Symphony X – Underworld (2015)

symphony-x-underworld

Review by David Rosales

Symphony X has quite a following in the progressive power metal scene and has had such mainstream success in the technical musicians camp that almost each of the individual members of the band has his own little cult going on. In its very beginnings, the band leaned towards the so-called neoclassical stylings of ’80s melodic heavy metal. A few albums later, a clear progressive music orientation had crept in. All the while, the band retained a relatively original voice centered in Michael Romeo’s signature licks and Russell Allen’s distinctive vocalizations.

The band followed this course steadily up to their 2002 album titled The Odyssey, which seemed to crown their ever-ascending incursion into a world of structural complexity which tried to keep the music catchy nonetheless. The failure of Symphony X as a band may have to do precisely with this inability to fully compromise on a clear artistic path, choosing instead to use technique as a gimmick that attracts dorm-room guitarists and  pop singability with a touch of gospel that makes casual listeners acknowledge the band and perhaps open up their wallets occasionally.

After what seemed like the inevitable end of a journey for Symphony X, 2007 saw them coming back with Paradise Lost, which set a much darker and simpler tone to their music. Unfortunately, like most music of this sort, atmosphere is only skin deep, and the meat and core of the music continued to consist of disguised syncopations, clever groovy riffs with little thematic potential. The album was supported by a 3D music video vaguely illustrating the concept on which the album was supposed to be based. This mildly succeeded in attracting the superficially-minded who did not consider this to be on par with the graphics displayed in their Playstation games, and in pissing off serious art aficionados who cringed at the Hollywoodization of the classic story.

Symphony X took another four years to release their next album, Iconoclast, a massive oeuvre that could not be contained in one compact disc and had the audience yawning after 3 or 4 songs. By this time, it was fairly obvious that the band was beating a dead horse. The band wasn’t heading in any direction, nor was it keeping up in content — it was just a rehashing of riffs around whatever lyrics they came up with. The dumbed-down approach of the new era was prevalent but there was a deliberate intention of concealing it under longer songs and slower developments in tracks not intended for radio airtime.

Underworld in 2015 is the very reflection of an artistically defunct band. As butter scraped over too much bread, only a mere wraith of what the soul-infused band used to be remains. A collection of band cliches accumulated over the year rears its head in different postures and attitudes throughout the album while rather miscellaneous expressions form bridges between Romeo axe winks and Allen’s one-shoulder-shrugging, lip-biting, sensual diva outbursts. Taking the album for what it is (a professional metal pop collection of cool moments put together by very talented musicians) instead of for what it isn’t (an artistic achievement), Underworld shines bright in its hard rock firmly grounded in African American voices. Michael Romeo flashes solos that are worthy of mention in any guitar forum and have a well-earned place in the technical etudes of any student of the metal instrument.

The potpourri character of this album in combination with the adroit aloofness of the songwriting seems to indicate a secretive acknowledgement that the band knows this is the end of the road. The song titles and song lyrics towards the end of the album seem to reinforce this theory. After a relatively successful pop metal career and a couple of bill-paying, drowning-man albums towards the end, this seems like the appropriate place to retire with some dignity left.

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Interview with Brian Parker of the San Diego Metal Swap Meet

sdmsm_logo_exportPreviously, as part of our lifestyle coverage, we featured Brian Parker’s guide to hand-rolling cigars. As mentioned at the end of that article, Brian has hosted the yearly San Diego Metal Swap Meet since 2009, giving metalheads in the southwestern corner of the USA a chance to socialize and purchase goods outside the context of a live concert or festival. Since this sort of thing creates a great deal of opportunity for everyone involved, we figured we’d get back into contact with Brian Parker and get his thoughts on the event he’s created.

1. You’re the creator of the San Diego Metal Swap Meet. What is a metal swap meet? Is it limited to metal, or certain types of metal?
The San Diego Metal Swap Meet is a social gathering for fans of metal. There are over 20 vendors selling all types of metal merchandise like CDs, LPs, cassettes, posters, shirts, patches and stickers. We also have booths from local artists, showing and selling their jewelry, paintings, leatherwork, sculptures and other various types of art. During the event we have metal tunes playing, we close out with a metal band, a beer garden for those over 21, and food for sale.

2. You were working at a record store when you started the swap meet. How hard was it to get the event started? How did you do it?
Actually, I started the San Diego Metal Swap Meet about 2 years after the record store closed. It was called Blue Meannie Records. Most people in San Diego County considered it the headquarters for metal. I felt that the closing of the store left a void for people to buy and sell metal related merchandise. There also was a void of a place for people to meet up. I met a lot of friends at that store, and I wanted other people to still be able to experience that, even if it’s just once a year. It was not difficult to do. My buddy Israel Pelayo and I organized the first one in my driveway. We had about 12 vendors, they set up, and it had free entry. We had over 200 show up to this modest event, and we knew we had to have a proper venue, if we were going to do another one.

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Photos from San Diego Metal Swapfest’s Facebook photostream

3. The meet is now in its sixth year, soon to be seventh. What has changed over the years? How do you hope to see it grow in the future?
It has grown every year. We now have around 25 vendors, a live band, and about 450 attendees. From the cozy event in my driveway, that was more of a yard sale, to having bands playing and Derek Riggs appearing. It’s come a long way. I would like to think that it has kept the same small business feel as the first one, and the record store had. In the future, I am hesitant to make it a full on “Metal Fest”, with tons of bands playing all day long. It seems that term gets thrown around and really doesn’t draw the excitement that it used to have. I’d like to evolve the event into a little more of a heavy metal convention… by convention, I mean having a way for people to meet musicians, artists, lessons, and art being made during the event. These are things I’d like to implement, without taking away with allowing vendors to sell at a reasonable price.

4. What is unique and important about a metal swap meet? Do metalheads need their own institutions like this, or can they coexist with regular rock music?
It’s unique because it’s really the only metal event that’s not centered around a live show. It’s centered around metal merchandise, memorabilia, and art. I do believe it’s important for them to have their own event. Sure, we coexist with the rest of society, but I think it’s unique to have an event where everyone has a common interest. This event is also unique as it’s a family environment.

Major record labels have displayed interest in the swap meet

Major record labels have displayed interest in the swap meet

5. What do you do the prepare for the meet, and what’s required for after the meet and the rest of the year? Was it hard to find funding?
First off, we reserve the date with the venue. This year, as well as the past 5 years, will be at the Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center, in the North Park neighborhood of San Diego City. The funding is not hard. We put down a deposit on the venue, then we are able to sell vendor spots for the tables. The money from the tables takes care of a lot of the expenses. We then need to arrange who will be volunteering, and what they will do. The volunteers are crucial. We have had the same base of volunteers, who know what to do, and really believe in the event. We also have things to do like hiring security.

6. What inspires you about heavy metal?
The diversity is probably what kept me around it so long. From listening to Black Sabbath as a kid, to thrash of Kreator, then death metal of the 1990s of bands like Dismember, then black metal bands like Abigor. I can find enjoyment out of nearly all metal sub-genres. I also like how I’ve made so many good friends from metal.

Merchandise abounds, including musical instruments

Merchandise abounds, including musical instruments

7. Do you listen to multiple metal genres? What attracts you to a specific album, if not genre? What makes a top-notch album for you?
As stated in the previous questions, I do enjoy multiple metal sub-genres. What makes a top-notch album for me is it breaks some sort of boundary. When I listen to the insane, psychedelic vocals of Bethlehem’s “Dictius Te Necare” or the neo-classic melodic riffs of Dissection’s “Storm of the Light’s Bane.” I am looking for an album that adds something new.

8. How did you become a heavy metal fan? What led to you working in a music store? Were the two related?
I was raised on hard rock bands like Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. It was a natural step for me to move to thrash and then death metal. I used to buy all of my music at Blue Meannie Records. I got to know the crew that worked there, by being a customer and I got a job there when there was an opening. Unfortunately, the crash of the music business forced the store to close it’s doors.

9. What should people bring to a swap meet, and what should they expect?
If you don’t have a table, you can still bring in some things and try to trade them with vendors. You will want to bring some cash for merchandise, food, and beer. If you are in a band, feel free to bring in stickers, promo CDs and anything else that you would like to give away. We have a table of free stuff for anyone to take. Expect to explore 3 rooms, filled with metal vendors and artists. This is a social gathering, and there are crowds, so don’t expect to get through it real fast.

A family-friendly environment

A family-friendly environment

10. When is the next SDMSM, and how should people stay on top of news about it?
The next San Diego Metal Swap Meet will be on Saturday, May 7th, 2016 from 11 AM to 5 PM at Queen Bee’s Art and Cultural Center, 3925 Ohio Street, San Diego, CA 92104. The best way to keep updated at the moment is to like our Facebook page.

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Sadistic Metal Reviews: Dark Symphonies Special

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Many lost “gems” have been reissued to capture undiscerning millennial money. Most never found a market as they weren’t up to par. The Death Metal Underground hopes that readers were not gifted any of these on the Unconquered Sun’s birthday.

hydra vein
Hydra Vein – Rather Death than False of Faith (1988)
Raining blood, from a lacerated sky! What? This isn’t Slayer. What the hell is this? Did Tom Araya have too much to drink? Wait this idiot’s British and doing drunken Motorhead karaoke and Kerry King air guitar solos at the pub. The cover looks like a ten year old’s Clash of the Titans fan art. This album is a fifteen year old’s Slayer fan art. Maybe if I drink half a bottle of whiskey my  brain will think Hydra Vein is actually Slayer. I could just turn it off and play Slayer.

morpheus son of hypnos
Morpheus – Son of Hypnos (1993)
Morpheus (no relation to Morpheus Descends) was an early nineties musical project put together by four residents of a Stockholm group home. The vocalist sounded like Sylvester Stallone imitating Glenn Benton, the guitarists idolized the Hoffmans, and everyone attempted to cover Kreator. During the recording sessions, the band members expressed situational homosexual behavior by prostate massaging one another with their genitalia. The orgasmic screams of these disturbed sodomites echoed jungle fowl being rended by monkeys. Son of Hypnos makes for an amusing pornographic soundtrack.

bloodstone
Bloodstone – Hour of the Gate (1996)
Hour of the Gate was produced by Tomas Skogsberg and Fred Estby at Sunlight Studios. I hit play and instead of crusty Swedeath my ears hear Incantation’s “Profanation” breaking down into Necrophobic riffing. Then Gothenburg leads and more Profanation. That lick’s from Megadeth. How many salads were tossed here? The shit-buttered anus of death metal was licked right well and clean. I need to get a drink. I blacked out listening to this turkey. This CD was not repressed as history wanted to black it out too.

sacrifical - forever entangled

Sacrificial – Forever Entangled (1993)
The sound of groove riffs ‘cross the glade,
Heshers cover your ears in horror.
This death trash is rather staid
Chugging along into the gutter.

Sacrificial, Sacrificial
Pantera meets Destruction
Sacrificial, Sacrificial
What a horrible production

Vocals are just way too loud.
Matti Karki would not be very proud.
Many metal songs are raped.
Their holes torn apart and gaped.

Sacrificial, Sacrificial,
Watched Blackadder the Third.
Sacrificial, Sacrificial
Another reissued turd.

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Worlds

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Article by David Rosales

Pretty much once in a lifetime does an artist of the greatest kind offer a work that has added to its musical consummation the ability to summon entire worlds into the conscience of the listener. The three following examples of this achievement go about this in the same way that Tolkien’s mystery mythology is built: by broad strokes, consistency in themes and marvellous artistry in strategic details. These also form a triad that describe three concentric spheres of human experience: the physical, the mental and the divine.

Stormcrowfleet (large)
Stormcrowfleet
: The Metaphysical Will

Here is a pondering on will, vision and the embracing of the self’s calling:

Devouring the world through the senses, only to slowly flood back into it and extend Will yonder. Powers sifting awesomely in vast expanses according to harmonious law. As the fruit of work materializes, impetus is satiated and now serves as pulse. Arcane forces call beasts of desire into action, as does the disciplined mage through obedience to true aphorisms attain silent influence.

Destiny is embraced, faced with passionless determination. Beyond what is felt, what is seen, what is heard, closer to the truth, there proud and solitary existence awaits. In that place, sensation and impression are fused with meaning. It can never err, it simply is and is ever becoming. Such is the fire-lit secret of unclothed reality.

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Dol Guldur
: Mind and Imagination

Longing for earthly beauty and the majesty of man’s handwork and a respect for the purpose that is instilled into them cries out in whispers through the crevices of undead statues. High culture and nature are melded in absolute harmony through a revitalization of Tolkien’s verses. Man is here but a speck in the middle of the grandeur of this Earth, this center of our cosmos, the most precious of gifts to mankind.

Mythic transpositions of stone structures and forests from a mortal’s character and inner struggle are interleaved. The landscape painting of the master linguist is vibrated in shy cadences that sustain melodies gradually taking us aloft to places not corresponding to our physical present, nor to a faithful idea, but somewhere in between. This is where dream and reality meet, whence manifestation of destiny ensues.

bathory-blood_fire_death
Blood, Fire, Death
: Cruelest Present

Without leaving behind legendary imagery as an aim and placeholder for imminent action, we are shown an unapologetic picture of crudeness. This is the here and now of human experience. It is the visceral rushing of adrenaline-charged blood through the limbs.

No glory, no shame, only happenstance. In this nihilism is the truth of the triune complemented and completed.Things are or they are not. You live or you die. Revel in the ritual of life and attach no special meaning to anything.

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Cirith Gorgor – Visions of Exhalted Lucifer (2016)

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Cirith Gorgor bases its music around a strong vocal in the modern metal style of several emphatic syllables which then trail off, and this primary rhythm instrument propels the music forward. Underneath it flow melodic riffs which are not based on unique shape for its own ends, but fit around the rhythm of the vocals, approximating the style of later Emperor.

All of the familiar patterns are here: the sweeps, the gently falling melodic riffs, and the sawing upsurge riffs, and they are ordered in sensible songs. These songs do not particularly distinguish themselves from one another, nor evoke any type of emotion other than a general sense of feelings about the genre, but they are not random and are better assembled than the average. They resemble a sort of ongoing conversation that appears in different forms.

If this band has a weakness, it is reliance on the modern style of “yapping chihuaha” vocals. These are easier to follow than the old way, but place too many demands on the guitars for them to lead songwriting. The melodic hooks are pleasant and the discourse of songs orderly, but this band has a way to go before it expresses something like the power this genre has sleeping within it.

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Obscure Oracle – In Death We Trust

obscure_oracle_-_in_death_we_trust

Sometimes, the 1980s seeks you out. Sounding like a cross between old Nuclear Assault and Forbidden, with hints of Iron Maiden, Obscure Oracle bash out In Death We Trust by using death metal tremolo riffing in a mid-paced speed metal band with melodic accents to its riffs and noisy guitar fireworks. Borrowing from the riff forms that picked up speed coming out of the NWOBHM years, Obscure Oracle fall into the comfortable pacing of later speed metal, and crown it with high-pitched but tense vocals that could come from Bruce Dickenson on a Monday morning. Songs fit together well, keeping a dominant rhythmic figure that can induce nodding and foot-tapping in even the most hardened audience. While the result could send the Tardis back to 1987 at a distance of fifty paces, this band keeps their own sound and lets their enthusiasm for the material carry this future-to-past melange to new heights.

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Graveland forms live lineup to play shows in 2016, reissues Dawn of Iron Blades

graveland_-_live_lineup_2016

Second wave black metal band Graveland, long a collaborative project between Rob “Darken” Fudali and session musicians, has formed a lineup to play two live gigs in 2016 at Ragnard Festival in Simandre-sur-Suran, France from July 15-17 and Hot Shower Olympia in North Italy on April 2 (tickets available for pre-sale here).

The musicians in the live lineup will be:

  • Bor – Bass
  • Mścisław – Guitar
  • Rob Darken – Vocals
  • Zbych – Guitar
  • Miro – Drums

graveland_-_dawn_of_iron_blades_-_cover_2015

In addition, Graveland is re-issuing its 2004 album Dawn of Iron Blades with a new recording and cover to be released by Warheart Records in Poland and Hammer of Damnation Records in Brazil for world issue. The band published the following statement about the new reissue:

New drum lines are already recorded by Miro. In December I will finish all of the newly arranged keyboard and chorus parts. These will be recorded by Olya Lantseva in December. January will bring the recording of Polish vocals and new English ones for both versions. Polish version will be released by Warheart Rec, the English one by Hammer of Damnation Rec (Brazil). I hope the album will be ready to be released in February! I must also add that a new cover atrwork is ready and waiting (painted by Gilgamesh Lornezhad!).

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Hail Of Bullets part ways with singer Martin van Drunen

hail_of_bullets_-_2016_lineup

Dutch modern death metal act Hail of Bullets has parted ways with vocalist Martin van Drunen (Pestilence, Asphyx). The band issued the following statement:

We are sorry to announce that Martin van Drunen is no longer part of Hail Of Bullets. On a personal level it’s no longer possible for us to continue the cooperation with Martin.
Unfortunately this means we have to cancel all upcoming shows until further notice.
This does not mean the end of Hail Of Bullets. The main reason for starting this band 8 years ago was our mutual love for real Death Metal and to have fun playing our favourite kind of music and we did not want to lose this ‘fun part’. We acknowledge the fact that Martin’s a good singer with a distinctive voice but he’s not the only great singer on this planet. For the record, there’s no hate or anger here, but this simply wasn’t working out anymore.
We wish him all the best in his future career. To be continued…
Stephan, Paul, Ed, Theo

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The little doom factory – Interview with FUCK YOGA Records

Ivan Kocev
Interview by Gent Mehmeti

A small distro portraying Skopje’s (Macedonia) gloominess and fucked up street reality through records and gigs since the early 2000s, FUCK YOGA has since grown into a label that makes obscure hardcore and metal gems somehow available to the few heterodox freaks roaming this city. Its presence has grown during the years. Today, it is home to some of the more obscure acts that seem to have acquired a cult following in the margins of hardcore and slow-paced metal. California’s Noothgrush and even Boston doomsters Grief have gone through FUCK YOGA.

We’ll dive inside and try to dissect everything up in an interview with Ivan Kocev, the man behind this freakish abomination.

1. Ivan, you seem to be heavily attached to gruesome acts of human abhorrence. Well, at least one’s first impression is similar, whilst viewing Fuck Yoga through the lenses of conventional societal pattern.

I accept it as part of nature’s condition, hidden behind the veil of social conventions. It is important to familiarize oneself with all aspects of existence in order to gain more knowledge and bring more truthful judgments further in life.

2. What’s up with you and yoga anyway? Why all the hate dude?

When we were plastering posters for shows, they were often being covered by a yoga class. What also contributed to choosing the name was the “instant enlightenment” vibe that radiated from these people… I also read that the purpose of yoga was “becoming one with the great power that you were never actually apart from” or something like that, which I found bullshit at that time. So over 10 years later, the name remained- it’s not something I actively live by.

Festival poster

3. You pretty much nailed it with a few issues lately. Apartment 213, Noothgrush, Grief…some pretty cult stuff right there. How did you manage lurking them into your lair? Isn’t there a shitload of labels, some highly reputable I might add, in these guys’ states?

I’m a big fan of the mid-90’s mutant hardcore. It might as well have been the final progressive effort of sonic alchemy in it’s respective genre- acknowledging the past, yet branching out into unorthodox forms. Of course-with varying degrees of success, but the general feeling of actual creation and boldness was highly inspiring to my younger self. The bands you mentioned would have no trouble finding a “bigger” label then FUCK YOGA to release their records, but standard scaling doesn’t necessarily apply in this world anyway. They might be considered “cult” nowadays, albeit most of their records were issued on labels strongly rooted in the underground. I cultivate the DIY spirit while providing a very decent representation of their body of work. I salute staying underground by choice, not by necessity.

4. I guess you’re exposed to much of the sensibility of this genre. You collaborate, tour and run a label. You’ve grown to understand the scene from within. Do you think it is an all inclusive club that has built itself upon an egalitarian belief of indisputable equality? Or has this been the distorted image that we have been served by potential pests? My question seeks to disclose if ubermen who breed elite ideas are still present within these circles.

It is up to the individual to choose on which of the many conflicting attributes it pays attention to. You don’t have to look hard to come upon hypocrisy and shallowness in the underground- why would it would be devoid of? I encourage self-sufficiency, yet it’s funny how the bigger picture you see, roles start morphing. It is important to learn from experience and stay alert.

5. What are some of the shittiest bands out there that have been bringing a lot heat lately? I’m all obsessed with negative lists and would really want to hear your opinion.

I am not following “the heat” really. As time becomes more precious for me, I have to spread it out as productive as possible.

6. How do we kill this whole revival trend that has been busting our balls? Resurrection is cool sometimes, but if every idiot is given the opportunity to bring stuff back to life, pretty soon we might even see Christian metal bands or some fucked up shit like that rocking the scene.

Simply judge for yourself instead being told what’s good for you. Easier said than done, I know… If your acceptance filter can handle a copy of a copy of a copy- who cares? I try not to focus on what I dislike, rather use my effort in directions that excite me. The underground will always survive through mutation- some will lose sight, interest or power- but it implodes forever.

7. Are you a fan of population reduction? I am. Who do you think is doing the job well in aiding the process?

It’s difficult to imagine oneself as a 1/7 billionth part of a system. I try not to get too global, it feels depowering. I believe in eye-to-eye centrifugal action, as a real change needs a strong core. Much more efficient then just poking all over the place.

8. What’s on your schedule with Fuck Yoga?

Any day now (late November `15) I’m releasing a new batch of records; GRIEF s/t 12” and “dismal” LP/CD, MOSS “sinister history vol.1” (the first in the series of several records spanning the early, obscure years of the band), DESPISE YOU “west side horizons” LP, and BILLY BAO “communisation” LP. Next would be a NEW WORLD 3”/4” record, SETE STAR SEPT “vinyl collection” CD and HERPES “medellin” 7” repress. 2016 will see records by BASTARD NOISE, DAZD, GOLI DECA…

9. Do you think we’re battling an inside war against our own when facing the fury of SJWs who are censoring us with their PC crap? Fucking hipster pieces of trash!

I will have to disappoint you again with my detachment from cliques. I do not practice any organized political belief- It takes a lot of skill and practice to become independent. I can’t completely deny my social presence, and I am continually learning how to minimize compromise in favor of saving energy for the long run.

10. Briefly explain everything I missed out due to this interview being conducted by me in my utmost hung-over state. I didn’t ask you anything about Fuck Yoga’s roots, plans, presence etc. Neither did I ask you about the 3-4 bands you’re currently in (there’s at least one of them that I dig). Hell, you run a bizarre label somewhere in Southeastern Europe, where such things are true rarities and I didn’t ask you anything the domestic situation – that’s pretty lame of me; I bet it’s fun to hear some bone chilling stories of Balkan underground. Plus you’re organizing this festival in December and I totally skipped that. Preach the gospel!

Here’s what bands I’m currently involved in: GOLI DECA – the music is slow, but not “doom”- it’s devoid of the traditional rock/metal attributes- along the lines of what SWANS were doing on the first few records. VKOZUREN is musically comparable to early BURZUM- primitive and escapist.

The longest running, yet still unnamed band is somewhat a continuation of my previous band, POTOP- only more feral and surreal. I have used musical influences from WINTER, DISEMBOWELMENT, (early) MORBID ANGEL, EARTH 2, (early) DEAD CAN DANCE. Another unnamed, featuring Oleg Chunihin also of the band above and GOLI DECA, is trance-like bass-driven micro-compositions- think HELLHAMMER, BARATHRUM… There are a couple of rehearsal clips online, studio recordings and eventual releases are planned for 2016. MILITANT ZAZA is the name of the mini-fest we’re organizing for the first time this year, with exclusive performances by VERMAPYRE (nightmarish horror soundtracks), REGLER (the new project of BRAINBOMBS/ BILLY BAO personnel), PROPOVED (amazing ancient heavy doom from Serbia) and GOLI DECA. The idea was to organize an event covering different points of the extreme music specter, focusing on the fringes. Thank you for your interest and effort, it’s much appreciated.

Festival poster for MILITANT ZAZA

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