Demos and a Forsaken Future

“Dude, their demos were so much better” is one of the most obnoxious cliches of underground metal.  Usually a sign of virtue signaling used to mask one’s insecurities about their knowledge or taste, many lost souls of a nostalgia-obsessed age will use this one as a pale attempt to one up their brethren.  However in many cases within metal’s sonic sphere, bands that were truly fantastic on their early demos left much to be desired and ultimately left listeners unfulfilled.  Whether it be a record company’s influence, a change in heart or band members, or a touch of genius quickly fumbled away, may bands throughout the history of metal have never quite been able to match the quality of their demo recordings.

With death metal built on an entire sub culture of tape trading, demos were more than a proverbial foot-in-the-door to a potential record deal.  For musicians of the genre’s early days, the demo was the equivalent to having your record in the store- it was being shipped all around the world to fans desperate for something they couldn’t find in shops and to musicians hungry for new ideas.  Furthermore, a band’s demo was untainted by the direction and input of record labels who, in those days, quite often suppressed what was deemed “too weird” or “too extreme” as death metal was often determined by the suits of those days.  Tape trading death metal demos was an underground of its own, and your band’s demo tape wasn’t just a pathway to commercialization or musical success- but a often the start of new friendships in a rapidly globalizing world.  Given all of these unique factors, it’s no surprise death metal was full of bands who could never quite capture the magic of their demos.

To offer a complete list would be a dishonor and disservice to the legions of quality works that fall under this umbrella.  Therefore in today’s editorial, I will briefly offer a handful of my personal favorite death metal demos from bands that could never quite capture the magic.  Though I pay little mind to what happens in our comment sections, this will mark a special occurrence where I’d be delighted to know what DMU’s readers would have on this list.

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Death Metal General- Day of the Rake Edition

The thankfully short lived Canadian metal scene was another low in the attempt to blend death metal with tough-guy hardcore. Through a gross cocktail of taking a technical death metal template, squeezing all of the feeling and memorability from the riffs, breakdowns, and linear “riff salad” song structures with no repetition or thematic continuity, the Canadian metal scene gave us the foundation for the horrendous abomination that was deathcore- the ugliest perversion of death metal the genre had seen since Six Feet Under collaborated with Ice-T.  Ultimately, we remember Canadian metal as the musical version of a shit post- something so autistic and obnoxious that it made everyone around the world quickly realize that Canadian metal bands were something to be mocked and avoided.
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Trendkillers #2: Blast Beats Must Die!

The blast beat has had a very unlikely journey through its relatively young lifespan in music.  Rooted in a jazz technique of an alternating bass drum/hi-hat and snare 16th note pattern (though played at much slower tempo in jazz music), it found a unique identity in the early 1980s when underground hardcore punk bands like Siege and Asocial began using it at aggressive speeds to enhance their violent bursts of rebellion.  This made it a close friend of metal when the middle of the decade saw a fledgling death metal movement getting its hands dirty with hardcore punk speed and sound in an effort to push its own extremity.  Over the next 15 years, several drummers would rise to prominence with their clever use of the blast beat to either push these combinations to extreme speeds or to utilize them enduringly for an effect similar to trance music.  Suddenly, every metal band that wanted to play fast or play simplistically HAD to play blast beats, and we eventually reached a point where blast beats were the most dominant part of every death and black metal song’s drum composition.

For the future of death and black metal to establish themselves distinctively, they must abandon what has become routine and keep only what is necessary to preserve their underlying spirit.  And with this understanding comes an unfortunate truth- the beloved blast beat must be laid to rest, so that new life in metal can grow.
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Somber Lands: The Harmonic Minor Scale

Dark, brooding, and long cloaked in obscurity, the harmonic minor scale is a compelling collective of notes that has historically been used as an accent to minor key compositions.  For centuries only a handful of pieces had been written within its bounds as composers instead opted to weave in for a number of measures before an eventual progression into the natural minor scale.  From there it appeared again in a few folk songs, took a strong spiritual presence in Islamic culture, and later became an integral part of horror movies when they progressed into the frightening mediums they became in the 1970s.  But it wasn’t until the musicians of the early Swedish death metal scene discovered how to fully harness the scale’s potential that lengthy songs and even the majority of some albums began being composed within its bounds.  A truly grotesque wedlock, the scale gave he who wielded it the power to craft the most sinister and foreboding compositions possible within the laws of music.  It is for this reason one could attest that the minor harmonic scale has found a home in heavy metal that no other genre of music could provide.
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Ritual Chamber – Obscurations

Hidden in plain sight, there is some fine metal being released- even in recent years.  Nestled in the convoluted release schedule of one of the most popular indie rock labels (although in fairness, Profound Lore has gotten death metal right before) is a rare foray into dissonant death metal grandeur that is certainly worthy of praise.  The newest solo project by Numinas/Crom/Dario Denerio, whose well-ventured resume also includes Infestor, Khrom, and Evoken,  Ritual Chamber’s 2016 full length debut Obscurations (to Feast on the Seraphim) masterfully imports the lost wisdom of classic death metal spirit into a contemporary flesh of sound and production.  Suffering from poor marketing through mainstream channels and tired aesthetic trends that mask its originality, this cultured release flew well off the radar of the audience it was most suited for and was not digestible enough for the retro/rehash death metal crowd of hipster swine it mostly reached.  But although it initially evaded the underground’s most trustworthy mediums, Death Metal Underground’s undying commitment to unearthing the best in the genre now gives us a late opportunity to acknowledge a great work of elegance.
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Star Wars: Tie Fighter 1994 LucasArts

Throughout literature, film, and any other telling of the Arthurian legend there is usually a hard line stance taken on characters or ideas being indisputably good or evil.  The heroes and villains are on conflicting sides of a fundamental and absolute morality despite reality often being much more complicated.  The Star Wars franchise followed this school of thought- casting the Empire as the evil and soulless reflection of Western history’s teaching of the axis powers of World War II.  It parallels the post-French Revolution narrative that all democracy is good and all imperial reigns are heinous and wrong.

It is because of this that we can remember LucasArts’s 1994 PC flight simulator Tie Fighter as such a refreshingly bold and surprising experiment in a world of video games where the narrative is always fixated on “the good guys.”  In Tie fighter, you are- from start to finish- fighting on behalf of a faction that the movies portrayed as dark and merciless dictatorship that is completely void of humanity.  No change of heart in your character halfway through (as in this year’s disastrous Battlefront 2), no surprising twist- you’re essentially waging war with all that is good and just in the galaxy.  It’s one of the first and possibly few games that take this perspective, and – for one of the first times for a mainstream game of this caliber-  Tie Fighter gives the player a unique chance to embrace the understanding that morality is often a form of perspective.

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Metal Vocals are Obstructive.  Remove them.

There are many well cultured intellectuals who, when presented with metal music, will immediately be tuned out by the vocals.  This results in much of the metal collective being comprised of hold-my-beer normies and most of the world’s high IQ population never grasping a music genre that has both the depth and the complexity they yearn for.  Moreover, vocals in metal have not progressed AT ALL since the 1990s and therefore vocalists have been rendered indistinguishable from one another.  Through this understanding comes the ultimate revelation:  metal vocals, more than any other factor, are hindering the next great wave of metal. 

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Trendkillers #1- Death to List Culture!

Trendkillers #1- Death to List Culture!

 

In Trendkillers, we will engage the unseen and/or uncontested trends that have permeated metal culture.  Death to false idols! 

 

We begin the Trendkillers series with the most tired and meaningless year end tradition in metal culture- the top 10 list.  Or is it a top 20, top 40, top 100 list?  Do 100 death metal albums even get released in a year, or are some blogs trying to virtue-signal how many albums they are aware of? In any case, many metal bands and musicians consider this the crown jewel of their existence as it’s often the only chance they get to pad their narcissism and reaffirm their perceived importance in the grand scheme of things.

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Danzig Liberates Concertgoers

A growing trend among some metal and rock bands is the aggressively enforced ban of cell phones during live performances.  While their motivations are not unlike those of Metallica at the height of the Napster controversy (as these bands want their only live footage to be sold at dying retail stores in the form of $40 DVDs) they are actually doing their fans a great service by mitigating the amount of millennial vanity happening in the live concert environment.  Nobody likes the hipster douchebag belligerently sticking a phone in front everyone’s view to pad his YouTube stats, and young people are better off liberated from the soul consuming cell phone screen for awhile.

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