In 1984, the unholy triad of underground metal were born: Bathory, Hellhammer and Slayer laid out a formula that, taken together, would create the basis for all of the extreme metal genres to follow.
With first album Bathory, mastermind Quorthon and an ever-shifting cast of musicians took the lead in creating fast and chaotic music that nonetheless exhibited structure and a sense of Wagnerian melodic evolution. In early Bathory, thrashing riffs gave rise to a sense of order, instead of a flat timeline of circular repetition like the (at that time) bad speed metal imitators.
Many point to Under the Sign of the Black Mark, but others of us point to The Return as a clear departure point. A cynic could have written off the first Bathory album as imitation of Slayer and Venom, although it’s not clear Quorthon had heard Venom at the time, but with the second, it was clear a new genre was born. Quorthon then spent the next dozen years trying to re-interpret that genre so that he could make sense of the vast lead he’d taken over others.
Where Under the Sign of the Black Mark showed a more structured approach to songwriting in a mid-tempo, organized style that used the aesthetics of The Return but aimed for more easily grasped songs, the fourth Bathory album used Quorthon’s improved musical abilities to expand the black metal vocabulary to include the genres before it. Blood Fire Death incorporated speed metal influences, and with them, imported heavy metal and NWOBHM motifs. However, it did so without losing the underground metal-ness of the record.
As a result, Blood Fire Death served as a bridge between the past and future of metal. Its fast and ripping songs combined the power of Slayer and the technical guitar virtuosity of bands like Metallica and Judas Priest with the style of songwriting exhibited on The Return, where songwriting was not just rotational verse-chorus material in which the end result was the same as the beginning, but a type of narrative where the major themes arose from seemingly disordered and chaotic lesser motifs.
In addition, Bathory’s finest hour on Blood Fire Death was its Wagnerian sense of drama. Every moment of the album breathes with a sense of epic purpose, from a slow organic arising to its febrile and aggressive warlike thrashing, to a gradual sort of data into epic tracks which combined acoustic guitar with a sense of purpose and meaning returning to a modern wasteland. Thematically, it developed riffs that echoed its concepts, which were a fusion of the mythological occultism of Slayer with the Nordicism of Wagner or Nietzsche. This created a worldview in which the Christian, modern and commercial were tied together as the needs of a mindless crowd, and a naturalistic, organic and Romantic side of life was brought forth as an alternative.
25 years later we mark the anniversary of this album in the current month, but its influence is hard to track since so many have absorbed its meaning and borrowed plentifully from it. Bathory’s finest hour perhaps occurred on Blood Fire Death, but this is in the context of a discography that is one of metal history’s nodal points in which must of the past is summarized and taken to the next level. For that reason, it’s essential to appreciate this album out of context before returning it to its place within the legend and pantheon of metal.
Deeds of Flesh pioneered the West coast version of the percussive death metal innovated in New York by bands like Suffocation and Morpheus Descends, itself a derivative of the more textured muted-chord riffing of speed metal bands like Prong, Vio-lence, Exhorder and Exodus. With Portals to Canaan, Deeds of Flesh hope to expand their style into the future.
As a result, they’ve brought in some influences. Some come from expected quarters, like the Gorguts Obscura influence visible on many tracks, or the modern “tek-deth” borrowings. Others are more obscure: the use of background drones and electronic effects like Tangerine Dream, for example, or the repeated allusions to tracks from all of the first three Deicide albums. This tendency shows a band in touch with how stale both the old school bands currently and the entire concept of modern metal have become.
Portals to Canaan does one better, which is that it attempts to make these riffs work with another. This leads to a sort of game: how outlandish can we be and still pull it off? As a result, the guitar fireworks immediately dive into almost paranoid riffs that despite being primitive show a delicate sensibility of avoiding predictability. Deeds of Flesh love breakneck tempi, but even more, they love to break up patterns, transition through a series of barely related ideas, and then return to the original. Tempo changes explode, riffs invert themselves, and guitars chase each other oblivion and emerge in harmony.
The primary downside of this album is that it borrows from both deathgrind and tek-deth, which both include tropes that are aesthetically annoying. Deathgrind has the chromatic chugging advance while the vocals chant in double time, and tek-deth has its video-game-sound sweeps and noodly squeal riffs. Deeds of Flesh try to minimize this whenever possible, but rely on it frequently enough that it is hard to overcome. What is great about this album however is that it is able to unite its wide variety with the riffs themselves, like an old school band, and not fall into the nu-death trap of being so divergent that the only unification can be found through return to very standard song forms after short deviations.
Culminating in the epic track “Orphans of Sickness,” Deeds of Flesh Portals to Canaan offers a credible attempt to find a new path through metal. I’d rather they dropped the deathgrind and modern metal and focused solely on inheriting the other techniques they have innovated over the years, but Deeds of Flesh have converted some annoying modern metal tendencies into fertile techniques and shown how old school metal’s approach to gluing riffs together to make sensible songs can overwhelm even the modern metal influence. In addition, the use of ambient sound and innovative song construction makes this release a good listen, even if as I do you wince at the core/grind parts.
Long known as the adroit-fingered riffman for punk-black metal band Darkthrone, Nocturno Culto was once seen as a dark, mysterious and threatening figure but has adopted a more open public persona over the last decade.
As part of this, he is launching a re-vamped heavy metal style band named Gift of Gods which will be entirely his music separate from Darkthrone. The music sounds like Celtic Frost’s Cold Lake given a speed metal treatment and with the more complex riff transitions of earlier Celtic Frost.
If you approached Slaughter of the Soul with the stylistic outlook of Left Hand Path, you would follow the path that Abscession travel on Death Incarnate. These are short, melodic songs that understand the dramatic nature of successful Swedish death metal.
Easily imitated, Swedish death metal is hard to master. The basics are simple: play d-beat drums under riffs adapted from the vocal melodies of 1970s horror film music and American guitar rock bands, then stack those against faster Black Sabbath-styled chromatic rhythm riffs. Is there really such a void between “Symptom of the Universe” and “Crawl,” or the soundtrack to Carnival of Souls and Clandestine? Not if you listen to them side-by-side.
Thus, by combining Discharge and heavy metal with horror soundtracks, the Swedes invented a new style and kicked it into high-gear with that buzzsaw dimed-Boss distortion. But while qualification in this style is easy, it quickly becomes generic. That is because to take riffs out of context, one must build up a next dramatic context to give them framing, such that the change in riff (and tempo) is symbolically and aesthetically significant to the listener.
Abscession kick off this mini-album (EP) with a lengthy intro that, while funny at a first listen as it reveals death metal obliterating the music of normals, probably isn’t going to be fun past the first couple of listens. After that, it’s into what they do best: buzz-saw rhythm riffs which give way to lengthier melodic riffs which are played in power chords instead of single-string-picked like the first At the Gates.
The result captures much of the mood from Clandestine with big bristly clouds of buzzing distortion cushioning us as a melody emerges from within, like flying through clouds and seeing the moon emerge above. Once we’ve settled into the feel of the fully mature song, Abscession give it a kick or otherwise challenge it with a dramatic transition, which requires guitarwork to wrangle the song back toward its final state of affirming order.
What makes this release stand out is how well-composed the melodies are and how the band is able to arrange riffs in a meaningful manner, even if a simple “meaning” like the sensation of a walk through a dangerous forest at night and a confrontation with mortality as the blade of a foe emerges. Riffcraft is good and focuses on the longer melodies that distinguish the professionals from the “Garage Band” weekend activists in metal at this point, and all musicianship is good, but it is the content and composition of these songs that sets Abscession ahead of the Swe-death pack.
Texan mythological occult heavy metal band Absu, who began life as a death metal band and ventured into NWOBHM-tinged black metal before arriving at their current hybrid of Mercyful Fate and modern progressive metal, have extended their North American tour dates through the end of the year.
If you have been aching to see these highly technically skilled musicians live and live in the eastern half of the United States, look toward these dates to tell you when to cancel all prior engagements and head to the club.
We mentioned the “Heavy Metal and the Communal Experience” conference which will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 5, 2014. This conference aims to define community in metal and explore its boundaries.
As part of our ongoing exploration of academia in metal, this conference offers a topic that many of us have wondered about in the past. How does metal balance its radical individualism with its radical sense of community, and of a post-individual humanity, which sets it apart from all other genres philosophically?
Some years ago a friend mentioned how death metal unnerved her because the bands attempted to play in unison with each other or at least in complement with each other instead of trying to push the boundaries of how chaotic they could get. Like church music or higher math, metal is about order, and it imposes this through forcing twisted fragments of power chords into phrases that address each other like a dialogue in the music. This outlook could explain how metal views community.
The conference will attract a number of luminaries from the metal academic circuit, including:
University of London, UK
Niall William Richard Scott
University of Central Lancashire, UK
DePaul University, USA
Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
Jeremy Wayne Wallach
Bowling Green State University, USA
University of Central Missouri, USA
Brian A. Hickam
Benedictine University, USA
Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo
Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR
The forthcoming release of Underground Never Dies! on Doomentia Records will be accompanied in its first pressing by a unique LP which features classic tracks from back in the early days of the death metal underground.
Thanks to author Andrés Padilla, editor of Grinder Magazine (CL), the world can now see what’s on the LP. But first, information about the LP itself. There will be several batches, as follows:
Limited to 150 copies
Massive box with custom padding for:
Underground Never Dies! book
LP on colored vinyl
500 x vinyl
150 on black/white HALF/HALF effect
350 on black
500 x CD
200 x MC
500 x Underground Never Dies! book
This means that 500 LPs will go out with the book, and another 500 LPs, 500 CDs and 200 MCs will be available for underground maniacs. There’s going to be a run on these at your local distros, especially the padded box set which is “massive” in form and content if early reports are right.
Like thrash bands of the 1980s or the first two Napalm Death EPs, Ildjarn is often first mistaken for a novelty for its short and seemingly irrational songs. What exists under the skin is a complex outlook toward the world distilled into a simple naturalism.
Much like the techno, oi and black metal that these songs derive inspiration from, Ildjarn is a visceral emotion: its songs are not so much concepts, as emotional concepts created from the application of intellect to real-world problems. This is not theory; it’s application. However, it exists in small fragments that appear irrational to us because they are beyond the human perspective, as if spoken by the voices of nature themselves.
Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is an early Ildjarn demo that has appeared in fragmentary form on several other recordings, but never in full. Eisenwald Records has re-released the demo on CD and LP with new artwork.
Released on September 23, 2013, the new edition is properly balanced but not remastered or cleaned up for the authentic “period” sound. Pre-orders come with a free poster of the cover art and an ILDJARN sticker. It is gratifying to see interest in this band resuming again after a short periodic absence, as has occurred wavelike since the founding of the band.
Technical metalcore band Oblivion unleash Called to Rise which offers technicality with more mood among all of the speed thrills that experienced musicians playing at top speed in a wide range of colors, textures and tempi can express.
Following in the steps of high-intensity blasters like Kataklysm and Cryptopsy, Called to Rise uses fast tempi with rapid-fingered riffs which either bat out a complex rhythmic texture of power chords or rip through a scale in a certain order, often alternating between hitting the beat on the nose and being encapsulated by it. The result is like a shifting plateau of sands and waters through which melody flickers like lightning.
In the modern technical metalcore method, Oblivion focus on great variety between riffs. A simple chug follows a silvery sweep like the dance of glare on the tips of small waves, then a bluesy lead dances over a trudging sludge progression; then, an augmented chord riff straight out of jazz-influenced AOR or funk graces a transition to fast picked single-string melodies. The result is like being driven through a museum of rock on a bumper boat, watching the sights and sounds change as you howl through different rooms.
While the essential composition is of this modern style, Oblivion includes several generations of metal. Heavy metal, speed metal, hard rock, and progressive metal feature prominently, as does classical music. First in the cover of Rachmaninoff’s “Canon in E Minor,” which is sensibly executed with strumming at top speed while note change sticks closer to the proportions of the original. Next, in a series of ambitious compositions including three pieces with string orchestra, some featuring musically unquantifiable sounds.
Where Called to Rise stays within the metal world, Oblivion is of the newer range of technical death metal which, in contrast to death metal, is composed in the late hardcore style that emphasizes contrast and exceptionalism, where death metal emphasizes contrast being part of a larger pattern in which logical parity is achieved leading to a larger context. That means the goal is for these riffs to clash, and then for another riff to take over, so that a cycling between different things is preserved.
Oblivion make this album interesting through its vast variety, and once it becomes clear to the audience that the point is a variety show instead of a penetrating observation of a limited set of musical tropes, Called to Rise can be enjoyed for the fusion of genres that it is. Its musicality and textural diversity should appeal to shredders and fans of modern technical and progressive metal alike, while its adrenaline pace of changing images carve out a place in contemporary music for a new extreme.