Contrary to the modern northern predilection to either go with the “intellectual” or “sentimental” strain of black metal expression, Latin American bands seem more inclined to follow Sarcófago. Many of these, in my opinion, retain the “authenticity” while actually improving on the music of the Brazilian punk-minded godfathers. Following the comparison with the northerners, while these try to create “the atmosphere” itself, actually trying to force the music to become the effect or the feeling itself (something advised against through the Common Practice Period all the way to the end of the Romantic musical era as it destroys the music), the grind/punk primitive black metal bands like Rito Profanatorio focus on punching songs that make use of short melodic motifs, and concentrate on the continuity of the riffs, letting the music do its job and create atmosphere and evoke feeling in the listener.
That being said, the music on Grimorios e Invocaciones desde el Templo de la Perversión is not the best of its kind. While it nails powerful riffs and have clear “melodic contiguity” (thanks for the descriptive term, ODB), the main problem lies in where they take the songs. Development is smooth, sliding deliciously into different ideas that carry follow “logically” from the point of departure. But after this, the band starts to lose a bit of control, the song keeps going forward without an ending in view, and then it suddenly stops. What makes these endings more offensive is that they are cliche metal endings inserted haphazard manner.
While this is not particularly original and the transgressions are great, it would be worthy to highlight their name and keep an eye on Rito Profanatorio’s development. Long live Peruan metal! May it develop and refine itself into something that contributes to a worthy future of metal as it has the authentic feel and musical (rather than technical) inclinations that seem so absent from the northern countries these days.
Following in the footsteps of Sarcófago without becoming their clone, Goat Semen play a form of primitive black metal with riffs bordering on grind death. The music here is of consistent style, but its coherence is more metaphorical than literal, advancing more through sequences of sections that make sense together in mood but not necessarily in theme or other basic music element. Good variety while keeping a clear concept and a traditional sense of beginning and ending to the songs balance the previously described loose musical coherence.
While fans of this particular style, such as myself, will enjoy this album thoroughly and will play it on repeat for hours, the loose kinks in its armor will be apparent to the discerning listener. For a more exemplary release in this vein the listener looking for musical excellence is encouraged to take a serious look into Exhumantion’s Opus Death. While Goat Semen’s music is exciting in its juvenile chaos barely harnessed by recognizable traditional gestures of music, Exhumantion’s is a study in solid musical composition with an enviable rigor propelling it to much higher levels of refinement, offering a more layered experience than Ego Sum Satana.
On their first album, Obsequiae made use of very simple but consistent and creative melodies in a harmony emulating that of early western music from the late medieval period. Under the Brume of Eos consisted of songs that were essentially folk-heavy metal in the vein of Primordial with black metal vocals. Each few songs an interlude played in an acoustic instrument was inserted. The material was fine for the first fifteen minutes, after that it just boiled down to a collection of songs which were merely collections of riffs. Aria of Vernal Tombs unfortunately did not move beyond this same strategy.
It is important to go back to the just-mentioned style of Primordial. Primordial is one of those bands that is really ideology first, aura and image of the band first, and then music. The music itself is flat, only serving to carry a mood while the image that the listener has in mind (given by lyrics and song names — concept) is imprinted on it from the outside. Obsequiae work in a similar way, except that they take it a step further and actually make use of musical patterns that evoke the era they are using as theme. They also surpass Primordial in that in the short-term, songs are far more dynamic and in Aria of Vernal Tombs particularly coordinate wonderfully with the vocal pulse.
Obsequiae could still move beyond this “cool-riff” sequence approach and give us much stronger songs — and perhaps a conceptual album extending beyond the lyrical and well into the music. Inserting interludes is only the easy way to do this. Metal bands like Blind Guardian, Rhapsody and even Morbid Angel (on Blessed are the Sick) have done this light and easy concept album arranging, each going further in different ways. Obsequiae and any band looking for using relatively simple yet self-contained and solid songs as the bricks for a strong concept album can look up to Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. Until now Obsequiae have only given us scattered ideas in an obviously consistent and distinguishable language. And if music is a language of some kind, Aria of Vernal Tombs is one message in a loop of synonyms and like-words drawn from a thesaurus.
Music analysis and judgement (of any of its attributes or as a whole) can be done from different vantage points and with different emphases. Generally speaking, there are a few main approaches that are common in pop and metal reviews. Some judge it by its production qualities and its popularity, that is, mainly as a marketable commercial product. Others that are inclined to “feeling” the music will base their reviews on technically uninformed emotional impressions of the music. Others with a limited but comprehensive understanding of the technical will judge music as if it were a contraption, even being able to separate emotional impressions from material achievements of music. These are broad categories but individual reviewers usually fall in grey areas in between them with stronger tendencies towards one or another.
DMU’s approach has traditionally been one of judging music as romantic-era (19th century) literary and music critics would: an attention to evocative results as a function of technical means with a holistic emphasis. What this means is that what is most important is the final and total result and not the individual merits. Additionally, we focus on the lasting evocative power arising from a layered and technically (at the composition level) competent work that moves beyond the technicality itself while not disregarding the musical balance it provides. In music we see the construction of Gothic cathedrals and not modern skyscrapers.
A useful analogy can be made between detailed music appreciation and reverse engineering in software engineering. Some might jump at the thought of comparing the two since “music is not a computer program” but these are nonsensically reductionist complaints. Anyone who truly understands how an analogy works knows that the source of its power arises from the insurmountable distance between the two obviously disparate objects being placed beside each other. The distance and disparity only serves to bring to the fore and underscore the characteristics we are interested in, achieving greater clarity by a negation of the irrelevant. The objects are not equated, they are superimposed. More precisely the main object under analysis is transposed into the space of the second one being used as an analogy.
To understand reverse engineering we must understand the order and direction of original construction. A vague idea is conceived usually behind a foggy screen since the builders have not yet figured out the details of how they will bring this into reality. Then, a step a time and usually with deviations from the original concept, the “material” shape of the concept comes into being. At the other end, when we are presented with a piece of software to reverse engineer, that is to say, to analyze and understand in terms of its parts, what we can see is the materialized concept only. The first step is to understand what this piece of software exactly does as we do not know how it was built. We get to understand what it does by categorizing input and output relations, which direct us towards an understanding its behavior in different situations — different contexts. The result of a successfully reverse-engineered software program is a piece of code whose compiled object behaves the same as the original one in every conceivable way possible. This code is most probably different from the original one, but this is irrelevant since the importance of this code is the understanding and reproducing of the final piece of software. Original software building moves from details and into the solidification of a vision. Reverse engineering moves from the solidified vision and into the details.
In other words, what matters most is the total end result (as in music or software engineering) and not the judging of parts for their own sake (but only in relation as to how they affect that end result). This is why it is important as an analyst to move in a backward manner. But for this to be valuable, the person must understand this holistic result first, and this is only achieved through study and knowledge. This is comparable to the analyst of software who needs to not only see the input and output relations but understand higher-level concepts and probabilistic tendencies derivable from those. In the same way the analyst of music must through his own lenses and knowledge grasp a picture of the whole in its relations between harmony, rhythm and melody derive a map of sequences of movements and balances.
Going from the general to the specific enables us to keep a holistic view in focus. It helps us place the sum of the parts over the individual parts themselves. Trying to pick out the traits first and then judging the whole by making a recapitulation of these is not only obfuscating the whole which some with a more limited understanding judge to be impossible to put in objective terms but can be deceiving of just what the true quality of this work actually is.
To illustrate this point we can observe how appreciation of many so-called progressive acts is carried out. The positive reviews of these usually entail a shopping list of traits to be filled. Tempo changes, signature changes, contrasting moods, variety of instrumentation, instrumental competence, catchy and captivating melodies perhaps, too. An album like Dream Theater’s Images and Words fits these requirements to the letter and yet the result is a messy carnival train wreck that expresses nothing in particular precisely because there is no view of the whole in mind as a musically-balanced entity, but only as a sequence of cool moments.
This phenomenon can also occur through ignorance of what music constitutes. This happens in pop and the so-called symphonic metal, which I will re-baptize with a more honest name: metal-like pop, or just metal pop. In this vein, an album like Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful is received by its fans and judged primarily in terms of how catchy it is. How effective its hooks are and how much they will like its melodies. Arguably a more musically honest affair than the pseudo prog of Dream Theater, this reduces music to only one of its many aspects and judges the whole by its effectiveness.
Finally, I would like to mention the often mis-appreciated Obscura by Gorguts. Ignorant and pretentious journalist twats like Anthony Fantano spewing almost nonsensical and musically irrelevant descriptions such as “intense technicality”, “noisy surprises” and “dizzying structures” of Gorguts’ music in Coloured Sands represent the epitome of the post-modernist hipster’s appreciation of the band’s music. While popular arguments in favor of Obscura include how “technical” it is (while most fans barely even grasp what this actually entails, they think it has to do with how difficult it is to play or hear), how foreboding its atmosphere is while remaining “brutal” (an obviously superficial judgement of quality) or even worse, how “original” (by which they mean different) it is. They’ve basically reduced a masterpiece to “difficult to play and listen to, brutal and quite different from most stuff out there”.
The merits of Obscura are far more subtle than that, as are any real merits resulting from true excellence. The degree to which it sounds superficially different comes from a use of the riff that I would call mystical. That is to say, the riffs and their harmony here no longer represent what they traditionally do, but they remain significant in terms of the operations they build in the context of their neighboring riffs. They stop being translucent symbols that show the way into a harmonic and melodic conclusion and they become opaque, acquiring new meaning — a specific musical function dictated by their author– determined by their positions at different moments that instead causes the mind to reach that conclusion on its own through coherent indirection and dissimilitude of expression within a consistent language. In this, Obscura is the death metal counterpart to Darkthrone’s Transilvanian Hunger.
Stepping away from the dynamic picture that music is and listening for the total results and relations in the big picture enable us to know exactly what to look for as explanations for these. In a way it implies focusing on an interplay between the subjective (our impressions of the whole) and the objective (the music structures themselves) to locate music — itself an expression of beauty, to which the dichotomy of objective and subjective is inapplicable — somewhere in between.
Getting into underground metal styles has never been a straightforward thing for anyone. The exception might be the Cannibal Corpse crowd that approach this music as fix for a certain mood, but see little beyond the most sensual appeal of the music. For those actually trying to appreciate the music anywhere beyond the surface either in a technical manner, it’s significance or the experience it provides beyond simple monochromatic sensual indulgence, the path consists of several steps in not one path but a multitude of paths that conform to the singular state and journey of each listener.
The present list does not attempt to give a template that will fit all as that is impossible. It is simplistic in its attempt to generalize and exemplify. The most important starting assumption is that the listener is at least fond of traditional heavy metal or hard rock in the worse case. I tried to avoid using of overtly offensive gateway bands like Craddle of Filth, Dimmu Borgir or Arch Enemy but these should not be completely discarded as possibilities to enable a smooth and pleasant transition into death and black metal.
For this example of a road map towards understanding and appreciation of death metal I have distinguished five different steps with suitable albums as follows:
I. Easy-going quasi death metal
Carcass – Heartwork
Entombed – Left Hand Path
II. Welcoming and easy-to-understand simple death metal that is only complex on a local level and so can inspire a sense of technical wonder in the listener while maintaining mood.
Death – Spiritual Healing
Adramelech – Psychostasia
Demigod – Slumber of Sullen Eyes
III. Excellent, but mostly on a technical level, with raw power and refinement in style, solid and well-produced albums that do not transcend their technical aspects
Morbid Angel – Covenant
Cryptopsy – None so Vile
Vader – Litany
IV. Authentic, representative of the core of the death metal spirit while being original
Bringing together the grindcore of Napalm Death and the primitive black metal of Bathory and Sarcófago into a death metal way of thinking, Blasphemy gave the world a solid although juvenile Fallen Angel of Doom. Racing in consisting grinding expression while going beyond the riff and into an atmosphere-inducing state as a result of the progression of riffs that is fitting of that primitive black metal, the songs in this album open a portal through which disturbing visions come to alienate us, inducing a feeling of aloneness, doom and fear.
That strong evocation is accomplished from the fusion of these two genres, in my opinion, because they are not just smashed together but rather assembled in a different mold, that of death metal and made into one language. The other thing is that you do not hear interleaving riffs in different styles, although we do hear a good deal of flexibility in riff type in terms of rhythm, texture and note length. The riffs themselves are both completely fitting for grindcore, but it is the duration of their repetition and the effect of their arrangement that results in a similarity with primitive black metal. In order to achieve a stronger result coming from goal-oriented development, the structural-minded songwriting of death metal comes to round off and concentrate the raw energy of the other two genres.
Playing a so-called melodic death metal in the vein of Insomnium, Chronicles try to step up onto the pop metal stage the . Infused with alternative metal inspirations and backed by keyboards playing standard progressions and happy-inspirational melodies, the only thing that tells us this is a metal release is that the drums are intense and that the vocals are growls. The squeaky-clean production is enviable and on par with pop metal divas Nightwish. The way the music elements are carried, the contrast between sections that serve as verse-chorus rather than phrasal progressions place this squarely in the pop modality. The percussive riff carrying the voice, the single-mindedness of the contrasting riffs also point towards a metalcore inspiration. By the third track (which is actually the second song in the album) they have already introduced mellow and comforting young-man vocals. In line with the modern tradition, when attempting to create variety, the band introduces incoherence in their music. Song’s are basically a long “inspirational melody” intro, pointless verse-chorus exchange, incoherent bridge and unrelated outro and/or verse chorus.
M.H.X.’s Chronicles have managed to unite in Infinite Ocean the diva-esque attitude of Nightwish, the boring melodic-based flatness of Insomnuim, the superficial pretentiousness of Epica and the easy-catchy, dumbed-down songwriting of metalcore inspired on Slaughter of the Soul. In other words we have here the summary of modern metal pop banality.
Self-identifying with the “Slam” tag, Dysentery play a mid-paced, groove-oriented deathcore. The music is based on two poles. The first is very simple grooving rhythms either in slow tempo or in blast-beat-ridden sections with very obvious and simple stress points. The second is the use of pinch harmonics (aka squeals) to round off some phrases.
The music shows a single-minded ambition: grooving brutality. Simple rhythmic indulgence in a pleasure-oriented music. As such, this music is little more than the reggaeton of “extreme” metal. The band might as well change their guitars and drums for a computer software simulator of a mixer and start playing with beats and singing about big-ass girls and how macho you are and what not.
While not profoundly insulting as most bands pretending to play black metal, Nyseius just plays very boring black metal. Now, this isn’t just an emotional remark, I have concrete reasons linked to the music’s construction to back it up and say what it is relevant. Nyseius is also rooted in the modern misunderstanding of black metal by its outer traits. Thinking that black metal consists in ad nauseam repetition of samey riffs to create atmosphere. And they get stuck in this word, atmosphere, as if it were music itself and not an effect of certain music. And thus they attempt to create that thing itself, mistaking it for music. This is the abysmal trap in which all metal that willingly identifies itself with that word falls into.
Arnold Schoenberg said that variation itself did not need justification, it was a merit on its own. He also said that this variation needed to be harnessed and guided by an equally powerful and balancing restraint and coherence. But in discussing De Divinatione Daemonum the first aspect becomes the most pertinent since this music lacks variation. Bent on forcing the creation and sustaining of this atmosphere, this featureless mass, this wall of same-length notes only seldom breathes in order to continue aimlessly towards oblivion.
The last factor that drives this into a wreck is that they have infected black metal with the superficial craving to be extreme. This is what drives them to this dissonance, and an ignorant use of dissonance at that. Dissonance not as a tool of tonal music, not even a dissonant musical language, it is just the use of single dissonant chords for their own sake, for the momentary and twisted satisfaction that it can bring to the human ear. Exemplifying yet another dead end of metal caused by a superficial appreciation of the classics or of music in general, Nyseius will gradually fade into oblivion as purposelessly as the notes they put together into atmosphere, not music.
The phrase The Absence of Void (or in other words “not nothing”) basically means the same as “something”. If we indulge in its mystic inclination, the phrase is not about pointing out that there is or there isn’t something but emphasizing the importance of having something. It is almost a description of the emotionally needy and it describes the music in this album very well.
As is common with all the uppity and profound hipster black metallers, they care little for the right tone and color in the genre and will paint it with brushes from indie rock and any other happy-dumby expression. This would not matter if they went all the way and just made indie rock, but it is the discrepancy between black metal and their post-metal penchant for happy and light passages that furthermore are only indulgences in the moments that do not build on the song that show this music for what it is: emotional neediness that just wants something, that just wants to not have nothing.
Although some, including the band, will probably try to claim to be related to metal, this is nothing but post-metal dressed as black metal. Once you get to the middle of the album the song “Alma” will completely dispel any doubts (on a separate note, this completely NOT metal song is probably the best song in the album, also the only honest one). So we shall judge it “on its own grounds” as some superficialists would say. Post-metal fails even on its own grounds. Music that only stagnates in an “atmospheric” moment and then introduces another stasis. It’s a different kind of musical masturbation from technical wanking. This is emotional wanking with sounds.