Death Metal Underground

Mayhem – Esoteric Warfare

June 30, 2014 –

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Black metal band reformed as nu-metal powerhouse Mayhem released their latest album Esoteric Warfare on June 6, 2014. Much like late-career albums from Triptykon and Massacra, the latest Mayhem shows that as a metal band ages the probability of it becoming Pantera or Southern Fried rock approaches one.

Although the album communicates little to no artistry or depth, it offers a strong example of how to successfully appeal to one’s commercial audience by being both digestible and using lots of hard and heavy sounds the audience recognizes as dangerous… if they came in any other form than a commercial product. Esoteric Warfare creates a blueprint for success by appropriating nu-metal’s populist simplification of the speed metal style of mono-dimensional lower-string muted riffing and sprinkling it with the pixie dust of commercial black metal aesthetics..

The band thus builds its appeal entirely from catchy central riffs which are so reduced in complexity that one is capable of comprehending them on first listen. The rest is garnish: the introductions, acoustic breaks, spoken word sections, black metal fireworks, seemingly random caesuras and even some death metal technique that randomly flares in the midst of the thudding rhythmic hook. This album belongs more to the exoteric, or easily and equally grasped at first contact, than the esoteric like older black metal, which deepened in revelation the more the listener devoted his or her consciousness to exploring it.

With the latest generation, the rock-metal hybrid that industry has always wanted rears its ugly head here. The new innovation is this tendency to break up the monotony with garnish, which allows the monotonic lower register riffs to drone on with strategic breaks to remind the listener that the entirety of an album does not necessarily need to sound indistinguishable however much the band may be seemingly trying to lead it in that direction. Complete sonic pointlessness does not dissolve, but rather mutates into a more friendly and funky exterior, thus allowing the listener an escape from a complete degradation of metal as an art form into a complete degradation of jazz as an art form. Whether that constitutes progress will be left to the view of the reader.

Empire Auriga – Ascending the Solar Throne

June 23, 2014 –

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American ambient-metal band Empire Auriga’s second album Ascending the Solar Throne expands the style pioneered by Burzum through the “Decrepitude” I& II tracks from “anti-black metal” album Filosofem. Ascending the Solar Throne comprises songs that are cold, distant, and simplistic. These spacious compositions rely on the repetition of arpeggiated guitars providing a base for reverb-drenched and piercing treble guitars to shine through, along with an anguished yet faint vocal accompaniment. Although the band forgoes the use of percussion entirely, tempi are regular and recursive song segments are identifiable. Synths or heavy guitar effects lightly sprinkle the mix almost as decoration, enhancing the presentation of the album but not interfering with its texture.

Expressing the desolation of technological existence, Empire Auriga weaves a journey through an inner experience of an individual separated from the external world of perception through pain, before coming to rest in a more peaceful place. Gradually moving from aggressive and dissonant chords in the beginning towards a calmer and safer mild major key conclusion, Ascending the Solar Throne is unfortunately unable to complete the journey which is hinted at in the opening tracks. Instead of turning the nihilism present into existential achievement, the album instead retreats into the safe and vacuous womb which afflicts most post-modern music.

Rather than confronting the question of one’s existence directly, as Filosofem did so elegantly, the choice instead is made to ignore it. This disappointment aside, Ascending the Solar Throne is an interesting album which attempts something rare in contemporary music: an artistic voyage. For that reason, it deserves consideration and acknowledgment where it succeeds, but ultimately the listener will be left slightly hollow and bereft.

Ascending the Solar Throne will be released on August 19th via Moribund Records.

Corrosion of Conformity – IX

June 9, 2014 –

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Former thrash band Corrosion of Conformity will release their latest album on June 24th via Candlelight Records.

Entitled IX (it would appear the band scrapped the earlier title, Corinthians) the album sees COC continuing their recent pattern of mixing rock with a non-threatening and reduced version of their punk trajectory. Hook-driven riffs array to complement the sing-along nature of the vocal tracks. When vocals cease, guitar riffs pick up the sugar-candy melodic impulse and continue it onwards, with easy post-Sabbath riffing and bland solos which quickly fade from memory into the formless void. Simplistic in its catchiness, this album bears some semblance to Cathedral’s final album in that it represents a band stripped of impetus, creating entertainment as opposed to art. Although the talent and skill of the members involved still leaks through, thus lending the album more credence than many of its contemporaries, and probably earning them well-deserved financial success and recognition, nothing can save the lack of purpose to this album.

Corrosion of Conformity, along with DRI and Cryptic Slaughter, helped construct the genre known as thrash, which brought the epic quality of metal together with the topical focus of punk in a high-energy cocktail that inspired a strong reaction from an alienated generation. Although it was not simple protest music, the heroic looking-forward present in thrash stands in contrast to its anger and regret in an organic circle of experience, which is particularly stark when returning from the obscene vapidity present on album IX.

Incubus – Incubus re-issued by Vic Records

May 27, 2014 –

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In the mid-late 80s death metal was still a vital force in which the standards of the genre were established. The new genre differentiated itself from speed metal several years before, but techniques common to both genres still overlapped without seeming artificial as they would when re-introduced later to make death metal more audience-friendly. This period gave rise to many bands which command universal respect today, but there were also a number of smaller projects which nevertheless imparted the same artistic drive and skill.

Recently reissued Incubus self-titled EP Incubus takes a short three-track voyage through the hinterlands of death metal’s darker yet constructive twisting of prior genre forms. Taking the work of Slayer, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, and other proto-death metal bands, and moving it into more extreme directions, this is the same trajectory from which Morbid Angel spawned an entire lineage within the genre.

Adept at tempo shifts, in addition to a layering of guitar tones ranging from the subterranean to the celestial, in only three tracks Incubus wrangles a distinctive creation with the trademark frenetic energy of death metal and the more hookish speed metal. Artistically coherent in a way that is rarely if ever seen today, this reminder of genuine purpose married to cultivated skill is very much worth hearing again, or particularly for the first time. Incubus will be released on June 16th via Vic Records.

Horrid – Sacrilegious Fornication

May 20, 2014 –

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The anthemic, direct energy form of death metal is one of the most recognizable strains of the many sub-groupings within the genre. Possibly the most popular type of death metal, it bridges the gap from heavy and speed metal to more developed and darker forms of metal. For most listeners, this zone stretches from Judas Priest Painkiller to Morbid Angel Covenant with many stops in between.

On Sacrilegious Fornication, Italian death metal band Horrid go back to this method of composition (along with ubiquitous Sunlight Studious production) in an attempt to root their latest album in traditional, tried & true death metal creation. Taking inspiration from bands such as (early) Death, Massacra, and Entombed, the well-crafted balance between melody and ferocity that each band embodied is preserved.

By keeping relatively straightforward time, rhythms are simple enough to understand at first listen, freeing the mind to appreciate the whole of the composition without being thrown off by faux-complexity. While simple, riffs are not low-minded, as the phrasal nature of them trancends verse-chorus limitations and provides the framework for vocals and drums to fit in on either side of the melee, merging into technological barrages that wind their way through a journey of war and death.

Some critics may wish to dismiss bands such as Horrid for being just another “Entombed clone” among dozens. While it’s true that there isn’t much to laud here as being “unique,” what instead can be appreciated is the quality of the music, its careful arrangement, and the enjoyment of listening to an album that respects the higher forms of death metal and wishes to preserve them into the present generation.

Sacrilegious Fornication was released on May 1st and is available from Dunkelheit Produktionen.

Incantation – Dirges of Elysium

May 13, 2014 –

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For over two decades, Incantation has been one of the leading innovators of death metal. Although it never received the public accolades worthy of its contributions, Incantation represented a titanic figure in the underground scene that created works of more consistent quality than that of its contemporaries, although as with all bands from metal’s golden age there’s been a noticeable tiredness creeping into its work.

On Incantation‘s latest album Dirges of Elysium the tiredness reveals how it has spread to composition. While the traditional core of recognizable Incantation shines through at times, audible indications of decline present themselves on every track. The band did not attempt to create something to move either upwards or forwards, but instead sullenly sinks back into uninspired riffs and concessions to the contemporary marketplace.

Incantation displayed willingness from its very beginning to stretch the realms of death metal, particularly with slowed-down tempos of doom metal; however, when the band did this it was well-placed within the order of the present track and was synonymous with the expression of the blistering assault book-ending it on either side. On this album, this expert sense of structure is greatly reduced. Rather than being weaved together in an organic whole, riffs are placed parallel to each other with little to bind them together. While some riffs are competent, the lack of any unifying cohesion to the album leaves them stranded as brief moments of interest.

Although the core of the album remains as death metal, there are also hints where the veneer cracks: straightforward speed metal riff fragments signify the lack of imagination present and the simplistic pounding of palm-muted riffs occasionally approaches the knuckleheadedness of post-hardcore bands. The speed metal influence as inherited through its hybrid with jazz-lite and math metal in metalcore presents a subtle but pervasive decline to the integrity of the palette Incantation uses. When throwaway riffs and foot-tapping crowd pleasers become acceptable random h’ors d’ouvres among the meatier riffs, chaos has overcome order.

It is also worth mentioning the final track as a case study in decline. Clocking in at almost 17 minutes in length, this song completely dominates the album in terms of proportion. While this author was excited to hear this composition, the fact is that this track is extraordinarily difficult to listen to. It is the entropic decline of the entire genre expressed: a reduction of everything to faux-angst, lazy generalities that signify no individual artistic direction. A modern mess and doom/speed metal disaster, it is very hard to imagine that this track (and album) was composed by the same band that released some of the best death metal albums of all time.

Readers are advised to temper their expectations before listening. Dirges of Elysium will be released on June 24th via Listenable Records.

Incantation – “Carrion Prophecy” from Dirges of Elysium

May 1, 2014 –

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Foundational death metal band Incantation have released the first single off their upcoming album, Dirges of Elysium. Entitled “Carrion Prophecy,” the single showcases Incantation widening the extent of their genre limit and leaning in the direction of modernity’s post-death metal doom/sludge marketplace.

While half of the song creeps by in this fashion, which is far below the par of structural arrangement Incantation has demonstrated in the past, the track picks up whenever this riff fragment concludes. Here, the band plays more to the level of their ability of merging torrential bursts of arpeggiation alongside their unique rhythmic signature of straightforward American death metal alongside the more dextrous, syncopated “push-pull” structures that easily identify bands from that original era and location, including Immolation alongside Incantation.

Incantation’s throwback to their past discography along with more mainstream song structures lends credence to the notion that Dirges of Elysiumwill be similar to their last album, Vanquish in Vengeance, which surpassed the artistic vision of many contemporary releases but ultimately fell short of the artistic heights of the past. However, we here at DMU headquarters remain hopeful that this track is merely intended for commercial distribution and does not necessarily reflect the tone of the entire album.

Dirges of Elysium will be released, in the US, on June 24th via Listenable Records.

Judas Priest announce Redeemer of Souls

April 28, 2014 –

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Legendary heavy metal band Judas Priest have released their first new music following the departure of longtime guitarist K.K. Downing. Entitled “Redeemer of Souls,” it is the first single off the upcoming album of the same name. It reveals a band simultaneously keeping with modern expectations of heavy metal composition and production and staying loyal to their roots in the NWOBHM movement.

“Redeemer of Souls” will trigger mixed reactions. While it shows some updated sound, this track at least is standard heavy metal fare, avoiding the later attempts of the band to update their sound after the explosion of speed metal reshaped the metal landscape. In a statement, guitarist Glenn Tipton confirmed the conservative nature of the album:

Sometimes in the past we may have come under fire for being too adventurous musically – so we have listened…From start to finish, Redeemer of Souls is 13 songs of pure classic Priest metal.

Judas Priest achieved its universal acclaim for its development of heavy metal into a cogent, distinct art form. Later to become one of the two main pillars of speed metal’s foundation (along with punk), the band has maintained its central status as a metal icon for decades, despite perhaps a natural decline as the band goes into its fifth decade. Redeemer of Souls will be released in America on July 15th via Epic Records.

Crucifix – Visions of Nihilism

April 24, 2014 –

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Texan death metal band Crucifix released multiple demos during the early 1990s which showcased the band’s development of percussive death metal into an artistic voice instead of participation in a trend. Like many other neglected bands who were ahead their time, the band never released a full album. Those who desire a collection of the band’s original material can now obtain it through the efforts of Dark Blasphemies Records.

Visions of Nihilism displays the blueprint for the sub-genre that came into fruition along with bands such as Suffocation and Baphomet. By relying on bursts of energy that emanated from palm-muted guitars, which alternated with structured rhythmic variations of tempo, Crucifix simultaneously achieved a morbid atmosphere and created forward motion by extending and contracting the components of a song, like a slinky falling down into a dungeon.

Dark Blasphemies released this compilation of demo material as Visions of Nihilism in homage to the name of the the band’s planned but unrecorded album. An enjoyable return to death metal’s spirited and threatening years, the CD can be picked up from Dark Blasphemies Records’ bandcamp page for €6 (around $8).