What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? We enforce the reality the metal community runs in fear from: music can be judged objectively, but most people “prefer” junk. They want their music to make them look cool to their nitwit social groups, so they deliberately select moron music. Falses, don’t entry!
Triptykon – Melana Chasmata
You do not hire the Navy SEALs to remove your fire ant infestation. Similarly, there is no point telling Tom G. Warrior to “make an album like all those other ones.” It’s the wrong tool for the job. This album is atrocious because it relies on very familiar and predictable ideas with no density, and then Warrior tries to shoehorn some depth into it but achieves on oil on water effect, like someone trying to layer Beethoven over Pantera. The result just dumb and painful. Run like hell.
Lacuna Coil – Broken Crown Halo
This isn’t even metal. It’s the same smarmy cheesy shit that they sing in lounges for drunk bluehairs in Vegas, but they shifted from open chords to power chords. There isn’t even any particular focus on riffs here, just some blithe chord progressions shifting in the background while the vocals take it. But even worse, the music is entirely predictable. This is different from being “basic” in that it’s not derived from simplicity, but a generic version of the same stuff everyone else does. But that “everyone else” aren’t metal bands, and these entryists are trying to sneak that moronic garbage in through the back door.
Aborted – The Necrotic Manifesto
People are not bands. Bands are (composed of) people, but are not people. Even a band with good people in it can end up making music as interesting as poured concrete. “Oooh, look how flat it is!” But that’s kind of the problem here: Aborted is flat. It’s straight-ahead pounding death metal/grind hybrid that tends to like one- and two-chord riffs that shape themselves around a basic rhythm. Songs tend toward straight-ahead structures as well. The whole thing feels mentally hasty, like they aimed for a simple goal and then did one take and called it good enough. The highly compressed production just makes it excruciating to hear.
Kill Devil Hill – Revolution Rise
Some bands you don’t want to be noticed listening to lest people think you’re an imbecile. Kill Devil Hill is warmed over 1980s Sunset Strip glam “metal” (i.e.: hard rock) with some alternative rock stylings and occasional Rob Zombie infusions. That’s it, and the style tells you the content. In addition to mind-numbing repetition, like all rock music this dunce material focuses on the vocalist and some imagined fantasy mystical “power” to very cheesy vocals emphasizing very obvious emotions. It’s like watching Shakespeare done by a troupe of brain injury patients. Even the attempts to be “edgy” by working in oddball found sounds and minor techno influences falls flat because the whole package is so blindingly obvious and equally as plainly designed for thumb-suckers.
Blood Eagle – Kill Your Tyrants
At least this has some balls, but metal needs both a warlike outlook and an interesting musical development. The latter is where Blood Eagle falls down: too much downstrumming, repetitive riff forms, repetitive song forms and reliance and skull-shakingly basic rhythms that involve a slamming conclusion makes this music no fun to listen to. It is like hearing a constant pounding with Pantera-style angry ranting in a death metal vocal over the top, but the plot rarely changes. When the band gives itself a little room for melody, as in the end of “Serpent Thoughts,” we see how much better this could have been. Instead it sounds like road rage stuck on repeat on a forgotten late night TV channel.
Eyehategod – Eyehategod
The New Orleans hit factory just keeps cranking them out. WAIT — that’s not what you want to hear about underground metal. Could the writer be implying that this trivial drivel is actually just pop music? Yes, yes he is. Eyehategod started out with a slow punk/grind mix that was boring but kind of aggressive. Then they made it with great production for Dopesick, which was a mildly interesting record. Since then, they’ve gotten closer to the hipster zone. Eyehategod makes me feel like I’ve stepped back into the early 1980s. Punk had just lost direction and every band was recycling old ideas or trying to be “different” with tricks that amounted to little more than stunts. The emptiness was staring us in the face, and no one was talking about it. This album is stereotypical hollow man hardcore with a bit of southern fried bullshit and a couple metal riffs. Why not just go listen to the failed albums by burnt-out and aged punk bands, because they at least have more consistent. This is just an odds ‘n’ ends drawer with a high production budget. You can sniff out the hollowness by how many times they hit you over the head with their image, working in every southern trailer failure term they can, and then performing their party act of ranting vocals over hard rock riffs. It breathes staleness and marketing like a home remortgaging plan.
Day of Doom – The Gates of Hell
Metal bands should know by now to avoid the formula where the entire song is based around a vocal cadence, with guitars trying for a really basic pattern the vocals can play off of, and drums in perpetual fill mode. This means that the simplistic plodding patterns of vocals define everything else, which means everything else clusters around the lowest common denominator, and you end up with music whose sole (no pun intended) purposes is to make you tap your feet and wave your head to an undulating rhythm. This works great if you’re a sea anemone, but not so good for anything else. Day of Doom is one of those slow-strobing-strum bands that clearly intends for the whole audience to bounce at the same time in trope, but forgets that this is mindlessly boring when you’re not in a concert setting. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with these guys, but what they’re trying to do is wrong (as in unrealistic and stupid).
On Top – Top to Bottom
Mixed hardrock/punk, On Top has a clever name but otherwise is exactly as predictable as you might imagine. Lots of bouncy riffs, melodic choruses, angry vocals that specialize in repetitive tropes. If you derive a lot of value from doing the same thing others are doing at the same time, this might be your thing. It’s super-catchy like Biohazard or Pantera were, with plenty of syncopation in vocal rhythms to give them some kick, and songs even develop one level past pure circularity. It basically sounds like something you would expect the rebellious character to listen to in a movie as he drinks his whisky and drives fast. Other than this one-dimensionality, this is one of the few things in this review batch with any musicality. It’s just applied in such a way that people who aren’t drunk and sixteen will rapidly tire of.
Howls of Ebb – Vigils of the 3rd Eye
Howls of Ebb adopt an interesting strategy, which is to hide a Maudlin of the Well style quasi-prog in the midst of a dirty modern heavy metal band. At its core, this is heavy metal of the late 1980s variety, but this is carefully concealed under fast death metal riffs and whispered vocals which expand into dissonant chording and riff salads of the post-jazz-fusion era. The catchiness of the basic heavy metal riffing and the tendency to use tempo changes which fit in that model remain, but the weirdness accentuates it. If you can image Powermad adopting a bit of grunge and progressive metal, then slowing down half of its parts in a melodic jazzy style reminiscent of Absu crossed with Maudlin of the Well, you have the basic idea. The result is not only not bad but stands up to repeated listens. It will probably stay B-ranked in that its compositions make sense on a musical level but convey little else, and often the riff salads meander off-course enough to leave an impression but not a clear one. Still, this is more thoughtful than almost all of the metal at this commercial level and while it’s not underground, it’s much preferred to the usual tripe.
Personal Device – Microorganismos del Mal
First there was the faux 80s crossover thrash revival with party retro-thrash bands like Toxic Holocaust and Municipal Waste, then bands like Birth A.D. bounced back with actual thrash and reformed the genre. Now Personal Device take it a step both further and in a different direction by being a classic hardcore band that informs itself with early speed metal like the first Metallica and Nuclear Assault albums. The result is bouncy fast and precise punk like Ratos de Porao or even middle-period Bad Brains that is thoroughly enjoyable with riff breaks that resemble “The Four Horsemen” or maybe even “Live, Suffer, Die.” Their guitars are remarkably precise which creates an unusual sound for punk that by making it mechanistic makes it seem more inexorable than like protest music, and the result is a more testosterone-fueled and warlike approach. Mix that with the surging chord changes of speed metal and the fast repetitive chanted choruses from thrash, and you have a high-energy band. Its flaws are that experienced listeners may find this a bit too transparent, and that many of its rhythms are similar, but the band has administered its style with an editor’s red pen handy, cutting out any lesser parts, which gives it more staying power than all but a few albums in this stylistic range. This was a pleasant surprise to find in the review pile.
The albums have been skillfully remastered by Patrick W. Engel / Temple Of Disharmony (Asphyx, Desaster, Darkthrone etc), were specially mastered for vinyl and feature heavy 180gr vinyl, a 30x30cm 4-page LP booklet whereas the CD and digital format come along with additional bonus tracks and will be offered at mid-price.
“Final Holocaust” offers tracks from a previously unreleased 1990 live show, “Enjoy The Violence” also contains a rehearsal from 1991 and “Signs Of The Decline” extra live tracks, so look forward to some rare rawness as bonus treats.
The LP booklet and 24 pages CD booklet include all lyrics, detailed interviews with guitarist Jean-Marc Tristani, photos, fanzine snippets, flyers and more.
“Researchers Of Tortures” from Final Holocaust
“Enjoy The Violence” from Enjoy the Violence
“Full Frontal Assault” from Signs of the Decline
Here is an overview on the different vinyl editions and limitations:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – transparent blue vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl
Enjoy The Violence:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – solid white vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl
Signs Of The Decline:
200 copies – black vinyl
400 copies – red vinyl
400 copies – clear vinyl
Following up on the successful 2014 CAMWS panel on the reception of classical antiquity in heavy metal music, we are inviting contributions to a proposed volume on the reception of Greco-Roman antiquity by heavy metal artists. We welcome contributors from a variety of disciplines, including (but not limited to) Classics, Archaeology, Musicology, Sociology, Comparative Literature, and Cultural Studies, to illustrate and explore the enduring connection between heavy metal and the ancient world.
Possible topics include: the use of classical sources in lyrics; visual representations of the ancient world on album covers and in music videos; the role of gender in constructions of antiquity; the appeal of mythology; the use of classical material for political and social critiques; the construction of national identity through appeal to the ancient world; the use of Latin and/or Greek. The ideal contribution will demonstrate an awareness that a study of reception can show us just as much about Classics and its place and meaning in the modern world as it does about heavy metal as a genre. Such a contribution will also make it clear that song lyrics are only one aspect of musical genre.
Our proposed timeframe is: abstract submission by November 1, 2014; contributors notified of acceptance no later than December 15, 2014; first draft of contribution due by July 1, 2015; comments on contributions returned to authors no later than September 1, 2015; second draft of contribution due by December 31, 2015, with the shopping of the volume to presses to begin immediately after that. We will then submit the entire assembled volume to an interested publisher.
Send abstracts of no more than 500 words to email@example.com by November 1, 2014. Please include a bibliography, discography and current CV.
If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact us:
Kris Fletcher, Louisiana State University (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Osman Umurhan, University of New Mexico (email@example.com)
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? The only path to metal glory is to make music that is metal both in form and content, and upholds the spirit of conquering the unknown and crushing the empty and pointless. Anything else fails and shall be mocked! Come for the impotent rage, stay for the occasional standout…
Vrolok – Void (The Divine Abortion)
After taking much, much too long to get started (by the way, the ‘tension building’ here is hitting an open E chord for 2 minutes), the first proper track begins with a drum beat that I’d expect to hear from GZA or Del Tha Funkee Homosapian. It only gets worse from there. This album sounds like someone took Burzum, Strid, xanax, and nu-metal and threw them all into a blender. The downright hilarious vocals are just as laugh-inducing as Nattramn of Silencer, and the bass drums sound like bongos. The tracks that aren’t overly long suffer from a lack of direction, and end much too suddenly. What a mess. No wonder this band has gotten much more exposure, they have all of the ‘eeevol’ ingredients that make their music sound scary to the tweenies, but to the experienced listener this is like hearing a group of circus monkeys play Aske.
Hirilorn – Legends of Evil and Eternal Death
As black metal became awash in a sea of imitators, distinguish quality grew difficult due to the sheer number of bands that were releasing albums in the post-1996 entropic period of black metal. Thus it is refreshing to discover a release from that time with spirit and wonder in its construction. Hirilorn’s first and only album is that kind of release.
In a similar fashion to Enslaved’s classic Vikingligr Veldi, this album consists of lengthy songs with subtle harmonies and adventurous structures. Unlike Enslaved, however, Hirilorn are a power metal hybrid but not in such a way that sabotages direction in their music. A particularly outstanding element is the lead guitar, which often plays variations on the melodies of the main riffs throughout the song. It is very much in the forefront of the mix, which is quite unusual for black metal, but here the melodies are evocative and compelling, so this approach works. Vocals are a consistent mid ranged shriek, but occasionally clean vocals are used (such as in “Through The Moonless Night”). Though they are a bit shaky, the result is similar to listening to Quorthon’s singing; it’s not very ‘good’ but it is honest and therefore has a distinct charm.
Where this album succeeds is in creating a world to journey to; these songs tell stories which one can envision easily upon several close listens. It is performed well, ambitious, and seeks to create something new from black metal’s framework. Its failures are a tendency to be overlong and as a result this album feels unfinished at times. Still, this is an interesting work which is a definite highlight of the creatively uninspired late 1990s period of black metal.
Stormhold – Eyes in the Eyes
Once you strip away all the layers of other aesthetic, this is metalcore of the melodic “death metal” type, like a hybrid between The Haunted and Dark Sanctuary, which is essentially very basic heavy metal with reliance on too much unison between vocal rhythms and guitars. Good metal leads with guitars and vocals follow, because that allows the most expression; bad metal sets up a vocal rhythm to make people feel comfortable and has guitars echo it, which ends up sounding like a TV commercial.
Ballgag – Getting Fucked by Life
Extremely middle of the road grindcore. It’s hard to screw up grindcore, since there are no rules. This band keep their songs compact, balance between punkish open rhythms and grinding riffs that crunch momentum. Vocals are incomprehensible which makes all of this into one uniform texture. It’s both quality and unexceptional. Maybe drop the pretentious name and try to be a Napalm Death style grind band. Essentially, there’s raw material here that could be good and more importantly, the will to pare down songs so that they’re not random, but the band are unwilling to choose a direction. The nonsense shock name and nonsense shock album title are clues here, but even more so is the utter middle-of-the-road choices the band makes in tempo and riff that obscure its contributions. Refocusing this band would involve a lot more guts and probably a great deal more glory than this innocuous release will garner.
Bane of Bedlam – Monument of Horror
This strong band is divided between trying to be 1980s speed metal and attempting to fit 2010s “modern metal” into that framework. The verses are rhythmic, single-chord muted strum playing with quick turnaround fills. Choruses use melodic guitar riffs and more expansive patterns to create a sense of space. Unfortunately the vocals tend to influence the music, both by forcing metalcore/post-hardcore guitar-chasing-the-vocals riff-writing and vocalizations of the emphatic type that modern metal uses, where the vocal rants out a beat and then relies on lengthy decay for the last few iterations. Waa waa waa, waa waa, waa waa waaaaaaaaaaaahhhhh. This in turn drives drums to play a catch-up role. The result is that this band’s strength in riffing and song assembly is buried under poor choices. They integrate radical contrast riffs into these songs like a 1980s speed metal band, and while they don’t do as many dynamic shifts in rhythm, they know how to avoid hammering a trope into the ground as well. If this band wants to get ahead, it’s time to drop the modern metal vocals and influences and focus on finding a unique voice in 1980s-style speed metal. Otherwise they’re going to get lost in the modern metal morass, which is producing ten times as many bands as it can sell, and find itself offering the same thing others do without being fully trendy and modernized.
Nasum – Helvete
If you’re someone that is just getting into grindcore, it’s easy to see why this release might appeal to you. It’s got a pretty good handle on riffcraft, good dueling vocals, coherent songs, and is very punk in spirit adn approach. However, Helvete quickly loses its luster. The songs are incredibly simple to the point where one can guess what will happen in most by hearing the first few seconds. It also gets too groovy (moronically so), throwing out a lot of the actual grind for this.
The fact that it is very punky is another shortcoming; a lot of this music is just that — hardcore punk with some blast beats and nu-metal inspired groove — with very little actual grind to be found. What is left is aesthetic only and that tires quickly. Many do not wish to give this band bad reviews on account of the tragically unfortunate death of the singer/mainman, but it would be an insult to the artist to not grade this honestly: a C/C+ at best. If one is really interested in this band, their first album and the material before it are much more compelling, but you could always just listen to Discordance Axis or Blood instead. Turd chunder.
Skeletonwitch – Beyond the Permafrost
This is like the soundtrack to some pimply-faced kid wherein he imagines beating up the bullies and emerging victorious; except he never actually does this and continues to get beat up because he’s a wimp. That’s what this album sounds like. Retreat into a fantasy world that is incongruent with reality, dress it up with some weak black metal shrieking and Gothenburg riffs, rinse and repeat. It’s no wonder this stuff’s so popular – it hits all of the right marks to endear it to the mall going young teen demographic. None of these riffs even sound menacing, most are major scale based. So you get weird happy sounding riffs in music that is trying to sound evil. This band even labels themselves ‘thrash’…..well if this is thrash then I’m the new leader of the DPRK. Someone call the US government to let them know we have new suitable music for torturing prisoners in Guantanamo.
Abyssic Hate – Suicidal Emotions
When bands claim direct inspiration from one other band in particular, one must approach this description with caution. Does said band actually take techniques/methods of their influences and incorporate them into new song structures? Or does said band merely try to sound as close to their influences as possible? For this album, it’s the latter.
There are some truly excellent, somber riff passages here. The problem is that instead of building up to a conclusion (such as in Burzum or Graveland, the two biggest influences on this recording) Abyssic Hate just drone on in repetition of the aesthetic influence. Three of these tracks could have had several minutes shaved off of each and they’d be no worse for the wear. The shortest track is the most complete, but that is only by virtue of it not being as overly repetitive as the longer tracks can be. If this group could develop its sharp riffcraft into more adventurous song structures, we’d be looking at something interesting. It doesn’t, so the end result is something that is atmospherically soothing, even a little eerie, but after a few minutes that wears off and you’re left with the sounds of a radiator buzzing for 40 more minutes.
Artists who produce great and powerful bodies of work leave behind less-noticed works that are by no means lesser. Bruckner’s Symphony No. 2 is actually his fourth symphonic work, and is relentlessly overshadowed by his more intense symphonies such as the lengthy and crushing Eighth, which produces a pervasive sense of inexorable conflict and restless destructive renewal.
The Second on the other hand builds quietly from a nearly pastoral origin to a peaceful state of mind that then like a dragon rising from the mist turns to fire and warfare in the tumultuous and restive finale. Beginning with a gentle interweaving of naturalistic themes, the first movement assembles them in a style not dissimilar to the riff sequencing of Celtic Frost or Incantation, a type of prismatic construction that excels in placing repetitive in sequences interrupted from within such that each recurrence is a return with new knowledge to a familiar theme and thus an expansion instead of a reiteration. These build to the two middle movements which reflect more of an inner state of mind, in which melodies are carefully organized into a developing sequence which shows balance and harmony. Expert organ improviser Bruckner shows his true power here in his approach to the sonic tapestry where resonant sequences gradually alter themselves and through negative space and absence generate a higher intensity of presence. These techniques expanded with his later symphonies but can be seen in a lighter application here as part of a focused series of techniques.
The finale rotates between nascent versions of several triumphant melodies, bringing each one out of primordial chaos so that it can develop, then detouring to another, then returning, so that these melodies complement each other and explode in a triumphant final martial processional followed by a meditative recapitulation of the mood and theme of the earlier movements. The result is a breathtaking dynamic that shatters not just expectations but the intractable egoism of humanity that renders them closed to the inherent adventure of life itself.
Listening to Bruckner always reminds me of the secret of life that hides in plain sight. These immersive and epic symphonies etch out a clue that all of life is pervaded with meaning and holiness, and we deny it only to feel “in control” which is nothing but pretense. I don’t care what religious tradition you come from, or even a negation of religion, because you can access this sentiment through any viewpoint. It is simply this: life is an intricate and balanced design of great beauty and thus, truth, and through this we learn why we endure, and even more, why we strive.
This outlook is always just below the surface of all that we perceive, but it hides from us, because we must be open to it to see what is potential, and thus, what is immanently real. Although most people choose death and control over being part of the great complex beauty that breathes incessantly around them, Bruckner reminds us that the option is always there to lose ourselves and gain a cosmos.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? When people decide that life is worth living, try to make good music. Unless they hope to make a quick buck, in which case they disguise bad music as “innovation.” We separate the good from the bad — with a machete. Come for the misery, stay for the occasional exception…
Divine Circles – Oblivion Songs
The mainstream assimilation of metal continues. This is basically coffeehouse femme-folk-rock like Jewel would have spun two decades ago when metal was still doing something relevant. Instead, it sounds like a Taylor Swift/Janis Joplin hybrid on piano while someone strums a lightly distorted guitar in the background and some bell-bottomed burnout bangs a cowbell. I can appreciate the similarity to neofolk bands, especially Hekate, or even the folk-rock tradition of the Americas. But it’s most similar to the goddamn crap they play in Starbucks or our local “alternative” (read: clean every other Tuesday) coffee shack. A girl sings about fanciful things, there’s some guitar and a lot of slightly exotic rhythm. But when you leave and drive home, you’re thankful for the silence. This has nothing to do with metal and should go back to the coffee shops.
Slipknot – Slipknot
For people who thought Korn was too musical, Roadrunner has saved the day. ANGRY MAN babbling over death metal riffs reduced 100 levels of complexity, with random vinyl scratching noises and sampling thrown in for…some reason. These riffs were lifted from a White Zombie album which lifted them from a Metallica album which borrowed them from a NWOBHM 7″ which probably borrowed them from the rantings of cavemen etched into sandstone near the local juvenile detention center. To these basic speed metal riffs, they have added abundant bounce and doubling the internal rhythm on the offbeat, which gives the illusion of complexity for about ten seconds, and they’ve wrapped them around rock melodies. Speaking of wrapped, why aren’t we calling this rap/rock? It’s obviously rap music sanitized for the people too uptight for even backpack hip-hop, thus it gets injected into rock and to disguise the obvious lameness of this combination they cover it in heavy metal stylings like melted chocolate poured over a corpse. Lyrics are moronic, riffs are moronic, album art is moronic…is anything in this band appealing to functional humans? If a vengeful god were to rain napalm on America for producing this album, it would be justified.
Éva Polgár & Sándor Vály – Gilgamesh
Art music faces one ultimate test: will people listen to it on a regular basis, in regular lives? I’m not talking about the heroin and cigarettes crowd in Williamsburg with their postmodern degrees from Brown, but normal people. Thoughtful, intelligent, realistic, well-adjusted people. Do they listen to it? Or is it something they think is neat, maybe would be good in a movie, and then politely clap and never hear it again? Gilgamesh qualifies as some of the better art music I’ve heard. It is an sonic backdrop to the famous tale, rendering in quickly played piano riffs while other instruments fill in background chording. This has more in common with industrial music and avantgarde jazz than rock, but each track creates a series of emotional sensations corresponding to its chapter of the Gilgamesh saga. It is artfully done and powerful but is too abrasive and repetitive for every day primary listening. Further, it is too arty and conceptual to find a place in the balanced life. It would make a killer soundtrack for a silent film however.
Fear of Domination – Distorted Delusions
Music designed to pander to newer listeners is often excruciating. First, it must have an obvious novelty in style that usually defeats common sense. Next, it must appeal to people whose first instinct is essentially disruption and chaos. As part of this, they favor weapons like repetition and garish aesthetics. This album will not disappoint on those points. Mixing clubby techno (itself suspiciously like disco) with metalcore and crowd-positive industrial like Rammstein, Fear of Domination spit out music that is essential keyboard-led but has background guitar and bass which are entirely obliterated by the harsh, chanty and repetitive vocals. There is not a single metal riff on the album. There is also nothing new to people who have experienced even Ministry, but a form with novelty gives this some of the appeal of more austere industrial bands. Still the repetition level and degree of obvious manipulation makes it excruciating for people who have heard more than a dozen albums.
Benighted – Carnivore Sublime
In the absence of Nu Metal, everyone is rushing to take over the territory of Limp bizkit or Korn. From bling bling tech-core band Despised Icon to recent Napalm Death to streamlined Unique Leader sounding Morbid Angel palm muting riffs, Benighted blend everything that’s hip and br00tal in the scene together as the perfect sonic weapon for the frustrated school kids. This whole album is full of preachy and overreacting jerking noise. The band’s new music video reflect all of these: attending school is bad and teachers are evil, the world is insane, so buying this album is the right way to the first step of revolution. The hilariously out of place cleared-throat howling choruses sound like any metalcore rather than death metal, they make me want to put on the Korn records instead. Nothing from Benighted’s album is remotely exciting to the ear of a longtime metal listener. The volume is louder than Grammy performer Metallica, but the music is just as bland. Benighted and their far relatives Insane Clown Posse and Fleshgod Apocalypse are definitely worth exiling from the metal world.
Fluisteraars – Dromers
What is problematic about post-metal/indie-metal, and rock music itself, is nto that it’s distinctive. Rather, like a good product, it’s created by audience surveys. What do they respond to? — put that in. What got bad response? — take it out. What was neutral? — reduce it. The problem is that you need all the colors of the rainbow to paint a picture, so just because audiences prefer blue over yellow does not mean yellow should be removed. In fact, it aims to create a monotone picture where all of it is the color audiences want in their living room and none is the less favored colors. But art is a communication of a mental journey between two points. It shows us someone emerging from a state to a higher realization and then acting on that for triumph. It reveals a mixture of emotions that signal an ultimate resolution, or at least a clarification in the mind. But what we call “modern metal” — itself a clone of the late hardcore, post-hardcore, emo and indie movements of the late 1980s through middle 1990s (Jawbreaker, Rites of Spring, Fugazi) — is like rock music designed to just be that perfect wallpaper for your life. The right shade of sweater, the right ironic frames for your glasses, the purse that makes you look like a wandering boho hippie who might just happen to have a degree in art history. It’s the cult of the ego, and the ego demands only what serves it in full and denies the experience required to get there. This is because the ego wants nothing to do with the external world, and prefers that which is “human,” namely itself and those it socializes with. Fluisteraars is 2/5 old school black metal like Enslaved and Darkthrone, and the rest the newer material in a dronining long form that uses multiple riffs derived from a single theme, like Pelican. The result is very pleasant to listen to but when it is done nothing has changed in your life. You are back shopping for wallpaper, ignoring anything outside of yourself, and consequently, missing out on anything that can be called soul.
Woods of Desolation – As the Stars
Most of people can’t tell the difference between shallow light-hearted commercial product and art, therefore the conformists can always make some metallic indie rock to troll the underground. Woods of Desolation is the black metal version of Explosions In The Sky; both of them use the highest notes of the guitar chords to outline the weary lie-down-and-die pentatonic melodies while songs build around the sweeping textures. Just like the prototype of this sub-genre Alcest, Woods of Desolation’s music is nice and sweet and flawless, it make one hard to criticize them. But the reality is, three months after the hype, those who praised it like hell initially would throw this album away for these spun sugars annoying them just as the morning wake up cell phone jingles.
Towers – II
Post-rock and post-metal generally mean attempts to recreate emo through expanded minimalist sound. Towers takes an approach more like Swans where they build a drone and then layer it with interesting textures. The result is rhythmically motivational, like a march, but ultimately can’t go anywhere because like the notion of “concept music” it can’t go anywhere but to its furthest extreme. Thus what we have is interesting, but not something you’d want to repeatedly listen to except in the background or as part of a movie soundtrack. It is not terrible in any part, and on the whole it is bland and inoffensive once you get past the “extreme” style. Arguably, Towers is the best example so far of how to make post-rock/emo into something that is not terrible. The problem is that listening to it feels like being driven over by Friday 5 pm NYC traffic, and so it’s unlikely that anyone will turn to this for repeated listens that bring out some positive aspect of being alive.
Sunn O))) and Ulver – Terrestrials
Background drone of distorted guitar vibratto and feedback. Foreground slow chords, standard post-metal. Melody slowly layered, then repeats. It goes on in a big loop. Any given second of it is inoffensive and seems like something cool might be happening, but then, if you listen to the whole thing, you realize its fatal flaw is that it’s boring. Nevermind that Lull and Fripp did this years ago but better. Nevermind that these bands were both wrecking balls to metal’s integrity. Just listen to the music: it’s repetitive, doesn’t development, and basically does nothing but establish a drone and a half of a mood. What would you do with it? Listen to it? No, this is music for you to explain to your friends. The point is that you know something they don’t and you can thus explain how profound it (and you) are. It’s no different than people going to rap concerts to pose at being gangsters or young girls who cry when Shakira sings about her hips. It’s just more pretentious.
Dodsferd – The Parasitic Survival of the Human Race
Despite the ideologically-correct title (for black metal), this band shows us the true death of black metal: it has been assimilated by punk music. This sounds, with the exception of a couple black metal open strum riffs, exactly like the same droning hardcore bands were pumping out in the early 1980s. That music was the source of the stagnation that launched underground metal. I’ve listened to this thing three times and it has no negatives. There is nothing wrong with it. There’s also nothing compelling about it; it’s just more void. Technically, it all fits together. It’s just boring and expresses nothing. It is essentially hardcore punk music from the early 1980s with better drumming and production, maybe a black metal riff every seven riffs. But if you already own Discharge and Darkthrone, there’s utterly no reason to listen to this. Even if you don’t, it makes no sense to try to listen to this instead.
Gris – À l’Âme Enflammée, l’Äme Constellée…
Oh wow. Titles in French, looks misanthropic, maybe Vlad Tepes has returned! Second coming of Loudblast, even? No, it’s emo. Riddle me this: if emo isn’t like the fat girl addicted with meth that you woke up next to in the basement and felt great shame for the next, why do people keep trying to hide it? This is the same droning yet bittersweet minor-key background noise that Jawbreaker put on their albums and before that, that emo bands kept trying to insert into punk. What is emo, after all, but the very basic tonalities of rock music translated over an upbeat groove into power chords with dissonant voicings? When you look at what can’t be used, you see what is left. In the same way that the blues scale is the classical diatonic major scale with the key-centric notes removed (and a blue note for color-note rhythm comp fudging), emo is what happens when you take all the life out of music and translate it into rules to keep an audience in suspense. It doesn’t ever go anywhere, just shifts between these same few interval progressions. And yet, there it is. And people who apparently know nothing about thinking keep buying it. This is very frilly, dressed-up, entertaining variety, but underneath all the stupid pet tricks and gaudy clothing is the same old tedium. This is the sound of a genre dying.
Frost Legion – Death of Mankind
Crossing punk and heavy metal styles with a black metal aesthetic of constant high-intensity drumming and droning riffs, Frost Legion make black metal that often sounds like it is assembled from spare parts but tries to keep a focus on the melody and savagery of black metal. Vocals are a constant rasp that varies inflection as little as possible, over active double-bass drumming reminiscent of later Ancient Rites. Riffs are often drifting melodic constellations formed of a few chords which work through permutations of loss and re-acquisition of a root note. Often the riffs are very similar to each other which causes an unsettling loss of orientation, and frequently they bring out melodies which resemble music from the 1930s, but the effect is to create a sense of longing. One thing this band could do better is dynamics; it uses nearly constant intensity most of the time which is exhausting. While song structure is essentially riff-based, these riffs may need to correlate to something else in order to make the composition memorable. The constant melodic riffing is reminiscent of Carcariass and bands of that ilk who are deeply invested in guitar creativity and sometimes lose sight of memorable songs. This is a good start and it will be interesting to see where these guys end up after they’ve had a chance to contemplate the results of listening to this album several dozen times.
Aethereal – Faceless Messiah
We walk among you. We are legion and yet can travel unnoticed in the midst of your cities. We are those who try too hard, and many of us ended up in black emtal. Aethereal brings many strengths but suffers from trying too hard. Coming from the wilds of the USA, the amazing thing about this demo is that it attempts to shape the melodic architectures of a European band. It seems caught between a more vicious Behexen-style assault and a traditional melodic metal attack shaped around Sacramentum, Dissection and perhaps even Sentenced. Most would argue this into the black metal camp on vocals alone, but it has aspects of many genres of metal. Technically precise and musically coherent, these longer songs more resemble the ambitious music before the Great Partition in black metal which set the classics in the past and brought a deluge of imitators to attempt to pollute the genre. The first track, “Scornful Skies,” launches from a battering assault of melodic chords resembling rainfall in sheets to a neo-Celtic style intricate lead riff, fading into a Dissection styled mood piece before evaporating into an interlude of gentle strumming without distortion and a return to a contortion of its origins. The second track, “Qliphothic Reflections,” resembles much more of the black metal of the post-initial era, with low use of dynamics and high intensity blasting with transitional melodic riffs leading us through a semi-circular structure. Both tracks show promise if developed. But again, the problem is trying too hard: looking at what all the great songs have, and trying to make your own version without knowing what connects them. If these guys trust their gut instinct and what they like to listen to rather than what they think they should be creating, they would do better. Take it from a guy who tries too hard in his biggest failures as a writer.
Asking Alexandria – Stand Up and Scream
If any of you were to discover that your testosterone levels were too high, and your doctor advises you to take estrogen injections: before doing that, consider listening to this album – in approximately 3 minutes, you will feel immediate results. An album like this could be created only by the results of a CIA project designed to make people believe malls are desirable. (Somewhere, Bill Hicks is turning over in his grave.) For the rest of us, upon hearing this we wish that we were in that grave. This band has the uncanny ability to not only make every song sound identical, but also every riff. Then again, most people listening to this are undergoing “spiral learning” – the repetition is something they’re used to. Please don’t listen to this. If you don’t have enough respect for yourself to avoid this, just go all the way: go to Starbucks, pick up a la- oh alright, that joke is overused. This band sucks. That’s all.
What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.
Apostolum – Winds of Disillusion
Like Ras Algethi, this is a black-metal-influenced doom metal album that does not rely on detuned guitars to produce a low-end rumble. Instead, Apostolum shape their songs out of repetitive melodies like we might find in a horror movie soundtrack (shades of Damien Thorne) which cycle through repetition with frequent breaks for rhythmic or dynamic changes. The result is like a comforting background noise segmented into long enough pieces to tell a story, on top of riffs which themselves hint at a type of mood. Vocals add layers of lush intonation that flesh out the relatively sparse pieces, but one of the most important instruments here is silence. Riffs are slower but not uniform pace, so often pauses create gravity; pauses between riffs, and the interruptions in sound, create a sense of melody arising within darkness. The only real problem here is that much of what makes metal enjoyable is less present in this music. Its attempt at emotional depth leads it toward melodies that are periodically happy, so that they may be shattered, and the slowness is for lack of a better term not very exciting. I can appreciate this but I don’t think I’d listen to it.
Human Infection – Curvatures in Time
When we say something is “stale” in music, we generally do not mean that it is old. We mean that it is derived from something obvious, like a first step in examining something. The thought process ended early, we think, because we can easily visualize first-level thought from our armchairs in a casual moment. What interests us is when someone takes something in a distinctive direction, which does not mean weird or unexpected so much as it means a direction expressive of something. At some point, riffs either sound like an event from life itself, an emotional event or resemble an idea, and if the riff does not show similarity to one of those but seems to be introductory thought on its own, we discern that it is purposeless. Human Infection have made a grand effort at the technicality required for a death metal release, although the abysmally hollow and loud drum sound may doom this production, but too much of this is death metal for death metal’s sake without real purpose, and too much of it uses first level thought, a/k/a really obvious and played-out (because they’re obvious, they’re frequently used) riff patterns. I appreciate the big doofus aesthetic of this brand of death metal/deathgrind hybrid, but here it goes too far without going anywhere. As with most situations like this, there is too much reliance on the vocals and drums leading the guitars, which creates a sound like repetitive noise with background texture. Give that guitarist more prominence in songwriting and make the riffs lead the song and this could be a powerful band.
Amputated – Dissect, Molest, Ingest
What I like about this band is that they preserve the lineage of percussive death metal leading back to early Suffocation. It’s not that they clone riffs; it’s that they understand song conventions used by the originals and thus have to rely less on the post-Suffocation notions of breakdown to transition within the song. Other late model NYDM conventions make it in however including lots of pinch harmonics and sag-groove riffs. Luckily Amputated know how to put together a song so that it moves naturally and avoids lapsing into unrelated and thus pointless detours. At the same time, reliance on a style like this makes it very hard to distinguish songs since they are all similar in technique, rhythm and approach. This is going to be the challenge for Amputated, to distinguish “Skullfuck Lobotomy” from “Toolbox Abortionist” without relying on cheesy appearance tweaks. This band are tight, focused and have a good instinct for rhythm and song so this should not be a huge challenge for them.
Esoterica – Aseity
This is the droning wailing type of post-metal. It uses two-note black metal minor key riffs and drones those in a predictable loop while someone rants with an open-throated, slow vocal. It’s like a requiem performed by brain damage victims. The sense of purpose of classic black metal is lost; you could say Ildjarn took the same approach, and it wasn’t that Ildjarn was first, it’s that Ildjarn was good. Good means organized, purposeful, communicates something, and creates an experience the listener can partake in. Esoterica creates drone. If you want a background tone to go with some activity like ironing or fermenting fish guts this might be a good counterpart, but generally as it is without surprises or discernible idea, it fades into the city noises like planes overhead, trains long-hauling, trucks idling, domestic violence and identity theft.
Immoral Hazard – Convulsion
Pantera vocals over Kreator-styled speed metal with worked in touches from American melodic heavy metal bands of the same era. If you can imagine Kreator with metalcore/bro-core vocals except that the chorus riffs were borrowed from a hybrid of Forbidden/Fates Warning, that would be a good approximation of the style here. The vocals are unfortunately impossible to overlook and I wouldn’t want to listen to this in public because listening to bro-core is the equivalent of screaming “Hello, I’m a fucking moron” at the world. These guys know their classic metal and it shows with allusions that are artfully done enough to not be appropriations but subtle tributes. Phil Anselmo, although a great guy to drink with, invented the worst form of metal vocals possible because they channel aggression to the surface and replace depth with an kind of outraged customer slash drunk frat boy outlook. The rage is all one-dimensional however. The riffs have to support these bouncy rap/rock/hXc bro-core vocals and so get dumbed down. If they could hook this vocalist up with some old Rigor Mortis tapes, this band could head to better places and be really good at it.
Dux – Vintras
Working both within the confines of Gallic metal and a mixed bag of influences from the past, Dux create what a metal writer might dub “national tragedy”: music with a strong national sound that nonetheless embraces melancholy on the far edge of despair, and in the almost depression-distracted gaps created fills in space with past influences, exemplifying the chaotic modern approach that is the source of their angst. Very much in the same style of dissonant minor key Solutrean droning, with a sound that resembles the wind flowing past ancient caves if it were given tone, Dux create in the space etched by Celestia and Vlad Tepes. These songs sound like they might come from the distant past and yet, they are new, and exhibit the same exuberant take on the ancient ways offered by bands like Enslaved, albeit with less technicality. When there are gaps, the band fills in with equal parts Slayer-inspired proto-death metal and bits of choppy heavy metal and death metal, but these parts are infrequent and are counterbalanced by more of the delicious flowing melody they do so well. With better study habits, this band could rank in the higher echelons of contemporary black metal, beating out all the people who lack what this band has: a grasp on the emotional and intellectual subject matter, and thus content, of the black metal genre.
Snake Eyes – Welcome to the Snake Pit
Covering the territory once ruled by the first couple Motley Crue albums, Snake Eyes create old fashioned heavy metal with an American tinge of sleaze and darkness. It’s heavy on catchy chorus activity and yet picks up the pace on the riffing more than a Sunset Strip band would have. These songs also try for the “epic” sound of European metal, where at some point the elemental pieces of the song clash and resolve in something with a greater affinity for the sense of the song than the original bits. There’s some bleedover speed metal technique at points, mostly use of muted strum and budget riffs for tempo changes. Clear and strong but higher-pitched vocals guide each song, and are often in that half-sung half-chanted style that rides a good rhythm riff. This style of metal has a lot of rock in it, so will not be for everyone. With bonus cover medley from Judas Priest (“Riding the Sentinel into Hell”).
Sammal – No 2
Finland is boiling over with classic rock acts. They are all reallymusically competent and have a great sense of melody and rhythm. They have more trouble knowing how to pull a song together to make it highly distinctive, but that’s not from lack of ability, more a lack of internal drama. Dysfunctional people make the best rock ‘n’ roll for a reason, which is that they are not hampered by logic and that they have internal gestures of vast theatrical exuberance that make for really distinctive, evocative songs. Sammal do not have that kind of drama going inside of them. What they do have is a reverence for the 1960s-1970s rock and a way of writing good solid tunes that make you feel like you did not waste your time listening and want to think about them for a little bit. I am not sure what the lyrics are, as I think they’re in the voodoo-moonman language that is Finnish, but the songs themselves are quite powerful. Now why aren’t these guys making death metal?
Culted – Oblique to All Paths
No one wants to say all post-metal sounds the same but it is true. This is because post-metal limits itself both to non-phrasal riffing and a certain narrow range of power-chord based ambiguous minor key riffs and arpeggios, and simultaneously imposes on itself the demand the sometimes there be distortion and hoarse vocals. One might ask these bands why they bother with post-metal when obviously they want to play mainstream rock, but no matter what answer they verbalize, the truth is that it is easier to be a big fish in the small pond of a recent trend than to compete on the much broader highway of rock itself. And yet that is a form of cowardice. Why not tackle the audience that they naturally belong to? This band would be a lot more fun if they went Dave Matthews or Barenaked Ladies on stopped trying to cram some superficial aspects of “metal” into an unrelated genre. There is more actual metal on a Taylor Swift album than is present here even though Culted clone riffs from doom, black and death metal past. But seriously, why is this band wasting its time? Better to just become the rock band they want to be than to force themselves to be trendy and not make the cut.
Zloslut – Zloslutni Horizont – Donosilac Prokletstva, Ocaja I Smrti
Part of black metal was its national tradition. Bands wanted to sound like they were from their homelands. This was harder to relate to in places that are more regional, like UK or USA (the “acronym nations”). Zloslut never quit with this idea. They sound like they are not only a band with their own voice, but they bring out some characteristics of national sound. This is not hyper-distinctive as Zloslut compose very much in the classic black metal vein, sounding much like a cross between early Gorgoroth and Immortal. Songs are melodic but not as an effect; they are based around underlying melodies with a distinctive old world flair, internally punctuated by the type of upturn that introduced a huge amount of ambiguity when metal bands first did it. Now it is worked into the melodic sense itself, like the melody is a series of questions exploding into a defiant statement, usually delivered in full toward the end of a song when it can expand into a promenade or march-style rhythm. These songs are designed to fit together like wooden puzzles, meaning that there must be some gap at all times, but the shapes can never be incompatible. The result develops underneath the ears and has subtlety like the original black metal bands. While 80-90% of it may be familiar with those who studied the early 1990s Northern black metal explosion, as with all things in life the distinction is in the details, and there’s a lot to listen to here that shows this band have their own voice and one for their homeland.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? It’s when we decide that good things should happen to good people and bad things should happen to boring music. Most music is either imitating a trend, or totally without purpose or content, and that makes it boring. We can find trends and purposeless noise anywhere, for free. We are cruel to the stupid, and periodically, find something worthwhile to hold up above the river of feces…
Adrenaline Mob – Men of Honor
It’s grandad’s heavy metal, kids, but with a rhythmic kick and Alice in Chains vocals. A Pantera influence in the bouncy riffing represents a modern retrospective on glam and heavy metal from the 1970s. Droning diminished scale choruses and a similar riffs stacked in a way that is both not random and not song development fleshes out the mix. Songwriting emphasizes the Big Pop Industry tendencies toward hooky choruses and distracting, somewhat aggressive verses with emphasis on stitching out the chorus rhythm in as many forms as possible, so in case you missed it the previous sixty times it will pop up again to remind you that you’re listening to “music.” People have made heavy metal version of power pop before (like Yes’ 90125) but they aimed for quality; this aims for conformity with someone snapping their fingers and being ironic behind the scenes. Warmed-over 1970s riffs 1990s influences make this a classic record company attempt to make the present generations worship the cast-offs of the past. Despite attempts to be edgy, this is a museum piece from the Hall of Boredom.
Disfiguring the Goddess – Deprive
There’s no death metal to be found on this supposedly “brutal death metal” release, nor any concept of songwriting. Choppy, percussive riffs are thrown next to nu-mu thudding in random sequences that do nothing but “groove.” It comes off as variations of rhythm guitar picking exercises played on an 8-string guitar and stitched together in ProTools. Like most of these rhythms, it’s only a matter of time before the “out there” becomes the predictable, so there’s no promise in these flights of fancy, only a return to something as mundane as the cycling rhythm of a diesel truck engine with a loose belt. Occasionally, an actual riff gets played for almost three seconds before more inconsequential rhythm chugging comes in to pacify the indie/Hot Topic demographic who use this stuff as a surrogate to nurture relationships with other idiots by sharing an interest in “wacky muzak” that makes them “different and unique”, but under the surface, is Korn with tremolo picking.
Alehammer – Barmageddon
Life is an IQ test. Your choices determine really how smart you are. If you picked this band, you failed. These guys should hang up the electrics, strap on acoustics and do children’s television. This is sing-song music for people without direction in life. Even when I was a clueless 14-year-old buying his first albums with grubby pennies I would not have considered this dung-heap of bad musical stereotypes. It sounds like the kind of stuff that characters at Disneyland would sing, or maybe a bad world music band from the background of a car commercial. It’s catchy vocal rhythms over guitars that basically serve as slaves to pounding out the catchy vocal rhythm, but it’s repetitive catchiness. It’s all hook to the degree that there’s no sweet spot, only cloying repetition. Most bands of this nature are basically bad heavy metal with jingle music at its core. Barmageddon is basically a grindcore take on the kind of simplistic fare that got called “Pirate Metal” recently. I propose a new name: Headshot Metal. If you get caught listening to this, you should be shot through the face with a high-powered rifle. It’s an insult to anyone in the genre who tries to get anything right.
Lamb of God – New American Gospel
Upon viewing this title, the prospective listener might be intrigued to ask “what is this new gospel?” Answer: the gospel of insincere mediocrity. Half-assed guitar riffs combine the worst elements of a moron’s interpretation of hardcore (autistic caveman rhythms) and speed metal (obvious riff sequences) with a fruity veneer of constipated teenager vocals. Tracks start nowhere and lead nowhere, with nothing connecting one moment to the next; a stream of irrelevance. Expect plenty of repetition which Lamb of God, like all metalcore bands, tries to disguise by being as random as possible. You know who else uses that strategy? Nu-metal bands. This is basically a kissing cousin to nu-metal anyway. It’s music designed for distracted teenagers to distract themselves further until it’s time for a lifetime career in something brainless to match their braindead approach to life. How anybody with above a single-digit IQ could enjoy this escapes me. Sadly for all of us, this title is accurate: the future of America is a populace that considers this a valuable piece of music.
Anal Blasphemy / Forbidden Eye – The Perverse Worship of Satanic Sins
Anal blasphemy starts off with three tracks of simple death metal with a strong melodic hook. It is however rather straightforward in structure which leaves creates a sense of uniformity. Riffs are very similar. The final track uses a melodic lead-picked counter-riff which adds some depth but ultimately these songs are one step removed from their beginnings, so despite the compelling rhythm and melodic hooks they might not survive repeated listens. Forbidden Eye produces a more lush approach to melodic metal which is clearly in the droning black metal camp, but avoids the pure sugar-coated repetition common to the Eastern European variant. Its weakness is that there is not much in the way of a unique voice; we’ve heard these tropes before and recognize the song patterns well. If you can imagine a Dawn or Naglfar approach with more intensive drumming that is roughly what you’ll get here, well-executed but undistinctive both melodically and stylistically.
Descend – Wither
The rock ‘n’ roll industry is a successful industry that attracts players who are highly professional. They know what the product is, and how to do do the minimum to achieve it; this practice, otherwise known as shaving margins, is based on the idea that the other guy will cut his costs to the minimum too in order to both lower price to make the product more competitive and maximize his own profit. If two guys make a widget, and one does it for five bucks less, that’s pure profit. In the same way, rock ‘n’ roll is based on fast turnover and following current trends so you can catch the media wave. I hear death metal is big now, like trendy. This album attempts a facial similarity to death metal with the whispery vocals of Unique Leader bands and lots of runaway blast beats followed by metalcore riffs, but after a while, they drop this and out come to the jazzy riffs based on a scale bent to a series of offbeats of offbeats in a complex pattern, and the soft-strummed ballad chord progressions and melodic hooks. The problem is that the guitar rhythms, like those of the vocals in hip-hop, are based on subdividing a rhythm and thus rapidly become highly repetitive, both internally and between songs. The result is that it all all fades into the background, as should this rather unambitious and directionless release.
Reciprocal – New Order of the Ages
A “thinking man” band name written in a sterile font and a “politically informed” album cover. Is this more metalcore in death metal clothing? You bet. While this band is claiming influence from Deeds of Flesh and other Unique Leader bands for legitimacy, this has more in common with Necrophagist or The Black Dahlia Murder. Mechanical groove riffs are “spiced up” with sweep arpeggios and generic Slaughter of the Soul riffs appear over blast beats for the “brutality”. This is boring music with nothing to offer. Perhaps musicians this good need a better concept to work with than shouting out Alex Jones podcasts over Guitar World lessons from metalcore guitarists played at 220 bpm. I couldn’t tell the difference between this album and any other modern tek-deaf release. If these guys were to spend less time on conspiracy websites and more time thinking about why people still turn to their old Morbid Angel and Immolation albums instead of these tek-deaf bands (or how to structure their music to not be a series of discontinuous parts), maybe they could create something useful. Otherwise, this is Origin with propaganda attached looking to steal some time from metal fans while keeping Xanax addled brofist D&B homeys (Rings of Saturn fans) satisfied with more inconsequential ADHD music which will be forgotten a week later.
Caliban – Ghost Empire
Occasionally I’m amazed that something actually got signed because it’s so terrible and then later I see it on the bestseller list. The taste of the herd will never fail to shock and amaze, mainly because what they like is simple: (1) the same old stuff but (2) in some radical new format that’s easy to see through so they can appreciate the sameness of it. Modern society is about anonymity and personal convenience, so why not music that you can project yourself upon, that requires you to know or feel absolutely nothing except the most transient of emotions? Caliban have it for. Ranty Pantera verses over djent-inspired harmonically-immobile riffs lead to sung alt-rock style choruses with lots of hook and lengthy vocalizations, but essentially no melodic development. As a result this is super-repetitive in that its song structure is circular to the point of linearity and the songs at their core consist of two-note clusters in riffs stacked up against four-note chorus vocal lines. Every now and then they get tricky and play rhythm games with riffs that were well-known before Metallica formed. The main factor that kills me is the repetition. It’s as if the whole album is a conspiracy of details designed to hide the fact that it’s basically the words of a drunk, repeating himself unsteadily and then doubling his volume and saying the same thing. This might be good music to listen while doing laundry or some other task that numbs the brain because the effect of this music is to validate tedium, repetition and simplistic pounding. Unless your brain fell out long ago, avoid this reeking turd.
Blutkult – Die letzten deutschen Ritter
I always wondered what would happen to the formal nationalists in metal. We knew that founding bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Burzum, Mayhem, Immortal, et al were nationalistic in the sense of national pride and perhaps more. But it’s a leap from that to connect with the organized far-right parties and mentality, and for a long time, NSBM seemed like it would remain in that world. Then hipsters started like Arghoslent and Burzum and so now being a Nazi is a “lifestyle choice” like being vegan or buying a Prius… the hardcore nationalist music has changed too, as this album from Blutkult shows us. It’s a three-way split between the old Skrewdriver-styled sentimental punk music, Renaissance Faire styled Celtic-y noodly melodic music, and the droning of punk-influenced black metal such as Absurd. As someone of profoundly anti-racist and egalitarian character, I find this to be alarmingly catchy and emotional. Die letzten deutschen Ritter brings out feelings of hope in me, and I don’t like it. It’s like a surge of elegance and an old world emerging from the ruins of this one. But that makes me uneasy, as do the Wehrmacht soldiers on the cover, the black suns and the vocal samples that sound like the man with the funny moustache himself. Regardless, this is where Graveland and Absurd have been trying to go for years. If they got rid of the stupid spoken intros and just focused on letting the music rip, this might be a really compelling release.
Amoral – Wound Creations
While their current output is being lambasted for being radio friendly rock/metal, this “technical death metal” debut album is given unwarranted praise for being some kind of masterwork. Too bad this is just metalcore. Chugging groove riffs played in mechanical stop-start sequences make room for AOR “extreme” stadium metal melodies like Soilwork, and little else. While the playing is adept, the music is annoying and makes their latest album sound favorable by comparison for being honest commercial radio muzak that’s not congested with unnecessary ornamentation and fake aggression. If Nevermore made a mash up between Soilwork at it’s most commercial and Meshuggah at it’s most mechanical while Chimaira make MTV edits out of the recordings, you might end up with an album like this: sub-par music, but at least they know how to play. Too bad they sound like any other generic metalcore band signed to Century Media circa the 2000s with growl vocals (done in the metalcore faux-aggressive style). A terrible excuse for metal that without a doubt brings great shame to Finland.
What’s an oration of disorder? What most people think of as “order” consists in telling other people what they want to hear and then manipulating them. That’s how you sell them products. But the selling of products is the opposite of what art and listeners need, which is a harsh voice to tell us the truth.
Shroud of the Heretic – Revelations in Alchemy
From the latest attempt of the Incantation clone camp comes Shroud of the Heretic with an album that combines a subtle melodic sensibility and the roaring chordstream bassy tremolo riffs that define that style. What is great about this is that it brings out the doom metal aspects of doom-death and is willing to allow the thunder to build and create the sense of sonic tunnel vision that makes this style so crushing. Shroud of the Heretic specialize in letting the music breathe through two riffs in combat from which a third rises, allowing the majority of the song to be taken in the interplay between those two riffs and then connecting them to other possibilities before returning for the descent. Revelations in Alchemy aims more for a doom metal aesthetic than a death metal one, and so benefits from the kind of repetition and churn that would not have worked on an Incantation album. It does not offer the same intensity as the older albums its worships, but it provides an alternative to the modern metal of this time that is well-composed even if not outright thrilling and terrifying. Given that its goal is, like that of most doom metal, to slowly press you into earth with inescapable repetition, Shroud of the Heretic seems to be on a path toward that end.
James Labrie – I Will Not Break
Coming to us from Dream Theater, James Labrie knows his audience likes jazzy heavy metal with a focus on positive themes. It makes sense that Dream Theater’s heritage is half Iron Maiden and half Rush, because they adopt the rhythms and harmonies of the former while using the quasi-prog stylings and outlook of the latter. Labrie continues in this vein but with more of an alternative rock sense of melody, creating something that sounds like a hybrid between Queensryche, Foo Fighters, and the kind of inspirational alt-rock-folk music that makes it into Lifetime Movie Network films at the end, when the girl hooks up with the right boy and apologizes to her mother and maybe even, finds Church (or God if she’s lucky). The result is probably a perfect commercial product in that it makes you feel good, with a “positive message found in the unlikeliest of places” (NPR) just like Rush, but has a basically good rhythm and is melodically compelling enough to hum along. But, like fellow Canadian artist Bryan Adams, Labrie has also indulged in a cheese fest that takes him firmly out of metal and plants him into the category of adult-oriented radio rock for people who want something a little cheerful and a little “edgy.” Thus he has left the hall and entered the suburban living room, while a vacuum runs or taxes are done, and the kids are upstairs listening to Dead Infection.
Asgardsrei – Dark Fears Behind the Door
The distinctive ambient intro that opens this album remains one of the high points. While all of the elements are correct, like many post-genre bands, this is essential a mishmash of styles put into the framework of faster abrupt death metal. Many of the tropes here are familiar from black metal and death metal of the past two decades, but are put into a uniform flow of high-speed tremolo picking. There are some bizarre riffs here, and the band specialize in horror movie-sounding lengthy power chord phrases, but these often seem to lead nowhere. There’s a good aesthetic idea there, but for it to become musical, it must arise from the other riffs. Instead, it’s more like a tour of compartments on a train where each one offers something different but in roughly the same style and so it seems to add up, but ultimately it’s a search for the compartment with the interesting riff and that’s fairly random. As far as style, these guys have a distinctive one that’s all their own, despite being very retro to the point of outright allusion, but because of the way riffs are contexted as part of the overall rhythmic composition nothing stands out as out of place.
Subreality – Endless Horizons
Imagine Blind Illusion, kicked forward a half-generation and thus using deathy vocals over melodic but buoyantly regular speed metal. These six songs were recorded in 1996 and finally released in 2004 but they sound like they’re straight out of the days of later Kreator or any of the death-influenced speed metal of the late 1980s. If you live for 1980s speed metal and like the somewhat shaky instrumentals of the underground, as well as the hangovers from 1970s metal which infest this like a Dave Murray impersonators’ conference, this divergence into metal history might appeal. Rhythmically consistent, Subreality has found a few grooves it likes and stays within them, using the mid-paced beat to hang riffs from like tentpegs holding canvas. Many of these riffs anticipate patterns that Pantera would later use to make its own music, previously a glam hair band with extensive heavy metal stylings, seem more “tough” on its way to discovering bro-core. Like most speed metal that does not take the riff salad approach, this quickly heads toward repetition as a familiar comfort and sing-song choruses outlining the rhythms of the song title. Not only that, but in the worst of the European approaches to speed metal, this is strictly verse-chorus (w/occasional riff detours) music based on the pace of the vocals, so it develops slowly if at all and features heavy repetition. Some have said this is an underground classic. “Classic of what?” I might ask.
Grace Disgraced – Enthrallment Traced
If you combined later Carcass’ Necroticism with later Suffocation, and decided that from modern metal you’d take the twisted riffs that converge on themselves through intricate lead rhythm patterns and discard the true randomness, you might be on a path to Grace Disgraced. Despite its fondness for internally rhyming names, this band makes a noodly type of death metal hybrid that emphasizes a contrast between spidery lead riffs and djent style percussive single-string riff texture. These songs do well once they get started and maintain a solid internal correspondence and tension; the real challenge this band is going to face in the future is figuring out how to make these songs distinctive. Much gets lost in the wash of riffs, blast beats and interludes; without shaping these songs around some distinctive trope, as Suffocation did (but Carcass ultimately did not) they’re going to find themselves getting lost in the background noise. In addition, many of the riff types are highly similar between songs which leads to a further loss of distinctiveness. All instruments are well-played and songs hold together without becoming random although often it’s difficult to discern what they’re trying to say.
Adamus Exul – Arsenic Idols
The black metal that doesn’t sound like “post-metal” (emo, indie, shoegaze, metalcore) fully is generally built on the same model that later Gehenna and Gorgoroth built on, which is the churning sweep riff followed by a fast metal tremolo riff and over the top vocals. Adamus Exul makes a competent bid for this style and generally does it well but adorn it in so many other decorations that it becomes hard to tell where each song is going. In that there’s a revelation; these songs introduce themselves well, and deepen the experience with internal richness, but never manage to pick a place to go. Thus the band uses a lot of radical percussion and decoration to transition out of each song. By the last two tracks on the album, Adamus Exul have almost totally lost concentration and/or their hoard of ideas, and the release trails off into gibberish and leftover speed metal tropes. The first four tracks however show some potential as a musical experience but fall short of exposing themselves to the raw nihilism of black metal, in which they can no longer hide in the world of what is socially valued, but most confront the emptiness of life itself and the need to give it meaning through finding purpose which is not necessarily inherent. That is lost here and so what has promise ends up being an entertaining and aesthetically distracting experience but never leads to any profundity which might give this album staying power, even if it is better in technique and composition than most of what crosses my desk.
Malevolent Supremacy – Malevolent Supremacy
Looking at this title, you might think: middle of the road death metal with deathgrind influences. That indeed describes Malevolent Supremacy, who write songs around the blast-beat buildup and breakaway much as the Skinless-style bands did, but instead of aiming for slouchy brocore grooves, Malevolent Supremacy like high-speed riffs and clattering drums racing to a conclusion. These riffs rip along at the high speeds you might expect from the second Vader album and do fall into grooves, just not the simplistic bouncecore ones favored in fraternity houses and meth dens worldwide. Songs are well staged and unravel with some subtlety. However, this band relies too much on vocals to lead the guitars, which is backwards, and have a tendency to build up perfectly good songs only to extrude them into repetition as a way of preserving whatever mood was created. Too many flourishes on guitar also interrupt what would be, if stripped down and allowed to breathe as themselves, some powerful death metal songs. The frenetic approach rarely works because it smooshes all of that nice death metal textural complexity into a single background drone, which then requires the vocals get dramatic to compensate, but that doesn’t work so perfectly workable song structures get interrupted with “contrast” that amounts to fast breaks and quick turns to evade the attention of the listener. This band has potential but should probably try another tack.
Queen V – The Decade of Queen V
Flopping into the metal pile because guitars are used, Queen V should be filed instead under 1968 style music: brassy female vocalist, ironic songs, lots of hook and some boom. This is music designed for movies in that I can’t imagine anyone sitting down to something this unsubtle and finding meaning in it, but it would be something that a brain-dead leech like a movie producer might use to symbolize a character having a rebellious moment in between blowing her boss and getting mugged by hipsters. The music itself is crass and obvious. It whallops you over the head and howls at you. Nothing in it is poorly-executed, but as a judgment call, it seems to be designed for either people who have trouble digesting five-note runs or who like to play loud music to assert their personalities while they shower, mow lawns, mope over breakups or other drama. That erects a barrier for metal fans who would probably find it unsubtle and repetitive, but this might appeal to people who like Tracy Chapman and Liz Phair and other strong female vocalists with very simplified points to make.
Grave – Endless Procession of Souls
On the surface, this album is like later Fleshcrawl or Dismember works, a big warm hug of fuzzy Swedish distortion and adorably principled misanthropy. It stays within the traditional death metal style, but imports a lot of its song structure and riff from speed metal, which means there’s more chugging and bounce on this one. There’s also too much reliance on vocals leading the rhythm guitar and, while contrast is generally a good thing, too much contrast that is wholly unrelated to what went before and therefore seems more like an unmarked subway stop than a discovery of something sublime and previously obscure. For many who remember the speed metal of the late 1980s, a lot of this will seem paint by number: riff etches out a chord progression, counter-balances it with some unique feature like a melodic hook, and chorus re-hashes what is implied by the riff. Songs rip along and might warm you up on a chilly day for their uptempo but not pointless faster consistency. Like At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul, most songs focus around a family of similar rhythms which gives this album a very consistent feel. Many of the patterns on here show a strong Celtic Frost influence, and there’s nothing wrong with that. As an album, it is not detestable and definitely is better than the majority of stuff out there, but it may lack the clarity and unique articulation that makes people want to throw it on the player in the first place, which is much how I feel toward later Fleshcrawl and Dismember.
Nebiros / Nekromanteion – In Command Tenebrae split 7″
The new black metal underground has mixed the 1980s style of black metal with some of the more punk-influenced elements of death metal, creating a new style that is equal parts Angelcorpse and Venom, Bathory and GBH. Nebiros leads in with a track of fast storming proto-black metal in the Sarcofago style, complete with emulation of the “catch-up” drum fills which filled in the space between uneven length guitar tracks and the drums which were recorded later. This song rips through several quick riffs, then slides into a groove like one that early Samael might have used, before trailing out in a blaze of reprise of earlier riffs. Nekromanteion begins with a more melodic ripping death metal approach, using a grand riff to instill a sense of rhythm that explodes outward in a combination of two riffs, an open percussive riff more like something on a hardcore album, and a Norwegian-style minor key melodic riff. The result cycles after this point before ending in a processional riff that contrasts its initial theme. This goes for a softer approach with more atmosphere than the Nebiros track, which is why the two complement each other well. It’s hard to tell from this limited sample whether these bands are able to develop more material that maintains this level of interest, but for a starting gambit this 7″ shows a lot of what is missing in contemporary metal and two styles that can render it.
What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Music is art when it has something to say, entertainment when it’s distracting. Since none of us have infinite time, we pick the best and strongest music we can and mock the rest. The path to true metal is littered with sweet, sweet poseur tears and the occasional gem of non-failure, a secret delight for the wary traveler…
Behemoth – The Satanist
Promising to make a “statement” and deliver “art,” The Satanist summons borrowed Morbid Angel and Angelcorpse cliches thrown into a carnival style arrangement with such poor taste it makes late 90s Ancient seem good by comparison. A typical “song” — they cut this album up like a pizza because the riffs in each song have no relation to one another — begins with a slow build up that is awkwardly discarded to make room for a blasting section that sounds like Trey Azagthoth circa 2001 trying to intonate his 7 string while Pantera is rehearsing in the background and reggaeton horns are thrown over the top. If you can imagine a drunken outtake from a later Septic Flesh album that randomly ends after about 3 “riffs” that meander about without purpose are played for about 2 minutes each, that approximates the effect here. It’s not atmosphere, and it’s not death metal. It’s circus music. You will never fail to be distracted as the riffs dance past. And yet, they make no sense when put together. The only thing holding these songs together is that you know roughly when there’s going to be a chorus to tap those toes and listen for the melodic riff. Not even a crappy Gateways to Annihilation imitation act anymore, Behemoth now make it well known that they’re a merchandising front that’s somehow more shallow than recent Watain. Stupid music, regurgitated themes… this is the Marilyn Manson of “underground metal.” No, scratch that; he wrote actual songs. Lullabies for molested children struggling through impossibly awkward teenage years, perhaps, but actual songs. This is just gee-whiz riff practice with incoherent blasphemy and angsty mincing underneath the guitar masturbation.
Obscure Oracle – Demo 2013
Hybridizing power metal, progressive speed metal such as Anacrusis, and death metal, San Angelo’s Obscure Oracle focuses on the newer metal styles of a stream of technical riffs but unlike the newer bands, returns to the 1980s for a chorus-focus in rhythm and riff shape which holds these songs together better than most bands can manage. The detours into instrumentals often inspired by other genres are usually pretty well managed but the problem of making them a steady feature of the stylistic canon is that they must appear frequently and they must stay distinctive, so never really fit within the composition but serve as a kind of oppositional interlude. Obscure Oracle do this better than 90% of other bands and keep the focus on the song, giving us some hope for these guys despite the unfortunate modern influences.
Centinex – Subconscious Lobotomy
I always wondered why this album did not go farther back in the day. It had the thunderous electric distortion, heavy vocals, hardcore-style drumming (but flattened from offbeat emphasis to cadence), and everything else. Maybe it was the amateur hour cover drawing on the original? On re-listen to this beautifully re-mastered re-issue, I realize the actual problem: where Entombed was rocky, this album is death metal and punk that never picks up on a direction and so ends up back in rock ‘n’ roll. It sounds like regression. Entombed’s songs expanded out into these soundtrack-influenced beautiful sections that gave them death and intensity. This thrashes around, then ends up on bouncy hard rock riffs. Even more, it’s almost strictly verse-chorus without allowing for melodic development between the two. Thus, it trudges. Repetition emerges. It feels like being lost in the back alleys of an unfamiliar city, and the sensation is akin to boredom. The story the record labels want you to believe is that somewhere, someone buried a lost cache of genius Swedish death metal under a carpet somewhere. The reality is that it was a relatively small group of people who figured it out and everyone else missed the boat not through lack of opportunity but lack of cognition.
Ingested – Revered by No-One, Feared by All
Another worthless band that plays jockcore masquerading as a death metal band. Nothing about this album is morbid, sinister, or “brutal”. It’s just a bunch of stop-start mechanical rap/rock grooves sandwiched between random Cryptopsy (circa the “wearing Earth Crisis sweatpants promo pics” bad years) blasting randomness without any rhyme or reason. Do you enjoy opening storage containers with your face? Do you know how quickly you can shotgun a PBR if it’s room temperature and the game is in two hours? Put on those wife beaters, cheer for the team, and here’s some tailgate party slam death metal brocore to get the night started! If Pyrexia were tasked with rewriting Machine Head’s Burn My Eyes in a way that would appeal even more to Wu-Tang Clan fans, this EP would be the result. This “slam” garbage is Tupac with better merchandising, but since the cover art here is crappier than what they had on their debut, it seems they’re failing as being a merchandising brand used to sell “death slammer bro” lifestyle products to confused backward ball-cap fratboys as well. Another drink coaster that might as well say Aborted or Skinless on it.
Alcest – Shelter
It has become painfully obvious that the lucrative bandwagon of “post-black metal” has headed off the road and is now tumbling down a gentle hillside, to be followed by a sudden drop into total irrelevance. This won’t be surprising to those who recognized “post-black”, sludge, shoegaze, indie-metal, etc. as basically warmed over 1980s emo music. At this point, Alcest sounds about like the average generic indie rock band as these artists and their fan bases stop with the lies and come to terms with what they really want to hear: socially acceptable whine rock. If you ever want to know what a lobotomy feels like, give this track a listen. You will feel emotion on the surface, followed by an emptiness which is your brain recognizing the total lack of content other than a veneer of meaningful music. There will be wheedly-wheedly guitars, extensive arrangements that go nowhere, vocal posturing and lots and lots of false drama like that diabetes-inducing icing they spread on the cheap cakes at American grocery stores. Everything is on the surface however, designed to fool you like a Those who value their mortality, stay far away from this brain bleaching turd.
Metallica – Metallica
While it may be unfair to classify this as the first “commercial speed metal” album, it certainly was the most breathtaking example of a band choosing profit over artistry. We all know they’re out there: the vast horde of people who will buy just about anything as long as you dumb it down so it doesn’t confuse them. They like verse-chorus structures, gentle melodies, pentatonic soloing and big buoyant 4/4 verses. Metallica took one look at this audience and thought, “Well, Cliff’s dead — he’ll never know!” and so they made an album after the butt-rock that sold out in the decade before Metallica was formed. If you’re thinking Boston and REO Speedwagon with more muted E chords, you’re right! The continuation of …and Justice for All‘s proto-nu-metal stop-start riffs combined with adult contemporary crooner vocals and rock-style song structures represent a distillation of the lowest elements of metal in a form suitable for easy consumption by the masses. It’s not technically incompetent, and in fact is reasonably well-executed, if you’re expecting rock music. It misses the point of metal song construction and instead is rehashing the blues-rock and stadium country hits from the 1970s. This is the album most people think of when they hear the term “heavy metal” — and we wonder why they find it hard to respect heavy metal from that point on. Abandon all hope, ye who go down this path of listening.
Tennessee Murder Club – Human Harvest
Promising a “timeless” death metal album, this immediately sounds unlike anything a self-respecting fan of death metal fan would listen. Never mind the off putting metalcore vocals and modern guitar tone (plus the stupid metalcore band name and logo), under the surface this is Lamb of God with “horror” riffs thrown in random arrangements. With albums like this alongside Repugnant and Entrails, the blame could always be placed on Bloodbath for mixing Pantera mall grooves with generic third tier Entombed wannabe Stockholm death metal and creating a new lifestyle product for mainstream “headbangers” during their interim between Slipknot and the Dave Matthews Band. “Death metal” for angry truck drivers. So it’s really just Pantera with tremolo picking, and I wouldn’t wish for this rancid batch of sonic diarrhea to befall the ears of even my worst enemy.
Hellbastard – Heading For Internal Darkness
Debut album from the band that likely coined the term ‘crust’, this ambitious work falls short of excellence due to a few unusual and unsavory choices in aesthetic and composition. First, though certain songs pick up the pace much of this album sticks to one or two tempos? a bit more variation (such as the track “Civilized”) would be welcome. Second, poorly and sometimes awkwardly inserted female vocals are placed in parts of songs where the riff should instead be emphasized. It doesn’t take much to filter them out, but it would be far better without them? they add nothing to the music and in some cases detract from it (the faster section of “Death Camp” is a prime example). Otherwise, this is an energetic and spirited work. Chunky speed metal riffing mixed with thrash and early death metal touches compliments a looseplaying drummer. There’s an unhindered exuberance to the performance which echoes the best of hardcore punk. Basically sounds like early Metallica or Exodus mixed with Amebix, Crass, and Discharge. Its flaws hinder it from truly ascending to the top, but this is still a solid album that ranks in the top 5% of the crust genre.
Disfiguring the Goddess – Black Earth Child
Apart from growling and blast beats, this is nu-mu. Rap/rock chugging thuds (djent) and “ambient” synth/sampling forays in guitar driven rhythm oriented songs (where attention is given to vocal rhythms) give this more of a Korn character than anything else. This is a produced to perfection turd of a release that was no doubt made to pacify the simple minds of neckbeards that spend too much free time on Facebook. Songs go nowhere, literally being a series of blocky rhythmic chugging sequences reiterated in different ways. It’s monotonous and stupid. The solo “metal” project of a dubstep producer, this release borrows the surface aesthetic from “brutal death metal”, but accomplishes little more than sounding like a more “extreme” Slipknot. Considering the interest in this project has more to do with its merchandising and the personality behind it all, it’s no surprise all of this “slam” vapidity functions as an embarrassing social tool for indie-rockers and hipsters: another lifestyle product that under the surface of “crazy music”, provides more of the same disposable radio rock.
Clit Commander – Tex Mex Ass Blast
How can you hate a record with this hilarious title? That’s what they’re hoping your friends will say to you. They only need to fool you for about thirty minutes, long enough to place that order and slide that card. Then the sale is made and everyone wins… at the label. The fact is that if you buy this, you’ve not only wasted money but done something stupid enough that you really should end your life! This is predictable death-grind of the mid-paced variety that specializes in linear riffs and abrupt tempo changes that lead nowhere. Song construction is circular and yet still manages to be disordered. If you already feel a massive ennui overwashing you such that you no longer care if you live or die, imagine listening to it. It’s worse.
I used to loathe end-of-year lists. They struck me as a pointless chance to advertise what should have been obvious before. Over the years they have risen in my estimation as a way not only to mark the year, but to bring up the gold that gets lost in the chaos of everyday life. And yes, they’re also shopping lists for the metalhead in your life.
This year our list is surprising even to hardened cynics. At a time when metal is bragging up and down the Williamsburg alleys about how “innovative” and “ground-breaking” it is, that novelty turns out to be the remnants of the 1980s: emo, pop punk, shoegaze and indie. The real innovation is as always underground, because to get out of the hive mind one must first remove oneself from participation in normalcy.
Thus what you will find here is not what you will see in either (a) the big-label-financed slick magazines and web sites or (b) the majority of small zines and websites out there. That is because the genre as a whole has shifted from creation towards an idea to emulation of the past, or reaction to the past by trying to adulterate it with outside influences. Neither approach succeeds.
When a reviewer chooses an album, he should pick one that will last in your collection. Your time is limited, as is your money. Thus we look only for works that you can purchase and enjoy over the years, and can return to with a sense of wonder and discovery as new angles and nuances emerge. This standard seems high, so they call us elitists. What we really are is people who love metal and want it to be strengthened by its best, not weakened by accepting its worst.
The following albums are those that merit such a standard:
Argus – Beyond The Martyrs
Rejecting the notion of newness in itself, Argus returns to fundamental influences from the 1980s and makes a band that sounds like a fusion between Mercyful Fate, Iron Maiden and Candlemass. Guitar riffery is designed to be inventive and interesting in its own right but is trimmed down to what fits the function of each song. As a result, these songs “sound like” the classics in more ways than one. They are thoughtful and deliberate, purposeful and driven. Classic heavy metal riffs merge with meandering leads that somehow pull it all together, under the mournful voice of a vocalist who clearly enjoys classic Candlemass both in vocal delivery and sense of melody. See full review / interview.
Autopsy – The Headless Ritual
Autopsy are famous for their contributions to death metal which notably peaked in Mental Funeral where their chaotic tendencies got wrapped up in their sense of atmosphere and produced a dark ambling journey into the subconscious. Of their later works, The Headless Ritual gets close to such a balance although it aims for something more everyday. This is an album that wants to deliver classic death metal thrills, and it does so with moderately paced songs that balance melody and savage chromatic riffing. Chris Reifert’s drumming pirouttes and grapples through vicious tempo changes as riffs unlock a Lament Configuration that is equal parts nostalgia and invention.
Birth A.D. – I Blame You
What happened to real thrash, like DRI and Cryptic Slaughter? In much the same vein as hardcore punk before it, thrash was so intense that it burned out after only four years of real presence. Birth A.D. wisely choose not to “bring it back” but rather to pick up as if thrash were a party and the next day, the hung over participants awaken among the ruins. They’ve sharpened its message, which merged the anarchy of punk with the search for societal purpose of metal, and given its riffs the S.O.D. speed metal infusion without unduly modernizing them. As a result, these two-minute songs hit hard and retreat into the jungle, leaving behind their sardonic lyrics mocking society for being so stupid. When the record stops playing, there is a sense of both having received too much information to process, and a sadness that there isn’t more. See full review.
Black Sabbath – 13
Realizing what Black Sabbath meant to fans not just as a named entity but as a phenomenon, Black Sabbath integrate the sounds of vocalist Ozzy Osbourne’s solo years into their later, more refined music, with citations to Master of Reality as well. The result is a powerful album that is more pop than their original works but, in a time when nu-metal rages on the radio, reclaims heavy metal as having a voice of its own. It also pushes controversy, affirming a presence of God in this world for good or ill at a time when most people want to get polemic one way or the other. A supporting cast of sprawling but hard-hitting songs make this a great immersive lesson and transition from regular rock to metal for new listeners. See full review.
Blitzkrieg – Back From Hell
This band shares members with Satan, who also re-entered the fray with an album of strong tunes. Like Satan, Blitzkrieg know how to simultaneously avoid “changing” for change’s sake (inevitably a lateral move to other contemporarily popular genres) and nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, making instead an album that fits into their catalogue but doesn’t deny the older, wiser status of its members. These are mostly straightforward songs with melodic choruses and driving, riff-centric verses, plus nimble-fingered and harmonically-aggressive soloing. See full review.
Burzum – Sôl Austan, Mâni Vestan
People said they wanted old Burzum back. The spirit of old Burzum comes back in this ambient album. It’s a bit more hasty and less refined by fanatical attention to detail than his previous works, but it creates the same world, only zoomed forward in time. It is both a practical and imaginative album. In style, it resembles a cross between Tangerine Dream, William Orbit and the Scandinavian folk music of Grieg, Hedningarna or Wardruna. Strongly ritualized, it unfolds like a descent through mythical worlds and finds its own balance. One of the best offerings in this field. See full review / interview.
Centurian – Contra Rationem
For years many of us have wanted this Dutch band to catch a break. They have written several albums of relentlessly pounding, rhythmically intense riffing that somehow doesn’t add up. First, writing the whole album at high speed means that soon it backgrounds itself; second, there was always a lack of melody or song structure to hold it together. Centurian have improved on the latter two and toned down the former to a great degree, such that this is no longer trying to be Krisiun but more like a more Angelcorpse/Fallen Christ approach to Consuming Impulse. The result showcases this band’s dexterity with riffcraft and creates an intense atmosphere of violence. See full review.
Cóndor – Nadia
This entry album by a new band shows a lot of promise in tackling the power metal format and trying to give it the balls of death metal and funeral doom metal. This contemplative, mostly mid-paced album shows a sense of atmosphere as manipulated by riff, in the death metal sense, given a somewhat upward curve and heroic spin in the best tradition of power metal. Although it’s a new act, and still organizing itself, Cóndor shows that life remains in true metal that can be explored by revisiting its motivations. See full review / interview.
Derogatory – Above All Else
In the tradition of Vader, Mortuary and other fast phrasal death metal bands, Derogatory invoke the classic death metal form with an album of nicely interlocking riffs that reveal a basic but distinctive structure beneath each song. This album is not self-consciously “retro” so much as it is using the voice of the older style, and while it doesn’t expand stylistically, it has found a voice of its own. See full review/interview.
Empyrium – Into the Pantheon
Combining funeral doom metal with European folk music creates for Empyrium a fertile style that is showcased here in a retrospective of the best of their career presented in a rare live setting. Expect plenty of use of silence and resonance to build up these songs, which start slowly and then become engaging before evaporating into more esoteric conclusions. While most funeral doom aims to be dark, Empyrium creates an emotional contrast like a Gothic band, with beauty arising from chaos only to be strangled by inevitability and fall again. See full review / interview.
Graveland – Thunderbolts of the Gods
Following up on 2012’s Lord Wind release, Polish/Italian artist Rob Darken unleashes a new work under his black metal brand Graveland. Like the band’s second career-defining Memory and Destiny, this release features Bathory Hammerheart-style guitars which mix speed metal and black metal to produce rhythmic riffing as a backdrop for keyboards and vocals, now featuring also human female vocals and violin. The result is a collision between heavy metal, neofolk and epic movie soundtracks that evokes the glory of the ancient past.
Master – The Witchhunt
Paul Speckmann is a metal institution who has stayed with death metal from its genesis in the early 1980s through the presence. His latest, The Witchhunt, showcases the stable lineup he has used for recent releases but tones down the overall intensity to focus on songwriting. Fast riffs blend together with touches of melody and the classic Speckmann vocal patterns which resemble the struggles of daily life turned up to eleven. Where previous Master works of recent vintage tended to blend together, on this one each song is distinct. See full review / interview.
Profanatica – Thy Kingdom Cum
Taking a hint from Necrovore and intensifying it through technical prowess, Profanatica step back from the longer melodic riffs of Profanatitas de Domonatia and instead write short, cyclic phrases within compact rhythms in the style of the ancient Texas death metal cult. The result is like a primitive album with complexity embedded in it as melodies expand within fixed riff forms, uniting savagery and beauty in the service of blasphemy. As with all Profanatica works, this is experimental to the extreme, but Thy Kingdom Cum ranks among their most listenable releases. See full review /interview.
Rudra – RTA
The Singaporean maniacs return with an album that uses more traditional melodic death metal riffing but retains its rhythmic structure based on speed metal and possibly the Hindu rituals described in its lyrics. As with most Rudra releases, RTA does not aim for the pop song idea of hitting a sweet spot and luring in your ears. It is the construction of an experience, in this case a dark descent that forges a resolve to continue through warfare and a martial stilling of the reckless personality through militant silence of the soul.
Satan – Life Sentence
The rougher edge of NWOBHM that was a kissing cousin to speed metal emerges again in this highly musical album from Satan. Like their groundbreaking early 1980s works which presaged the debut of Metallica and birth of speed metal, Life Sentence features inventive riffs in classic song format in which melodic development in the vocals harmonizes riffs to bring songs to a conclusion. Shy of speed metal mostly because it relies on relatively fixed song format which emphasizes verse-chorus riff pairs, this album nonetheless reveals both the greatness of NWOBHM and its continuing relevance in a time of tuneless songs and random song structure. See full review / interview.
Summoning – Old Mornings Dawn
After black metal fully constituted itself in the early 1990s in Scandinavia, people looked for the next development along these lines. Some went to dark ambient, but others like Summoning and Graveland instead explored longer melodies and more drawn-out, atmospheric songs. Summoning take a medieval and Tolkien-inspired approach in contrast to the more martial outlook of other bands, and produce as a result immersive waves of melody that evoke a more organic society. With Old Mornings Dawn, these Austrian metal maniacs build on the emotion of Oath Bound but exploit it in more compact and separable songs, making one of the more intense metal statements of the year. See full review.
Von – Dark Gods, Seven Billion Slaves
Following up on Von’s early career material like Satanic Blood is not easy; in fact, it’s impossible. A band would either have to re-create that minimalist style and risk irrelevance, or embark on a campaign to dress it up as something it is not. Von has opted for something else entirely which is to create a minimalistic core within a rock opera style of black metal, producing one of the more puzzling but satisfying releases in the underground metal world this year. See full review.
Wardruna – Runaljod – Yggdrasil
Combining folk music, world music, droning found noises and the type of ritualistic dark ambient that emerged from the end days of black metal, Wardruna is a black metal side project that offers a different vision of music. While earlier works seemed detached from the end listener, Runaljod – Yggdrasil embeds the listener within a wave of ceremonial sound that aims not to be forebrain listening as Western rock is, but a mentally ambient experience that overwhelms by addressing all of the senses and channeling that experience toward a realization.
War Master – Blood Dawn
Underground death metal continuation act War Master released a four-track EP, Blood Dawn, amidst personnel changes and other upheavals this year. Like the previous Pyramid of the Necropolis, Blood Dawn focuses on futuristic and yet ancient concepts, almost like Voivod taking on Robert E. Howard or Edgar Rice Burroughs. From this vast concept come songs that both grind their way to nihilism and implement the death metal method of matching riffs into an internal dialogue from which a conclusion emerges, creating a pocket of mystery which is filled with wonder and violence.
Album of the year:
Imprecation – Satanae Tenebris Infinita
There is no completely fair way to pick an album of the year from a list with this many strong contenders, but Imprecation win this one on both substance and situation. For substance, this is a solid album that combines a black metal sense of ritualistic song development with the death metal tendency to make abstract riffs into an organic whole. For situation, Satanae Tenebris Infinita sees a band that started in 1991 and is famous for releasing its discography of demos in 1995 finally reach a stage where it can release a full-length album independent of any past influences. In addition, Satanae Tenebris Infinita hits hard and does not relent. Each element serves a purpose toward creating a transition in moods, like a perpetual parallax as continents shift. If death metal was waiting for a direction forward, Imprecation have opened that gate to a new occult science and art of subversive metal. See full review / interview.
The following were considered, and then not so much considered:
Morbosidad – Muerte De Cristo En Golgota. This is like Krisiun or Impiety rendered in the style of Mystifier, or like any of the war metal bands that imitated Blasphemy but with a dose of downtuned Sarcofago. It’s not bad, but aside from high intensity rhythm, it doesn’t have much to offer. Thus think of it as Satanic death techno performed on muddy guitars.
Fates Warning – Darkness in a Different Light. Bands: don’t try to roll with the trends. You were good at something else for a reason. This album has strong smary indie rock influences on its vocals and the result is embarrassing to be caught listening to. Riffs are reasonable, but don’t particularly develop, and emphasize space and consistency more than something with a personality.
Grave Upheaval – Untitled. Not bad; mostly rumbling noises, very true to form. Unfortunately, also doesn’t go anywhere. It’s an atmosphere piece of one dimension.
Warlord – The Holy Empire. Some sort of rock-metal hybrid from back in the day, this form of power metal uses mostly lead riffing anchored by static open chording. The dominant instrument is the voice, more like Rush or Asia than most metal. It’s pleasant but lullabye and too close to rock music.
Hell – Curse and Chapter. Do you know how far I would have run to get away from this back in the 1980s? It’s NWOBHM/early power metal without much melodic movement in the riff, so there’s a lot of chugging and shifting but not much actual motion. Nor will you have much actual motion as you listen to this… in fact, you might find yourself immobile and snoring.
Battlecross – War of Will. This is traditional metal affected by metalcore aesthetics. The vocals follow the surge pattern of later hardcore, and the melodic riffs use rhythmic “chasing” to accelerate patterns older than Chuck Berry. The result is so distracting the band can’t compose a song, but instead write a riff pair and then leap into a blast beat to transition.
Enforcer – Death by Fire. Here we have another band from Scandinavia creating highly musically-literate, catchy and otherwise perfect music. The problems are twofold: (1) it is a clone of 1970s styles that are liked for their innocent pop cheeze (2) while it is emotive, and aesthetically appealing, it is also empty.
Queensryche – Queensryche. Since the band went legal on each other, there’s now two Queensryches… this one sounds like Coldplay. The same posi-pop vibe and expansive chorus feel drives this work, and it has a similar outlook on the world, which is a sort of pathological compulsion to make things beautiful instead of finding beauty where it is rare. Unsettling.
Leprous – Coal. If this Queen-slash-bad-indie band gets anywhere in metal, it’s time to bury the genre under warm ruminant feces. Power metal mixed with dramatic English pop. The result is bracingly twee with metal riffs batting about in the background.
Iggy and the Stooges – Ready to Die. Almost all reviews of this album will waffle, because it is good, but it’s not distinctive. It all kind of flows together, as if the band paid more attention to the aesthetics of sounding like themselves than whatever’s driving them. But how do you “be punk” when you have a paid up retirement plan and health insurance?
Abyssal – Novit Enim Dominus Qui Sunt Eius. This was the hip thing for a few weeks, but shows you that you cannot revive a genre by imitating it through outward form. These songs use all the right pieces, but in a random order, and thus create no mood except nostalgia. And I piss on nostalgia’s grave.
Tyrant’s Blood – Into the Kingdom of Graves. Great title, has a Blasphemy ex-member, can’t go wrong… right? There’s a lot to like about this, but it doesn’t hold together. It embraces the “hotel buffet” style of offering many different riff types in a single song that ends up distorting any coherence. Storming Perdition Temple-style fast metal explodes into melodic mid-paced riffs and then ends up chugging deathgrind, lost and adrift on the seas of making a point.
Cultes des Ghoules – Henbane. It’s ludicrous that so many in the underground were fooled by this comical album. It’s a lot of bad heavy metal riffs interrupted by “avantgarde” noise, samples, etc. — the usual cliches — so that you don’t notice it’s bog-standard. This is hipster incarnate.
Acerus – The Unreachable Salvation. Galloping uptempo yet mid-paced heavy metal with a lot of Iron Maiden and Mercyful Fate. Not bad, but not particularly expansive to anything more than that aesthetic role.
Aosoth – IV: Arrow in Heart. This album, like Immolation, got credit because people expected it should. Its strong point is listenable songs with some technicality; its weakness is that they express nothing strong. It is Participation with an A+ for method and a B- for content.
Sodom – Epitome of Torture. This rather sentimental, somewhat modern-metal influenced take on a speed metal album is very catchy and represents Sodom’s most professional work, but also loses the unique perspective this band offered on the world around it. This is more like the heavy metal albums of their youths, heavy on emotion which makes their repetitive, chorus-heavy approach almost too saccharine.
Grave Miasma – Odori Sepulcorum. I have wallpaper. It’s named “It’s 1991 again and you can rediscover things you believed in once again.” It sounds like a mishmash of 1990s era death metal and yet, because it’s wallpaper, it never comes to a point. It just creates an atmosphere.
Týr – Valkyrja. Power metal of the newer stype seems to me it has a mystery ingredient, and that is devotional music. This sounds like church music, with sweeping choruses and whole-note cadences, and it has an admitted power, but it also loses much of what makes metal powerful: it’s not protest music, nor is it music that tries to cover ugliness with beauty, but music that finds beauty in what is considered ugly.
Onslaught – VI. Eager to effect a return to the music business, Onslaught speed up their punk/metal hybrid but adopt the vocal styles and constant driving mechanical rhythm of modern metal. The result is unrelenting but also disconnected and monolithic. The catchy choruses don’t help and seem almost to mock the rest of the music, which sounds like a pilotless threshing machine gone amok in a pumpkin patch…
Death Angel – The Dream Calls for Blood. In the 1980s, speed metal bands had a certain annoying rhythm where they tried to be as obnoxiously bouncy as possible while ranting as intensely as possible. With modern metal much of the internal rhythmic interplay has been eliminated, resulting in something that sounds like chanting Stalinist propaganda with guitars strobing in the background.
Bölzer – Aura. Like Oranssi Pazuzu, Bölzer experiment in disorganized slowed black/death/heavy metal with mixed-in weirdo alternative rock. Weirdo alternative rock has existed since early rock bands made a name for themselves by being odd. The problem is that it doesn’t connect to form an impression, only a sense of instrumentalism.
Coffins – The Fleshland. Doom-death with some quality riffing, Coffins nonetheless manage to inevitably get lost in each of their songs and fill the void with noodly pentatonic leads, distracted tributaries of non-essential riffs, and “atmospheric” repetition.
Metal Church – Generation Nothing. This shrill metal band has always struck me as more in the heavy metal camp than speed metal camp, and here it’s borne out. The riffs don’t have form like speed metal riffs do but are mostly static based on rhythmic repetition. Focus is on the voice, which wails. Not bad but annoying and kind of empty. Also, older guys trying to bond with the new generation is awkward when done this way.
Malthusian – MMXIII. Like many sonic experiments, this band relies on style to shape content because style is the substance of the experiment. The idea here is to combine the Incantation-clone death metal that is trendy with melodic progressive touches, including some sneakster modern metal influences. The result loses what could have been and fails to transition to what it wants to be.
Stratovarius – Nemesis. When did this band get so bad? The first track sounds like a rip of Heart’s “On My Own,” and the rest of the album proceeds in this fashion: combine classic metal riff archetype with classic 1980s vocal melody, add some flourishes and hope it’s good enough. I liked it better when this band was more speed metally and less pop.