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.”

Dismember – Under Blood Red Skies (2009)

Dismember - Under Blood Red Skies (2009)

Review by Daniel Maarat

This DVD set of two filmed concerts and a documentary was the final release from “death metal legends and fucking idiots” Dismember. The sound quality and performances of the concerts are adequate, but fans will be disappointed that they aren’t from the prime period of the band in the early nineties; both were filmed after the departure of drummer, primary songwriter, and producer Fred Estby before the final, lukewarm album. Not entirely filling in his shoes was Thomas Daun of Repugnant and Ghost. Shitting in his shoes. I only made it all the way through both concerts and resisted the temptation to play Dark Recollections with the help of a six pack of Coors Banquet. More interesting is the included documentary, Death Metal and More Mental Illness. This also lacks contribution from Estby except for some footage from the 2006 Masters of Death tour with Grave, Entombed, and Unleashed. The performance of “Pieces” is better than the two included shows. The interviews with the Best Voice in Death Metal* Matti Karki and lead guitarist Dave Blomqvist provide good information for die hard fans.

Blomqvist says that Dismember never cheated with quantization, cut and paste digital trickery, or drum triggers while playing live. Live, they constantly had to stomp on the dimed Boss Heavy Metal 2 pedals at the end of guitar parts to prevent their ridiculous tone from frequency masking everything else. The only time they turned down the distortion was on their Nuclear Blast mandated sellout as death metal “was not in anymore” album, Massive Killing Capacity, which they admitted “sounds like shit.” Otherwise, Dismember never followed trends and kept true to their Autopsy, Sepultura, Repulsion, Morbid Angel, and Iron Maiden influences; Mental Funeral was their “riff bible.”

Karki reveals that most of his lyrics were written at the last minute; his vocals are from higher in the vocal registry than traditional Cookie Monster death growl, almost a harsher hardcore punk bark. Performing them in the studio “killed and devastated” him. We feel his pain through the presented footage of an overweight Swedish man in his underwear.

The drunken goofiness that satiated Dismember’s touring bleeds: A dozen minutes of the band headbanging, set lists written on bare backs, Swedish imitations American, and British accents. The film climaxes with a hen on the side of the road. Recommended for boredom.


Obscure Oracle sneak previews “Pray for Nothing”


Texas heavy metal band Obscure Oracle has released its latest work, a track which takes us back to both the early 1980s and its grandiose power metal, and an improved version of the melodic death metal of the mid-90s. “Pray for Nothing” features 1980s style choruses with less repetitive verses than bands of that nature would use, sliding into melodic guitar riffing that would have At the Gates envious, but used sparingly like an Iron Maiden/Judas Priest era band would have used. This track foreshadows great things to come from this original Texan band! Because it is a sneak preview, you cannot hear the track at this time, but you can catch the band live just a few months ago:

Taphos Nomos – West of Everything Lies Death (2015)

Taphos Nomos - West of Everything Lies Death (2015)

Review by Maxton Watchurst

Taphonomy is the study of fossilization. Interesting that a death metal band would utilize this in their lyrics.

Hailing from Pennsylvania, Taphos Nomos is a very young band that comes hammering with their lyrically-fitting brand of death metal on their 2015 EP West of Everything Lies Death; the music takes on a very dry and decaying atmosphere, which feels just as if the music itself were slowly and painstakingly fossilizing. Besides the aesthetic it generates, the instrumentation itself shows clear influence from both Incantation (whilst thankfully staying away from the usual ‘cavern-core’ cliches) in addition to bands from the Swedish scene such as Unleashed and Grave. The clean vocals and some accentuation in the melodies are reminiscent of what one would find in ‘traditional’ doom metal bands. An interesting combination, but does it come to a cohesive whole? Thankfully, yes. It’s not the utmost zenith of creativity, but it’s a satisfactory style nonetheless.

Across the entire work, the music develops in ways that are decently dynamic; despite there not being many distinct instances of interplay between the members, there is a sense of momentum generated that keeps the overall musical narrative flowing. Canyon Shifter (real name Nick L) is generally the source of the interplay on this release. To elaborate, his layered guitar work (multiple voices, not pointless aesthetic walls) makes use of recurring themes to advance the narrative of the music in addition to having a clear idea as to how to build tension, especially in the case of some sections where the various melodic voices build some basic yet effective polyphonic phrases. That being said, there are some parts that hold back the music from flourishing. Taphos Nomos’ sense of rhythm doesn’t match the momentousness of the guitarwork. This doesn’t mean that the rhythm section cannot keep up, but when listening to this EP, it’s clear that your focus is going to be directed solely towards the melodic aspect.

The overall result is somewhat memorable, but with the previously stated issues, it becomes evident that only certain aspects stay in mind post-listen. The music’s quality itself may not be truly exceptional, but in both competence and  stylistic integrity, Taphos Nomos show clear signs of potential on West of Everything Lies Death.

Hades Almighty – Pyre Era, Black! (2015)

Hades Almighty - Pyre Era, Black! (2015)

Review by Daniel McCormick

According to the FBI, 90% of arsonists are male, and usually white. Studies show that these perpetrators are young, angry, and often acting out of a belief of revenge. The founder of Hades Almighty, Jorn Tunsberg, was 22 when he decided to make a “statement to breakdown Christianity” and proceeded to torch the Åsane church in Bergen, Norway on Christmas Eve in 1992. This flair for dramatic communication, based in anti-Christian sentiment and pride for heritage, is still forging quality metal after all these years. Enter Pyre Era, Black!, the first album released by Hades Almighty in nearly a decade and a half. This EP clocks in at just under twenty minutes and consists of three tracks with rather ambiguous titles. Because of the ambiguity I didn’t know what to make of this prior to actually hearing it, but I was skeptical. Luckily, upon my initial play through, I was happily surprised while also finding the direction had gone somewhere unexpected.

The music is reminiscent of prior Hades material, but with a diminished black metal feel, and a greater focus on cleaner texture and ambiance that lends a modern body to the traditional Hades sound. This is embellished by a well mixed depth in the structures that actively engages the listener, and by building within the repetition via a variety of ideas that keep the experience from growing dull. This is backed by a crushing rhythm section that is a perfect fit to the style. The vocals on the album are consistent, well laid out, but done in a mostly folk/viking style with very little in the black metal voice of old.

Of the three songs the final track seems the most interesting and developed, and I hope to see Hades advancing more in this direction. It differs from previous works of Hades by incorporating greater accessibility, a more stylized tonality, and also by incorporating a sense of abstraction into supporting ideas. Despite its less than ingenious title this track has an extremely creative mixture of things going on: from stand out bass work to well dispersed acoustic/ clean guitar to a peculiar industrial break to oddly melodic screaming etc. I find my tongue nearly tied to explain the diversity, there’s a progressive, folk, black, viking, original thing going on here that is just beyond the scope of a great number of generic modern acts. Which is more to say that it doesn’t try, but is; a sound denoting inspiration not aspiration. The arrangement seems an orchestration with an ‘inner law’ as Nietzsche defines, “relative to an individual culture.”… …in this case, to true Norwegian metal. Particularly in the main portion of the final track, running from about 01:00 to 07:00, one finds a mix of nontechnical riffs with hammering aggression in accentuation, and an emotional, black ponderance arising in the revolving tonic chord which therein is impressed with a number of tension inducing, numinous evincing, foreground embellishments.  A fine example of song writing prowess, and the best track to check out to decide if you should pick up this release.

Overall, I’ve been a fan of Hades since ’98/’99 and I’m proud to say this heathen is still one. So go pick up this record now(!), blast it on eleven, and burn down a church for the glory of Odin.


Grave Ritual – Morbid Throne (2015)

Grave Ritual - Morbid Throne (2016)

Review by Corey M

Grave Ritual released their debut album, Euphoric Hymns From the Altar of Death, on Razorback Records in 2010. I picked up the album after a cursory listen online and have been steadily listening ever since. It is based on the sort of whirlwind style of composition in which contrasting, visceral riffs are injected in rapid succession into the listener’s stream of consciousness, but the band keeps just enough pressure on the brakes to keep the songs from becoming haphazard and disorienting, and they know when to reign in the multi-directional melodic excursions and wrap up their exploration in a satisfying resolution. Grave Ritual are a well-oiled machine who are foremost concerned with playing death metal just the way death metal is “supposed” to be played. That is the strength and the weakness of this band.

Five years after their first release, Grave Ritual have given us Morbid Throne, which begins with an unnecessarily long intro track (“Baleful Aversion”) that is evidently designed to ease the listener into the aural aesthetic of the album. This is not a bad musical technique necessarily, but I find that being tossed right into the fray of warped chords and unexpected rhythmic shifts of traditional death metal is a much better introduction to the hopeless terror that is death metal’s specialty (aside maybe from an unironic ’80s-sounding synth). Listening to “Baleful Aversion” feels like I just exchanged a ticket for access to a “haunted” fun house and am leisurely strolling down the walkway that leads to the entrance, hearing electronic sound clips of spooky bat squeaks and creaking floors, passing “DANGER!” signs stuck in the nearby ground intended to give the appearance of haphazard placement and long-term neglect, but obviously carefully placed and maintained. Meanwhile the opening track of, say, Effigy of the Forgotten gives me the sense that I’ve been strapped into an unguided rocket and the engines have just ignited. In other words, there is a sense of carefulness on the part of the band to avoid getting “too crazy,” and this is the overall sense of the entire album, usually for the worse.

At the risk of using the “it’s 2015, we should be past this by now,” argument, Grave Ritual seem to be doing themselves a disservice by sticking so closely to established death metal tropes. The album is evidently supposed to sound like it was recorded in 1992, including the guitar, drum, and vocal techniques. We need only reference Immolation or Atheist to see that there isn’t necessarily an established canon of techniques that define that era; rather, it was a time when bands were pushing the limits of metal in terms of what was physically feasible to play on an instrument, and what sounds were psychologically jarring without going to the point of unlistenability. Grave Ritual play riffs with the same intervals and scales and power chords that the death metal bands in 1992 used, but they play them like rock riffs, which at some point need to cycle back to the original chord that began the riff in order to resolve. Grave Ritual, however, instead of truly resolving a section of music and allowing the next section to develop, will just drop a riff after it gets played enough times (before you can get bored with hearing it, to the band’s credit) and a new riff arises out of the same scale but in a different rhythm or at a different tempo, to give the appearance of motion and development. This means that, if you listen closely with attention paid to the beginning and ending chords of each riff, you’ll notice that the guitarists will stay on a single chord pattern for a very long time, occasionally switching up the speed or pattern of notes but only changing how the notes are played, not what notes are played.

Grave Ritual use an effective but dated method of riffcraft: 1. Pick a dissonant interval. 2. Play some scattered, atonal riff to jump between the two notes. 3. Play basically the same thing on a different place on the neck, but slower. This worked very well for Incantation, but Incantation’s music is grounded by an intuitive sense of motion and tension, probably because the guitarists knew that they had to move on to a different riff and aimed toward it, rather than milking each riff for all its worth by cycling through indefinite rhythmic mutations before the riff expires. Meanwhile, the two-chord back-and-forth riffs on “Morbid Throne” do not build tension as they are repeated over and over; their main purpose seems to be providing a rhythmic hook to anchor the rest of the inoffensive-but-generally-unremarkable two-chord riffs that make up the meat of most songs.

And hooky, they are. The best parts on Morbid Throne are very cool sounding; imagine Autopsy riffs played at half-speed while authoritative drum patterns are augmented by a very deep and grisly voice chanting spells of suicidal vengeance. It’s a dependable aesthetic formula because it has held up against the scrutiny of generations and has continued to sell in a rapidly shifting industry for over thirty years. Unfortunately Grave Ritual’s dedication to this aesthetic has made them a slave, rather than master, to it. One prime example is the guitar lead that comes in just before the minute mark in “Lewd Perversities”; we hear string bends and rapidly tapped melodies, but that’s all there is to hear. It’s just an exposition of technique. There is nothing being expressed through the technique; the only expression is of the technique itself, which is a backward way to write and play death metal.
The best death metal albums work by pairing musical sections that are unlike on the surface (being in a different key, or of a different rhythm or tempo) and then eventually tying them together by offering more transitions and comparisons until the listener’s stubborn insistence that unlike sections conflict is broken and he submits to the song as a whole rather than a collection of contrasts. Grave Ritual understand that pairing incongruent riffs haphazardly makes the music an incongruent shuffle. This lets them gracefully avoid the two major pitfalls of modern death metal; one being that overwhelming percussive impact will convince the listener that they are hearing something extremely “brutal” and the other being that “atmosphere” is the goal of any album and bizarrely-voiced dissonant amelodic progressions are the most appropriate take on a death metal “atmosphere”. For this, they are to be commended. Yet in the end, this album has no teeth. There is no sense of danger or tension throughout. The product is a death metal album designed for easy listening, and in this way, it succeeds.