Sammath debuts “Fear Upon Them” from Godless Arrogance

sammath-godless_arroganceDutch-German furious black/death metal band Sammath unveil their most promising material to date with a new song “Fear Upon Them” which reveals the many influences of this underground metal band. While some of its works sound like Morbid Angel or Perdition Temple with an underlying melody line, other songs are wholly melodic and go more into black metal ambiance.

“Fear Upon Them,” which is the latest single released from Godless Arrogance, shows Sammath going back to their roots. Specifically, the most furious melodic black metal bands to walk the earth, namely Immortal and Bathory. By slowing down the drum tempo but speeding up the strum tempo, Sammath create an unearthly sound like a dream in fog.

On top of this, the band add riff development and a sense of the unexpected yet not obviously quirky and contrarian, which means that songs slide into their own personalities and transcend their influences. In this case, “Fear Upon Them” wears its influences on its sleeve, more as a tribute than a blueprint for emulation.

The album Godless Arrogance will come out on Hammerheart Records later this year.

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Gyre – Second Circle EP

gyre-second_circleNew Jersey metalcore band Gyre has a surprise: not only are they not heavy metal, but they’re in fact alternative rock, and a very competent version of that hidden beneath the skin.

I guess sometimes it seems like it’s best to disguise what you’re doing as what everyone else is doing, but this seems puzzling to me, as if Gyre dropped the metalcore stylings and let loose their alternative band, I think they’d be in every record shop across the nation.

True, the surface is off-putting to a death metal fan. These are the emo-punk-style metalcore riffs, complete with fanning of power chords and a few odd voicings thrown in with the off-beat quicky rhythms that jump around like a protester having a tantrum. And the metalcore vocals, which wail-rant.

In fact, much of the surface metalcore could have come straight out of the 1990s and found commonality with bands like Pantera and Dillinger Escape Plan. It bounces, and then it creates a kind of plaintive lag, like someone getting arrested by the cops to make a point. Then it rebounds.

Underneath the surface, in a method reminiscent of Metallica’s …And Justice for All (subtitle: But We Get Paid Anyway), Gyre weaves melodies around the bittersweet narrowing of intervals that gave alternative rock its distinct whiny, resistant sound.

Second Circle will get dismissed by most because metalcore is already yesterday’s news. However, most metal fans haven’t found anything more compelling yet, so you speak to the audience you have, not the one you want, I guess. It’s a shame because these winding melodies, reminiscent of Nirvana or Stone Temple Pilots, grant to the music a depth and power it would not otherwise have had.

As a metal album, Second Circle wouldn’t really make sense. It barely fits as metalcore. But when you burrow under the skin, and stop worrying about whether it looks tough enough to your friends, there’s a lot to think about even in this short format.

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Why I listen to music on YouTube and left my MP3 player behind

death_metal_unlocks_divinityLike most of you, I experience a prevalence of dual-use time in my life. That is, I have to be here at the computer doing something, but like most things in “mature” “adult” “responsible” society it takes half a brain at best, so I put on some tunes and shift most of my brain and mind that way.

Originally, back in the dire proto-technological days of the 1980s, we had to manually throw on an LP, CD or cassette to hear music. Otherwise, there was the radio, but there wasn’t as much choice there. Radio was both the last resort, and a way to hear new music. It served a sacred role in the latter and could be an event in its role as the former.

If the rare metal show in your area showed up only one night a week, that became party night while you and your buddies checked in for the weekly connection to the world of metal. Sometimes, it was just for fun. It was easier to let someone else DJ and pick the tunes, and if the price you had to pay was every third tune being a stinker, no big deal.

Then in the late 1990s, people started getting crazy with the multi-disc changers. Now you could have five or six discs in rotation and just let them roll. Put in what you wanted, throw it on repeat, and listen for three hours or longer. I used to put my Harmon-Kardon on shuffle repeat and bathe people in music of disparate form but similar content, which created an immersive wave of exploration in that topic.

But it all changed with broadband and the evolution of the MP3 codec. When we launched our radio station back in 1997, the Frauhnofer MP3 codec we used was really excellent. But since that time, innovations have occurred in variable bit rate, compression and sound dynamics that add on to that strong basis. Now MP3s are a better delivery mechanism than tape and, given adjustments for physical electronics degrading sound, almost as good as CD.

Listening to music via MP3 was different however. Generally, you saved a ton of MP3 files to some directory on your Winchester disk. Then you pitched those into a playlist and started somewhere. The player would, like a merciless harvester of ears, keep going until you told it to stop. So it was more like tuning into a radio station whose playlist you chose, but one which favored sequential albums. You could also randomize.

The problem with this style of listening — as you’ve guessed, doubtless, being the intelligent reader — is that it’s autopilot. Want to listen to Slayer? With two clicks you’ve launched everything beginning with “S,” and then the playlist begins again when it runs out of those. You can conceivably keep your entire record collection streaming in the background.

However that loss of choice can be disturbing. You’re no longer choosing to listen to something past the first choice. You get caught up in the playlist. If you randomize, it’s only a little bit better. In the end, it’s like radio without the human intervention of the DJ, and takes power away from you.

This is why I’ve come to enjoy YouTube. It’s like putting an LP on the record player more than anything else. I think of an album; I type the name and “full album” (LOL search engines) into YouTube, and up pops a version of it. I hit play, and sit back and listen to it. But then comes the magic: when it’s done, it’s done. I have to manually, physically and deliberately choose another piece of music or sit in silence.

In this, I get the best of both worlds. The (nostalgia aside) beauty of choice, where you have to walk to the shelves, think of an album, find it according to your filing system, and then manually put it on the player. And yet, the promise of digital technology and convenience of MP3s: no record you can scratch, no CD you can fumble, no cassette to entangle. The two are united by typing that search into the YouTube site.

There’s some ethical issues of course. I’d be happier if all bands posted official full albums so I could kick them the $0.02 per play that YouTube pays. In the end, that might pay more than traditional record contracts; I don’t know. Most bands don’t seem to care, as many of us using YouTube are doing so in places where we can’t bring our record collections, like work, friends’ houses, church, missile silo, etc.

But at the end of the day, what really matters about music is preserving the magic. That sense that behind the next corner, something amazing lurks. A buried treasure; an undiscovered secret. An explosion of imagination, or emotion, or even pure logical calculation. That life is ongoing, and infinite, and we’ll always find something new to quest after.

Ultimately, this is what makes YouTube compelling. It requires a choice. There is no constant rolling playlist. I must go to the site, type in the band name and album name, and start the process. This makes me the person in charge who then rapidly loses control as the music sweeps over me. This is the experience of listening, and in this sense, YouTube brings back the beauty of the LP with the convenience of the iPod.

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Vikernes suing French government for false detention

varg_vikernes-burzum-band_photoAt least one metal musician has learned that if society attacks, you counter-attack. Varg Vikernes of Burzum, who was arrested several weeks ago and charged with inciting racial hatred, is attempting to sue the French government for an arrest that ultimately led to no new charges because of a lack of evidence.

“We want to sue the authorities for arresting us for no good reason whatsoever, doing so in the most brutal way possible and with children present,” Vikernes wrote on his blog.

During the early 1990s, Vikernes created a one-man band named Burzum which knocked out a series of innovative, multi-riff songs designed to blur the boundaries between metal and ambient, and “awaken the fantasy of mortals.” Some metal historians believe that Burzum’s Hvis Lyset Tar Oss effectively ended black metal’s development by raising the bar above that which others could follow.

Since that time, Vikernes has spent sixteen years in Norwegian jails, written several books, and continues to both produce music and write political texts. His most recent work, Sôl austan, Mâni vestan, is an ambient work that recalls the power of earlier Burzum.

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Exhumed kick off North American tour with release of Necrocracy

exhumed-necrocracyExhumed, the band that combined up-beat Swedish death like later Fleshcrawl with the crepitant grind of Carcass but gave it the bounce of more punk-oriented grindcore bands, has returned from the dead and unleashed Necrocracy, an infectiously catchy but hard-hitting slab of recreational grind that should keep listeners in motion.

Following an early career of more grind-influenced music, the band began to see the possibilities in more energetic and listenable ventures, and so began to mix enthusiastic heavy metal into the grind and then blur the grindcore technique with a fair amount of death metal. Like many revival movements, this aims to put a modern superstructure into the aesthetics of the past.

Necrocracy represents the kind of thrill that came with later Ministry albums. Speed, excess and unflagging energy combined to make a record that could both motivate you to drive 120 mph down a lonely road, or socialize with friends while shouting lyrics about masticating corpses. The band kicks off a US tour this October.

EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus

10/04/ Mojo 13 Wilmington, DE
10/05/ The Soapbox Wilmington, NC
10/06/ Back Booth Orlando, FL
10/07/ The Orpheum Tampa, FL
10/09/ Fitzgerald’s Houston, TX
10/10/ Red 7 Austin, TX
10/11/ Trees Dallas, TX
10/12/ Chameleon Room Oklahoma City, OK
10/13/ Warehouse 21 Santa Fe, NM
10/14/ Rocky Point Tempe, AZ
10/15/ Observatory Santa Ana, CA
10/16/ The Whisky W. Hollywood, CA
10/17/ DNA Lounge San Francisco, CA
10/18/ Branx Portland, OR
10/19/ Studio Seven Seattle, WA
10/20/ Rickshaw Theater Vancouver, BC
10/22/ Republik Calgary, AB
10/23/ Pawn Shop Edmonton, AB
10/24/ Riddell Centre Regina, SK
10/25/ Park Theater Winnipeg, MB
10/26/ Station-4 St Paul, MN
10/27/ Reggie’s Chicago, IL
10/29/ Peabodys Cleveland, OH
10/30/ Chance Theater Poughkeepsie, NY
10/31/ Palladium Worcester, MA
11/01/ Gramercy Theater New York, NY
11/02/ Empire Springfield, VA

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Manowar – The Lord of Steel Live

manowar-the_lord_of_steel_liveWhen snide ironism takes over music, authentic spirit and power are forgotten and ignored. That is, if you read the music media and listen to the music hipsters. However, back in everyday life people love it because it does what music does best: affirm life and urge us on to greater heights. It inspires.

Manowar joins superbands like Metallica and Iron Maiden in pleasing crowds with a kinder, gentler and non-dark version of heavy metal. The perfectly adjusted mix of power metal, speed metal, glam metal, hard rock and classic heavy metal, the music of Manowar is focused on the vocals and on chanted cadences that build up to foot-stomping, fist-swinging, chanting explosions of emotion.

It’s not unlike a church service or political rally. These songs usually start out slow with melody, and then build up the pace at which muted E chords shoot past. Over that, vocalist Eric Adams chants and sings, weaving melody in with a compelling rhythm to outline the rhythmic hook of the chorus. Suddenly it bursts out fully formed, a virus ready to take over your brain. You join the collective motion.

And yet with Manowar, there’s an honesty other styles of music don’t have. It isn’t about projecting yourself into the love story of two idealized people, which like porn makes you feel like you’re living out someone else’s life. This is fantasy on a grand scale, with wars and wizards and lone gunslingers, into which you want to join. But it isn’t about you. It’s about the thing you’d join.

This at least is what I hear seizing these crowds and propelling them to ecstatic emotion. Recorded throughout Europe and Eastern Europe, The Lord of Steel Live revisits classic Manowar hymns mostly from The Lord of Steel with a couple from other works and slows them down, focuses on the vocals, and creates a gospel of metal.

The slick blackened underground crowd will disagree of course. This isn’t metal like Necrocorpsemolestor, which is made in a band down by the river and accessible to only 500 die-hard fanatics worldwide. This is metal like Ozzy charming 100,000 people at a live festival, or Iron Maiden taking over Donnington, or even Metallica drawing out three generations of people in the tens of thousands. It’s music for the masses to discover music again.

The Lord of Steel Live is an EP with only six tracks. These are fairly lengthy, which puts this at a long EP or a short album, and creates the perfect escapism to drop out of life for twenty-seven minutes and indulge in some fantasy. Suddenly the living room has evaporated, and you’re shirtless and wearing viking armor as you assault the non-believers. You fight, you bleed, you struggle, you win, and then you come back to life to be another kind of hero. Perhaps the kind that fixes the leaky faucet, heals a kid’s wound and reconfigures the Wi-Fi.

While Manowar have not gotten enough attention from the media in the last few rounds, it’s clear their presence inspires many and those fans show no sign of waning. In fact, as underground metal has been swallowed up by hardcore and the true metal fanatics have shifted to power metal, the audience for metal has come closer to Manowar than any time in the past twenty years. It’s good to see this celebration of their work ready to inspire a new generation.

We come from different countries
With metal and with might
We drink a lot of beers
And play our metal loud at night
Fly the flag of metal
Brothers all the same
Born to live for metal
It ain’t no game

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Call of the Void – Dragged Down a Dead End Path

PrintBack in the day, we would have called this hardcore. It doesn’t use metal riffs, and unlike metal songs, it doesn’t build an atmosphere of heaviness. It throws out a sense of distraction and then hammers you with it. Not surprisingly, it’s verse-chorus all the way in riff pairs, and the vocalist does that shouted vocal that sounds like a frustrated drunk person trying to explain something.

Much of it is expansive hardcore in the style of later Disfear with some overlap with newer Napalm Death, meaning that the ranting eventually picks up intensity and you get a trudgy-churny part over which there’s meaningful chanting. It isn’t bad at all. However, more than about four minutes of it results in scrambled brains, because it’s essentially about hammering out one message and then looping it.

This might appeal to fans of bands like Tragedy who want poignant moments of voices raised in protest with their riffs. It makes the mistake all modern music does, which is that by turning all the intensity up to eleven, it ends up with an intensity of a constant one as it drones on in the background. All instruments are competent.

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Witchblood – Witchblood EP

witchblood-witchblood_epFor the past eighteen years, it has been clear that for black metal and death metal to survive, they must do more than imitate the past. In other words, it’s time to get weird. There are many avenues to explore but few trust the audience to understand and so the majority spend their time making fifth-generation copies of bands whose ideas have long been forgotten and who exist now only as aesthetic “brands.”

Witchblood shows us a band attempting to create something new within the weird side of black metal. Hybridized with heavy and power metal, Witchblood fits into that territory inhabited by bands as diverse as Gehenna and Absurd which lets the weird side of metal through. It embraces that which polite society normally finds difficult, which is uninhibited emotion and fascination with the natural, which means this music is less manipulative and more sentimental than the norm. This gives it both a cryptic energy and an endearing personality.

Much like Absurd, parts of this are “immature,” meaning that in their guileless state they lack the focus on surface appearance that we have come to expect, and in their raw exuberance they resemble the musings more of a child than an adult. However, there is nothing uncoordinated about the result. Unlike most bands, Witchblood like to edit their material down to the point where every part serves a role, which means it is slightly more repetitive but the parts work together to produce a gestalt of emotion.

This EP will not be for everyone, in particular the more recent types who like slick alternative rock style “mixed emotions” aesthetic draped over their music, but Witchblood will appeal to those who like a good heavy metal tune with black metal style and power metal energy. Some will find the background vocals, which are either clean or war-whooped in the best primitive style or clean vocals that shadow the rasp and give it fullness, to be disturbing but this reviewer found that after a few listens they integrated well with the sound.

Instrumentally this band acquits itself well despite using relatively simple elements and riffing off known styles from Burzum and Dissection as well as some of the vivid gestures and grandiose ballad-like tendencies of epic heavy metal bands. In particular, drumming echoes the riffing but does so unobtrusively while still providing the emphasis where it is needed. Guitars are often reminiscent of primitive bands like Ungod and Absurd, but just as much at home with Dio-era grandeur.

Witchblood are relative newcomers into a genre overflowing with imitators of the past. This band is trying to keep that spirit, but convey it in a new form, in part by escaping the slickness that becomes easy once a style is well known. In short, it’s a return to the “Wild West” days of black metal before the professionals took over and turned it into the same old thing everyone else is doing. For that reason, this band is worth a first listen, and maybe at that point, the vulnerable and feral sides will make a convincing argument for Witchblood.

Order Witchblood through the Witchblood e-store.

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First in Line: Metallica – Kill ‘Em All

metallica-kill_em_allThirty years ago, a struggling band from California unleashed their first album and changed the world of heavy metal forever. The genre that they may not have invented but certainly formalized was speed metal, and it represented the start of heavy metal’s journey away from verse-chorus rock into the dual worlds of hardcore punk intensity and progressive rock song structures.

At first, these changes were less obvious. Kill ‘Em All owes a huge debt to the heavy metal that came before it, and embraces many of the conventions of rock music as well, but it funneled them through a singular filter and achieved a uniformity of sound. In addition, this new style crept in with a number of innovations, like the use of introductions and instrumentals to change song structure, that presaged where this new subgenre would go.

From a casual observer’s position, the first Metallica album isn’t that far removed from its predecessors. The dual influences of UK heavy metal and hardcore punk are clear, as is the distinctive feature of speed metal: the muted strum that produces a choppy explosive sound from percussive lead rhythm guitar, allowing the construction of more complex riffs by making the power chord a building block instead of a place where the riff rests, as open chords are in rock.

Kill ‘Em All showed a new blueprint for metal that developed the extremity of Motorhead with the intricate riffery of Judas Priest and other NWOBHM bands, making for a brainy album that relied on speed to cram all of its power into songs of a normal length. In addition, the speed kicked it up to a new level of complexity in riffing. Speed reveals the sparseness of a riff, and so the one- and two-note riffs of the past would seem immensely repetitive at a faster pace. Thus the riff itself grew with speed metal.

Conceptually, metal grew up with Kill ‘Em All as well, at least partly. Yes, there were some embarrassing songs that sounded like West Side Story retrofitted for violent Northern California speed metal gangs. But more importantly, there was an epic view of existence. Songs about fate, about the fall of civilization, and dark lore that reveals the topics feared by daylight conversation all gave the album a weight beyond its (merely) heavy riffs. Like hardcore punk, this was the howling voice of the apocalypse at our door.

One of Metallica’s most important contributions was to liberate the riff from the drums, hence the “lead rhythm guitar” designation that appeared with many speed metal bands. Following the lead of UK crust punk bands like Discharge, Metallica viewed the drums as a background timekeeper which framed the riff loosely rather than accentuated it, and thus the riff could change without the drums changing. This allowed the riff to change more frequently without forcing tempo changes, although the band delighted in abrupt and surprising tempo changes as well.

Speed metal took this pattern and ran with it. While its antecedents are clear, such as the proto-speed metal of Satan/Blitzkrieg and Motorhead, and the fast-fingered intricate melodic riffs of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest, the new speed metal band from California turned up the intensity and pushed aside conventional song structures. This set metal free from the world of rock, and laid the groundwork for the next generation, which would not only inherit the true lawlessness of hardcore punk, but build up complexity to be closer to the world of progressive rock.

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