Nekro Drunkz – Absolute Filth (2015)

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Intent guide results and results reflect intent in a mirror-like relation akin the blurred causality presented by modern physics where the only ordering factor is time. We get a clear hint from the song names, but should not be hasty towards concluding everything abut a work without inspecting all the evidence. Being a work of music, it is our main interest to examine that, first and foremost, and then try to link our conclusions about the musical part with other observations and in an attempt to sniff out possible originating intentions.

While the likes of Napalm Death sought to shock, surprise or amuse in different ways and with different purposes (from insults and nonsense to social and political issues), their early albums were balanced out as a whole between the different concepts, to form a whole that was both entertaining and full of content while remaining constant in their choice for aesthetics. Grindcore must be strictly appreciated on an album basis, not a song basis. By themselves, many tracks lack any sense, but in the context of the whole work of art (not in the context of an extra-musical agent, which is a different topic) they attain a purpose and/or a meaning.

Napalm Death approached their goal using different techniques in a coherent manner and this gave albums like Scum a wide range of expression to produce a collection of songs of different duration and speed but like character. The technique would accommodate to the character and mold around it as needed. Songs with mid-paced sections are allowed to flesh out the groove before they enter frenetic trance. The tracks that are mini-bursts of demented blasting were also given their place and were not over-extended. In an undeterred flow from primal reactions to sonic expression, the early music of Napalm Death completely forgets about the self and like all great works of authentic art becomes an entity unto itself.

In Nekro Drunkz we see a band bent on projecting an image of disgust and fun. Admittedly a work of comedy, Absolute Filth has little staying power beyond the “catchy” brutality inherent to the grindcore genre. The reason for this lies in the poor and uneventful sections put together to support an ironic expression whose sole purpose is to shock. Musically, what we find in this album is song after of song that pair two or three riffs that do not do anything in particular. They do not escalate, they do not accelerate, they do not twist, riffs do not play on one another. Songs all express the same thing musically and lyrically. The lyrics are intended to tell you how disgusting they are and the music is only recognizably grindcore yet does little else than carry the voice while it blurts out its tired, “shocking” and friendly softcore gore.

While recognizing the intended goal of a work is paramount to understanding it, it is not an excuse for low quality. The argument usually runs along the lines of “And what if they wanted to make a piece of shit of an album?”. This is fallacy that assumes that if something is explained or is voluntary then it is exempt from any quality judgement. I do not see how this is so but it seems to be a popular belief. The fact remains that this album is, whether intentionally or not, a piece of shit.

Scythian – Hubris in Excelsis (2015)

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Following the example of Kreator in Phantom Antichrist, Scythian unite riffing approaches from different metal subgenres under the banner of traditional heavy metal and growled or barked vocals, with a result along the lines of the so-called melodic death metal.  In contrast with the noteworthy release Thy Black Destiny, by Sacramentum, Hubris in Excelsis does not coalesce into a thing of its own but just floats around as the result of spare parts being put together to form an undefined, impersonal and disparate heavy metal record. In this, and its revolving around the vocals it is more akin to the Iron Maiden – inclined heavy metal which sets one foot on hard-rock land, using disconnected riffs only as rhythm and harmony to carry the voice.

We hear doom metal proceedings and textures typical of black metal, but these are usually encapsulated within sections. These sections are used in conventional rock-song functionality. What determines this rock versus metal approach? Basically, the total relationship of riffs and sections to voice and in between themselves. Rock (and hard rock after it) carries the music after the vocal lines (thus we can see the slight influence of hard rock over Slayer in South of Heaven even though it doesn’t fully give in to the tendency to disqualify it as a metal record). The key tell-tale sign after this is the lack or at least a downplay of motif-relation between parts of the song, the support for main melody or vocal line becoming the most important and prominent element. The effect of this often results in something similar but in the end different from metalcore: disparate parts tied loosely by a certain background consistency (usually harmony for rock and rhythms or motifs drowned in an ocean of contrasts for metalcore).

The plentiful references to many different genres extending all the way to cliche-ridden pagan black metal may throw off the attempts of most to nail down what Hubris in Excelsis actually is, what it consists of and what its essence ultimately is. Hubris in Excelsis is indeed a title that reflects this album beyond their intended concept. Hubris, an excess of self-confidence, often at the expense of prudence and seemliness, is placed in a position of glory, giving way to veiled expressions of ego that disregard any sense of coherence and little consistency beyond the most superficial.

Overtorture – A Trail of Death (2015)

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Swedish Death Metal has stayed popular ever since the early days for a number of reasons. Mostly it is because it allows for the music to be catchy, “brutal” and flexible (although few bands exercise this power afforded by the fact that in theory this is death metal). The death metal fan will readily associate A Trail of Death with names such as Dismember, Carnage, Nihilist or Entombed and the release lives up to these expectations from the production tone up to the general approach.

A hint of pop-influenced modernity alla Entombed is revealed here in the preference for obvious verse-chorus-bridge structures without venturing even as far as Dismember did in Like an Ever Flowing Stream and appearing like an Entombed going on Arch Enemy in the way the riffs are used: they have the affectations of death metal but underlying them can be seen the Iron Maiden – like NWOBHM chord-by-chord advance.

By this token, a more precise comparison would come of pairing this band with later Dismember and their obsession with riff-oriented music rather than a progress/development-oriented one. The Entombed edge (or should we say lack of edge) in composition is in its conventionality pretending to be extreme (Back in the day, people thought Entombed was extreme or visionary in some way — apparently some of those who understand death metal only superficially still do so even today). In the process of creating this music and never venturing outside or around of what their inspirations did at any level, Overtorture sound like one more of the herd. Nothing more, nothing less.

Triguna – Embryonic Forms (2015)

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Triguna is a band that plays underground metal in that vague intersection between death metal, black metal and the phrasal speed metal of Slayer. Their independently-released Embryonic Forms is both an honest and musically-aware artistic offering that falls short for technical reasons. “Technical reasons” here should not be underestimated. The band’s instrumental skills are just enough to play he music they wrote, but it is the technical side of composition that is loose.

Technique in composition is believed by the populace to mean how many chord progressions and scale names you have memorized or how many contrasting sections you can pair up. In truth, what technical composition ideally affords is an experience and insight into musical forms, elements and their relations and effects along with historical reference points that help the composer distill the purest elements of music. Surely this can be derived by talented and innately perceptive musicians, but they are still building most things from the ground up.

To be fair, given Triguna’s apparent technical level, their decision to make varied yet deliberately dirty, simple and straightforward passages was a realistic one that allowed them to concentrate on the coherence of the pieces as wholes. So while individual sections, riffs or solos are not altogether overwhelming, the songs are solid, enjoyable and meaningful. Creating fulfilling whole music that is not minimalist, Embryonic Forms is a perfect example of the extreme case of a vision superseding technique to achieve a musical triumph. The album garners at least honourable mentions alongside the likes of Manilla Road or early The Chasm (not that I am equating them, just classifying them), and is very much recommended on my part.

Bhagavat – Annunciazione (2015)

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An example of outstanding musical competence in melody-lead black metal, Bhagavat’s To Burn in a Lair of Snakes give us an initially almost seamless integration of many different elements under a clearly defined personal style. After the first half of the album, though, the album becomes a Planetary Duality-era The Faceless-style tech death tribute with black metal-like cliche connectors and decorations. While the first few songs present a solid and diverse yet uni-colored set of expressions that breathed clarity, as the album progresses, these elements take control over the music. The vision stops being in control and the stylistic expression starts guiding songwriting. In other words rampant cliches ensue.

While musically adept and gifted with a talent for placing together ideas in a flowing and integrated manner, Bhagavat could have focused into making a mention-worthy album. There is enough of that here to make a 3-song EP. But more than half of the album resorts to cliche-riding, while the band’s voice is heard standing beside them. To Burn a Lair of Snakes went from being a contestant to be included in best of the year lists to just another modern metal band trying to appropriate black metal as a disguise.

Goatblood – Adoration of Blasphemy and War (2015)

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Wearing the mantle of blasphemous black metal, Goatblood play metal in the time-honoured tradition of grind-tinged black metal dancing the line between Sarcófago and Blasphemy. As most bands playing this style, Goatblood is automatically benefited by the immediate focus this restricted expression affords: a clarity in direction in accordance to its single-mindedness. Songs are consistent in expression as well as coherent in their narrative, blasphemy overspilling and music driving it — not quite deep enough.

The only obstacle towards excellence faced by Goatblood here is they are too content, or perhaps too shy, about developing songs. Most of them stop after a handful of simple riffs, ending not in a closing gesture a climax or even a complete development but an apparently arbitrary riff after which the band had no idea (or no time?) what to write. Rather than the defilement of Profanatica, Goatblood only half-whispers hidden desires to break free from dogmatic religion. Not brave enough to move forward, Adoration of Blasphemy and War is a collection of half-songs, or ideas for songs that have not yet been completed.

Plage – Den Kristne Stank (2015)

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Den Kristne Stank, meaning “Christian Stench” in Danish, is an effort by the band Plague to bring some black metal with occult themes, blasphemy and just the general themes associated with the genre. The music reveals the same intent, applying different approaches to black metal creation but giving preference to the most obviously rock-based instance of it, disguised with intermingled soft blast beats.  In an attempt to bring variety without a clear focus (rather, the focus seems to be the variety of black metal expression) we find ourselves at one point reminded of Kjeld, the next of some pagan folk black metal, but it is the influence of Samael is felt most strongly. The problem here is that the music (obviously as a result of the concept) never zeroes in on a direction — a goal is not necessary, but clear statement and acting out of what you are getting at is important.

On the good side, Plague is actually not wanking or over-indulging themselves. The music creates reasonable structures that connect well-enough with each other flowing smoothly most of the time. The complaint comes from observing its coherence and the picture it reveals. As has been previously stated, the critique is realized in the following manner: first we gather an impression on the whole, from those observations the individual musical elements are investigated and finally a theory rooted in concept is formulated.  Any pair of adjacent steps (1 and 2 or 2 and 3) can be reexamined as many times as is necessary to try and clarify a perspective. Evaluating music as a whole, one should never go from ideology first nor should technical elements be taken as the central aspect. It is always the musical whole that is important. Formulations on intention and ideology are secondary and come as an afterthought and an attempt to explain excellence, focus or deficiencies in the music.

The variety itself is not the problem, of course, but that it is never brought under control by a  higher purpose. Instead of this involved yet forgettable collection of rock black metal techniques and compilation of general themes, I would suggest the reader to imbue himself with this year’s EP release by Necrophor, which presents the same degree of musical variety without the technique-collection effect of the former. Consistently with these observations, one may notice how the lyrical concept (or the concept as a whole) of Necrophor’s EP is much more precise and clear. Empirical evidence shows the importance of clarity of concept for the realization of focused music. Plague give us an example of a metal release that has everything except that.

Majestic Downfall – When Dead (2015)

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Majestic Downfall plays something that is like doom metal but comes off as some sort of mainstream-ish hard rock. Using riffs to have something for the vocals to ride on and war metal sort of riffs interspersed here and there, it seems as if the band is just trying to get by. The fact that the focus of this plague is doom metal only makes it slightly more difficult to see, it is less obvious. More people will welcome this as authentic doom metal just because it is harder or people with short attention spans (yes, even fans of crappy doom have short attention spans) to notice the relation between sections in the long run as they revel in the “heaviness” and “feel” of each part. It is the focus of this music on this moment-based satisfaction of a heavy feeling that give us a hint of a hard-rock-like idea behind this.

This imitative and momentary-feeling-based approach to doom metal lies in the confusion as to what doom metal exactly is, or what it consists off. I assume this comes from the Saint Vitus crowd that don’t realize that that band is only “doom metal” in name and is only slow heavy metal. If nothing is done differently except play the music slower, do not bother changing genre names. A whole vision at a “spiritual” level, has to be different for the methodology to change naturally after it.

When Dead tries hard to be doom metal. The vocals even resemble those by Paradise Lost and even resort to some of their trademark moves in some riffs and corresponding vocal patterns. The crowd-pleasing collection of slow heavy metal, war metal and Paradise Lost that Majestic Downfall presents can be deceiving for those with a shaky (“open-minded”) idea of music, but its vacuity and gimmick will be evident for those with a center.

 

Wombbath – Downfall Rising (2015)

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Upon reviewing a comeback album from a band that has been out of action for more than a decade (more than two, in this case) we are given two options. The first is to approach the album in the context of the band’s past work. This is the traditional approach in metal, where bands with more experience are expected to improve while younger bands are judged with more leniency . The second is to see the album as a separate work and judge it by its own merits and the apparent goals it sets for itself from the musical point of view (avoiding ridiculous and absurd logical objections of the “and what if it was there intention to make a piece of shit of an album?” sort). Either way, Downfall Rising is as nonsensical as its cliche and meaningless title.

Generic beyond recognition, the effacing of the band’s voice comes as no surprise as the paper-thin music that Wombbath made as a younger band went little further beyond sticking genre cliches one after another without taking the music anywhere at all. It was a parade of Swedeath groove riffs that sound and feel good as background but that fail under closer inspection. The new album sees the band taking on some aspects from the so-called symphonic metal  (best referred to as metal-like pop) to fill in interludes or intros and a certain variety of retro-isms of the current nostalgia death metal scene. While Internal Caustic Torments was an empty husk made from death metal cliches at all levels (riff style, guitar tone, trademark vocals) that made it the perfect superficial representation of death metal without a voice of its own and without having any actual logical content, Downfall Rising represents an even wider collection of cliches of the new retro death metal scene.

At least the band is consistent in the type of mediocrity that constitutes their music. Sounding not only generic, derivative and content-less but far more tired than in their earlier fiasco, Wombbath come back riding the wave of come-back albums by “classic” bands that extends to any band from back in the day that was part of a scene and that is made possible by the ability of internet marketing and sales to close in the long tail in the distribution of fans of particular kinds of music. Rather than wasting any of your time in a collection of cliches being paraded without any purpose, I suggest spending some time watching adorable Wombat videos.

Path to Ruin – Path to Ruin (2015)

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Upon reading the tag of “technical death metal”, discerning listeners knows this usually only means “metalcore played with more notes”. Although DMU constantly looks down on genres like metalcore, very few readers understand the understand the underlying reasons for this. Those who identify as more “open-minded” tend to view all genres as simply “different expressions”. Although spiritually more mature, this thinking is based on an ignorance of the nature of music. In their ignorance, they do not understand the limitations and power of certain musical forms and the dangers of unchecked “experimentation”. On the opposite camp we have the die-hards, who may belong to either strict old-school or “true” associations. Most of these believe in the superiority of one style over another as a Catholic fanatic believes the words of the Pope or the Scriptures. In their ignorance, they would be unwilling and unable to acknowledge something as good music if it were to come from one of the vilified, retrograde genres.

Approaching the issue with enough information and without bowing completely to neither prejudice nor morally-supplied egalitarian fallacies  we can find that different music styles bound by different types of expressions not only have different tendencies in the types of emotion they attempt to evoke, but that this intention has a connection to concrete aspects in the composition. This is no news to anyone with at least vague and rudimentary notions of musical composition. The next logical step in this train of thought, which is generally avoided for one reason or another, is to see how these specific choices for delimiters, technique and instrument choice impose limitations on character and direction that affect possibilities in variety if one is to maintain consistency and coherence. These limitations are, of course, constructs of humans, but they are based, at least partially, on human nature — not completely arbitrary rules arising from culture only. We must stress that these limitations are conventions taken up for the sake of attempting a communication as best as possible, conventions that have a mirror in language and grammar– also a proper set of conventions.

Now we come to Path of Ruin’s self titled album, a work arising from the metalcore camp but producing music of the best caliber possible in this genre. Such limitations arise in part from being built around vocals in the manner of hard rock (and consequentially rock). In hard rock the different riffs are meant to be separate sections that say different things in drastically different ways. This is not to say that this music cannot preserve consistency, what it has trouble with is coherence. To keep this partially incoherent expression in check, the power has to be limited to expanded or varied verse-chorus structures. Path of Ruin gives us the variety-bordering-on-incoherence metalcore while tying it up with motif and a very strong consistency and clarity of purpose. The clarity of purpose comes from one more imposition it sets upon itself: that of reusing past riffs as new sections, not necessarily a circularity but a coming back to balance the strangeness.

There is a famous precedent in the most misunderstood Obscura by Gorguts, which uses a very humble, even shy approach to organization that comes to pull back the blurry coherence and wide-range of expression it boasts. To exemplify not the contrary but an also consistent and technically accomplished release that fails to give meaningful variety (tied in coherent expressions) and balance to its music is Ara’s Devourer of Worlds. Both Obscura and this last one can be dizzying yet actually ride a very strong consistency but in the long run tend to stretch, twist, bend  the motif beyond recognition to the point where you have highly contrasting sections. In favor of Ara, Devourer of Worlds‘ songs tend to extend riffs and ideas in longer riff-groups before changing direction or idea, becoming a commendable exercise in riff-variation at a local level. However, while Gorguts pulls the reigns on this crazy roller coaster ride that Obscura is by resorting to simple and straight up re-use of riffs — an approach they used with less pressure or necessity in The Erosion of Sanity, Ara spirals out of control ultimately becoming a collection of snippets and maybes that hold little interest beyond the riff-arrangement, but not the composition as a whole. It is a difference in the ability to see the big picture.

In a genre that by definition introduces heavy incoherence in the music, the safe approach taken in Path to Ruin comes as a wise decision that limits the music with the effect of awarding the album the power and clarity of good and balanced traditional speed metal.