Dew-Scented – Intermination (2015)

dewscented-album

Having been called everything from thrash to death or melodic death metal, Dew-Scented play metalcore in its original inception, as inspired by At the Gates’ style on Slaughter of the Soul.  Everything from the simple drums which half of the time fall into variations of fast d-beats, catchy and short melodic ideas on the guitars with a tendency towards breakdowns for variety, to the blatant imitation of Tomas Lindberg. Being an heir to this tradition reviled by the fans of the old school styles and hailed as an improvement and distillation of the best aspects of the older music by the mainstream audience, Intermination invites a comparison with At the Gates’ come back album released last year, At War with Reality.

While the seminal band tried to bridge a gap between fans of its older and later styles by taking its metalcore-founding album and introducing more complex elements as visited in Terminal Spirit Disease and vaguely from With Fear I Kiss the Burning Darkness, thereby creating a middle-of-the-road offering that pleased neither group, Dew-Scented plant themselves solidly on the style developed in Slaughter of the Soul and part faithfully from there to create variations without bringing down the delicate and extremely constricted walls delimiting the definition of this minimalist, extreme pop genre.

Being the catchy, duple-time riff-fest that this genre is, Dew-Scented do a phenomenal job at creating solid, punching riffs which if not necessarily connect concretely with each other too well throughout a song (given the shock-oriented nature of this modern style), go a long way to maintain the drive of songs by switching and keeping the overall feel, avoiding the over-use of a particular riff. Without any ill-will towards this talented band, we must clarify that the album presents a very flat result, which is a necessary result of the definition of the genre as driven by impacting riffs and sonic shock tactics. The tight upholding of ideals of the genre in Dew-Scented’s hands, even with their carefully and appropriately crafted variations, becomes a hindrance in the context of a crippling genre.

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Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror (2015)

beyondtheredmirror

Compiling gestures from throughout legendary band Blind Guardian’s discography, Beyond the Red Mirror shows us a synthesis of their journey, bringing in their late 1980s style along with updates in the power and so-called symphonic metal up to the present state of affairs in said genres.  As such, this album’s strongest uniting element is the band’s own style, which lies in great part in the vocal approach of Hansi Kürsch. Apart from that, there is an evident diversity in the songwriting that ranges from the mediocre, to the best power metal from any period can offer. But it should be stressed that the consistency in style is still very strong and this along with the sober and talented songwriting skills of Blind Guardian lend a coherence to the music that set it on another level completely apart from the distracted music the vast majority of bands of its kind display. This is also something the band has improved on compared to its earlier albums where the anxiety to insert interludes bordered on gimmick instead of having them moderately and carefully contribute to the aura of the album.

 

Despite bringing a mature and experienced offering in Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian is not immune to the pitfalls of the power and “symphonic” metal subgenres. Some of the tracks still fall into simple catchy grooves with little thematic substance and straight-up pop structures. Some may raise their hands against this last comment, but in the context of the nature of power metal, a genre driven by standard chord progressions and simple, catchy tunes, having a strong theme is very important since the music is almost all about this. This is why choruses are so important in power metal as well (that and the fact that it is essentially pop music going on metal). The clearest example of this in the album is the fifth track, “Ashes of Eternity”, which is unabashedly a pop, pseudo symphonic metal track that relies almost entirely on groove, which indicates an empty song.

 

As for the highlights,  the band has some truly outstanding features in the album like very smooth tonicizations that elongate sections or connect two different sections smoothly in away that does not break up the melody but rather transforms the song, giving it the aforementioned variety within consistent style and coherent expression. I would like to point the audience in the direction of the fourth track (which is taken from their previous album), “At the Edge of Time” , for a remarkable example of this. This track contains all the cliche elements of modern power metal. The spoken word, the beginning without drums and only guitar melodies, the heavy synth “orchestration”.  But here they point strongly in a direction, they all seem to be working together for the concept, and actually carrying the song forward surely and decidedly through passages, ravines, forests that take your breath away through the power of expectation, prolongation and the shifting of the harmonic goal so that the moment you are almost there, a new vista is revealed. Each a vital support for the leading vocal melody, the different ideas in the smoothly connected sections build on and connect strongly with each other here, an exemplary lesson for metal composition of any kind.

 

The appropriate, technically efficient and inspiring guitar solos come when expected and do not steal the show. This in itself should be a lesson for power metal bands. Blind Guardian have also finally reached a point (which they have been approaching throughout their discography) where the music does not seem to be entirely about the saccharine expression of the vocals or screechy guitar melodies that do not add anything to the construction of the music except superficial flare. This is a mature band that has released in Beyond the Red Mirror one of the best records this genre can offer, which is admittedly very limited by its very nature. In spite of this, and contrary to personal preference complaints (the overdubbing of the vocals this guy always does is beyond irritating), I have to say that if you absolutely have to listen to this sort of music, then listen to Blind Guardian.

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Classical String Quartets for the death metal fan, fourth edition

schubert webern

 

Today, we’ll visit string quartets from both the Romantic and Modernist eras. The purpose is to give continuity to the line started in the first few articles. We visited Beethoven and Shostakovich, then Mozart and Bartók, and for the last time we visited the respected teachers Haydn and Schoenberg. This time we visit one of the the Romantic heirs to the Beethovenian tradition, the writer of music with a very private character, Schubert, and the genius serialist composer Webern, one of the most (if not the most) outstanding students of Schoenberg.

 

Franz Schubert: String Quartet no. 14, Der Tod und das Mädchen

This quartet is dubbed after an earlier lied of the same name, whose main theme Schubert used as the theme for the the second movement of this string quartet.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jlzv1yUFo-A

 

Anton Webern: 5 Sätze für Streichquartett op.5 (5 movements for string quartet)

It is a common misconception that serialism is a more mechanical method of composition, because it s a method. While some (including myself) believe it is an unnatural (contrary to the Common Practice Period notions) method contradicting the physics of frequencies, it is, apart from that fact, as much of a valid and constrictive method as any other. No more, no less. It just follows a different set of rules. And because it is counter-intuitive for people unaccustomed  to it, compositions with this method may well prove to be even more demanding by virtue of this lack of familiarity the general public has with it – it has harder to make something that makes any sense for the human ear. In my humble opinion, the dependency on an ethereal pulse becomes paramount in this type of music.

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Pseudogod – Sepulchral Chants (2015)

PSEUDOGOD - Sepulchral Chants

 

Death metal band Pseudogod come back this year with a compilation that collects songs from their early demos and splits. Falling into an intersection between blasting, grindcore-influenced death metal ala Infester and the more recent approach of “atmospheric” death metal bands, the result at times approaches war metal, but avoids the stagnancy of the music typical of that genre. Contrasting Pseudogod’s 2012 Deathwomb Catechesis, which was more of an empty blast-fest similar to the more popular extreme metal outfits,this early output is full of content and in the spirit of good death metal of its kind, tends heavily towards progressive structures. This includes more paused sections that allow the songs to breathe in the middle of the faster, more suffocating parts. This is done with enough grace and consistency in style to seem smooth and appropriate. Although not masterpieces of structure-oriented composition and leaning on the riff-salad side of death metal composition, this release showcases Pseudogod’s earliest and most promising output.

 

https://sektovgnozis.bandcamp.com/album/pseudogod-sepulchral-chants

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Blasphemic Cruelty – Crucible of the Infernum (2015)

blasphemic cruelty - MCD cover

 

Ripping, furious death metal in the vein of 1980s death metal with vestiges of speed metal, solos that bear the mark of Trey Azagthoth, this band is one of the many followers of the legendary Morbid Angel. However, Blasphemic Cruelty is not content with being a clone and continues the work of Angelcorpse by playing a style that takes one facet of Morbid Angel and expanding on it. It is basically the older band’s most brutal side taken as the parting point and center of the music. While Azagthoth would mix a few fast sections with his own trademark of mid-paced and slow riffs, Blasphemic Cruelty pushes the pedal to the max throughout the entire pieces.

 

While Crucible of the Infernum will not distinguish itself as innovative in any way, it is an example of excellent composition for this style of ripping, blasting death metal. The band’s work here is ideal in the sense that within the limitations it sets for itself, every single space it uses is purposeful by virtue of its integration within the big picture, even if this picture isn’t very big. Admittedly a work of modest reach, Crucible of the Infernum is a solid release strongly recommended for fans of Angelcorpse, Sodom and early Morbid Angel.

 

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Imposition – Memento Mori (2013)

imposition-mementomor

 

Imposition is a single-man black metal project which can be compared in approach to what Sort Vokter did in their sole release, Folkloric Necrometal. Minimalist composition, backed with synths that outline a melody, Imposition creates a racing and urgent music which combined with the sensation of space that the synt-produced organ-voices, gives the listener the experience of going through a space-time portal into a darker dimension. But rather than another physical dimension, Memento Mori seems to bring into focus the spirit world of energies, the subconscious comes to the fore as the material and our conscious awareness of it recedes. Part of the solidness of this is that there is enough space between synth and guitar, but they are also close enough that there is no sensation of emptiness or vaccum between then, which can appear to be grander to some, but is ultimately a cheap trick to make the music appear larger than it actually is. Imposition plays no such trick on the listener and uses the elements at its disposal to honest use, building what it can without pretending to be more.

 

This release is probably only meant as an EP, as the duration of the whole thing is very short, as are the songs themselves. The songs being short is not a problem in itself, as when you string these together, the whole album becomes one whole work with minimalist movements. Taken this way, Imposition’s conspicuous music is one of the most promising if this man is able to solidify this into a full album. A word of advice from my point of view would be to try and develop the ideas in the songs a little further, with the same caution with which the music has been written until now. At the end of this Memento Mori, one has the impression that something amazing has been glimpsed, but no complete memory of it remains.

 

Imposition on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Impositionbm

 

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Nekromanteion – Cosmic Horrors (2015)

OB-GD17-001.pdf

 

Cosmic Horrors is a Lovecraft-inspired affair standing somewhere between the primitive black metal of South America and grindcore-influenced death metal. Unlike most bands that could fall in this general description that encompasses a common cliche in underground metal, Nekromanteion stand out as a focused band making music balancing music aesthetics with a drive and intention that seems to lead the music, rather than the common mistake of letting the outer traits themselves dictate the music.

 

Displaying a progressive tendency in construction within healthy bounds alongside a reserved and rough technical expression, Cosmic Horrors present us with the ideal “atmospheric” death metal that war metal bands, for instance, are trying to deliver. The mistake of these or other atmosphere-oriented death metal bands like Phobocosm is that they are too steeply bent on trying to make the music have this effect. So much that they push the music to become the mood itself. Nekromanteion keeps a balance between evocation and satisfying musical aesthetics, which together have resulted in an outstanding EP.

 

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Necrophor – Exterminatus (2015)

Cover
Playing a black metal with structural tendencies that border on death metal, Necrophor delivers mid-paced songs grounded in orthodoxy in terms of technique and construction but taking the listener to unexpected places within this expression. The mid-paced characteristic of Exterminatus should be emphasized because this allows the band some leniency in regards to the types of riffs it will use. We find a very few chug-based moments that are just enough to serve as a neck between sections and only as accompaniment for measured time spans. We also find the typical moving minor chords that have become a staple of black metal. Strummed sections, slight tremolos, picked chords also make an appearance in this release.

 

Necrophor’s composition capabilities cannot be overstated in regards to the way all these techniques are integrated as hues in the artist’s arsenal. Too often do we see bands falling and depending on a particular technique to automatically provide the music with all it needs. Necrophor, on the other hand, are using the techniques to mold a vision that has been captured in the mind’s eye first. It isn’t only a matter of planning and intention, the technical capabilities of the band as arrangers are absolutely necessary for the elements in these songs to blend as they do. Exterminatus represents an excellent example of a band creating music inside to outside, not only because of the way these techniques were brought together to shape the music, but because they also seem to revolve around one point, a mood that changes character naturally and never too abruptly. A release that will definitely fly over most heads because of the production style not fulfilling brutality requirements and not being frost-bitten enough, or for the musical style not being close enough to a clone of a classic or a complete trashing of influences, Exterminatus is one of the most artistically accomplished releases I have had the pleasure of listening to from 2015.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KSoZ7OIk720

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On The Underrating of Recognized Classics

chaosHeresy

Two of the most pervasive topics in metal are the “underrating” and the “overrating” of a band or album. Given that most people are prone to confuse their emotional attachment to music with a sign of its quality, most of these claims are specious complaints that reflect the need for acknowledgement from other people as a fan more than anything else. Claims of “underratement” usually occur in regards to cult bands, and less often, to personal favorites that should be recognized by each fan as a mere guilty pleasure. Statements of “overrating”, then, comprehensibly come about when a disgruntled fan wants to bash any band that does not appeal to him, independently of the reason.

 

However, when leveled as a result of balanced, informed and insightful judgement, these observations become meaningful in that they have solid foundation and a motivation outside selfish emotional need for attention. Contrary to popular opinion, these arguments only need to be based on objective observations but need not be objective in the full sense of the word themselves. The reason for this is that the concepts of objectivity and subjectivity represent a false dichotomy inapplicable in the context of art appreciation. Appreciation rests outside any single preference, it always lies outside the emotional reaction of any one person, but is nonetheless attached to a social group’s set of principles. And principles are a human construct, not tangible, objective reality. In other words, it entails the individual perception through the lenses of convention of objectively observed qualities.

 

Art appreciation can be reduced to the appreciation of beauty. The concept of beauty has always been a complicated one, and like anything complicated, it gets reduced to the absurd by small minds that feel the need to fool themselves into believing they have everything under control. A sense of what is beautiful rests on what is considered to be good taste. The nature of both beauty and taste is neither objective nor subjective. If it were objective, beauty would be a hard, flat fact measurable by scientific instruments, and not the esoteric – perhaps mystical – sign existing completely and individually in meaning, perception and medium but also in the whole of an object, all at the same time. A divine omnia in omnibus, as it were, perceptible to the unconscious but only vaguely grasped by the conscious as an ethereal idea. The duality that implies being human,  having one eye on time and the other on eternity. On the other hand, if it were subjective, it would be completely pointless to talk about beauty or taste, as these would be demoted to euphemisms for what is simply our personal preference.

 

It is therefore, unsurprising that beauty is sometimes linked to the presence of the divine, and therefore of that which is natural, full of meaning and in balance. Again, simplified misconceptions come to distort each of these and in an increasingly individualist society that is just so for the sake of individualism itself, renders them powerless, trapped in small containers as catchwords for egotistical affectations. In other words, beauty has indeed been stripped from its cosmic framework and taste has become personal rather than communal. Both have lost any of the usefulness they had for communication of hermetic meaning.

 

This egotistical individualism is deeply entrenched in group-oriented thinking, paradoxically self-indulging as it is unoriginal and lacking in personal identity. This is to be expected since unthinking compliance to the system goes hand in hand with a deep-rooted cowardice of the mind. So, taking refuge in the rise of science, humanism and tacit nihilism, our brave new world does away with meaning as it has forgotten why man created it in the first place. Our modern society, contemptibly lacking in any courage to face reality and the pressing matters of our times, turns away from an understanding of the transcendent in favor of self-validation.

 

Art and its appreciation suffer first in this headlong plunge into the shadows. The reason for this is that art (artificial) arises entirely from man-given meaning. The greatest art has always had the power to communicate and bring forth an awareness of enduring meaning through individually-perceived universal truths of the human condition. Forsaking the use of any actual meaning in beauty, and consequently in art, music becomes a vulgar tool for individual satisfaction.

 

While quiet deference is directed towards names like Yes, King Crimson, Black Sabbath, Slayer, Bathory or Morbid Angel, my experience tells me that most fans who hold these bands in some kind of respect do not understand half of the reasons why these bands are great. The case of directly disrespected and underrated but equally excellent art like that of selected works of Burzum or early At the Gates is a different although related matter into which I will not go here. In the meantime, let’s turn our attention to canonical works of the metal underground.

 

It seems rather unfortunate that after achieving canonical status in any genre, a classic work is condemned to be defiled in two stages. The first is one in which the cause and effect relationship between being a classic and achieving canonical status is not inverted but flattened, the popular conception of the relationship between the terms being one of equality and interchangeability. Something then happens as a direct consequence of this misunderstanding along with an ignorance of the nature of classical works at several levels. In this second stage the distorted image of what being a canonical work implies is rightly questioned, resulting in an at least partial repudiation of their validity. The term classic is then also demoted into a euphemism for “what many/most people like”. Equating popularity with quality in art is a direct consequence of the loss of meaning discussed earlier.

 

This is why it is important to clarify what is originally meant by classical. It is closest to the condition of being an epitome, except that this latter term is neutral and can signify an accurate representation of the qualities of a group or classification. Classical refers to the highest degree of excellence in regards to quality, which implies distinction, perfect balance and adequacy in a work within its genre. Disquieting as the perversion of this concept is, simple and effective education coupled with the audience’s willingness to let go of their ego would be enough to remedy this situation. As with many things, it is easier said than done.

 

An additional third stage also bears mentioning which can then be appended to the steps in the process of decay in the perception of classic works. After the flattening and disavowal of the aforementioned terms has taken place in the collective mind, a confusion ensues which brings forth the nominating of undeserving artists or works into what used to be a pantheon of the gods. As I see it, there are two main ways in which this happens. The first was already mentioned, very popular works are inserted into the lists by virtue of their popularity itself. The other is the result of the backlash classic works receive from the lack of understanding towards their classic status. The original and true classics are reduced by a narrow-minded audience with a lack of depth perception to a collection of tropes to be imitated. A collateral effect of this in metal is that after a certain amount of time, since the audience cannot understand what a classic actually is, seniority is equated with relevance and quality, and then novelty is equally mistaken for innovation.

 

Without control or awareness, these things happened lightning-fast in progressive rock and metal, accounting for the extremely fast evolution of metal genres running away from the mainstream limelight and into increasingly obscure territories. Giants like King Crimson, Yes, Emerson Lake & Palmer and Genesis were then piled up with second-raters from all over the world. Nowadays it is customary to see Rush, Camel or Jethro Tull mentioned besides the first. Childish and musically wanting works belonging to the catalogues of Schuldiner’s Death and Cannibal Corpse even take precedence over the monumental early Morbid Angel. A closer and more knowledgeable and perceptive look into the qualities of their works reveals an enormous chasm in musical excellence and refinement separates them. They belong to completely different worlds.

 

Metal is encumbered by an additional hindrance: a recurrent appeal to cavemanish foolishness by the audience. This is the belief that as an essentially underground movement, metal is a blue-collar music which needs to be kept rough, dirty, mean and, well, ignorant. It is a combination of something similar to communism’s appeal to the true sense of the young masses and the testosterone posturing of a macho Homer Simpson. This idiotic claim basically consists in the stereotype that metal’s nature resides in young and unlearned spirit which yearns for adventure, rebellion and hedonism.  They do not realize that these are closer to the hippie ideals than to the true metal spirit which actually resides in a warrior’s mysticism that stares reality in the face without losing sight of the transcendent.

 

While metal needs to grow up and continue in its journey towards higher peaks, it must do so through a profound understanding of its roots and thereby a correct appreciation of its own classics and an embracing of its core and true ideals. The mainstream would have metal become a compliant rock music in disguise, an edgy but safe expression of castrated dissent. Absorbing or becoming other genres is not progress, it is only regression or distraction. This must be rejected at all costs and a unique path into the maturity of the genre must take place in a truly forward-looking but conservative manner. Metal has always made its most significant strides in those albums which on the surface seemed orthodox but which brought meaningful innovation at the level of musical thinking, information and communication. It was not the experimentalists who revel in the strange, the unexpected and the new, but the disciplined adherents to the tenets of metal who look for their own voice while keeping the spirit of Vir at the heart of the music who move metal forward.

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Dark Quarterer’s Ithaca to be released on Vinyl LP Format in September

ithaca

The target date for the release of Ithaca has been set for September 19. The album was release April 25 on CD by Metal on Metal Records to much acclaim.  Mastered specifically for vinyl format, the release will include two exclusive 2010, live bonus tracks that were specifically chosen by the band for their quality and uniqueness. The first is a version of band’s own classic “War Tears.”  This version of the track is sung in Italian, making the interpretation of singer Gianni Nepi  particularly passionate. The second  is the long, touching piece “Deep Wake”.

Ithaca is a concept album inspired by the 1911’s poem of the same title by a Greek poet, Konstantinos P. Kavafis (Constantine P. Cavafy), who used  Odysseus’s travel from the Trojan Wars back to his home-island as a metaphor for the journey of life; the goal is not important, but the journey itself. Stylistically, it’s a mix of ’80s epic heavy metal with ’70s progressive rock, and some elements of doom.

Tracklist:

  1. The Path of Life
  2. Night Song
  3. Mind Torture
  4. Escape
  5. Nostalgia
  6. Rage of Gods
  7. Last Fight
  8. Peace
  9. War Tears (live)*
  10. Deep Wake (live) *

*Vinyl-only bonus track

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