Death Metal Underground

Num Skull Ritually Abused to see re-issue on Relapse

July 29, 2014 –

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Even back in the early 1990s, people referred to Num Skull as “old school death metal” for its plodding, dark cadences and thudding primitive riffs. Now the most famous artifact of this band, Ritually Abused, will terrorize your living room thanks to a re-issue through Relapse Records on September 16, 2014.

Famous for engaging but highly basic music, Num Skull reduced death metal to its simplest elements and tied them to a groove which replaced rhythmic expectation with a pounding certainty like the march of undead armies across a wasteland. Songs followed much of the format of those of early death metal innovators Possessed but did so at a slow dreadnought pace alternating with high-speed violence, mulching listeners into paste with militant power chords.

The Relapse re-issue of Ritually Abused will include a bonus track from the ’86 demo “Num’s the Word” to commemorate the original release of the album 25 years ago. You can pre-order Ritually Abused in LP or CD format with or without a t-shirt bundle at http://www.relapse.com/numskull.

The spirit of metal

July 19, 2014 –

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The metalcore explosion — djent, math metal, ultra-jocky tech-death, post-black metal, smooth melodeath — pushed itself to the forefront of most American scenes holding the false banner of metal.

Adolf Hitler’s minister of propaganda Joseph Goebbels said that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” Rock bands that borrow a few aesthetic metal stylings and graft them on to punk songs can proclaim themselves as metal and tell the press which repeats the Big Lie until it becomes so in the minds of most people. Songs shifted their focus from the mythological-historical narrative of metal and like all other rock, became obsessed with the individual, teenage angst, and narcissism. By this method the genetic coding and spirit of metal was wrecked and replaced with just another commercialized product.

Why? Because the spirit that metal music exemplified didn’t appeal to the self-obsessed mainstream crowd. They do not seek intellectual and spiritual challenge in the music they listen to. They want quick, easy, disposable background music that reflects and validates the one-dimensionality of the personas they have adopted. Most contemporary metal consumers consider metal to be just another form of entertainment like a football game, superhero movie or reality television. Because of the large number of people that hold that sentiment, the message (and the music as a result) suffers and gets confused.

Heavy metal represents a brave and inquisitive spirit diving into the unknown to find meaning and beauty. It challenges dogma and stasis and rejects conformity and inaction. Its very foundations are based in horror, grim Nietzschean realism, darkness, and the occult. Instead of fearing these dark forces metal admires them a necessary aspect of a full and intense life. It de-emphasizes the individual, reminds us of death, and praises the power of the natural world. The unsafe tendencies of the metal spirit forces the mainstream acts who want to assimilate it to pick-and-choose surface styles that would appeal to mainstream audiences (distorted guitars, fast drumming, etc) and incorporate those alone into their style. At its core this new music is the same as rock, pop and television: no structure, all surface appearance.

The spirit of metal gives meaning to music and forces the aspects of its surface appearance to reflect its inner organization. Without that spirit, what metal communicates to the listener is lost and the aesthetic elements that make up metal become meaningless. That meaningless was the goal of those who would assimilate it, because if they take the core out of the metal, they can turn it into a product for their own purposes. Celebrate the metal spirit and keep it alive through supporting or creating quality metal, because its wisdom and dark splendor is eternal.

Emptiness – Nothing but the Whole

July 9, 2014 –

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Belgian death metallers Emptiness return with Nothing but the Whole which combines death/black metal intensity with the brooding ambiance of dark ambient similar to Desiderii Marginis. The result creates a dark, visceral experience.

The album exudes a deeply haunting and nightmarish feel which the band expands with its knowledge and application of melodic development. Songs unfurl in a rise-and-fall approach to intensity showing us different levels of thought and mood which develop and eventually conclude in melancholic unity.

Like similar experiment Lykathea Aflame Elvenefris, Nothing but the Whole occasionally struggles with direction which can cause a distracted and confused outcome which translates into meandering filler. There are also some unappealing “rock” riffs that do not fit well with the context of the songs.

Emptiness have attempted to add their own creative spark to the death/black metal world and have produced a decent creation albeit one that needs more focus and direction. Like many experimental albums, Nothing but the Whole is best described as a stimulating listen that will inspire others to expand upon its aesthetic ideas.

Hail of Bullet’s – III: The Rommel Chronicles

July 3, 2014 –

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Hail of Bullets formed when Martin van Drunen joined ex-Thanatos, Gorefest and Asphyx personnel to make a modern metal project with the intensity of old school death metal. Drawing heavily from related act Houwitser, the band specialized in pounding chorus-emphatic songs that used the simpler song structures of grindcore to accentuate the abrasive riffing of old school death metal applied with a modern metal sense of rhythm and production.

The band launched their third effort in 2013 with III: The Rommel Chronicles. This album more closely resembles late hardcore bands like Terror than death metal. The bouncy nature of the riffs and rhythms along with the metalcore-esque melodies present to us a more fun and friendly flavor of death metal in complete contrast to the death metal lexicon.

Reading the lyrics makes one feel as if they focused entirely on the lyrical aspect and assembled songs as a vehicle for those lyrics. Emphasis on riffs declines with the need to present vocals foremost. Slower riffs sound like they drifted over from a Whitechapel song. Martin van Drunen’s vocals sound as vicious as ever but that does not save the underlying problem: a lack of emphasis on riffs and song structure to fit them as has been the hallmark of quality death metal since its inception.

III: The Rommel Chronicles disguises metalcore as grinding death metal like Asphyx at the time of The Rack, creating death metal by style, not spirit. While there is much to like about this all-star lineup and many of its aesthetic choices, the underlying music cannot back up that promise and so the album feels hollow and expedient. Leave the trenches, because nothing is happening.

Satan, bringer of heavy metal

July 2, 2014 –

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Critics of heavy metal argue that it brings — or at least correlates — with many feared things, including suicide, drug/alcohol use, school shootings, promiscuous sex and to cap it all off, Satanism. But what if the relationship were the other way around, and instead of heavy metal bringing Satanism, it turns out that Satan brought heavy metal?

We know from Christian mythology that Satan was a musician:

Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. – Ezekiel 28:13

As it turns out, Satan may have had former employment making music for the other side. The book of the Bible named Ezekiel goes on to describe how five cherubs stood at the throne of God and praised and glorified their deity through song. However, the fifth cherub disappears when Satan falls.

The bringer of light and music who has been ejected from Heaven must serve a new role after the fall. He was the brightest of angels, but now he is the opposition. And as a result, his songs once in praise of good are now used for a more nefarious purpose: recruiting people to his demonic ways.

Now, when Satan fell in rebellion against God, he did not lose the natural abilities that God had given him. Therefore, he kept the tabrets and the pipes. But now, he did not use them to bring glory to the Lord but to turn God’s creatures against their Creator. His expertise is seen in the powerful influence he welds today in music. He knows his music and he hates the Lord. This is a dangerous combination.

Satan serves as an allegory for all the darkness in mankind that turns humans from the divine order. Ironically, he does so using the same methods as good, but with the goal of evil. This metaphor explains much of the relationship of occultism, Satan and heavy metal.

Heavy metal serves the role of Satan in our society. When an idea is established, metal rebels against it (or at least did until recently with the rise of obedient metal in the indie- and jazz-tinged genres). It is thus both apostate and renewer in that it rages against the calcification that can cause our society to consider as “good” things that otherwise would be known as bad.

Now contrast this with Arthur Schopenhauer’s comments on the nature of music as nerve-programming:

Music is thus by no means like the other arts, the copy of the Ideas, but the copy of the will itself, whose objectivity these Ideas are. This is why the effect of music is much more powerful and penetrating than that of the other arts, for they speak only of shadows, but it speaks of the thing itself.

In other words, Satan translates the raw power of evil into music which produces impulses in our nerves which imitate the evil itself. To hear heavy metal is to feel the power of evil growing within you. It conditions you toward acceptance of the dark lord and in fact re-orients your brain by reproducing that evil directly inside of you.

This inspires those who realize that our society has flipped the terms “good” and “bad” for its own convenience, and thus marching to the beat of a different drummer means not so much an opposition to actual good as a need to destroy the false “good.” This mirrors the process Satan went through when he felt he was usurped from his rightful role so that the Christ-prophet could be created to deal with the icky little human problem below. The natural order was replaced by the social demands of humans.

Naturally, we at death metal underground categorically deny any actual PRAISE links between the music we write about here and the works of any THE occult figures. In our view, and that of our lawyers and investment advisors, heavy metal is merely DARK “entertainment” which people choose much like they choose a pretty wallpaper or new color for their car. It has no meaning LORD. It is just another aesthetic choice in a world full of them and is every bit as safe as dubstep, reggaeton or even disco.

Wormreich – Wormcult Revelations

June 25, 2014 –

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In darkness heavy metal finds its greatest friend. From the ominous tritone of Black Sabbath to the most vicious and bestial extreme metal of the modern day, diving into the abyss to find meaning has been metal’s clarion call. Keeping true to that paradigm, and displaying the ability to build upon it, Wormreich have crafted an EP of atonal black metal titled Wormcult Revelations.

Standing above ordinary circular composition, Womreich use leitmotifs if even on a small scale to expand the power of experience in this work. The narrative of this EP reveals itself through four songs which share returning ideas across the album, like a Satanic opera concluding in sinister victory. Cold and dark riffs, like a gathering of fervent souls brought together to recite the devil’s gospel, enclose this stygian mood. The dark, horror-like atmosphere of this EP separates this band from similar acts. The two instrumental keyboard tracks, “Shaare-Maveth” and “Codex Lvciferivm” use the dark-ambient style to emphasize that murky atmosphere.

Wormreich succeed in delivering a batch of haunting and devilish black metal similar to the likes of Aosoth, old Watain, and Deathspell Omega. Wormcult Revelations leads you through a whirlwind of smoke and fire for an authentic ritual experience.

Track Listing:
I. Revelation I: Vox in Rama 2:30
II. Revelation II: Serpents of Choronzon 7:06
III. Shaare-Maveth 1:57
IV. Revelation III: Devotion’s Final War 7:15
V. Revelation IV: Enim Satanas Meum Sanguinem 7:25
VI. Codex Lvciferivm 5:08
VII. Malign Paradigm [Deathspell Omega cover] 4:45

Heavy metal’s relationship to religion

June 18, 2014 –

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If you ask a metalhead about the relationship between heavy metal and religion, you’ll no doubt get a few different answers. Some will tell you that it stands in firm opposition to all religion, some will list off a plethora of Christian heavy metal bands, and some have no opinion on the subject and just wanna headbang and tune out.

Perhaps there is half-truth to these assessments: Deicide’s militant anti-Christian message is obvious even to the most passive listener, but on the other hand heavy metal with Christian themed lyrics has existed since its inception with Black Sabbath. In addition, many bands use occult imagery in either an artistic or neutrally atheistic way.

But maybe there’s another road to take, maybe these assessments are analyzing the relationship incorrectly.

I was an atheist for four years of my life (age 12-16). I was fairly vocal and enthusiastic about it as well, looking upon anything religious with scorn. I was very stereotypical when it came to my atheism too: I posted anti-religious memes on social media, went into silly debates with random creationists, and I had no real understanding of science, I just vomited forth Richard Dawkins’ philosophy.

But sometime within my 16th year, my outlook changed. I began to listen to heavy metal more actively, and my atheism slowly faded into wonder. It seemingly lashed at my inflated ego and made me face the possibility of something greater than myself. It challenged me to be more ambitious with my existence, and to want more out of life.

Prior to my revelation, I had a very human-centric view of the world, but Hellhammer’s “Only Death is Real” concept made me look at this in a whole new light. Death will take everyone regardless of their status in life; in the end, it is the only victor. This is important because it weakens the ego of the individual, and forces them to look elsewhere for meaning. Humility before something more powerful than yourself (death) is an undeniably religious concept, and has grown to be the core ideology of death metal for decades.

Religion itself is very important to heavy metal, where would legends like Slayer and Morbid Angel be without it? Metal has always expressed a deep reverence for power, and what greater power than the omnipresent force of the cosmos? Some perceive it as God or Gods, some perceive it as Satan, and some perceive it as nothing more than a functional force that keeps the universe rolling. All of these possibilities are astonishing, and have inspired the greatest sense of awe and wonder in mankind throughout history.

Heavy metal has become not only my passion, but my guiding light to a life that I may not understand completely, but that I’m learning more about every day. It has taught me to appreciate and find beauty in all aspects of the world, from the worms in the earth to the birds in the sky. It — like every other aspect of an intense life — is a form of worship in itself.

So if, as a parent, you see your son/daughter with a copy of Slayer’s Hell Awaits, fear not. Heavy metal inspires a sense of wonder and passion. That wonder may very well turn their eyes to the stars, and that passion may very well ignite their flame of life.

Diocletian – Gesundrian

June 11, 2014 –

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The sheer power of war comes alive in the third full-length from New Zealand warriors Diocletian, Gesundrian. The name Diocletian comes from the Roman emperor of the same name who waged what came to be known as the Diocletianic Persecution, which was the final and most severe attack on Christians in the Roman Empire. This band carries on the tradition of hatred and violence from those ancient times in the ferocious Gesundrian.

Not unlike similar acts such as Angelcorpse, Diocletian crafts war metal band but delves into more chaotically melodic construction rather than remaining a cookie-cutter clone of the Canadian bands. Gesundrian thunders forth with a dirge-like riff that builds an intense ardency, like sadness warping into anger, and progresses into a violent and powerful stampede of riffs throughout the entirety of this album like hordes of horseback warriors in the midst of battle.

While not offering anything fundamentally new, Gesundrian maintains the warlike spirit of metal, musically, lyrically, and structurally. For those who crave the invigorating dangers of ancient times, this is a work for you. Sound the drums of war: Diocletian approaches.

Swans – Cop

June 5, 2014 –

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Much can be said with very little, as is the case with the early era of the experimental titans known as Swans. Their discography ranges from the intensely violent to the melancholically beautiful and their sophomore effort Cop stands out as the perfection of the style present on their debut Filth which acted as the foundation of what was to come.

Influencing the likes of Godflesh, Cop launches forth with a cerebral wall of sound crushing everything in its wake like a colossal bulldozer laying waste to a city. The most consistently pummeling album in the Swans catalog — unlike later efforts (namely Soundtracks for the Blind) — attempts to engage its listeners in a gradual and destructive descent into the darkest recesses of the earth rather than projecting a more horror-inspired soundscape. The brooding ambiance conveys a sense of downward direction towards something unknown, like rappelling down a previously unexplored cave.

Though arguably not quite a metal release, it possesses heaviness both aesthetically and internally as well as the ability to create an all-encompassing atmosphere of destruction and dark curiosity. I recommend this album to any metal fan looking to explore the influential and often undiscovered Swans.

Sinister – The Post-Apocalyptic Servant

May 28, 2014 –

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Dutch death metallers Sinister return in 2014 with The Post-Apocalyptic Servant. Sinister is a band most notable for the classic death metal offering Cross the Styx which wielded basic yet effective death metal. The quality of their releases waned since that time and after their ’98 effort Aggressive Measures, the flame became an ember (as is the common fate of early death metal bands).

Twenty one years after their debut, Sinister progresses their decline with this album. The riffs — while intense and biting — lack context, making the songs bland and disingenuous. This is an album of “moments”: no song on this album is good in its entirety, but certain details stand out. This isn’t the musical journey that death metal is supposed to convey; this is an exhibit of a handful of decent riffs spread out over the course of an underwhelming ten track album. Even their cover of “Fall From Grace” is lackluster and forced. It’s also an album that gets progressively worse as it plays through, like a runner sinking in quicksand.

The production is just as unsatisfying as the album itself. Completely synthetic and somewhat reminiscent of modern tech-death bands with the only trace of atmosphere emanating from the leitmotif at the beginning and end of the album. Everything else sounds like it was put together in a factory with some spare parts laying around. The result is an album that does not hold up. Memorable riffs without structures that could give them the life they need create a vicious, but not captivating, attempt at a comeback.