Abbath debuts newly recorded song (“Winter Bane”)

Article by Daniel Maarat

Addict in denial Abbath Doom Occulta has previewed a new track with Metal Hammer from his solo project, Abbath. Winter Bane “…comes with many of the qualities that are the essence of this band: epic, honest, powerful, and a heavy headbanger.” Surely many neck vertebrae will be dislocated by this radio pop for nasal decongestants attempt, but many more by decades-old Immortal material:

Dakhma – Astiwihad-Zohr (2015)

Dakhma cover
Article by David Rosales

What is up with this sudden influx of nonsensical war metal? Is this some sort of epidemic? Is there no end to subpar minimalist death metal clones? Dakhma’s Astiwihad-Zohr is one of the many albums that, once weighted and considered in the light of everything that has come before, forces one to ask if it was really necessary that someone waste any kind of resources recording it. While not outright offensive, it is lukewarm, at best while at worst, it is comical in its unabashed mediocrity.

It appears that anyone with a penchant for occultish themes and an appeal for the underground metal most superficial aesthetic feels entitled to put out one of these turds that the supporting community, the “scene”, considers an invaluable contribution to the ever-growing stack of EPs and albums nobody will give a second listen to. This needs to stop now. This metal funderground is destroying everything underground metal meant as an artistic refuge for true expression, even though uneducated and rough on the edges. No, it isn’t “cool” that we are immortalizing any of this shit in vinyls. No, it isn’t cool that nowadays there are so many bands to choose from when most of them are not worth a second of your life and they only drown and even suffocate those with actual potential.

With no heads or tale to speak of, these songs meander between heavy minimalist riffs, meaningless silences and long growls and grunts for “the feels”. This is all part of the idiocy of postmodernist thinking that falls into the trap of awarding relevance only to individual, ultra-subjective feelings towards passing moments in the music, and meaning to nothing in art. This is psychobabble for morons trying to feel smart. They forget that although human rules of social engagements are, indeed, “constructs”, this does not mean they are less relevant. They forget that all spoken or written language is also a “construct”, yet it is not any less meaningful because of it. This understanding that requires a journey into complexity and back again into perspective seems to be out of reach for most. Enslave the masses. Take away their means of assailing our senses with this display of mental retardation.

Diavolos – You Lived, Now Die (2015)

Diavolos - You Lived, Now Die (2015)
Review by David Rosales

Band and album names often reveal the character of the music contained in detail, but the art of discerning or intuiting these things requires some experience as well as conscious and active attention to correlations. A tongue-in-cheek and mainstream-friendly name like Diavolos already conveys an ironic attitude towards the genre itself. A empty and virtually meaningless album name like You Lived, Now Die lets through the stink of missionless, anarchist fun.

All that said, Diavolos does excel in its technical application and configuration of riffs and riff compendiums as a progressions. But this is only skin deep and it is right after middle of songs that their lack starts to show in the need for solos sections that break off from the initial idea only to connect with a speeding outro. These songs are built and pieced together as IKEA furniture. Cheap and convenient.

Diavolos’ You Lived, Now Die will prove an entertaining listen to those with a weakness for eighties Teutonic speed metal, but will probably not be spun more than once or twice as it provides little that cannot be found in older bands. I am guessing that the bet of a label on this is just to keep presenting the same thing in a new package. This works only because most are too lazy to explore and actually listen to the music, which would reveal most of this second-rate vanity as completely redundant and even more importantly, unable to achieve valuable communication.

Triumvir Foul – Triumvir Foul (2016)

TF_frontcover
Review by David Rosales

All exteriors, no soul. All pretension, no content. These are the sort of comments that are hard to back, especially in the light of the predominant materialist paradigm that chooses to ignore or reject the validity of any metaphysical judgements on.. well, anything. This includes music, which among the arts is the least given to materialist interpretations and whose nature lies wholly in the experience created within the triangle of producer, product and receptor/consumer. That is to say, the intention and thought of the composer codified into the music and its interpretation, the qualities of the product itself, and the reception of the same work by an audience with a singular background.
Some take this harsh judgement to mean that the writer is implying that the person who wrote the music had no intention or feeling for the music, but it is not so much that as the fact that a music veiled in unoriginal styles (which are in any case the words of the classic role models being imitated) cannot possibly convey the unique mental states of this imitator. Now, this is not a matter of requiring everyone to be 100% “original”, having to reinvent the wheel at every corner. This would entail failing as innovation hipsters do, at grasping the value of working on the work of the greats before you. But, your own work should precisely build on and not just use exactly the same expressions. In other words, bands such as Triumvir Foul sound very similar to Christian fanatics who cannot resist the compulsion of quoting three verses from the Bible for every dull sentence they babble.
In other words, the discussion on whether a music is superficial or not is usually a complex one and must be examined on a case-by-case basis, since the reason why this Triumvir Foul fails as art is completely different from the reason that, say, Ara, utterly fails and burns as a Hindenburg full of fireworks. While many metal albums may give you the specific tropes in techniques, tone and even riff-arrangement styles, only a very talented composer and original thinker can provide you with the most worthwhile aural experience. Triumvir Foul definitely is not up to that task.

Invocation Spells – Descendent The Black Throne (2015)

invocation spells - throne cover
Article by David Rosales

Downward strums; rock-like, minimalist d-beats; a repetitive, constant duple-time cadence that becomes a familiar entrancing device. These are all the hallmarks of eighties Hellhammer inspired evil speed metal plus plus. What we hear in Descendent The Black Throne is, basically, what we would hear if Tom G. Warrior were more “progressive” minded and less careful about creating a strong atmosphere of darkness (Editor’s note: Tom eventually got around to that in a fashion on Celtic Frost’s Into the Pandemonium, although such is certainly not Hellhammer inspired).
It is precisely the feeling that Invocation Spells seem to be more bent on the “evil of fun” rather than the “fun of evil” of a Hellhammer. This can be seen in the fact that songs focus on the variety of rhythms rather than in respecting motifs and emphasizing them. Now, this is not the mindless progressive obsession that refuses to produce any sort of repetition as sections are, in fact, reused, but the different sections seem to bear little relation to each other outside stylistic coherence. This forward momentum that emphasizes rhythmic acceleration and intensification over clarity makes Invocation Spells’ Descendent The Black Throne akin to run-of-the-mill “infernal”, pseudo-black, speed metal of the eighties.
While I could recommend this for fans of this particular style of metal, what I would actually recommend is that you download Hellhammer’s full discography, as well as Bathory’s and Celtic Frost’s early output and make this the sole repository of your attention to this spectrum of minimalist evil metal. Nothing you find out there rivals them, and if you want to get acquainted with excellence and not just flooded with quantity, you have a choice to make. Oppose irrelevance. Oppose mediocrity. Avoid mental indolence.

Abysmal Lord – Disciples of the Inferno (2015)

abysmal lord - disciples cover

Article by David Rosales

Yet another sludgy, heavy-treading death metal album with Sarcofago pretensions arrives at our shores. All the production candy is present, from the attenuated, dry fog that takes away the annoying reflection of shiny exteriors to the thick and bassy tone of the instruments that gives them presence but is not impertinent. Abysmal Lord Disciples of the Inferno fills all of the requirements for your average death metal fan’s enjoyment and seal of approval. But it is ultimately irrelevant, and moreover, it is definitely an unnecessary accessory.

Listening to Disciples of the Inferno reminded me of listening to one of those post-Haydn Classical or Romantic-era composers who were certainly above average, but never truly found their own voice and rather latched on to the conventions of the time. You’ve probably heard one of these many Mozart clones (I’m talking to you, Kuhlau) who produced decent works of great technical competency that never rose above their models in artistic merit. This is the sort of album that is good enough an imitation that you want to go listen to classical albums that influenced the origins of their style.

Abysmal Lord Disciples of the Inferno proves an entertaining listen during a couple of tracks, although as I said, it mostly just urges one to go listen to classic giants of the genre. Furthermore, past the first of the album, the music is decidedly samey and rehashed riffs along with uninspired progressions mark the early death of the music.

Necrosemen – Vglns (2015)

necrosemen - cover
Review by David Rosales

Necrosemen play the kind of war metal going on death metal that has become increasingly popular in recent years. There are several reasons for this, and popularity being what it is, none of these are particularly flattering. This style of music concentrates on the texture generated by the sheer, gross output of a good amplifier through high-quality effects, a deep voice and blasting drums. The most prominent value – if we may call it that – this music has is the shock of its production quality and the immensity of its sound. It’s “darker” music for the average moron. Then, there is the fact that this sort of music is extremely easy to write. Very little artistic insight is needed and minimal technical competence (learn a few key pattern styles, be able to play them with a metronome, and that’s about it) suffices to come up with a couple of these songs.

In terms of its composition, this Vglns could not possibly be more derivative than it already is. Not only are the patterns tired and tried, patterns that never really were spectacular to begin with, but they’re also lazy riffs that rely on the impact of distortion and big sound. The problem here is that these tremolo-laden riffs are “atmospheric” in the same sense that a constant blast beat barrage becomes a blanket and background. When you have a uniform set of these parading one after the other, with minimal variation, what you have is a blanket of guitars with “cool tone” over a blanket of pounding drums, and an occasional growl here and there. Now, very few changes are all right when you have a long composition whose aim is literally to create an atmosphere, and when, in the grand scheme, a real journey is traced from beginning to end. But Necrosemen give us between 4 and 7 minutes of utter sameness while expecting to be taken seriously as metal.

For those who would dare point fingers at bands like Incantation who also play a minimalist style of death metal, I would point out that the difference lies in that the classic band presents an articulate differentiation of songs within a relatively homogeneous style. Such differentiation between riffs and their combinations into mega riffs are varied enough to constitute different meanings as the music slows, speeds up, the phrase is inverted, is cut off, or is extended. At the same time, the similarity is such that they stay within range of the aura of what was expressed before and is cohesive with the “topic” of the album (and band) as a whole. In the case of these new bands, what we have is riffs that are virtually the same being played again and again through the song and through different songs in the album. The only difference between them is the particular notes played. In short: there is not enough vocabulary to actually say more than a sentence.

Field Reporting: Legion of Steel Metalfest & Conference Academic Presentations

An auditorium in Sacramento
Article by “AR”

The weaknesses of the San Francisco Bay Area “metal scene” have been in full display this October. The anticipated California Deathfest was thrown into disarray when death metal band DISMA was kicked out for political reasons – namely due to a past musical project of vocalist Craig Pillard (INCANTATION) which utilized imagery of the Third Reich. Besides the headliners of AUTOPSY and IMMOLATION, and a few less notable exceptions, this left the lineup of the “metal” nights filled with the grind/crust/punk mixture that is popular among a less discerning crowd. This suggested to outside observers that the interests of the promoters lay more with political agendas and popularity contests, than appreciation of metal music.

It was with interest that I heard of the “Legion of Steel Metalfest & Conference”, held over the course of four days this week and consisting of a “metal market”, “academic conferences” about heavy metal, and two night of music featuring most notably San Francisco death/speed metal stalwarts INSANITY, rock/heavy/speed metal band STONE VENGEANCE, and punks FANG, bands who never quite “made it” but who have been doggedly performing since at least the 80s. Only able to attend one night, I chose the night headlined by INSANITY, and showed up around 1PM to catch part of the conference, speculating that it might be some sinister affair where effete academics plot how to force their agenda on innocent hessians, but also open to more positive possibilities.

Missing the first three presentations, I arrived for “Becoming Death Itself: What Heavy Metal Offers Biblical Scholarship” presented by Charlotte Naylor Davis, of Great Britain. Her short presentation focused on the lyrics of METALLICA’s “Creeping Death”. Most interestingly, she pointed out that METALLICA presents the biblical story of an vengeful tribal god killing first-born children as a celebration of the power of death, and invites the audience to assume the role of the Angel of Death during the chanting climax of the song. This embrace of what is unpalatable or uncomfortable in “polite society” is part of what makes metal music powerful, and sets it apart from the happy illusions of most popular entertainment. Ms. Davis was a knowledgeable and enthusiastic presenter and I was disappointed the topic was not continued for longer.

Next was Mr. Shamma Boyarin of the University of Victoria, who first talked about Israeli “oriental metal” band ORPHANED LAND, who utilize the imagery of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. My ears perked when he mentioned how metal bands freely use themes from many different religious and occult practices, but in “obeisance to none”; i.e aesthetically, not dogmatically (paging Fred Nietzsche!). However, Mr. Boyarin chose to switch tack and talk about how ORPHANED LAND’s music was “breaking down barriers” between the religions and cultures of the Middle East, which seems to be a happy fantasy, if even desirable at all. Next was discussed an Indonesian band, MANRABUKKA, whose lyrics delve heavily into the Koran. A passage of the Koran, quoted by the band (Surat Al-Kafirun, “The Unbelievers”): “I do not worship what you worship. Nor are you worshippers of what I worship… For you is your religion, and for me is my religion”, evoked the religion-rejecting lyricism of bands like MORBID ANGEL and DEICIDE, but also that such advice is poorly-followed in those areas of the world torn by dogmatic conflicts. However Mr. Boyarin somehow brought the conclusion back around to “breaking down barriers”. I would recommend developing some new conclusions and exploring these interesting ideas further!

Next was Addison Herron-Wheeler of Naropa University, who read passages from her book “Wicked Woman: Women in Metal From the 1960s to Now”. The cynics among us may sigh in expectation of the women-as-oppressed-victims narrative that is popular these days, but as her reading mainly dealt with the singer of the 60s occult pop-rock band Coven, musically far distant from metal, I zoned out during this portion and can’t report much. If women in metal are going to be discussed as a separate topic, the most deserving individual may be the fascinating Lori Bravo of NUCLEAR DEATH, who has hitherto been mostly ignored.

Next was a presentation by Dolev Zaharony of Israel. Mr. Zaharony discussed the history of metal music in Israel and how the government/media, ever-paranoid and faced with the difficult task of molding the mixed population of young Israel into a single culture, filtered out all references to heavy metal, and one assumes much else. Mr. Zaharony spoke as one who had been passionate about metal since his teens and had lived through many phases of metal culture in Israel, as well as been a musician. This presentation was enjoyable as he spoke informatively, without any attempt to politicize.

Finally was a viewing of clips from the documentary “Distorted Island”, which focuses on the heavy metal scene of Puerto Rico. This was at times interesting and at times irritating when the documentary attempted to impose narratives on the music, for example highlighting a band because they are all female (though the music sounded pretty awful), and thus an example of triumph against the sexist metal scene. This method is currently trendy in musical documentaries, and one of the many problems with it is that filmmakers end up focusing on mediocre bands at the expense of excellent ones, if the mediocre bands better fit the narrative.

This is a problem common to analyses of metal which prioritize social aspects over the music itself: they lose sight of the reason why the social scene arose in the first place – to celebrate and appreciate the MUSIC, its power and its ethos. Once any other element of the culture is made primary, the goal is lost and the music will become merely an accessory, and necessarily devolve in quality. This same effect can be seen with the hipsters who use metal aesthetic to dress up boring indie-rock, to the collectors who obsess over obscure releases that were forgotten due to their middling quality.

In the spirit of culling the mediocre, Charlotte Naylor Davis and Dolev Zaharony were the only two I witnessed whose presentations passed the bar of quality, knowledge, and true enthusiasm; as well as being free of political propaganda. I would recommend them for any future conferences. Note however the limited sampling which I was able to attend; there may have been other hidden gems.

Phil Anselmo Forms New Extreme Metal “Supergroup”

Phil Anselmo being the lovable goofball he is.
Article by Daniel Maarat

Tough guy empowerment activist and former heroin addict Phil Anselmo has formed a new extreme metal “supergroup.” Scour features members of metalcore and post-hardcore bands Pig Destroyer, Cattle Decapitation, Decrepity Birth, and Animostiy. Anselmo claims they play “predominantly, in my ear, modern-ish black metal sounding, thrashy black metal type stuff.” All underground metal fans can do is wait and hear if former Pantera frontman is describing randomized first wave black metal with breakdowns, the Britney Spears black metal exemplified by Aura Noir slowed down, or Gothenburg melodeaf influenced metalcore with nu-metal vocals.

Nightwish, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, and ideological conveyance

Nightwish - Endless Forms Most Beautiful (2015)
Review by Daniel McCormick

It has been said that there is non-overlapping magisteria confining the world of scientific inquiry outside the the realm of “human purposes, meanings, and values.” (Stephen J. Gould) John Keats once said science presents a “cold philosophy” with a “dull catalogue of common things” that reduces life to terms insufficient to the subjective needs of man. Upon this assertion they then heap arguments of moral relativism, theology, and social revision which are based on their personal feelings and beliefs. This is common for religious or political figures but one also encounters this thinking in artists as well. In conversation one can easily find an artist prattling on about how x-piece speaks to man’s soul, or how true beauty lies in one’s personal interpretation, and that judgement is merely a subjective experience, that art itself communicates on levels that can not be directly observed or defined. All manner of feeble logic can you encounter, yet there is at heart a mirroring of intention. What they attempt is to self insulate from reproach, to self aggrandize through idealizing, and to manipulate your willingness to believe comforting thoughts. Because, to them, empirical definitions inundate the mind with a materialist philosophy that somehow cuts out the beauty from the universe around them. They say life is “too mad for mere material chains to bind” (Alexander Pope), and that “knowledge is not happiness, and science but an exchange of ignorance for that which is another kind of ignorance.”(Lord Byron)

There is a fundamental flaw in this anti-science rhetoric which stems from its untenable premise: that methods of inquiry lessen the artistic value of a ‘thing’. My view is much different; when I understand something (a process, an object, etc.) it allows me to observe with keener insight the object as it actually is. For instance, I am no less able to appreciate viewing the sky because I understand that the color I see is the result of lightwaves interacting with molecules, that these molecules are held in the atmosphere by gravity, that what I am seeing is the projection of the information my senses feed my mind, and that my mind and my senses are a direct result of millions of years of evolving characteristics. Like Darwin himself, I believe “there is grandeur in this view.” There is magnificence in grasping the chain of events, that all complexity today is directly a result of the low entropy state of the Big Bang some fourteen billion years ago, or that all life today is a direct descendant from a common ancestor that happened to have evolved billions of years ago on this watery green rock.

Of the untold bounty of scientific progress there are a few ideas more open to criticism than others but none seem as targeted as evolution. This theme of biological descent with modification and/or natural selection is an important idea, so important in fact that it is to our benefit to communicate this effectively, because its importance draws in so much unsubstantiated criticism. In other words, it is an imperative to communicate the theory and evidence effectively so as to combat its antagonists who are ever reproaching science and the philosophy of inquiry for some perceived wrong it has done them, or their group. Because of this constant willingness to attack empiricism, it usually falls to the popularizers of science to keep public opinion from drifting over the precipice and into the cult of the faithful and superstitious. It also becomes an imperative to demonstrate that works of art are in no way diminished by focusing on scientific research.

From this perspective I find myself listening to the eighth full length album from Finnish power metal band Nightwish. Endless Forms Most Beautiful focuses on artistically communicating the understanding of science in a very easily approached manner. Musically, this is what I have come to expect from Nightwish: a sound that is overly popular with a power metal base that drifts between heavy metal, hard rock, and light classical influences. Female vocals drive the bulk of the music, and the structural variations add a bit to what may otherwise falls into the formulaic. The performances are all flawless, over produced, and nearing the mechanical with over the top choruses, strings, keys, acoustic guitars, etc. You could simply say the album is extraordinarily inoffensive, mainstream, and essentially a work of metal music accessible to all ages, and potentially those not traditionally in the category of metal enthusiast.

What makes this interesting is the underlying premise carried through out the album. You can derive it from the album title which is itself a fragment from the ending chapter of The Origin of Species:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, …whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being evolved.”  – Charles Darwin

The work is presented in a layman, artistic, fashion but emphasizes many specific ideas underlying the theory of evolution. This is furthered by the addition of narrations from Professor Richard Dawkins which includes the rather famous beginning passage of Dawkins’ own book, Unweaving the Rainbow. The sung lyrics may bear at times an odd nonlinear sappiness, a positivist’s perspective on the war of nature, but they also paraphrase words from scientists like Carl Sagan, Richard Feynman, and Stephen Hawking. While the general theme may be summarized as awe the presenting of this includes the happenstance of self replication, the scale of space time in which we exist, the chance of beneficial mutations, etc. Hefty complex subjects which are admittedly not delved into with expert authority, but presented in a way which will hopefully draw some scientifically illiterate person to partake the grand art of autodidacticism.

Collectively, there are issues to be taken with this method of communication, at least if you’re a die hard metal enthusiast like me, but as an expression bent on the popularizing of science I can see where this album has value. It in no way replaces the dozens of books I have on the subject, but it does build from and give insight into the substance of the information. The greatest show on Earth may well be the greatest show in the universe, and we know the party doesn’t go on forever so I urge you to make good use of what little time you have to expand your understanding and to appreciate things for what they offer to more than just yourself.

“We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones.”