Last year we covered Triguna‘s debut (Embryonic Forms) with some enthusiasm, placing hopes on their amateur form of discernment and enthusiasm in the writing of progressive speed metal. The first album shows a band that is still a little awkward around expression but displays a latent vision for natural development and a holistic consideration of affairs. Their following EP, released officially on February 11, shows work in the same direction with a little more confidence. The evolution of Triguna’s style has not yet reached a stable point, and may still seem a little rushed or incoherent to the average listener, since they still need more practice in inserting their songs’ “progressive” sections. But these interruptions and twists don’t rob the songs of a coherent narrative, and the upcoming content seems worthy of further study and attention.
Embryonic Forms can be purchased at Triguna’s Bandcamp.
Dream Theater never ceases to surprise you; not in a good way, but in how they can always reach the next level of selling out. Not that they were ever produced honest music, though one might excuse their progressive speed hard rock debut (When Dream and Day Unite), at least a little, I guess. Their brand of messy and random stitching of unrelated ideas in a mixture of hard rock and outright Disney pop has gone through a long series of transformations; a move to fool audiences with the typical “constantly reinventing ourselves” excuse that allows them to keep being random.
The band has suffered several crises, even televised ones that would make any telenovella envy them (Portnoy leaves, Dream Theater holds mock audiences to “choose” a pre-selected drummer). They’ve moved with the waves, going dense and long with Systematic Chaos to entice those fans who like to believe themselves metal, then softening up a little with the influence of overrated poser-band Pink Floyd in Black Clouds and Silver Linings to produce long pop songs with some funny stabs at being metal. After that, 2011’s A Dramatic Turn of Events saw them go for their most retro attempt at imitating real progressive rock, with some interesting ideas and passages but ultimately resulting in the bloated and boring pieces their fans expect from them.
Whenever they aren’t busy putting together one of these Broadway soundtracks structured as carnival music, they will be repackaging previous material into more compilations or stuffing their lobotomized fans with yet another live album. Dream Theater lives the KISS dream, with similar tactics, minus the extreme sexual decadence, making them apt for audiences of all ages. A few weeks ago, they released an album that has taken particularly long in arriving, named The Astonishing for major catchiness and acceptance. This album is a two-disc package divided into thirty-four different tracks, but this is no The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, and Dream Theater does not even attempt to keep single four-minute songs coherent. They switch from inspirational soundtrack bullshit to gay-pop ballad mode with little to no preparation, only to follow it up by a head-bobbing hard rock groove that is never too aggressive so as to appear actually threatening.
Daddy-rock, Disney-pop and conscious attempts at being as lame as Hans Zimmer have brought Dream Theater to where they are. Sometimes they try to be Pink Floyd, but not too much, lest they be recognized, since Pink Floyd does not have too much they can actually call their own but a lazy syncopated sort of pop rock with bluesy guitar (I really can’t stop laughing when people praise Gilmour as some kind of revolutionary; he was a good guitarist, period). Sometimes they try to go Genesis, but they do not have the consistency, the concentration or the actual creativity, so they resort to disguising their lack of composition talents by attaching whatever they can come up to the latest they wrote down, no matter how nonsensical it is. At this point, Dream Theater sounds like senile Avenged Sevenfold trying to be old Genesis but forgetting about it every other minute as, if they already have Alzheimer’s.
Sacrificium Carmen have released some very generic black metal on this album, made up of moderate-to-fast-paced songs with lots of chunky speed metal riffs and admittedly impressive strained-sounding vocals. Overall, my impression of Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa is negative for two main reasons: Lack of innovation (meaning that the band makes no effort to develop and express their own unique perspective using the black metal template) and a disregard for the necessities that make traditional black metal an engaging listen (hint: it’s more than just grindy distortion and screamed lyrics).
Regarding the album’s merits: Sacrificium Carmen do well by avoiding any “post-black metal” trappings (some examples being forced “prog” tendencies, ominous chanting, and corny sound effects), and they steer clear of any “ambient” influences, which means the music is fairly lean and efficient. Each song begins and ends purposefully, rather than diverging into some ambiguous territory surrounded by extramusical showboating, as many contemporary black metal bands are wont. For this, Sacrificium Carmen deserve credit; the musicians rely on themselves and their instruments only, eschewing digitally-generated sound textures, operatic vocals, “found sounds” and so forth, to achieve their vision. Each song is generally through-composed, and all melodies are readily found in the Official Dogmatic Compendium of Black Metal Minor Chord Sequences™. All of the instruments are played proficiently (and the vocals are exceptionally aggressive), but the level of musical complexity is low throughout the album, so this details neither adds to nor detracts from the album’s quality.
This “less-is-more” approach is usually a good one for bands to take when playing black metal, because the best black metal is minimalist in that it does not have any bits of ornamentation to distract from the purpose of the music, which is to evoke in the imagination visions of spiritual horror in a world dominated by chaotic violence. This is where Sacrificium Carmen’s music falls short – invoking imagination. There is just no darkness or danger to the melodies, only all-too-human frustration, which sounds emotively impotent and discouraging to listen to. Most of the riffs in Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa would not be out of place on a contemporary punk album; just replace Sacrificium Carmen’s vocalist with some faux-gruff cigarette-smoke-choked burn out and have him sing with self-conscious irony about how stupid religious fundamentalists are, or how much he hates his landlord, and you’d have a product that would sell to clueless teenagers in the suburban Midwestern United States.
Melodies in Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa never reach a high enough level of tension to evoke any visions; they are too direct and sound self-centered. By this, I mean that any song’s series of riffs are actually static, whirlpool-like revolutions around the song’s own rhythmic and melodic center. The riffs anticipate a return to whatever was the last-heard rhythmic hook, rather than communicate through melodic contrast with the riffs that precede and follow. Early (and successful) black metal bands achieved tension by chaining together riffs in such a way that each segment of melody would act to destruct the preceding segment and, simultaneously, enhance the following segment, not granting the listener a chance to dwell on any one particular pleasantly hooky riff, but impelling them to take the current melody at face value and embrace the ephemerality of that melody. Because of this constant dialogue taking place throughout a song, coherence could be maintained, even while the song’s tempo or scale shifts and dynamics may even fluctuate wildly. Meanwhile, every song on Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa appears focused on a conclusion at all times, diminishing the immediate experience. Possibly as a result of this weakness, the dynamic range of any given song is quite narrow. This does not automatically make any songs bad, but given everything else that is going on (or not) in this album, it makes for a boring listen, unless you’ve always wanted to hear a punk band with a black metal vocalist.
In short, Ikuisen Tulen Kammiossa is not a record that classic black metal fans will want to spend much time with. When judged as rock music in general, the album does not commit any irredeemable sins, and may be a fun listen while pounding beers or taking a drive with your girlfriend who hates Darkthrone. But when judged as black metal and measured against those albums in the black metal canon, you may find that the album has more shortcomings than can be excused.
Straight from the peak of the death metal movement comes the French band Catacomb and their 1993 demo / EP In the Maze of Kadath. The production is suitable and enhances the vibe that any death metal band would want, saved from overproduction by the limitations of its time and probably band finances. It is the sort of release that from the time period that has all the right examples of its betters so that it can produce an appropriate atmosphere, but its capacity to create something original and valuable of its own is shaky at best.
Songs are introduced by a monochromatic piano, not unlike that of Goatcraft on All for Naught. After a short passage, the band proceeds to pick motifs from it and move on to a very consciously “progressive” treatment of the music. As I have said before, all good death metal is progressive music, in the sense of the word’s original usage when describing classic and jazz inspired rock bands of the early seventies. Bands that sound more explicitly and intentionally progressive are usually trying something closer to through-composition. The dangers of through-composition, however, can be seen in how acts such as The Chasm meander into nothingness, or in the corners of Timeghoul’s longer explorations, which they barely keep together. Catacomb is an example of a band biting off more than it can chew. While not outright offensive, one gets the feeling that the songs’ storylines get lost, and part of this is because it’s difficult to tell if Catacomb has a clearly defined style or not. It is more like a collection of atmospheric death metal tropes combined with more conventional technique closer to a traditional/speed metal approach, although Catacomb tends to perform at middling tempos.
One strength of this band on In The Maze of Kadath is their haunting use of keyboard, its sound complementing the tone of the guitar as they play in unison. This is a subtlety lost on modern bands who fail to notice how a huge and devouring guitar sound eats up the space where a keyboard would spread to get that truly haunting feeling. Less admirable are the random guitar solos with very little staying power (a lack of correspondence with the music, with which it only shares tonal coherence) and often awkward-sounding arpeggiations. All in all, this is an enjoyable but unimpressive and forgettable work music. If you wanted the progressive ‘chops’ with the dark atmosphere, Timeghoul provides a much better delivery. If that proves too gnarly and the reader only wants that spacey, desolate sound, Thergothon’s Stream from the Heavens would be a far more compelling and potent choice. In the Maze of Kadath may please momentarily and entertain for its cult status, but musically, anything it has to offer has been realized more convincingly in the works of others.
Article by David Rosales, 3rd installment of a 7 part series
The word “artificial” denotes anything that is made by man, and which would not otherwise occur in the natural world. Likewise, anything that is “natural” is something that belongs to nature, not a conscious product of human design. Art itself is artificial, as its name suggests, and this very definition has lead modernist artists to trip catastrophically into the pitfall of abstract thought: confusing reality with its verbal definition.
The premise of modernist art is that since all art is artificial, then it should not matter how far away from natural human perception we take the art. The idea appears to be logical, at least on the surface, but it has mislead generations of artists who ending producing worthless (but “interesting”) garbage. Alas, logic is not enough to make an idea compatible with reality, and incorrect or incomplete premises and assumptions will invariably lead to flawed conclusions. The mistake here lies in ignoring the premise that while everything that is produced by humans is artificial, the consumer is only a natural organism, which only has natural means of achieving this consumption or utilization. This can be said of anything that our species makes use of: chairs are made so that our bodies are comfortable, food is prepared in all sorts of way but it must have a degree of compatibility with our body lest it be inedible, etc. Everything that an organism will consume, utilize or interact with must have a certain degree of natural compatibility with the organism in question.
This can be said about more things than the most obviously physical. The mind itself must arise from the same “physical” universe, albeit at a different level of differentiation which science only partially understands. The human mind itself has its own tendencies and limitations that are independent of nurture, and in turn the input faculties also lie within a particular range. Furthermore, not only is there a limited degree in which they are useful at all, there are degrees to which each of these is beneficial or detrimental to the healthy growth of mind and body, which are two sides of the same coin.
Now, if sensory limitations were the only obstacles, then the second line of modernist arguments would be triumphant; they argue that one needs only be repeatedly exposed to the experience of modernist art so that the ear gets used to it and accepts it. This is admittedly true, since the human body can accept all sorts of torture. It can even take pleasure in things which are unwholesome or detrimental to it when they are designed to interact with natural receptors. Modernist art goes the other way and avoids these natural receptors, thereby coming up with an altogether incompatible interface.
The mind, the subconscious, however, has its own nature (by which is meant that it is made for a very specific range of activities and consists of a very specific range of abilities: pattern recognition, narrative, etc), and brain plasticity is not infinite. We are products of this world, and as such our mind naturally reacts to certain input in a certain way. Hence, art that attempts to be unnatural is not truly appreciable or perceivable as spiritual, as traditional art would. It can only be interpreted in a cerebral manner and perceived in waves of shock.
Western classical art has traditionally been about the connection of the human being with the divine: his own higher nature as an extension of the natural order of the universe in which it becomes an individual for a single cosmological moment only to return to the whole. Modernism, then, is not a classical art. Modernist music is not classical music. It is not because it rejects natural avenues and instead argues for an ultra-natural, ultra-sensory experience that produces rationalizations.
To close this topic, we can liken this distinction between classical and modernist art to the difference between the traditional esoterism of the ancients in which multiple meanings were layered in symbols and rituals aimed at revealing actual information to the thelemic magick of Aleister Crowley, which placed value on the experience rather than the actual content. The classical is holistic and self-contained, the modernist takes needs arguments and justifications to appear to have any value at all.
One of the greatest curses of the Internet age is that every kind of garbage can be marketed as “art”. Labels pop out of nowhere only to pump out bad excuses for music; albums not even the people who wrote them can remember a week after they listen to them. Barbaric Horde’s Gasmask Perpetrators is one such worthless package.
While we insist that cliches of music are themselves not the problem, as they only constitute solidified code words of an artistic circle or movement, these really do need to be used to express something unique. What good is a book that has no spirit of its own, no story of its own? What good is an album that plays the same old tropes in exactly the same way with nothing but a mere reproduction of what has come before it? If not for its overall air of mediocrity, Barbaric Horde should be reprimanded for wasting anyone’s time with absolutely nothing but empty statements and pseudo-underground statements. If you believe you are underground so much, then you do not try to be so by emulating the exterior of the sound of what today is known as classic “underground”. If you believe you are truly underground, you stay so by staying hidden, not by imposing your third-rate crap on all of our ears. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is at best a poser deserving of all your elitist contempt.
While a hessian might rightful sneer at the mainstream idea of metal music being the result of unsatisfied teenagers, Ragnar Bragason has created in Málmhaus (Metalhead) an accurate depiction of the sad reality faced by many first-world kids that are emotionally neglected by their parents. It seems that there are two main elements needed to be present for an alienated teenager to turn to metal as a refuge under these conditions. The first is that metal music be available in his range of perception in one way or other. Secondly, and more often than not, the minds that are most receptive to this art of dark tones lean towards a romantic disposition1.
After portraying the death of main protagonist Hera’s older brother, Bragason proceeds to tell us how the girl takes refuge in adopting his image and diving head-first into his metal persona. As she grows into a young adult, Hera becomes increasingly conflictive, to the point that she goes out of her way to create trouble for its own sake. Most of the movie at this point is a big tantrum with a few scenes in which the main character is writing and recording some angsty rock with harsh vocals. Basically, for Bragason extreme underground metal is virtually indistinguishable from emo rock at its core and motivating sentiment.
Aside from these outsider misconceptions, Málmhaus is a pleasant movie to watch with patient pacing that does not drag, convincing acting and a desolate feeling that only Nordic (and perhaps Slavic) settings really produce and which is more than suitable as backdrop for a metal scenery. Furthermore, and unfortunately for the metal movement, this picture of the pseudo-metal emo-poser is not at odds with the reality of many would be musicians in the medium. In this respect, the movie is objectively deserving.
II. Against the Vulgarization of the Metal Ideal
You may be wondering what beef I would have with this idea if the movie is in fact revealing a truthful picture of the scene. The answer is that metal art that most accurately and authentically reflects transcendental metal ideals are those produced by strong minds with a realist mentality. The emo posers in question usually produce music that is a thin veneer of emotionally outspoken yet ultimately safe and empty hogwash. From the outside, the product of the poser mind is similar to that of the authentic metal artist, because the imitator will always try to look like their idols on the exterior, but without becoming a threat to the society it claims to oppose. A true metal artist, however, represents a threat.
True metal is not an agent of social change. It is a rejection of social norms. True metal is not protest music that seeks to “create conscience”. It is the proud sneering of nihilists who see above and beyond the trappings of human convention. However, metal does not seek to destroy traditions but rather to exalt their realist underpinnings. It is not about destroying what is, because metal is realism, but rather about getting rid of the meta-reality created by humans who need an illusion to feel safe. Safe from uncertainty, safe from evil, safe from death.
Those making deconstructionist garbage music with the excuse of “destroying conventions” miss the point altogether. Yes, metal has evolved through innovation, but in a natural away in which the newly created sound is a construction and a depuration, not a musical negation, which by definition cannot be about anything because it attempts to be about something that is not, a mere abstract and near all-encompassing generalization that can never attain a definite form. This is why metal today needs to stop trying to be new and different. This is why it also needs to stop being a mere superficial rehashing of past formulas.
To reject musical convention or imitate it has never been the point. Black Sabbath gave birth to new music as it painted a stark picture that opposed flower power through its own being, but they were not defined by the latter’s non-being. New musicians need to start creating tradition, instead of attempting to dissolve it or trying to be what something else is not. Moreover, metal today needs to continue classic metal tradition if it is to be metal at all. Rejecting said tradition would essentially imply not being metal.
Death and black metal were jewels of their own time, as movements they were one of a kind and today they are, for all intents and purposes, dead, as the conditions that created and propelled them are not present today2. This does not mean that a new generation metalheads cannot be inspired and learn from it, in fact, they should. But this is the same as being inspired by Mozart or Wagner: it never calls for a copy-paste application of their surface traits.
One could describe the climaxing trilogy of Burzum3 as a concoction of Tolkien-filtered Destruction and Dead Can Dance4. But we may clearly observe that Vikernes never sought to suppress these influences nor did he try to simply make updated versions of them; he created something completely new with ideas produced from his own digestion. Part of the beauty of Burzum is how self-contained it is despite its borrowings in technique and method. Vikernes’ successfully-achieved objective in Burzum was the mystical recreation of the experience of reaching out to the ancestral knowledge ingrained genetically within the unconscious.
Immolation may serve as a different kind of example as they come from a background in early U.S. death metal from the north-east. Some say that Immolation is deconstructionist, but this is based on superficial impressions of the music, which is mistakenly considered atonal by laymen (most metalheads) who have never even heard truly atonal music. Immolation’s music is modal, but heavily emphasizes dissonant intervals as well as diminished and augmented arpeggios. In the long haul, Immolation’s approach is pretty much standard and proper death metal5 with a very unique approach to melody and an exertion of crucial control in the rhythm section.
III. The “Understood” (Assimilated) Metalhead, the Eviscerated Soul
Towards the end of Málmhaus, Hera goes through a period of introspection and redefinition after which she is understood not only by her parents but also by her whole community. She even participates in the rebuilding the church that she burned down earlier in the movie. She is no longer a threat. She even plays an alternative rock version of her “black metal” demo for the people in her little town. The wolf has been turned into the whimpering dog.
One of the main problems faced by metal today is that it no longer boasts of the outsider status enjoyed by its predecessors. A condition that lent them a unique perspective is utterly missing from most of today’s circles. Today’s apparently most rebellious metalheads are best compared to gimmicky Marilyn Manson; those that express genuine anti-establishment ideas are ostracized by their own “fellow metalheads”. There is no extremism in extreme metal today.
Today’s metalheads conflate cowardice and sheepish compliance with maturity, while they indulge in childish vices as expressions of their “freedom”. Somewhere along the road, man-made law and society’s comforts became the reality of these assimilated metalheads, and their “rebellion” is today only an echo of leftist humanism while they support a hypocritical system that fights bigotry with bigotry while denying it. They are completely locked inside the fence–inside the cave, convinced that the shadows on the wall are real, and that Plato is talking nonsense. Only the shadows are objective, they say, the shadows we can see and measure, the “sun” that is “outside” is only an idea.
Those who wisely choose to isolate themselves from the distractions of the modern world, the banal entertainment and the “metal scene”‘s circle jerk are mockingly tagged as “kvlt” or “trve”. This in itself is a terrible sign that metal has been assimilated into a safe space that forces it to be politically correct in the worst cases and representing tongue-in-cheek darkness in the best of cases 6. Monastic devotion is ridiculed as strange fanaticism, while mediocre and inline thinking coupled with a superficial extroversion is expected. Metalheads are “normal” now. They have grown up into their accepted slavery.
The truth is that this is what lies at the root of modern metal’s sterility – its inability to produce a new tradition because its own values have been supplanted by those of an assimilated portion of the mainstream. That those creating meaningful metal are only a handful of exceptions in a time when there has never before been a larger number of self-identifying metalheads indicates that the movement is at a loss. There was promise in the idea of war metal, but with the exception of black metal – flavoured acts like Kaeck, it is largely a dead medium. Cóndor is virtually sui generis, and the likes of Graveland and Summoning are the sole survivors and curators of a dead tradition way past its heyday.
I hope you’ll excuse me for bringing Vikernes back into the conversation, but it seems to me that his movement away from metal aesthetics during the mid 1990s was only the escape of a clever sailor from a fast-sinking ship. Although we should not mix politics with the judgement of music quality, the observation that deliberate ideologies (or lack thereof, supposedly) directly affect the kind and quality of music that is produced is pretty obvious to anyone watching intently. It is therefore only honorable that Vikernes should wholly embrace the ambient aspect of his music, the side that has remained truly underground to this day.
Once black metal becomes the cash cow of sell-out clowns like Abbath or Ihsahn, it no longer represents, in the eyes of the world-perception, what Burzum was about. There is no boundlessness. There is no escape from the idiocy of modern society in black metal anymore. It is only a show, it is not dangerous because it is not real, actually, it is fun. It is obvious that there is no other option but to move away from the symbol that has become a sign for ridiculousness and poserism. A symbol is only as good as what it transmits, and an artist cannot be excluded from context as the dreamers within the ivory towers of academia think (and contradict by trying to insert politically-correct statements in their garbage modernist compositions which hold no meaning in themselves).
The solution to metal’s plight is that circles of metalheads arise who can truly think outside the constraints and mandates of what is considered “good” or “proper” by the status quo. How they achieve that is less important to metal itself than that they actually accomplish it. This is not rebelliousness for its own sake, though it could be mistaken for it, but the idea that nobody else should in control of your mind and thoughts, and that the only truth lies in our mortality, and in man’s natural multiplicity of mind which makes his reality material and psychic at once without either being more important than the other7.
It is important that metal stands outside any such constraints to be what it is, otherwise it is like a caged predator: it ceases to be one as soon as it is shackled. Furthermore, metal loses its edge if it is not under pressure, because that is its whole purpose, it is a counter culture. Without nothing to counter, it simply loses its essential raison d’être. Therefore, this is not a call to the comformist to accept extremism, to understand those few who actually step outside the bounds of what is permitted. This is an encouragement to those who would attain higher understanding and see metal come alive again to become extremist in thought themselves, because in a sick and decadent world, it is those who are healthy of mind who are willing to act insanely.
1 Anyone who is new to this idea might need some clarification here. By romantic we do not mean someone who is the perfect womanizer, but more of a neo-dark romanticist, a revivalist of 19th century romanticism with a Nietzschean twist. People in our society who are commonly referred to as such are usually not so much romantics as whiny weaklings who cannot face up to reality. Metalheads do not avoid reality, they reject the images created by the delusions of modern man, who conveniently assumes their truthfulness: his own refusal to accept life in its full-fledged manifestation and the place of MAN within it.
2 It is my contention that the capacity for almost complete isolation experienced by young musicians during the late eightees and early nineties is made void today by the effects of the Internet and inescapable (for those living in urban and suburban areas) fast-paced life.
3 Namely Det Som Engang Var, Hvis Lyset Tar Oss and Filosofem
4 The reader may refer to Destruction’s Infernal Overkill from 1985 and Dead Can Dance’s Within the Realm of a Dying Sun from 1987.
5 Both Immolation’s Close to a World Below and Obscura by Gorguts are outstanding examples of this. Also, seemingly unbeknownst to the masses, well-developed death metal falls into the category of properly progressive music, while so-called “progressive death metal” (a redundant term) outfits are surface-oriented bands that produce disparaged songs as a result of poor musical judgement. A painful example of this would be The Sound of Perseverance, Death’s final album and an awkward affair that would make anyone with ears for proper music cringe in empathic embarrassment.
6 There was tongue-in-cheekness in the past, even during the golden years, but you can trace a distinction between these clowns and the best bands who used imagery to drive points home in a non-ironic way. Sincere nihilism and non-pretentious occultism stared right out of the classic albums, while today, these concepts are flat images worn on the outside only, as musicians try to cash in on people’s expectations.
7 The young science of psychology approaches these conclusions even as its mainstream-dictated values orders it to not make these findings, to try to make void the importance of the unconscious and subjective perception and will.
Article by David Rosales, read the first review here
It is hard not to laugh when so much of this album plays as if Abbath were trying to sound like modern Ozzy Osbourne: Funny, rhythmic rock grooves, repeated to death while little breaks and winky variations take place (see ‘Winter Bane’ for a good laugh). Most of the remains of a black metal attitude are try-hard and unconvincing. This solo album remains largely black on the outside but poser rock inside.
One of the most painful moments comes when you hear Abbath using the flanger special effect, a remnant of eighties fruitiness. This is in line with the fact that he did not seem to really try to make this a black metal album, but a clearly rock-oriented stunt with only superficial colorings that might lend the project a corpse-painted face to be recognized for. This in itself disgusts me, and should disgust anyone else who rejects the whole idea of metal for the masses, as it only spells out least common denominator dumbing down.
At its best, Abbath might try to sound like the epic heavy metal of Quorthon, especially on the mid-paced tracks where there is an obvious viking air. This is the only rescuable aspect of this album, and it might be the best course for Abbath to take, embracing this epic viking metal altogether and leaving behind the black speed pretensions. That way, he might concentrate on converting these rock bits into proper metal.
Burial Dimensions is a compilation of releases by Swedish death metal band Sarcasm, featuring six demos (released between 1992 and 1994) and a full-length album (also recorded in 1994, but first officially released in 2011). For most of this review, I’ll be talking mainly about the titular full-length album when I use “Burial Dimensions”, and not the compilation as a whole.
As for the compilation as a complete package – It has cool cover art and all the demos you could want, but they sounded redundant to me, though in full disclosure, I was unfamiliar with Sarcasm before getting this release, and didn’t know any of their demos before listening to this compilation. Fans will no doubt find more value in having this large collection of demos on two CDs, even though casual listeners may not spend much time listening to them. The full-length features the best songs with the best production quality, so I focused in listening to it the most.
Some listeners might be able to guess that Sarcasm are Swedish by the first riff, and most of the musical techniques they use had been well-developed by 1994, so this album is more about refining a craft than innovating. Except for a few incongruent flourishes, Burial Interludes is mostly sinewy, sometimes fluttery death metal, but melodically bears resemblance to some contemporary heavy metal-influenced black metal like Rotting Christ’s Thy Mighty Contract, with a lot of tense, enigmatic harmonies and an emphasis on keeping songs flowing smoothly throughout dynamic transitions between high- and low-intensity passages. However, due to the band’s admirable unwillingness to shift dynamics too quickly, some of the more low-tension parts in songs drag on for too long, dispelling the sinister insinuations of the more intense passages as we are lulled by comfortable but impotent consonance. These soft sections subvert the dark spirit that these songs aim to conjure, and are almost always too off-putting to ignore. Examples include a brief break for a female operatic vocal to take over a song which is otherwise made of imposing, sharp riffs, and some dull segments that showcase an unmotivated (and unmotivating) lead meandering over a melodramatic chord progression. These parts always sound insincere and drag the album down because other parts of the songs really rip into you.
The production of Burial Dimensions is raw (and the demos sound considerably worse), with some gnarly analog compression and heavy reverb on everything, giving the sensation of the sound being squished and distant. This isn’t necessarily bad and allows the guitars space to grind through high and low frequencies, giving the rhythm guitars a dangerous-sounding, shredded, spiky texture. In many riffs, a second guitar will pick out a higher-register harmony that stands separate from the rhythm guitars by having a distinct echoing tone. Usually following the rhythm fairly closely, the second guitar is also sometimes used for counterpoint melodies, and at times these are very effective at bringing out the full impact of the riffs, especially when the bass guitar splits from playing in unison with the rhythm guitars and all three guitar melodies hit you from different directions in three-part harmony. Sarcasm can create an impressively broad and rich sound with the three guitars being utilized this way, but during the worst parts of the songs, the counterpoint will be played in some such off-kilter way that doesn’t synchronize intuitively with the rhythm guitars and some strange harmonies emerge, negatively altering the flow of tension that is channeled so well during the more simply-structured passages.
Sarcasm sound amateur at worst, mainly due to the artificial melancholy that butts in and trips up a series of otherwise engaging riffs. Some of the better examples of riffs that really take you along for a ride begin the songs “Through Tears of Gold” and “Never After”, but frustratingly their momentum falters when one of the more flaccid, weepy progressions intrudes with clean guitars and soft synthesizer washes. “Pile of Bodies” and “Scattered Ashes” both begin with slow, chunky riffs that menace and lumber, but eventually either song gets bogged down in slowly-strummed reverb-drenched chords and leads too timid to venture far enough from the chords to inspire much sense of wonder or foreboding.
All considered, this album probably never achieved wide recognition because of the incongruent dynamics which can leave you with a sense of ambiguity about the whole experience. If you listen closely, you’ll hear lots of cool-sounding riffs scattered throughout, but they are offset by the sappiness that inevitably kicks in during any song’s development. In this way the amateur nature of the band works for and against them; when they get into energetic and fearsome riffing, the sensation is both threatening and mystical, but their inability to maintain tension while focusing more on the mystical than the threatening aspect means that each burst of strong riffs is undermined by a stretch of weak soloing or ostentatious gimmicks.
If you are a fan of Sarcasm, this release is right up your alley; you get some upgraded album art and a collection of demos in their original condition (not retouched or remastered, as far as I can tell). If you are not a fan but curious to see what Sarcasm are all about, I strongly recommend finding some of the music online or streaming it and giving it a close listen before making the decision to purchase. Personally, I don’t see any lasting replay value in Burial Dimensions; Sarcasm are just one of the many death metal bands that fell by the wayside during the ’90s heyday, and for good reason. If you are really itching to hear some death metal from the ’90s with lots of black metal-esque melody and heavy metal leads, compare this album to Necrophobic’s The Nocturnal Silence, which is a perfect example of how these influences (black, death, and heavy metal) can merge fluidly and efficiently. And Intestine Baalism beat these Swedes at their own game with 1997’s An Anatomy of the Beast, which does a better job than Burial Dimensions of combining raw and evil-sounding riffs with dramatically melancholic lead melodies.
Article by David Rosales, 2nd installment of a 7 part series; read the first part here
Most people with no formal training regard pop as a subset of the many kinds of music genres they can possibly listen to that are not considered “classical”. This implies a delimited genre that is easy to listen to, particularly repetitive, and with a strong emphasis on catchy choruses that form the whole of the content. It’s considered superficial even by those who profess to love it, who do so in a tongue-in-cheek manner. It’s all about the fun, they say. Classical music actually has two definitions, but the popular take on it is that it’s boring and long-winded music written and performed by some old men and nerds at school.
Modern academia unofficially defines “popular music” simply as “everything that is not what we do”. Sadly, they impress upon this broader group the same restrictions that non-academics would on their particular “pop” genre. It is obvious to anyone who explores so-called popular music beyond The Beatles or Michael Jackson that this definition is more of a belligerent and dismissive gesture than a sincere attempt at distinguishing what is a much richer well of music. In short, it is an indirect way to claim the irrelevance of anything that is not academic music.
When confronted with this reality, either through accidental exposition (such as a music teacher dealing with the musical tastes of a classroom with varied musical backgrounds) or as a result of a casual debate, it is not uncommon to see academics jump through hoops to justify an out of hand prejudice or a forced humanist humility that will accept the most vulgar and banal musics as a valid expression of the soul. In either case, real discernment is sorely missing. Also, that the musical academic establishment hilariously wants to keep calling itself “classical tradition” when they have abandoned all but the most materialistic of the original precepts is a sign of their arbitrary and lazy attitude towards music that is not spoon-fed to them (oddly, a reflection of the same attitude of most mundane popular music listeners).
When we accept that music goes beyond mere forms, beyond parts and consists not only of the instruments, or the notes, or the intentions but is truly an entity completely apart born from these elements, we tacitly acknowledge that the terms used to describe genres most also go beyond the surface and take into account holistic considerations. For this, both current uses of the terms “popular” and “classical” music are not only unsuitable, but defined unevenly. While pop music is defined in very narrow and simplistic terms, classical music is considered this vast and unrestricted attitude that is only tied together “objectively” through the most superficial and politically-motivated arguments.
Those with a serious background in academic music would readily accept that correct distinctions have to lie at a metaphysical level, even though we must necessarily judge them through concrete notes and forms. It is here that the average person becomes bewildered, at a loss since he is no longer able to make universal egalitarian statements. The key to untangling this moral conundrum is to be truly scientific about the matter and take into account the context at several different levels, in which music develops. The distinction between the broad groups distinguished through our new “classical” and “pop” (to avoid using the noun) terms take on a much more abstract though still nebulous character.
That it is abstract does not mean that it cannot be decided or that concrete music analysis cannot be applied. It simply means that strong contextualization is a must, and that the fact that art can never be objective, because the whole of the human experience is itself necessarily subjective. This in no moment means that standards should be lowered, but that standards should be understood not at a superficial level of complexity, but in the interplay between intention and realization in proper context. For this, the concepts of natural and artificial, inner and outer, as well as transcendence need be discussed and understood.