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Fan kills black metal singer for not being Satanic enough

January 12, 2014 –

maleficient_meditation

I’m going to hell for this, but it’s an observation, not a recommendation: black metal was a lot better when it was the Wild West, with bodies cropping up everywhere, churches aflame, and musicians stockpiling paramilitary gear.

Then it got all civilized — about the same time it became sociable and profitable — and immediately descended to the same repetitive and soulless level as all other music that has been socially accepted.

For this reason, while I’m not going to cheer the acts involved (and no one accountable can, because we are civilized), I have to admit a brief flicker of something — nostalgia? hope? — crossed my nerve net as I read in this morning’s virtual paper about the self-proclaimed Satanist who killed the singer of a Thai metal band, Surrender of Divinity.

Surrender of Divinity have released a number of underground efforts to some acclaim, culminating in a split with Finnish war/noise metal cult Archgoat. Prices on Surrender of Divinity merch on eBay have already spiked in response, for you cynics.

The alleged killer, Prakarn Harnphanbusakorn, was apparently a fan of Surrender of Divinity when he reportedly met with the band’s vocalist, Samong Traisattha, for some beers at the latter’s home. When Mr. Samong’s wife returned to check on the two several hours after the gathering began, she found her husband dead from multiple deep knife trauma wounds.

Posting on Facebook as Maleficient Meditation, Mr. Prakarn posted pictures of the gory scene of the killing and made a series of references to the sacral nature of his act:

“I have intended to end my life since I was 25. Because I’ll die eventually, I want to drag down those who tarnish Satanism with me. But I refrained from killing women and children,” he wrote.

“In my view, I have more respect for devoted Buddhists, Christians and Muslims than those who call themselves Satanists without knowing anything about it,” he wrote. “If I did not kill him, I’m sure he would be murdered by someone else later.”

“Maleficent Meditation” concluded that people who do not have faith in Satan should not call themselves Satanists. He also said he hoped he would be with Satan after he died.

He had previously mostly posted black metal news, snippets of Satanist information, and kitty pictures.

maleficient_meditation_kitties

Is rock ‘n’ roll assimilating metal?

January 4, 2014 –

nominon-band_photo

Metal interviews are like connecting violent minds to an amplifier. The musician is given a chance to speak plainly, and rewarded for saying something outlandish enough to make a headline. It’s like pouring gasoline on a fire.

Much as “in vino veritas” describes how drunk people often accidentally blurt out the truth, interviews often get the essential thoughts out of musicians. Tired, often doing multiple interviews in a day, musicians are apt to cut to the chase. Further, since they’ve been working that part of the brain that makes language, they’re often at their clearest several interviews into the process.

Thus it’s not sensible to either discount interviews, or to wholly accept them without being critical. But recent comments by Nominon drummer Per Karlsson highlight why metal interviews will always be popular — the offhanded, casual and yet direct blurting of truth:

I’d say that black and death metal pretty much go hand in hand, but that’s just my opinion. I am a bit worried though, since more or less all death/black metal of today has turned into rock ’n’ roll or something, all the new bands seems to be more into retro-rock, either that or looking/sounding like Ghost. I am ashamed of what this has turned into, it makes me sick.

Score one for the surly musician. First it makes sense to discard is the “that’s just my opinion” which is a passive-aggressive way of saying that some opinions coincide with truth where others do not. Then to analyze his main point, which is basically that rock music is assimilating metal.

For a brief historical re-cap, metal is a breakaway genre from rock, itself a breakaway genre from blues, itself a breakaway genre from folk. Rock music represents a distillation of many traditions down to the simplest transmissible commercial product. It was always a simpler option to the popular music of the time, and then at some point in the 1960s it took over not just music but popular culture. Much of this has to do with how our commercial society worships whatever seems popular at the moment.

Metal never wanted to be rock. If it had, it would have stayed in the rock camp. It also didn’t fully want to be blues. The influences on Black Sabbath were not only previous rock and heavy blues, but progressive rock and horror movie soundtracks (these inherited heavily from modernist classical, notably Wagner). With metal, rock’s rather static textural riffing evolved into the power chord phrase, which is closer to the horror movie music than what rock was doing at the time.

This upset the existing order.

Rock music saw itself as the bad boy and rebel, the counterculture upsetting civilization. Now there was a counter-culture to the counter-culture. Where the rock boys were singing about flowers, love, peace and our bright future, metal brought in the harsh discordant notes of realism: idealism is poppycock, death is ever-present, and the obliviousness of the average person (see “War Pigs”) is what brings evil into the world. Where the rock guys thought you could fight evil with love, metal counter-posited that you can only fight evil with vigilance, and eyes-wide-open awareness of life, warts and all. That shocked the rock community.

Since that time, metal has been the go-to imagery for advertising firms, movies, books and other entertainment products to symbolize “rebellion.” They also try with punk. Metal and punk are the two drop-out genres that consciously elect to be outsiders, and to avoid just doing what other rock bands doing and, by following that trend, to choose “success.” Popular music is fairly simple: find a unique version of doing what everyone else is doing so your audience both recognizes what you’re doing, and has some unique “mental handle” that causes them to single you out. It’s basic memetics.

This means that entertainment products have both a core and a surface. The core is the actual musical content; the surface is the aesthetics, the quirk, the irony, the imagery, and so forth. Metal has rebellion both in its core and its surface. However, if that metal surface could be transferred to rock, the ideal product would result. The band that came closest was Guns n’ Roses who managed rock song format with later Black Sabbath-styled riffs and bluesy leads. If someone were able to make hard rock that felt like metal, the market would roll over and beg for them.

As a result, the primary threat to metal is bands that “look like” (surface) metal but are actually the same old stuff. A number of bands are indicted under this banner, including Opeth and all nu-metal (which under the skin is “rap/rock”). Recently this process has picked up more steam in the underground. “Post-metal” — which is basically late 1980s post-hardcore, emo or indie rock — has begun to be sold as black metal. Nu-metal with late hardcore stylings has been sold as death metal. The result is fans unable to tell the difference between metal and rock.

This advertiser’s dream will backfire. The more metal gets like rock, the more it loses its outsider status. The more metal shows up in “legitimate” publications and entertainment, the less it is consciously outside of the mainstream world. Like punk, it will end up a “flavor” of rock that is used to sell certain products like motorcycles, cologne, hot dogs and chain saws. This is what Karlsson is warning us against, and it’s a good thing we heed him.

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Cryogen – Continuum

November 22, 2013 –

cryogen-continuumTwo revelations before listening to this: first, when I first got into music I thought talent and ability were rare; now I realize they’re commonplace, but the ability to apply them in some non-inert interesting way is rare. Second, that metalcore — the mix of metal genres in the post-hardcore style of “contrast without continuity” riffing — borrows almost everything it has from 1980s speed metal.

Cryogen offer us a highly musical take on metalcore with Continuum, which displays excellent playing abilities, clear songwriting aptitude, and even the rarer ability to present songs in such a way that they are not only emotionally engaging but create a sense of transition that is coherent and not just random emotional outbursts giving way to one another like the rants of officer workers on sitcoms.

What brought us metalcore? A fusion of Meshuggah and The Haunted. Both used speed metal as a basis, but broke down the metal structure of internal riff dialogue and replaced it with the post-hardcore notion that great contrast between riffs to the point of incoherence makes for a better song. What it does is emphasize deconstruction and isolation to the point where the listener’s attention span is destroyed, which makes it easier to compose this way since the requirements are much lower.

Cryogen is best when the speed metal peeks out, or even when the heavy metal parts emerge. With their technical skill, they could easily make a classic heavy metal album. Instead they insist on burdening themselves with surface complexity, which because it must cram in more diverse elements, requires the unifying elements of the song be simplified. The result is very basic chord progressions underlying a pile of textural depth and intensive variation, which means that when you drill down you find your father’s bouncy heavy metal riffs.

I wish this band would knock it off with trying to stay current, and just drift in the direction they clearly want to go, which is in the direction of the first Cynic album. Those songs actually held together, and the core of them was a complex sense of harmony leading to a flexibility in key transition that gave them elegance. Cryogen is sort of the opposite: a lot of styling that is ultimately held back by the musically simplistic core enforced on it by the burden of participating in the great metalcore trend.

Pestilence releases “Necro Morph” from Obsideo

October 26, 2013 –

pestilence-band_photo

Pestilence will be remembered as one of the heroes of death metal, but many have stated reservations about their more recent output, which seems unduly influenced by the modern metal movement, including tek-deth and alt-metal, which always seem to go hand-in-hand.

“Necro Morph” shows the band dialing back from the modern metal fringe and making what’s basically renovated speed metal with modern metal touches, avoiding the true randomness of tek-deth. The counterweight to that is that this makes the music more repetitive, which forces the vocals to overcompensate to give it textural depth.

That approach might make sense if the vocals were sung, but it’s an unfortunate choice here. Pestilence has always excelled at instrumentals, not vocals; when your strongest instrument is the guitar, why make a vocal-heavy style? Second, this puts the emphasis on a style of growled/shouted vocals that don’t have that much variation, which requires comedic emphasis that in turn puts weight on the lyrics to be “interesting,” which in rock-n-roll-speak usually means “ludicrous.”

Further, putting the main thrust of the band’s effort into rhythm guitars that support vocals has dumbed down the riffs themselves, which have gone from interesting phrases that use both partial chords and single-string picking to constant power chords that form uniformly repetitive walls of sound interrupted strategically by rhythm for the Meshuggah-style jazz “offtime” effect.

When the solo does appear, it’s a beautiful thing, because these guys not only play their instruments well (which is cheap, as millions play well) but have a good ear for music that is both sonorous and pushing the edges of what we would consider organized sound. Can we have some more of this, please?

If anything, Pestilence should recognize that their audience is not “the kids,” who will always want something dumber than Pestilence can provide, but the maturing listener who wants something with a bit more meat than the mostly rock-based pop metal that dominates the airwaves. You can’t get successful by imitating what works for others, and Pestilence must find their own path.

Wan – Enjoy the Filth

wan-enjoy_the_filthGenres aren’t arbitrary things. They have certain ideals and certain boundaries, like all ideas or practices. Some people find that constraining and want things to fit in certain genres just because they say so.

Such must be the case with Wan, which is labeled as black metal and has been repeatedly introduced as such. It isn’t. This is a great late hardcore record, and thoroughly enjoyable as that, but it isn’t black metal. Not only that, it would be a total failure at black metal, so it’s unwise to list it as such.

Calling to mind Impaled Nazarene’s Latex Cult, which arose when that band decided black metal was out of possibilities for the time being, Wan Enjoy the Filth is bounding, high-energy hardcore riffs and simple verse-chorus songs. This one comes out of the gate rockin’ hard with riffs that seem inspired by Discharge, Terveet Kadet, the Exploited and GBH. Others might point out late-1990s punk like Driller Killer and Disfear, Dischange, etc.

Most of these songs are based on bottom two-string power chord riffs in the hardcore style, which means they’re less built around phrase and more around droning interrupted by a catchy rhythm. Drums keep up a d-beat or a similar “background” rhythm while vocals belt out a series of ambitious lyrics involving war, evil and hatred.

If you want to compare this band to anything, the aforementioned Impaled Nazarene is the closest link to “black metal,” but it has more in line with the late-1980s hardcore like Sick of It All, albeit in a more European-descended form. It’s quite enjoyable to listen to, and probably won’t stick around for too long, but it’s certainly not black metal.

The relationship between metal and horror films

October 25, 2013 –

carnival_of_soulsWe all know why we distrust public statements by musicians. To be popular in this world, you first must endorse the lifestyle that most people lead, and this usually means praising something from the “edgy” mainstream so everyone knows you’re controlled (and thus “safe”) just like the rest.

Ironic, isn’t it. A whole group of people wanting to be rebels, but unwilling to go past that line that no rebel dare cross and still have the support of the peanut gallery which is encouraging him to rebellion. Reminds me of why the James Dean character finally offed himself in Rebel Without a Cause.

But Ihsahn, formerly of arch-rebels Emperor, is now a safe rebel and he’s giving some interviews praising stuff that you’d expect, if you watched your TV attentively, that “edgy” characters might like. However, some of the subversive is still left in him, so he sneaked in a few goodies in a recent interview:

The dynamics and emotional impact of soundtracks have been great influences on me and much of the reason I wanted to implement orchestral sounds in my music. Jerry Goldsmith’s work with the Omen movies has been an absolute highlight and still is. Also, his use of non-orchestral sounds in this context is very interesting.

However, this isn’t the first mention of horror movies as an inspiration. Just this week, Warbeast’s Bruce Corbitt opined that most of his work was inspired by horror movies. Entombed used horror film riffs in their own work. Black Sabbath tooktheir name from a horror movie, and wrote music to emulate the scary sense of suspense in the dark films they enjoyed.

At what point do we acknowledge this pervasive musical influence, with its own debt to modernist classical, as perhaps the foundational influence on metal itself?

Motörhead – Aftershock

October 22, 2013 –

motorhead-aftershockMotörhead is like a kaleidoscope. Anytime you look in, you get a different vision, but it’s still clearly made of Motörhead, even if turned around a bit. The band is both distinctive and consistent in its unique style.

Aftershock is like any other Motörhead except that the kaleidoscope is particularly vibrant and more rounded and orderly than most visions. Clearly someone at the band or label had in mind a partner to 1991′s 1916, which for many marks the band at its most listenable.

Why is 1916 so lauded? Each song used its own techniques, rhythms and structures that were not shared wholesale with other songs. Songs were finished, showing a craftsman’s touch to a normally hasty art. Variety of pace and emotion broke up the record. The killer loud production didn’t hurt either.

Following along those lines, Aftershock is a bluesy hard-rock version of Motörhead with aggressive, catchy songs that at times resemble Motley Crue playing Motörhead. However, the album excels in quality control. All riffs are necessary, and while repeated a great deal, there is no unnecessary repetition and best of all, no unordered songs that sort of rambled off into the horizon.

It doesn’t have the pop appeal of 1916 which was a passionate and somewhat melancholy album that attracted people to its intensity, but even more, how easily grasped the songs were. They are not quite as distinctive on this album and fade more into the backdrop of what Motörhead has been doing for the past two decades. However, they’re also good summaries of the Motörhead sound from a slightly newer perspective.

One other thing of great interest is how guitar-based this album is. In rock-based music, the guitar is where most of the musical depth goes, since it’s hard to do it with vocals or drums. Here, the guitar leads the songs more than the bass or drums, which creates a surging feel and a constant background of energy. The solos and fills from the guitar flesh out the pattern and give depth to what otherwise might be too hard-charging to be anything but linear.

The point of Aftershock is to be a Motörhead album and to make a slightly updated and more powerful vision of what’s in the kaleidoscope. It succeeds brilliantly and while it isn’t as immediately distinctive as 1916, it adds a greater field of detail and appeals to the same audience, albeit more with pop form than pop sensibilities. Underneath all of that of course is the same raging engine that brought us this band in its glory days, amped up and ready to strike, with no thoughts of mercy at all.

    Tracklist:

  1. Heartbreaker
  2. Coup de Grace
  3. Lost Woman Blues
  4. End Of Time
  5. Do You Believe
  6. Death Machine
  7. Dust And Glass
  8. Going To Mexico
  9. Silence When You Speak To Me
  10. Crying Shame
  11. Queen Of The Damned
  12. Knife
  13. Keep Your Powder Dry
  14. Paralyzed

Speedwolf – Ride With Death

October 20, 2013 –

speedwolf-ride_with_deathThe assault of the form-over-function bands continues. You hear a song, and it lights up all those fat neural pathways in your brain made to appreciate the originals. Nostalgia surges in: you can smell the smoke, taste the beer, hear the laughter of a girl you were with. But like Cinderella’s carriage, at mid-album the illusion goes poof and you are left with an emptiness.

Thus it is with Speedwolf Ride with Death. Here is what — and this i the sum total — you need to know: they named this album to convey what they hope to deliver, which is Motorhead-styled antics plus some indie rock guitar band noodling. What you get instead is alarming close to a later punk band doing a night of Motorhead covers. These songs sound metallish, sure, but they’re built on punk frames. As a result, the album resembles less a collection of songs than a stream of Motorheadness coming from a server in the sky.

What starts as a catchy and promising album fades quickly when you realize that all that’s behind this album is the desire to be a punkier Motorhead with more heavy metal flash. Other than that, it’s riff practice. You will have heard most of these before in the 1975-1985 era, but here they’re flattened out and made rhythmically simpler to keep up the drone. It could be that Speedwolf is trying to artistically emulate the sound of a motorcycle on a highway, and if so, they’ve succeeded. But otherwise, they’re pushing an awful lot of airtime with no payoff except nostalgia.

Label spotlight: I, Voidhanger Records

October 16, 2013 –

We got a promo pack of these over the weekend, so I’ve been tossing the tracks onto the playlist and picked a few favorites.

converge_rivers_of_hellTempestuous Fall – Converge, Rivers of Hell

This CD compiles different doom metal bands. Tempestuous Fall is funeral doom with folk metal touches, like Skepticism crossed with Green Carnation or Falkenbach. The result is really elegant passages of slow guitars over which keyboards play a faster, almost medieval melody, while vocals chant and drums provide dramatic emphasis. Aesthetically this is a promising approach and Tempestuous Fall craft pleasant but melancholy melodies to fit it.

 

sartegos-as_fontes_do_negrumeSartegos – As Fontes Do Negrume

If you can imagine a black metal band with the technique of a primitive band like Mystifier or early Rotting Christ, but that used melodic progressions more like Ancient or Enslaved, Sartegos is a reasonable approximation. These are often winding songs that bring out the melody in their riffs, but not before sliding into some mid-paced aggression. Vocals are disturbingly grim as well.

 

the_wakedead_gathering-the_gate_and_the_keyThe Wakedead Gathering – The Gate and the Key

This is old school death metal but of a faster variety, with riffs like Unleashed but more in an American style, such that momentum is conserved and transferred. Deep bassy guttural vocals accompany faster riffs like mid-period Incantation or Malevolent Creation but these are fragmented by extensive doomy, melodic parts that create contrast. This band does a lot well, but some of their shorter riffs are too predictable, and the result delves too deeply into the repetitive part of old school death metal.

 

converge_rivers_of_hellMidnight Odyssey – Converge, Rivers of Hell

This song (from the Converge, Rivers of Hell compilation) alternates between extended phrase atmospheric black metal and acoustic-y stuff that sounds a lot like Craig Pillard’s Methadrone. This lengthy track mostly features the latter, which tends to operate in cyclic patterns with layers induced by using background keyboard tones to complement the foreground guitar. Using relatively few themes, it spins each off into melodies and then applies those in a variety of forms, some blasting and aggressive and others slowed-down and mellow. The result is similar to the longer tracks on Enslaved’s Frost but with more of a spacey vibe like that found on the early Manes material.

Sorcery – Unholy Creations

October 11, 2013 –

sorcery-unholy_creationsHells Headbangers began shipping the Sorcery Unholy Creations 2CD compilation of this band’s works a few hours ago, which makes it time to delve into this band’s history.

Since so many of the revivals of late are either disappointing new albums murdering promising careers, or revivals of disappointing past material in an attempt to launch a better career, it is worth approaching any new material especially any new Swedish death metal material with skepticism.

In this case, the skepticism is well-deserved. There is a reason that demos like “Maculated Life” and “Unholy Crusade” stayed mostly in the past. While the band has kept releasing, unleashing full-lengths in 1991 and 2013, the foundation of their career is this early work which gets them inside the window in which Entombed, Carnage, Nihilist, Dismember, Therion and Unleashed thrived.

However, a more apt comparison for this band’s older material might be to a cross between Desultory and Grotesque, except with more of a grounding in the speed metal of the previous era. Big, bold and somewhat boring chord progressions underlie riffs which reveal a heavy metal lineage and the recursive, percussive rhythms of speed metal.

Unholy Creations faithfully compiles most of the band’s past ouvre, missing the Rivers of Dead EP from 1990, but at the end of the day, the verdict on this band is that they’re not what we’re all hoping for: the undiscovered successor to Entombed. With that being said, it’s also worth noting that this band is stuck in the past of death metal, namely too much speed metal, and also isn’t very exciting or even as melodic and elegant as Desultory.