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Rippikoulu – Musta Seremonia

August 18, 2013 –

rippikoulu-musta_seremoniaRippikoulu are a relatively unknown Finnish band whose potential was cut short because the band never developed past the demo phase after the death of the main songwriter. The first death metal band to “sing” entirely in Finnish, Rippikoulu saw a significant rise in popularity in the internet age, releasing their second and final 1993 demo on CD and vinyl through Svart Records in 2010.

One of many bands from Finland to realize the potency in doom elements in death metal, Rippikoulu quickly switched gears from the Bolt Thrower Realm of Chaos meets Autopsy style of their first demo into a morbid, down tuned style more along the lines of Lost Paradise stylistically updated by Incantation’s cavernous style similar to many other early 90s experiments like Mythic or Disembowelment, with similarly mixed results.

The music here eschews the ambient gestures of Disembowelment and Thergothon entirely, opting for a more bludgeoning, rhythmic approach. Like Winter, slow doom passages move forth at a glacial pace and are highlighted by macabre lead melodies in a manner similar to early Amorphis or Paradise Lost.

Unfortunately, these parts are the highlights of the songs, as they are sandwiched between often disconnected Incantation-esque blasting sections or Bolt Thrower heavy rhythm riffs. Too often, the excessive down tuned rhythms gets repetitive to the point of going nowhere (tracks one and four) or seeming like an in-between for the “money riff” effect of ponderous doom riffs (track two). Here we hear the weakness of the band in their inability to marry these opposing elements through developed riff sequences like Bolt Thrower on War Master. The other tracks feel more like complete statements but the speedier rhythm riffs are often sparse compared to their sluggish counterparts.

While the band successfully conveys the aura of mystique that made the Finnish death metal scene revered by many, this release was perhaps a bridge to them moving on to doomier terrain as evidenced best by the most focused track, “Pimeys Yllä Jumalan Maan,” sounding more like Skepticism covering Incantation at their slowest.

The good news is that this release functions well as divisions of a singular idea, much like how Belial’s Wisdom of Darkness used repetitive songs with shared themes to their advantage, giving the listening experience a ritualistic quality. It’s a great alternative to what the modern OSDM scene is currently churning out, but much like God Macabre’s The Winterlong, it is more a collection of slight variations on a theme than an album.

Carcass – Surgical Steel

August 3, 2013 –

carcass-surgical_steelFrom the opening dual guitar harmonies straight out of 1985 that bring to mind the live intro to a Europe or Stryper set, it’s obvious that this album will be more in line with the guitar hero pop-metal of Arch Enemy than anything from Symphonies of Sickness or Reek of Putrefaction.

To some degree, that’s to be expected. Carcass threw in the towel on forward momentum long ago (1991) and have resorted to playing up their namesake for the purpose of phoning in stadium metal for the aesthetically overblown Wacken age, and Surgical Steel is perhaps their most commercially flexible attempt at filtering late model radio format speed metal through a death metal aesthetic filter, where actual death metal technique is limited to tremolo picking, blast beats, and Jeff Walkers vocals.

Carcass joining an elite cadre of financially successful bands by doing so, starting with At the Gates’s Slaughter of the Soul and even Pantera’s Far Beyond Driven. Let me state it again for those who wish to be millionaires: the appearance of being an outsider to a society nearly universally loathed by its inhabitants, with an underhanded delivery of comfortingly familiar derivative works that by their obedience affirm the social order, will always be a financial success. It allows the appearance of rebellion with none of the actual costs. It’s like artistic insurgency tourism.

Surgical Steel ends up being a mix of Swansong‘s Thin Lizzy-isms applied to the framework of songs like “This Mortal Coil” and “Doctrinal Expletives.” These songs have more to do with Mike Amott’s recent Wacken pandering than anything on Heartwork. “A Congealed Clot of Blood” resembles a “revisited”, more uptempo version of Swansong‘s “Don’t Believe a Word” and the last song, brings to mind the best years of Sanctuary with its sentimental melodic guitar intro, or evokes the Overkill ballads “The Years of Decay” and “Soulitude” with its emotional framing and pacing.

Some tracks like “Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System” attempt aggression by utilizing the same speed metal meets extreme music technique as “Carnal Forge” from Heartwork, but with the obvious “money riff” effect of the dual harmony guitar part that is the focus of these songs. The reversion to old lyrical themes (based off the song titles and album artwork) seems like misdirected fan service as these songs would probably win over more people from the Century Media crowd if the lyrics had the same simple “emotional” topics that songs such as “No Love Lost” had.

While this album may appease the simple appetites of those who merrily purchase Arch Enemy and Children of Bodom albums, many songs try to deviate from the verse-chorus stylings with an overloaded, ill-fitting bridge that detract from their simple nature. This divided nature may keep Surgical Steel from being as successful as recent Hypocrisy or Slaughter of the Soul in the arena of stadium faux-death AOR metal for drunken Wacken attendees.

Again, we say: if your heart is no longer in death metal, don’t bother. Start up a project band and transition into progressive rock, classic rock, or whatever it is that actually appeals to you. Explore your new musical pathways. It’s just as much a sell-out to try to “stay true!” when you no longer care as it is to make Justin Bieber-styled pop because you know ten million teeny boppers from the ‘burbs will buy it. Musicians, chase your dreams. We get the best of your talent that way, even if we have to transition genres to appreciate it.

Disincarnate – Dreams of the Carrion Kind

July 18, 2013 –

disincarnate-dreams_of_the_carrion_kindThe brainchild of James Murphy, a guitar virtuoso who released two instrumental “shred” albums through Shrapnel Records, Disincarnate is in theory an underground metal dream made reality. The band released its one and only album in 1993 on Roadrunner Records. Murphy’s legendary lead guitar work on Obituary’s Cause of Death created the promise of a killer album was in the making, only it was never delivered.

Disincarnate is part of the first wave of post-Human era Death/Cynic bands who were making death metal explicitly play nice with the Headbanger’s Ball and Guitar World audiences under the guise of Floridian rhythmic death metal. This watered-down death metal was designed to appeal to the casual Pantera and Chaos A.D. metal fans of the time. On Dreams of the Carrion Kind, song structures are simple and pop-oriented, reminiscent of an 80s speed metal act like Exodus, which is a riff salad without themes developing within it.

“Monarch of the Sleeping Marshes,” the best composition on the album, fails to capture its surprisingly elaborate lyrical concept, impeding upon the momentum of its inspired introductory riffcraft with an awkward pause after the chorus to make way for an incongruous bridge of generic Benediction mosh fare. Other tracks like “Soul Erosion” and “Deadspawn” sound like Brutality playing along to bouncy Fear Factory/Pantera chugging fare with death metal vocals and lyrics adapted around that framework, no doubt in a vain attempt to bridge two trends from the era. At best, it could be compared to a lowbrow version of the first half of Resurrection’s Embalmed Existence.

James Murphy’s dextrous playing and the early Roadrunner Records connection would make this seem innocent, but don’t be fooled. This release is cleverly disguised as something profound but is no more advanced than Benediction’s Transcend the Rubicon. It isn’t awful to the point where you would rather swan dive into a wood chipper, but the overly bluesy doom riffs and the grooved out relaxed tempos of tremolo riffs in cyclical song structures that break for a “guitar hero” solo suggests this band as having the confused character of something that wants to be morbid and sinister, but also pander to the Dimebag Darrell worshipers of that era.

While some of the wiser among us would simply dismiss this as not up to par with other releases in its genre, on closer inspection, this album alongside Malevolent Creation’s Retribution and Obituary’s The End Complete in addition to Roadrunner Records vast distribution network assisted in streamlining death metal into a more rock centric style that allowed the Gutted/Kataklysm mosh fare with flashy distraction breaks to become an Ozzfest/Hot Topic mainstay in the 2000s.

Skepticism recording album for release in 2014

June 24, 2013 –

skepticism-alloyFuneral doom metal pioneers Skepticism have recently begun composing music for a new album planned for a late 2014 release. Alongside their countrymates Thergothon, Skepticism shaped this style from slow melodic chord progressions, sustained deathy vocals, and keyboards meshed to create an enveloping tapestry of sound.

The band have rebounded from the creative momentum lost after their first album Stormcrowfleet with their 2008 release Alloy, which showed a return to a more guitar-driven sound and songs which unraveled more subtly, creating an album of enduring quality. This showed the band resurrecting the metal within the Gothic doom and using it to drive song development past what more pop styles could offer.

Much like other metal bands, Skepticism are both rediscovering their roots and surging past them. A parallel can be drawn to recent Summoning, who recovered from a bout of misguided efforts by returning to an earlier composition style whilst creating albums which are expressively different and of quality. As a result, we have high expectations for this band’s next release.

Distorting the medium

June 14, 2013 –

hipster_black_metal_flavored_alternative_rock_fanBy 1992, the metal underground was flirting with mainstream visibility to some degree; whether it was Slayer headlining an arena tour, death metal albums being distributed by Sony, news reports, or metal music videos on MTV.

An emerging horde of people saw how awesome death metal looked and leaped at the opportunity to be a part of a new movement and start their own bands. The problem was, these were the people weaned on The Black Album who wanted to be the next Kurt Cobain, so they chose the newest, edgiest method possible: extreme metal.

Every suburban nobody with a guitar thought if they dressed up their uneventful, radio friendly rock in a different way, they would be seen as unique, offering something new to the world that wasn’t there before. When these people make extreme metal, they keep the surface traits and miss the core. The down tuned guitar rhythms, guttural vocals and fast drums are easily cloned, but underneath the aesthetic of death metal lies something that is not too different from what the corporate rock that Metallica and Nirvana were shipping out at this time were expressing.

Some of these abominations might be in your album collection as well because, as they saw the horde forming, many established bands began imitating the imitators in a pathetic attempt to draw a new audience and get rich enough to quit their coffee shop jobs. Borrowing the rhythm guitar techniques from Bolt Thrower and Celtic Frost is no challenge, and bands like Gorefest and Obituary realized they too could make it big if they dressed up what the major labels were shipping out at this time. Thus, began the dumbing down of underground metal. Gorefest masked their rock bounce as death metal and Obituary thought reinforcing a Biohazard album with memes on rotting would lead them to success. It worked.

The hipsters of olde saw that it appeared different, but sounded similar enough to their radio fodder that they can add something derived from a morbid subculture into their “unique” fashion derived personality without threatening their social sphere. Eventually acts like Fear Factory would capitalize on this, finding much success by combining the sounds of Earache records popular Napalm Death and Godflesh into verse-chorus heavy-soft proto nu-metal. They were not using this music as a platform for artistry, but for label attention that they would use to springboard themselves into a radio rock career. They would fool their ‘death metal fans’ who were never able to discover the styles true potential into “maturing” with the artist, unaware that they were being used as another sales number until the band name became a corporate brand.

While most people blame bands like Opeth for dumbing down metal into corporate rock, others are the blame for this process that started long before Opeth noticed it and decided to profit from it. The false ones who have been allowed into the halls of the underground have been going unchecked for too long. They might have fooled you at one point. If it’s not honest thoughts turned into music, you can be guaranteed it’s a gimmicky pose or well-disguised radio fodder meant to take as much money from as many wallets as possible. It should be no surprise that around half a decade later they all drop the aesthetic and unleash something like this upon the world:

Brutality – Ruins of Humans

June 6, 2013 –

brutality-ruins_of_humansClassic Tampa, Florida death metal band Brutality released a new two-song EP entitled Ruins of Humans which continues the style in which a melodic Morbid Angel meets Monstrosity that defined their debut album Screams of Anguish.

The vocals are still the crushing yet discernible Glen Benton meets Karl Willetts style as always, belting out apocalyptic views of human error. They didn’t recreate the wheel, and this won’t start a revolution, but it is still high quality material very much in the vein of their early Nuclear Blast releases, and is a step up from their forgettable swan song In Mourning and the confused 2003 demo.

There is a lot of potential in this as they have still retained their characteristic long flowing melodies that are akin to early At the Gates and blistering blast beat passages, and isn’t misdirected like the recent Convulse and Purtenance reunions. Hopefully a new album from these veterans as well as the upcoming return to form Demigod material will deliver the goods.

Falloch: Further flushing black metal down the proverbial toilet

June 1, 2013 –

hipster_black_metal_flavored_alternative_rock_fanWith lyrical themes of suicide, drugs, and aimless misanthropy on one side, and kumbaya-esque sensibilities on the other, record labels have figured out a way to sell more metal-flavored products to mainstream alt-rock America: make alt-rock that superficially “sounds like” black metal.

Don’t worry; it’s not dangerous. These songs are still the same rock chord progressions we’ve always heard on the radio. The latest new trend formed by burnt out metal musicians who are too inept to fully sell out is to play another genre of music and wrap it in the aesthetic of another. You would think people are smart enough to figure out Nachtmystium is nothing more than Joy Division with raspy vocals or that Liturgy is failed ‘avant-garde’ post-rock dressed up as black metal (much like Solefald), but when marketing dollars and ads are at work, that is unfortunately never the case. Real metalheads know this is false metal, only appearing like metal, but to the American Apparel wearing alt-rock fans who buy Pitchfork magazine and Kerrang for the next bandwagon to hop on, it’s a new fashion statement or lifestyle option. It’s something ‘new’ they can belong to.

Black metal has been absorbed into the melange of the current ‘post-metal’ trend, inspiring new ‘artists’ to create their own rearrangement of pop music under the guise of black metal with no knowledge over it’s history, music, or having any idea about the expression of the music. Falloch, a new band from Glasgow, Scotland, may just be the final word on how awful, poppy, and warped this music associated with black metal has become.

Sounding much like a skinny jeans wearings Ulver shopping at Walmart for Thursday cds, Falloch further destroys the metal ethos much further than the later output from Katatonia or Paradise Lost could have ever hoped for. The emo crooning and the open chord strumming which is suggestive of a depressive hippie get together is all there, but watch out! There is a rasp or inappropriately fast drums at times in there to appear different, unique, whatever. The themes of sadness and lost love is there, and when you wrap this all up in a package whose cover art seems to portray a “this world is lonely, pity time!” aesthetic to AFI fans, you have a winner.

What’s most unfortunate is that Candlelight, a label who once released albums like Dethrone the Son of God has released this. So a once former niche hipster trend that no record label worth their salt would touch has now become a money maker that you can ship off to Terrorizer or Metal Maniacs for promotion in a big way. While some bands are able to mimic black metal better than others, Falloch fails to do even that properly, only using the genres recent popularity to cover up fractures in their pop songwriting and overextending very simple songs for the sake of coming off as ‘different’ when in fact it’s no more different than this.

Falloch is just another tool in the machine of corporate labels’ bid to assimilate itself further into the mainstream music scene. No doubt documentaries like Metal Evolution, Until the Light Takes Us, and Promised Land of Heavy Metal being shown on VH1 or Sundance had a hand in it falling to the hands of Starbucks culture, but even those documentaries have clear cut examples on what the music is all about, showcasing real black metal:

Instead we have people who have consciously decided to make “black metal” that isn’t black metal, and claim it’s an “evolution” when in fact it’s a regression to what existed before black metal, because they hate their fans and think they’re stupid, and want to make some money off of them instead of treating them like human beings. It’s hard to argue against ripping off any group of people stupid enough to think this is black metal, but it’s also unethical and guarantees we’ll get more of this milktoast, lukewarm, baby-soft “black metal” flavored alt-rock.

Autopsy sticks to form on new material

May 30, 2013 –

autopsy-the_headless_ritualAutopsy played a new song named “Arch Cadaver” during their set opening for Bolt Thrower at the Oakland Metro in Oakland CA on May 26,2013. Contrary to record company/band hype, no new ground is retread and laurels are rested on to some extent, namely the formula adopted on Acts of the Unspeakable, albeit this new song has much less grindcore/Nuclear Death influence.

In other words, Autopsy is treading into Exhumed territory with simple songs that use somewhat predictable structures but focus on writing killer riffs and having intensely catchy, gory choruses. The result is like a fusion of early German speed metal with gore-drenched grindcore in the Carcass and Repulsion style, making a high-energy form of music that is pure pop at the same time it is pure pus-ridden disease-laden metal for the sake of sounding extreme and creating that old school feel of being totally alienated from the sociable world.

Following a dooming intro reminiscent of “Meat” from Acts of the Unspeakable, the band go into the dark 2-beat hardcore/death metal previously explored on songs like “Dark Crusade.” It’s doubtful the band intended to reinvent the wheel with this release, and if this song is any indication, The Headless Ritual will be the “crowd pleasing” Mental Funeral and Acts of the Unspeakable admixture fans were hoping for.

Drummer/vocalist Chris Reifert opined in a recent interview, “Expect nothing less than the monstrous brutality that Autopsy has been known to offer. Laurels will not be rested upon, trends will not be followed and mercy will not be shown. Mark your calendars for June and pick out a coffin to lie down and die in. Darkness and death await…”

Autopsy have begun selling the album and related merchandise through their label, Peaceville. Click below for the live song on YouTube video, or the stream of the studio version of the same song.