their third LP. Not surprisingly, the artistic results have been chiefly meagre because most successors have focused on mimicking style rather than the essential qualities of the music. Consider this in parallel to the poignantly limited musical palette of grindcore and a scenario takes form where novelty rather than substance is rewarded; because in a field where everything sound practically identical on the surface, the easiest way to gain notoriety is through aesthetic manipulation. Consequently, discovering worthy material quickly turns into a struggle of Sisyphosian proportions, as it requires extensive and often in-depth digging.

Unanimously forgotten by the metal world at large, Putrid Offal’s 1991 split LP with Exulceration comes across as a seemingly indistinctive affair at first glance. However, a deeper acquaintance with the material reveals this to be one of the more rewarding non-canonical works within the genre. Putrid Offal comfortably operates within a style somewhere between the first and second Carcass album if played with the intense rigidity of an early Napalm Death. Where the band excels is in a conjoinment of Reek of Putrefaction’s playful and frequently destabilizing nature with the more cogent and death metal-oriented riff sequencing witnessed on Symphonies of Sickness (1989). Riffs strive to expand beyond the simple chromatic patterns that has become a staple among grindcore acts. This allows the band not only to apply greater textural nuance to phrases, but also an opportunity to string riffs into sequences that defy binary modes of communication. While intensity remains as main focus throughout the playing time, both structure and riffology implies an undercurrent darker than what is usually expected of such a direct form of music.

Setting aside aspirations of petty “uniqueness”, Putrid Offal ironically enough belongs to the infinitesimal cadre of bands who’ve managed to expand upon the Carcass legacy.

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