The Art of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-shirts and More by Martin Popoff and Malcolm Dome

November 29, 2013 –
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As the interest in heavy metal history continues to grow, it’s natural that attention will eventually expand outside the music. Visual aesthetics have long been important in metal, whether that is album covers presenting an experience before the first note or posters chronicling infamous concerts, in addition to the general culture of style metal imposes on itself.

Newly released tome The Art of Metal: Five Decades of Heavy Metal Album Covers, Posters, T-shirts and More seeks to compile this history in chronological form. Stretching from the early proto-metal bands, up through the NWOBHM, and then reaching the current day; the book attempts to complement visual reproductions with analyzing artistic development from the perspective of the artists and musicians themselves.

A coffee-table style book clocking in at 224 pages, The Art of Metal can be picked up for $30 via Amazon.

Ritual Decay – Conquering Darkness

November 18, 2013 –

ritual_decay-conquering_darknessHere at DMU HQ, we see many potential topics for review. Some are terrible, and are sent to receive a public shaming via Sadistic Metal Reviews. Most are average, doing something somewhat competently but not in a unique fashion worthy of note; these we mention in passing or let languish in silence. The smallest group is that which does something uniquely and with room for potential future development. It is in this last group that we find Ritual Decay, with extracts from their upcoming demo Conquering Darkness.

The eponymous track is a winding, minimalist affair. The more thoroughly composed of the two tracks, it presents a slower form of death metal informed through the black metal tradition, though this track does not quite reach the same level of sinister malaise that this description might evoke.

Coming to the listener from a distance, the production sounds subterranean and contributes to the narrative by forming a bleak backdrop for minor tonal variation to paint color on. However, this is interrupted to an extent by the up-front placement of the drums and their prominent use within the song. The guitars’ motif endures throughout the entire track, undergoing modification as it progresses, but still retaining a common melodic and rhythmic base reinforced by drum patterns that provide forward motion. Where this track succeeds is in the way various riffs fit together to communicate commonality to the overall sensation, though still providing a definite direction in movement to a place related to the beginning, but identifiably unique.

The second track is much shorter and also more forgettable. Having more in common with a punk influence than with death or black metal, particularly in the vocal rhythm and delivery; this is a direct forward assault that does not come close to instigating the sense of foreboding that the preceding track did. Riffs are competent enough, though not enough to induce a desire for repeat listening, seeming more a collection of riffs, than a full-fleshed song; though this may be part of the nature of a demo.

There is a core of talent present within this band; though at least in the two tracks presented so far, the band is suffering from stylistic confusion in how to best amalgamate its various influences. If the band has the opportunity to explore ideas in greater detail, it will be interesting to see how the music develops in the future; hopefully keeping what is done well and discarding the rest.

Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell

November 11, 2013 –

blitzkrieg-back_from_hellBritish NWOBHM band Blitzkrieg have returned with a new album, entitled Back From Hell. Melodic while still retaining structure, this album will appeal to fans of 80s era heavy metal, as well as those who prefer death/black metal but can appreciate skillfully constructed metal whatever form it may take.

Back From Hell has the band mostly keeping true to the traditional NWOBHM sound, with a few elements of further-developed speed metal present. Songs are expertly arranged, with each track featuring a clearly developed concept that never loses focus. This allows immersion within the verse-chorus structure and quickly illuminates the theme present within each. Verse and chorus are linked together with skillful transitions that makes the distinction between them organic, rather than artificial. Ornaments such as solos and fills are executed tastefully, with an eye towards shaping them into the song rather than the reverse.

Tracks are a mixture between heavier material and those that have more in common with 90s radio hard-rock and seem placed solely for commercial exposure. On these tracks the band forgoes thematic development in favor of repetition. Fortunately, those are the exception and not the rule; and while they do interrupt the album’s narrative to an extent, are still competently conceived.

Exuberant and honest in a way rarely seen among contemporary metal releases, in its best moments Back From Hell transports the listener back to a time when heavy metal was still exciting, and for that reason will be present on many best-of lists for 2013, even if it is marred by some concessions.

Stray Bullets Kill – Sons of Southern Darkness

October 25, 2013 –

stray_bullets_kill-sons_of_southern_darknessImmediately from the first note, this release captures attention. It begins with a focused and powerful assault that is refreshing in its youthful vigor. Unsubtle, it shamelessly bashes ahead with simple yet engaging song structures that are well suited for live performance.

Compositionally an intersection of punk and metal, Sons of Southern Darkness features the linear powerchord riffs of punk combined with transitional single-string motifs reminiscent of speed metal. Songs are short three or four minute affairs, typically verse-chorus with new riffs materializing in the second half in order to provide differentiation. Vocals are low pitched shouts; in their best moments primordial battle cries fully materialized, however at times sound a bit strained and evoke the “angry man in a phone booth” mentality. Drums are present without being overbearing; the drummer is adept at knowing when to follow the guitars and when to differentiate, providing an added layer of nuance.

Aesthetically, this a release that straddles decades. Its core is from the 80s and 90s, however from its production and overall consistency it is decidedly a modern release. This allows the band to avoid entropy by being yet another “retro” tribute band and move their form in a unique fashion, providing an intriguing foundation for those interested in seeing the current generation strive for the art of the old without wallowing in nostalgia. However, those that compare it to its progenitors will probably find it lacking.

Sons of Southern Darkness can be picked up via the Stray Bullets Kill Bandcamp page for £2 (around $3.25).

Triptykon records Melana Chasmata to be unleashed April 14, 2014

October 22, 2013 –

triptykon-melana_chasmataBack in August, we revealed that Triptykon had begun finalizing their second record. We can now report that the band has announced further information concerning the album.

Entitled Melana Chasmata, the second Triptykon opus will be released on April 14th via Prowling Death Records and distributed through Century Media. Song titles and descriptions for Melana Chasmata suggest it to be in a similar vein to the Monotheist/Eparistera Daimones era, with allusions to Crowleyan occultism and personal reflection.

Former Celtic Frost/Hellhammer founder Tom Warrior said of the album:

We have been working on Melana Chasmata for some three years, in various shapes and forms. It’s not an easy album by any means, and to me personally it reflects an extremely complex gestation period, musically, spiritually, and, due to certain circumstances in my life, emotionally. At the same time, the album unquestionably reflects the continuity I was longing for so much during Celtic Frost’s period of self-destruction and demise. Hearing Triptykon creating such utter darkness again while exploring the potential of these new songs has been incredibly invigorating and inspiring.

Additionally, the band announced initial dates for the album’s touring season. The band will once again be participating in the Roadburn Festival, which was host to the event Triptykon curated in 2010, launching their first worldwide tour.

     
2/21/14 Bergen, Norway Blastfest 2014
4/13/14 Tilburg, Holland Roadburn Festival 2014
4/20/14 Munich, Germany (Backstage) Dark Easter Metal Meeting 2014

Black Altar – Suicidal Salvation

October 11, 2013 –
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black_altar-suicidal_salvationIf you’re tired of having fruity alt-rock interrupting your metal experience, you’re not alone. Polish black metal band Black Altar is set to release their EP Suicidal Salvation via Darker than Black Records; and thankfully, the release avoids many of the flaws of contemporary bands.

Playing black metal in a modern style, Black Altar builds songs based around winding guitar riffs and arpeggios. Vocals are of the shouted lower-pitched variety: strong, though rather derivative of the melodies established by the guitars. Drums are present in a minimal role which matches the needs of the guitar-voiced music. What deserves special mention is the layering present within riffs: the band is able to construct overlapping riffs that simultaneously merge and deviate.

This provides a more complex listening experience than there would be otherwise, amplified by synthesized instruments, somewhat reminiscent of Burzum or Beherit. Production (for this genre) is clear, allowing each element room to be heard. This allows each to have more individual impact but decreases atmosphere for the whole.

The release is not covering any new ground; what it does has been done before. There may not be any moments of discovery, crying “Eureka!” as original black metal inspires. However, what the band has in its favor is that it does its style well and provides an intriguing listening experience amid a field of bands increasingly bland and indistinguishable. Thus, it lends itself well to being a soundtrack to an afternoon at work — or desecrating a burning church.

Satyricon – Satyricon

September 26, 2013 –

satyricon-satyriconWhat do musicians do when the drive to create has vanished?

When the label is clamoring for something new, does the band bow down and fulfill the request, or do they uphold standards? Black metal in particular has struggled with these questions for over a decade, with a myriad of responses. Some have chosen to retreat completely, seeking refuge in the wild.

Some have become exasperated with the genre, turning to electronic music before returning in glory. Others have waged war on modernity, risking well-being in pursuit of these goals. However, the greatest number have bowed to the wishes of the crowd and released a product that was quickly forgotten, which is where Satyricon’s self-titled album falls.

Embodying all that is lazy and lethargic, Satyricon is an excellent example of modern black metal ethos. Black metal only on the surface, the album is musically a hard rock/heavy metal album designed for max promotional appeal. Simple riffs with obvious sequencing, simple implementation, and solid production produce a well-shaped package that undoubtedly will allow the band to increase its commercial influence.

Sounding like a tribute to Fallen-era Burzum‘s minor-chord noodling but lacking even what little sense of spirit that album possessed, the band chucks in references to pop and blues cliches as if the label funded a study aimed at producing the most cookie-cutter album conceivable, then shared the results to the band…and let’s not delve into the collaboration with Sivert Høyem.

There is nothing here for readers of this site to enjoy, except for the more morbid members among us. This album goes nowhere. It has nothing to impart. And perhaps most damning, it’s not even terrible. It is simply a non-entity.

Gorgoroth to release Instinctus Bestialis in early 2014

September 16, 2013 –
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gorgoroth-black_metalNorwegian black metal band Gorgoroth have announced a tentative schedule for their new album, Instinctus Bestialis. In a recent interview, the band stated that their goal was to have the album released by the early part of 2014, later adding that the demos had already been finalized.

This will be the band’s first release with this lineup; having replaced vocalist Pest with Atterigner, vocalist for modern black metal band Triumfall. In 2009, Gorgoroth released Quantos Possunt ad Satanitatem Trahunt, which saw the band furthering their post-millennial style of playing black-flavored heavy metal, relying primarily on verse-chorus arrangements.

Most relevant for their ’90s work, the decade saw Gorgoroth perfecting the style of melodic narrative metal, linear yet intriguing in its possibilities. Simultaneously unsettling and inviting, Gorgoroth bridged the gap between the progenitors of the genre and the many bands that would later follow.

The band will be touring in support of Instinctus Bestialis, starting in March and beginning in Europe, with Hoest from Taake on vocals. No tour dates have yet been announced.

Cóndor – Nadia

August 19, 2013 –

condor-nadiaOne of the enduring critiques of modern metal bands is their lack of stylistic coherence. The mashing of various genres and influences over the course of an album with no unifying principle produces a product that is difficult to absorb from start to finish.

On their newly released album Nadia, Cóndor attempt to solve this dilemma by creating what may best be described as contemplative metal. Composed with a purpose, the metal sections of the album album consist primarily of low-to-mid-paced riffs ranging the gamut from doom, death, and black metal. These are complimented by influences from progressive rock, in which tonal contrasts add nuance and a way of connecting differing parts within the album.

What this band does well is elegantly shaping this vast array of influences into a package that is understandable and actually enjoyable to listen to. Everything is structured with care and attention, avoiding the “genres in a blender” sensation that many of their contemporaries produce. Throughout the span of a single track, snapshots of each moment lead organically into the next, while low-pitched vocals provide a sturdy framework and induce continuity. At the conclusion of the album, the listener feels as if he experienced something meaningful, which is at the heart of metal and unfortunately is something that often seems missing among contemporary bands.

Curmudgeons (of which the author admittedly is) will initially be put off by the non-metal elements and unorthodox structure. However, when viewed in context of the whole, these fall into place and do achieve meaning within the album, producing something both the strident Hessian and modern metal fan can appreciate.