Solefald – Norrønasongen Kosmopolis

December 3, 2014 –

solefald-norrønasongen_kosmopolis

Norrønasongen Kosmopolis proves to be a fine album in a style only tangentially related to metal, but fails to rise to the point of making me want to listen to it again. Folk music can be comforting, sometimes interesting, but is usually known for being participatory, that is a group of people around a campfire singing as part of a ritual.

Solefald come to us from the entertainment fringe of folk, which here is a combination between the bands that play in the background at a Renaissance Faire and the kind of music that might be used in a low budget Romantic comedy to establish that the characters are indeed in Norway. Norrønasongen Kosmopolis features songs composed in layers, such that the band sets up a repeating pattern and then other instruments layer within that while vocals between male and female trade off, chanting lyrics of apparently great lutefisk significance.

Then it breaks into this with dinner theater style dramatic breaks where other vocalists join in abrupt transition to another pattern, like the scene has changed or perhaps the lyrics have referenced something terrifying, like a moose roaming free in the local churchyard. All of it is well-executed, with pleasant flutes and string instruments, and the vocals are elegant, but the artistic intention behind this is confused. It tries to organize itself around vocal events which do not work without visual cues, and it specializes in the kind of sing-song rhythms that work best with a “Little Vikings” playset or uncritical audience at the aforementioned Renaissance Faire. When metal guitars intrude, it is as a background instrument that makes the mix louder without adding much of musical note, which makes the vocals even louder.

At the local pub, these songs would be more fun to sing if their parts fit together in a method that allowed people to remember them and have fun experimenting within that known framework. Instead, we get a serial sequence of repetitive frameworks which change randomly for reasons unrelated to the music. That probably qualifies as “progressive” in the dissolved metal scene of today, but in reality, it is the kind of drama that attracts pretentious people looking for something mentally easy to digest. The result guarantees tedium for those who dare notice, and comfortable but random background music for the rest.

Cognizance – _Inceptum

December 2, 2014 –

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The quest for the palatable metalcore album continues.

While doing so is controversial, it makes sense to group all of the metal hybrids which organize themselves as post-hardcore bands did under the metalcore banner. This is because compositionally they are heading in the same direction. That direction involves high contrast stop-start riffing and use of fills instead of connecting riffs together so their contrasts form a narrative, as death metal did.

Cognizance leap into this fray with a new EP, _Inceptum. The cyber-title reflects the mania in metal since ’94 to seem like the next generation, of something. But stepping past this, _Inceptum presents two songs of medium length in the metalcore style. The vocals are open throat and lead the rhythm of the song, which plays off against it jazz-style with the drums and by alternating between percussive rhythmic riffing in the “prog-death” style and sweeps/fills as has been the tendency of metalcore since Necrophagist. Lead guitars take the license they get from jazz fusion in the rock school and break from rhythm, which allows more flexible exploration of related themes.

This exceeds the norm for metalcore. These songs still spend too much energy on being catchy and creating contrast, which reminds me of the 1980s carnival metal they sold as an alternative to speed metal, mixing gothic, hard rock, heavy metal and industrial in these sample platter albums that went nowhere but would distract you with something “new, unique, different” (NUD) every iconoclastic second. The tendency of vocals in metalcore to blurt out a repeated rhythm is offensive not on an aesthetic level but a musical one, as it forces the rest of instrumentation to discoordinate. That was sort of new when Napalm Death did it… twenty-five years later, it plays out as contrived. Where this band shines however is in their ability to tie together songs with a central harmonic theme and thus despite the wide range of technique, still use the craft of songwriting to guide listeners through a musical experience more than an aesthetic one. Lead guitars are far above average and make the best use of their flexible style, although sometimes the melodies and patterns that emerge could be the basis of additional songs in their own right.

As they saying goes, with metalcore “you either do or you do not,” and many of us firmly underline the do not option because we prefer death metal for its greater expressiveness. Among the post-metal hybrids however Cognizance provides one of the better options by keeping musicality at the center of their songwriting and refusing to allow it to be swallowed up by instrumentalism, pushing back against the most wanky aspects of the metalcore genre. Musical performances show competence extended to the point of some comfort with the performance, which allows this band to relax a bit and write some songs instead of spending too much time using Visio to script their riff transitions. While _Inceptum shows us only two songs, it reveals a positive side of this band that may offer new breath for the flagging metalcore genre.

    Tracklist:

  1. The Succession of Flesh
  2. Aeon of Creation

Einherjer – Av Oss, For Oss

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Very few albums are truly horrible in the sense of doing something every moment that repels the senses. Instead, they are just bad, meaning inept at achieving an effect, often to the point where you wonder why no one questioned the attempt somewhere in the process.

Av Oss, For Oss could well be the missing Alestorm album. Its songs always revert to bouncy faux-Nordic style that might fit a Disney ride or guest musicians on a motorized Viking longboat tour of the marshes of Louisiana. Musically, nothing here is incompetent, but it also lacks any inspiration and plods along with nothing to offer and then loses track of itself, and falls back on the same shorthand. There really is no point discussing the album beyond saying that because no album can redeem itself from that point.

I remember acquiring an early Einherjer album which people swore was just the bee’s knees. Hipsters really talked that way in the past but thankfully they’ve moved on to newer phrases like sui generis and “off the chain.” Back then it seemed unfocused but short. Av Oss, For Oss just seems like people sketching out a rough guideline and then writing to fill, and when they get something that qualifies, never looking back. Hit record, then print, and hope some money wanders in the door.

What is really missing here is a sense of proportion and of the parts relating to one another. Instead we get a random flow of boring riffs put together in nonsense order with heavy repetition and when the song goes nowhere, as said above, it falls back on a few patterns these guys really like. Individual parts are well-executed but without energy or flair, which makes me think this band should just break up and donate members to better bands who need competent people to fill basic roles. They are far from alone, since post-1994 black metal generally sucks, but this album just double-underlines the point and then writes it, Bart Simpson style, in endless repetitions down the chalkboard.

Blodhemn – H7

December 1, 2014 –

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Black metal surrendered to a farce back in the mid-1990s. This farce took the surface ideas of black metal and used them to enclose the same old crap that rock music had been passing off for at least two decades at that point. Blodhemn resurrects those glory days with an album that is not just random, but boring, and completely pointless.

H7 consists of songs about songs. That is, these are songs written by someone listening to black metal and trying to make a version of that, instead of attempting to understand the cause-effect relationship that pushed Norwegian musicians in the early 1990s to create some of the most epic and interesting music that heavy metal has ever seen. That is not to say that this album lacks moments of interesting riff, or transition, but that these things are put together into a package that drones through repetition and “unexpected” expected changes, linked up with riffs that are boring because they are predictable.

In these songs, careful attention to what black metal bands did in their glory days shows through in a penchant for certain dramatic riff types and transitions. These do not make the song, and frequently Blodhemn introduce a promising start then take it nowhere, either dropping into paint-by-numbers riffing or the post-Ulver carnival style where riffs do not relate to each other but provide “contrast” which ends up producing a song devoid of emotion or anything else that requires consistency, development and purpose. Vocals fit the trademark late-90s Norsecore rasp and many of these riff archetypes come from the proudest moments of Satyricon and Darkthrone. In particular, percussion shows a diligent understanding of how Fenriz produced a throbbing intensity of sonic force that swept listeners up into its mystery.

Unfortunately, no amount of doing the parts right can save H7 from its destiny, which is as a summary of the techniques of black metal without delving into the content that those bands labored to provide. As a result, even when promise emerges, it soon becomes lost in the flow of random and pointless activity. Blodhemn and H7 are good things to avoid, unless you really adore tedium and bootlicking.

Decimation – Reign of Ungodly Creation

decimation-reign_of_ungodly_creation

Deathcore relies on trope to the point where the style becomes almost all convention with little variation within. Joining other styles like rap and techno, it reduces itself to minor deviations from a norm and so the difference between bands, albums and songs becomes less important than currency.

Decimation attempt to restore deathcore with many of the stylistic methods of later percussive death metal, specifically Suffocation Pierced From Within, and are remarkably successful in doing so but because of their extensive reliance on deathcore passages may not make the threshold for many death metal listeners. When looking through history, we see deathcore arising from the Cannibal Corpse axis where vocals lead the music and guitars exist to blat out rhythmically hook-centric riffs in coordination with drums but in support of vocal rhythms.

Decimation upgrade this to giving the guitars more leeway at the ends of phrases and between verses, where the band use phrasal riffing and open strumming to generate interest. They even write in melodic lead riffing over high-speed strumming in the way Suffocation would, which infuses these songs with a new energy but will probably offend deathcore purists. If you can imagine a hip-hop troupe who broke every other phrase to play full-on bebop, the effect is similar here in that it makes return to the deathcore that much more jarring but puts into play enough for the ears to listen to that the deathcore parts become more like rhythm comping to build up for the sweetness. Deathcore fans will note that the characteristic lack of variation in technique and approach to rhythm is consistent on the deathcore passages.

Where Decimation excels is in assembling songs around an idea despite surrounding it with a riff salad. These songs sound more composed than your average deathcore song in that they have a center and changing layout to reflect what that is, but less “composed” in that unlike classic deathcore they do not attempt to create a rhythm groove and ride it, alternating with a chorus, into the ground. Bass-intense vocals fall into cadence with guitar during verses, but range free for fills and choruses, allowing the range and texture of vocals to expand. Drums adopt the overactive style of post-Suffocation deathcore but keep an emphasis on varied internal rhythm to produce expectation rather than sheer repetition and breakdown as both techno and deathcore tend to do.

Reign of Ungodly Creation will split death metal purists. If you could listen to Cannibal Corpse alongside Suffocation and Kataklysm, this 37-minute diatribe will appeal and seem to expand on those conventions. If like many you preferred death metal before it started imitating post-hardcore, there may be too much deathcore in here for you. This perspective is entirely understandable, as the deathcore portions of this album use a few common forms in many variations, where the death metal segments vary more widely in form. It is more infectiously rhythmic and disciplined than most deathcore and so could well inject some needed life into that flagging genre.

Metal has nothing to fear from Tiny Doo arrest

November 22, 2014 –

tiny_doo-no_safety

A rapper in LA gets indicted on murder charges just for the cover of his rap album. That is what the headlines scream, and among the metal community and its media some are comparing this even to previous onslaughts of music-related censorship like the PMRC days.

That is not the case. The metal media likes to think it is, because it gives them something to write about in the midst of a dearth of events of actual import (versus paid promotions disguised as reporting) and it lets all metalheads feel self-righteous about being warriors for the truth and martyrs for free speech, or something like that.

Even more, the case of Tiny Doo and his album is more complex than a first glance reveals. The album cover was one piece of evidence but the bigger and more important piece was that he was in the gang that did the shooting.

[Tiny Doo] is a documented gang member with a “gang moniker” of TD, according to the San Diego police.

…The evidence against Duncan, Watkins said, consists of his rap album and pictures on a social media page of him and several other defendants.

So now we’ve got three data points: (1) known gang membership, (2) photos of himself with the killers, and (3) an album which promises “no safety” for snitches.

Is there an analogy to this in metal? Certainly: when Burzum named his first EP Aske, put a burned church on the cover, and sold it with a lighter with a burnt church on it, that too could have been considered evidence against him. If he had been in the Crips and had Facebook postings of himself standing among them throwing gang signs, his conviction might have been easier as well.

The point is that the prosecutor is using this album to tie it all together. And really, it fits in well: known gang member hangs out with killers and then puts out an album suggesting that he would hunt down his enemies and shoot them, at least from the cover. (We can hope that he has in fact pulled the ol switcheroo and instead released an album of ambient black metal about the Viking war against Christianity but this is unlikely to be the case).

For these reason, cool your jets about censorship. The case is more complex than the headlines allow, as usual. As our media devolves further into clickbait, rational and thoughtful headlines fly out the window, but even more, good luck expressing anything complex in 72 characters. It is the people who followed up on this with hysteria who should be embarrassed.

No, they are not coming for your metal. They do not need to. Your metal was always at best a tiny movement, a fraction of the sales and activity that big hard rock bands like AC/DC generated. It is not even on their radar for social trends. Further, they have something better than censorship: the genre has been taken over by indie rock. Now all songs are going to be about feelings, disguised in the usual blood ‘n guts material.

Not only that, but if authorities wanted to censor rap music, they would have done so long ago. Rap in the 2010s is like Madonna in the 1980s: everybody listens to it. While many of us consider rap and hip-hop the artistic equivalent of deathcore, and suggest a nice Coltrane live set instead, it is a huge moneymaker that now occupies the most respected position in pop music.

We wish Tiny Doo the best in his upcoming case. He is after all innocent until proven guilty. But metalheads need to chill out and stop seeing this case as the censors versus artistic expression, or a backdoor attempt to take your progressive grindcore with lyrics from ancient Olmec sorcery away from you. Only your Mom can do that.

Forward into the past

November 19, 2014 –

crossover

Revolver published its list of metal bands who define the future of metal, and naturally people are a bit taken aback. The dominant trend on the list: metal bands that look like 90s bands who play with more distortion.

They come in several types: Marilyn Manson style hard rock goth, lite-jazz merged with Dream Theater riffing made technical in the math-metal style, black metal hybridized with shoe-gazing soul-searching solipsistic indie rock, tepid stoner rock, and the descendants of nu-metal who have mixed elements of the above in to hide their rip-off of hip-hop melded with bouncy radio rock.

In short, the list reveals a dearth of ideas, and instead of forging forward, these bands are heading backward toward past “successful” genres and mixing them together with a few metal riffs to make the claim to be the future of metal. Like the great metalcore revolution, and Napalm Death’s attempt to go indie with Words from the Exit Wound, this will succeed with the audience the industry has cultivated and fail with the wider audience for metal.

Metal thrives when it tackles the forbidden. In any civilization, that excluded taboo is the nihilistic approach of literal reality: the inevitability of death, the vast unknowability of our role in the cosmos, the necessity of war and violence, and the innate hatred that exists in humanity as some individuals break away from the herd and try to rise above. Metal is naturalistic and feral, aggressive and amoral, violent and morbid. It is everything we fear in life.

On the other hand, this new list presents nothing we fear in life. Tattooed hipsters in sweaters and goofy cartoons of uniforms do not induce fear. They induce tolerance and a shrug. They tell us nothing we do not hear from the many media outlets and rock bands of past. Unlike Black Sabbath, who dived bombed the flower power circlejerk with their own dark vision of the evil within us all, and the necessity of conflict, these bands offer us what Good Housekeeping might if dedicated to the quasi-“edgy” urban culture of guys with media jobs looking for a purpose so they can be unique at the local pub.

If you want to find the future of metal, go to its roots. Metal does not change because humans do not change. We fear death and the possibility of it coming for us, so with the aid of social conventions we exclude terror from our language so that we can exclude it from our minds. This is what metal rebels against, and its philosophy originates in rejection of this denial in order to discover what lies beyond the realms of sociability and polite conversation. The future awaits there at that horizon, not safely within the boundaries of existing culture.

Manilla Road – Out of the Abyss re-issued

November 18, 2014 –

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Shadow Kingdom Records will reissue the seventh album from Wichita, Kansas, band Manilla Road, entitled Out of the Abyss on January 13, 2015. Originally release in 1988, this album shows the band in both fully-developed and archetypal form.

Death metal fans coming late to this album may note how it is a prime example of how to do everything right and end up wrong. Manilla Road write speed metal in the style of Judas Priest crossed with the post-Slayer high-speed riffing of bands like Atrophy. They do so with precision picking, a good knowledge of harmony and rhythm, and yet make completely boring music.

Part of reason for this boredom emerges from the style itself. This type of late speed metal emphasizes breaking songs into discrete modules composed of riffs, following the NWOBHM style, but they break rhythm between those which allows little buildup. Instead, it is a series of right angles. Further, in another NWOBHM influence, these riffs are fundamentally static in that they center around a chord and use fills composed of that chord or a matching scale, but do not develop melodically within the riff; as in rock, that is reserved for the vocals. The result feels a lot like a series of riffs in a verse-chorus pattern with a tangent 2/3 of the way through, guided along by vocals. It does not achieve the structural intensity of death metal.

With that being said, it is clear why many bands hail Manilla Road as an influence. Crisp and exact playing gives these riffs a militant technological sound, and whether from this influence or another bands like Deceased, Voivod, DBC and Obliveon have put this technique to good use. Subtle rhythms abound in addition to the obvious toe-tapping speed metal choruses and lead guitar, while very much entrenched in the domain of rock-style soloing, provides an example of technical excellence within that domain. Vocals sound like a more devious Rob Halford. All of these contribute to the power of this release, but it remains enmired in the binary riffing and somewhat static riffs of the speed metal days which were thankfully left behind during the transition to death metal.

This re-issue will give a new generation of metalheads a chance to appreciate the technical ability of this band and the compositional issues raised by this style. For example, should metal go the rock route of static riffs and build on that in the style of mid-period Judas Priest, or should it follow more of the death metal style of phrasal riffs and flexible song structures? Guitarists will enjoy the challenge of playing these riffs at speed and still making the change, and classic metal fans will delight in the whole package. Out of the Abyss does everything right to hit its target, but for those of us who are post-80s, it may be the wrong target.

  1. Whitechapel
  2. Rites of Blood
  3. Out of the Abyss
  4. Return of the Old Ones
  5. Black Cauldron
  6. Midnight Meat Train
  7. War in Heaven
  8. Slaughterhouse
  9. Helicon

For more information:

Metalhead massacred by methed-out Christian zealot

October 31, 2014 –

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Heavy metal fan Jacob Andrew Crockett was nearly beheaded by Christian zealot Isaiah Zoar Martin after the latter engaged in a binge of drug use and watching Christian-themed videos on YouTube, resulting in the untimely death of Crockett and police detention for Martin.

According to local sources, Martin felt religious inspiration inspired the killing:

The defendant’s brother also told police “Isaiah had been watching YouTube videos related to his Christian beliefs and the Book of Matthew” earlier.

During Isaiah Marin’s 911 call, “the caller began rambling about sacrificing and magic,” according to the affidavit. “Asked how … he murdered someone, Isaiah stated, ‘I hacked them to death with a machete.’”

In August, on one of his Facebook pages, Isaiah Marin wrote, “Tried to take on a demon and God had to help me through the tough parts. Got to be careful with my words and pay closer attention to my emotions. Need to figure out how to keep on speaking when I’m with the presence of the Lord God.”

Murder victim Crockett spent his time in local bands Dungeön and Toxic Injection before they fragmented late last year, and was a fan of widely varied metal bands including Dying Fetus and Mayhem. He apparently had feuded with Martin in the past over Crockett’s ongoing experimentation in various occult beliefs, a practice presumed related to his heavy metal fandom.

As the brother of the killer related, religion formed the basis of the tension in this case:

He says Isaiah followed him, trying to calm him down and “would explain why he killed Jacob from letters he would write while he was in prison.”

Samuel told police Crockett and Isaiah had disagreements in the past.

He said Jacob Crockett and his brother, Jesse, “were practicing witchcraft and Isaiah had strong Christian beliefs.”

For many years, Hessians have received zero protection from persecution or violence by those of other faiths. According to many metalheads, heavy metal is its own religion. While right now people might view this beheading and other anti-metalhead violence as the case of isolated extremists picking on someone else for a lifestyle choice, it is more accurate to view it as a clash between members of competing faiths. From persecution of metalheads in Muslim lands to Christian demands for censorship in the USA and now this violent assault, the tension rises.

I can only imagine the media response will not be so muted if heavy metal fans decide to start defending themselves by beheading Christians who seem likely to commit crimes out of religious antagonism. According to the articles above, Martin prepared for his crime by watching YouTube videos with Christian themes. Perhaps metalheads should be extra wary when members of other religions are nearby watching videos… and arm themselves for the inevitable clash.

National Cat Day playlist

October 29, 2014 –

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According to my calendar, October 29 is National Cat Day, or a day for celebration of all things feline. As mentioned in earlier posts, metalheads love their kitties and bands have been known to put their felines before careers.

In the spirit of this holiday, here are some songs that while not kitty-themed, at least seem tangentially related:

Motorhead – “The Chase is Better Than The Catch”

Asphyx – “Evocation”

Cathedral – “Picture of Beauty & Innocence”

Imprecation – “Nocturnal Feast of the Luciferians”

Obituary – “Intoxicated”

Suffocation – “Anomalistic Offerings”

Uncanny – “Indication vitalis”

Belial – “The Invocation”

Catalepsy – “Compulsive Bestiality”

Blood – “Hecatomb”

Deicide – “Revocate the Agitator