More thoughts on Abbath

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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.

Sarcasm – Burial Dimensions (2015)

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Article by Corey M

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.

Classical and Pop Metal – Part 2 (Inadequacy of Existing Definitions)

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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.

Sadistic Metal Reviews mini-feature – Infernal Curse – Apocalipsis (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

When listening to most of these modern funderground bands, one gets the impression that a group of random guys eating hot dogs suddenly came up with the idea of recording a death metal album to give some variation to their Saturday afternoons in which they normally just discuss fantasy football. Is this derogatory? You bet. Is this accusation completely out of hand and unjustifiable? Not really, there are very clear reasons to say this.

For starters, a release like Apocalipsis by Infernal Curse amounts to nothing more than foggy noise, lacking any memorability but the memory of a passing metallic cloud of percussion and occasional chords. You might perceive this as being only the personal impression of the author, that it amounts to nothing more than another opinion on an otherwise objectively tolerable and enjoyable work of music. But nobody here is objecting to the idea that someone might enjoy this music. The point is that it is indistinguishable from anything even vaguely similar and devoid of its own character.

Apocalipsis is only the reflection of the disaster that war metal has been for death metal, a poor and superficial of what being an underground art movement is. This is usually the result of becoming self-referential, very much like university “revolutionaries” and other posers who confuse image with content. The trap is believing that through imitation of appearances you might somehow bring about the essence of what is being imitated. Nothing could be farther from the truth, and this piece of unrecognizable shit is just more ammunition for our poser-bashing posts.

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015)

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DMU proudly offers a stream of No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom. This band fuses Motorhead-styled roadhouse heavy metal with punk and underground metal to present its justifiably paranoid view of government and corporate control of our lives. Fueled by a long underground pedigree including black-doom metal band Dawning, No God Only Pain shows metal a way out from its current morass of thinkalike “underground” and hamster-safe mainstream metal.

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015) – “Cannon Fodder” (5:25)

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015) – “Lick the Claw” (1:50)

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015) – “Roads to Serfdom” (7:50)

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015) – “Servitudo Completum” (4:10)

No God Only Pain – Roads to Serfdom (2015) – “Who Forgives God?” (3:10)

Roads to Serfdom features the heavy metal distrust of society and its machinations taken to another level: seeing how moneyed interests are pushing the ordinary citizens into dependency on corporate jobs and government, while simultaneously manipulating public opinion to avoid awareness of the impending crash. Put into the form of raucous rock ‘n roll influenced heavy metal with a strong beat and instrumental chops, No God Only Pain serves as the perfect introduction to metal for new fans or those who want metal to get back to its roots.

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With stylized artwork by German artist Ketza, Roads to Serfdom shows the new wave of self-produced DIY metal music that is abandoning an increasingly conformist and boring scene. For those who appreciate Motorhead, Danzig and the punk-infused rhythms of the NWOBHM, No God Only Pain deliver a new option and a path away from the inevitable staleness in both civilization and heavy metal.

Here’s what Metro Silicon Valley had to say about No God Only Pain:

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Classical and Pop Metal – Part 1 (Banishing of Preconceptions)

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Article by David Rosales, 1st installment of a 7 part series
The terms pop and classical get thrown around pretty carelessly, with little regard as to what they actually mean as foreign meanings are imposed on them. It can be shown that most of these distinctions are quite arbitrary, even if they are meaningful indeed. What we should be asking ourselves is which of the definitions may provide a useful distinction that goes beyond the plain appearances or superficial glances at structure.

Music works at so many more levels than bare form (which is only the means and not the music itself) that the analysis typical of academia which focuses on either what I would call brute-force complexity or what they may deem “innovative” is problematic. Music history has proved that mere innovation, which more often than not is little more than momentary novelty, does not bring about long-standing results in itself. It may certainly result in long-standing popularity, but one may see that in these cases the “novelty” in question, as a concept, antecedes any natural reactions and feelings people may have to it.

A good example of this is The Rite of Spring, by Stravinsky. Its fans are usually music majors, more often than not, or amateur posers who are merely shocked by its reputation and how strange it sounds – how “different” it makes them feel. In each of the cases, the most immediate arguments for the greatness of this music will come in the form of cold musical analyses that point out its innovations in rhythm, or how “shocking” the character is. Basically, bombast and syncopated hip movements.

The same is true of metal or any other genre. Innovations and novelty come and go, the former being absorbed into the background as useful processes to express the metaphysical concerns that the particular music has, while the latter makes an impression and is left behind. As we recognize this universal rule of human-made music, or art in general, we come to understand that we cannot base definitions strictly on whether or not innovation is taking place as this also tends to be confused with novelty. Only time — and long spans at that — can truly prove the difference.

Finally, the biggest preconception we must get rid off to properly start this discussion is that the terms we mentioned before are actually defined. There is no complete consensus regarding what “popular music” strictly consists of. Furthermore, the term “classical” seems to be used as meaning both a period in Western traditional music, and what is actually modern academic activity which appropriates the former for itself as if some kind of crowning ceremony had taken place in which Beethoven bestowed power upon Wagner, who in turn anointed the likes of Schönberg. Let’s get rid of all such popular (ha!) assertions and try to arrive at useful terms.

Conan’s Top 10 Underground Metal Songs

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Growing up as a ruthless barbarian in a desolate and cruel world born made Conan the toughest around. He is the wet dream of every orthodox power metal fan and the unspoken desire of funderground war metal addicts. This is a list of the 10 underground metal songs that this head crusher chose for us:

10. Blood – Sodomize the Weak

Crush your enemies. See them driven before you. Hear the lamentations of their women.

9. Atrocity – Hold Out (To The End)

Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad. Why we fought, or why we died. All that matters is that two stood against many. That’s what’s important! Valor pleases you, Crom… so grant me one request. Grant me revenge! And if you do not listen, then to HELL with you!

8. Cirith Ungol – Master of the Pit

The riddle… of steel.

7. Iron Maiden- The Duelist

For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm.

6. Bathory – To Enter Your Mountain

He is strong! If I die, I have to go before him, and he will ask me, “What is the riddle of steel?” If I don’t know it, he will cast me out of Valhalla and laugh at me. That’s Crom, strong on his mountain!

5. Manowar – Pleasure Slave

They’re all sluts! He’s dead already!

4. Rhapsody – Steelgods Of The Last Apocalypse

Crom laughs at your four winds. He laughs from his mountain.

3. Kreator – Carrion

Does it always smell like this? How does the wind ever get in here?

2. Candlemass – Demons Gate

CONAN: You killed my mother! You killed my father, you killed my people! You took my father’s sword!

1. Immortal – As the Eternity Opens

Adieu!

Folteraar – Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

Folteraar’s 2016 release comes to us with a proposal that is very much in vogue in the current metal underground. To any wary of the pitfalls of following trends, this might ring alarm bells almost automatically. But we must not be hasty in this judgement, since even though the establishment and spread of a method may really be, in fact, taken up by a large number of hands who are not up to the task and will undoubtedly produce subpar results, this does not mean that we won’t also find those out there who have focus and vision to make use of pre-defined rules with a sober mind. A clear example of this is Condemner’s Omens of Perdition.

As much as we all yearn for another quality release, however, Folteraar exemplify the rule and not the exception to the avalanche of high-spirited but poorly thought out metal albums that make up the bulk of releases nowadays. Since there is nothing in particular to point out about Folteraar, as it has no particular value or fault but just repeats every cliche of the underground war-metal-noise-garbage intersection, we won’t spend too much time pointing out flaws that have been pointed out once and again in the past in this site. The duty still falls on us to point out the very particular approach Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw brings to the table as a representative of the most blurry instantiations of this line of thinking.

This brings to mind several influences that served to furnish the raw materials for the formation of early ’90s underground metal. These are primarily heavy metal of the so-called ‘doom’ stripe and hardcore punk. It is easy to appreciate a deconstruction of these in this music which seems to be violent for violence’s sake. Worse than that, it seems to ape so much at the tropes it has learned from the past that the music does not seem to build anything else. Folteraar’s music is just a sequence of cliches that build up to no content. Themes do not build up, in either melody, harmony or rhythm. This is just a sequence of loud screams; a hysteric madman in a padded room would make more sense.

Do yourself and the “community” a service and do not put this aside but actively campaign for a distinction between its utter nonsense and the codified communication that is achieved by its betters. The author encourages (and will keep doing so while releases such as this keep coming) the reader to return time and again to Condemner and allow it to rise in his consciousness, as its structures become more familiar and its development thereby becomes evident. Throw most, if not all, war metal such as Vertellingen van een Donkere Eeuw in the trash bin.

Human Mediocrity and the Rise of Artificial Intelligence

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Article by David Rosales

As technology progresses, machines are increasingly able to replace humans when it comes to menial jobs such as those that take place inside factories, where often repetitive movements are better done by untiring mechanical arms that do not tire. But the progress of machine work is not limited to mere rote, and now includes not only machines that can make calculations many times faster than any human being, but also any other function that a programmer can reduce to a set of instructions in an algorithm. This spells bad news for almost everyone, even those who work high-level jobs: once computer scientists and mathematicians decode your decision process and reduce it to an algorithm, you are done.

Many think that the last bastion for human endeavor in the future, then, will be the arts, since a machine may be faster, more precise and more enduring than any human being, but it may never reflect the feelings that man possesses. There is this intuition, this unconscious level at which our kind operates that we do not finish understanding. This precisely is that nebulous area which Immanuel Kant defined as particularly problematic since we are not equipped to produce answers to questions which our very nature seems to insist on pushing questions for.

While I am in agreement with such a concept, there is a considerable gap with respect to how the average citizen seems to understand this. The issue is not whether or not machines may replace creative human activity in the creation of art. In music specifically, programs have already been written which can compose scores on the spot that fill out the aesthetic requirements of a Mozart symphony (Editor’s note: These have, in fact, been around for decades. The earliest example I can think of is CPU Bach, released in 1994 for the 3DO). In fact, such a program is not limited to a particular style and has been written such that when given a collection of pieces, the program will determine the style to be used by the approximate differences between the pieces given. This spells very bad news for all those brainless clone bands out there who have no vision between “the riff” or “the feeling”.

What are the limitations of this kind of style-replicating program? Perhaps the most important is that even though it might be possible to redirect it so that it produces a new style if given a seed for random variation, it cannot actually replicate human originality, at least in the sense that humans create art from the unique way in which they perceive the world and manifest it through music and particular expression. The sort of results arising from this human originality may be “objectively” indistinguishable from what the machine produces given X reference styles and a random factor, but there will be no way for the machine to supplant the former, at least until it can also emulate a great deal of the higher brain functions humans use for creativity, which is admittedly a far more difficult task.

So, in a future (present?) world where computer programs produce commercial jingles and pop tunes for big garbage music companies, all those mediocre soundtrack composers will be out of a job. Furthermore, modernist idiocy would be quickly replaced by machines exhausting all the possibilities of that most unnatural “music”. This result is quite interesting, because in trying to get rid of tradition, modernists ran away from what keeps music in touch with our humanity. In the end, the advent of music made by artificial intelligence will not represent a stamping out of human creativity, but an exalting of those who survive the onslaught. I for one hail our machine overlords.

Temple of Gnosis – De Secretis Naturae Alchymica (2016)

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Article by David Rosales

After an unnecessarily long and artificially down-tuned spoken introduction, Temple of Gnosis’s De Secretis Naturae Alchymica introduces the listener to a “mean” sounding chord backed by some kind of disco beat which comes off as not only cheesy but out of place after the ridiculous introduction. It doesn’t work quite as well for Temple as Gnosis as it did for Gehenna on First Spell, but they do rescue the music by switching to a more sober midpaced approach.

The music here basically consists of a standard rock beat, as well a short, meandering tune that keeps coming back in the chords of the keyboard, the power chords of the guitar or the high notes of the lead guitar. The vocals keep blabbering on top of this simple motif that creates no expectation, intensifies nothing, is not designed for immersion and rather just serves as a mantle for “dark-minded” pretensions. It’s the sort of music teenage witches might listen to if they feel particularly evil. It’s not really convincing, and if it were actually scary or dangerous, they wouldn’t get anywhere near it.

The difference between meaningful occultism and the pop posturing that most people confuse with the former is a subtle one which may be very difficult to discern for profane minds. We may think of music in general as a good reflection of how the concept of occult forces and symbols interact, what it evokes in the eye of the mind, what it gets in touch with and how much content the symbol in front of us actually hides. That is, good occultism works when the seemingly confusing or encoded meanings in the symbols are layered with meaning, a meaning that is concrete and not only apparent, which is the hallmark of its posturing pop counterpart. This can be seen in good music in general, but to set a good example, we turn again to the music in albums such as The Red in the Sky is Ours and Onward to Golgotha where every aspect at several vertical and horizontal levels conspires to produce a collection of possible interpretations whose ultimate consequences mostly consciously imprinted in it. Projects such as Temple of Gnosis who are self-styled occultists in music only talk about being so in their lyrics, their paper-thin music being a living example of what is meant by “empty words”.