I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the seven living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on Conquest. – Revelation 6: 1-2
Summoned forth to rage fury upon the unsuspecting but no less innocent, Pestilence, on each of their first three albums ushered in a predestined Apocalypse of the mind and struck at the heart of the dark forces of the Kali Yuga thus completing their microcosmic responsibility as “Kalki”, and providing the foundation upon which a new golden age and conciousness would hopefully arise. On their uncompromising and frenetic debut album, Malleus Maleficarum, Pestilence as corporeal manifestation of death and conqueror, harnessed the power of becoming to destroy the destroyer that is illusion and ignorance, and defiantly placed themselves within the torrential stream of becoming in a quest for truth. We as listeners are thus treated with no less than a passionate and structurally free form album that through its fluid, intelligent and precise use of riff craft probes and attacks on multiple fronts the lyrical themes tactfully explored by Van Drunen and Co.
Although one may be quick to argue that that the addition of socially conscious lyrical subject matter such as genetic manipulation and religious strife defines Malleus Maleficarum as a strict Speed Metal album, it is nonetheless better characterized as a highly refined and progressive speed metal album that straddles the death metal fence. Indeed, indicative of their speed metal roots is the common use of hysterical and staccato driven guitar technique reminiscent of bands such as Exodus, Destruction and Slayer that, coupled with an emerging yet competent sense of dynamics, melody, development and recapitulation of themes, successfully places “Malleus Maleficarum” outside the realm of pure Speed Metal and onto a pedestal of its own thereby providing the impetus for not a few debates regarding the essential nature of this album. Not to be missed of course is the embryonic vocal performance of Van Drunen, who while courageously exploring the memes that have driven modern society into calling forth the forces of plague and death to precipitate the end of this current cycle of humanity, opts for a hoarse rasp like yell in contrast to the later visceral death metal growl he is better known for.
Considering the less than inspiring output Pestilence has recently spawned, it is worth recalling and meditating on the legendary albums birthed by the youthful genius of this legendary band if only to provide inspiration and the soundtrack for a new generation of Hessians who will march forth triumphantly into the dreary haze of an uncertain but exciting future. With that said “Malleus Maleficarum” remains essential listening 20 years after its initial release. Standing out as a thought provoking album of much symbolic depth it also remains an uncompromising and virile album that successfully bridges the gap between speed metal and death metal and reveals the genetic ancestor of the latter genre. Not only a dramatic album in its own right Malleus Maleficarum stands as an interesting historical document that should not be overlooked by any serious Hessian.
Fighting the conspirations of ill health, amounting to months of delays, the much anticipated return of Slayer to England’s capital was in ominous syncronicity with the most auspicious time of the year for disciples of their church. As the Hessian-led International Day of Slayer falls upon us once again, last week’s early blasphemy proved to be an highly adequate preparation. The Slayer we all exhalt on this site was a mystical entity and their music excoriated the flesh of society’s body of lies and delusions, revealing the inner, beating heart of darkness and measurer of our mortal lives. They were also the progenitors of Death Metal, without whom many of the cults that feature in our catacombs may not have ever manifested with as advanced a template. The heat of the Spring sun, optimal for decomposition, drew the wehrmacht to Kentish Town’s Forum for an evening where the secrets of the dead promised to be revealed.
That, they would be, but not before some distractions within a chronology of events that would befit any highlight reel of modernity’s undoing, beginning with the supporting band from Sweden. The Haunted’s line-up consisted of some familiar faces, not just because they’ve been around for 10 years or so, initially Swedish Hardcore influenced Thrash before becoming the post-At The Gates band of Swedeath-influenced Speed Metal that they’re now famous for. Lead guitarist, Anders Bjorler of past-At The Gates fame, sporting a Disfear shirt in reference to both Swedish Hardcore and former bandmate Tomas Lindberg, launched with the band straight into ‘Bury Your Dead’, a signature track from their second album. Their set would mix old and new with some energy but the only problem from them is that their music sucks. This grammy-award winning combination of cliched galloping, groovy riffs interspersed with familiar and incoherently fragmented bursts of Swedish Death Metal melody, resulting in little to no melodic fluency is made even worse when the newer tracks demonstrate their love of pure nu-metal guitarwork. You know a set is bad when, despite it’s relative brevity and insignificance, every second of tedium feels absolutely unmitigated. They exit the stage with a warm crowd reception behind them but the diabolic concoction of Metal madness to follow boils the venue over with the hellish crepitance of anticipation.
Plumes of smoke veil the scene of everybody’s attention in stages of trademarked descent through noxious tributaries of the underworld. Led by battery commando Dave Lombardo, Slayer finally materialise from amidst the scarlet haze and open with ‘World Painted Blood, rendered near-flawlessy with Tom Araya’s completely static frame being the only, negligible sight to conflict with the fact that they’re still a well-oiled machine. Unlike other bands of such age and well-earned veneration, Slayer at least seem to understand the difference in purpose and spirit between their new and old recordings, rather than just the wear and tear of discographical order and simply ‘mixing it up’. The set was split roughly 50/50 in terms of timing, so there was quite some wait for the veterans to get their nu-material out of the way. The three standing band members would then congregate in a Seance-like circle formation around the beaten kit of Lombardo, ritually manifesting the schism and unleashing the demons of ancient times, channelling the wails of feedback as they did in their youth. Thus, the show really exploded with a rupturous performance of ‘Hell Awaits’ sending the violent hordes into a possessed frenzy. King and Hanneman were in brilliant, conversational form, damned to strike all the right notes and give a real sense of narrative familiarity to the chaotic and atonal guitar solos. Araya’s exoteric shouting was laid to rest and the invoked Mephistopheles conferred upon him sadistic scorn, the true voice of his priestly years, befitting such apocalyptic sermons as ‘Seasons in the Abyss’, ‘Mandatory Suicide’ and ‘Raining Blood’. The opening riff to ‘South of Heaven’ was possibly given it’s finest rendition to date, as the audio technicians menaced the sound with Kali-Yugic siddhis and lava on loan from Azagthoth. The song of the night was undoubtedly the pollutant ‘Chemical Warfare’, performed with as much vigour as on record way back in 1984. The intelligent, layered riff progressions that played out a multidimensional, mythologised communication of death, paranoia and destruction confounded the crowd but struck them hard, with the anthemic, holocaust winds of ‘Angel of Death’ to follow, releasing a tide of hatred and malevolence, and the highly multicultural crowd rose in unison to sing for the benefit of the Aryan race. The band known only as Slayer departed after covering the most recogniseable songs from ‘Haunting the Chapel’ through to ‘Seasons…’, reinforcing the memories of their greatness and perpetuating the echoes of their cryptic, Satanic messages.
Although Chris Reifert’s work on the now legendary, but perhaps over hyped Scream Bloody Gore was compelling, it is hardly worth mourning the fact that this death metal genius would leave Death and form the mighty Autopsy. On the contrary it remains a blessing, and while Death would continue to churn out a few more solid death metal records, Autopsy would themselves create a few classics whose extreme visions of death would underlie much of the philosophical vision of countless metal bands. Undoubtedly, Autopsy would also influence the worldview of many fans who would learn to eschew the illusion and flight and fantasy of modernity, in favour of a sober glimpse into the workings of reality in all its horrifying and powerful glory.
Autopsy’s barbaric and seminal album Severed Survival offered the listener what would by 1989 arguably represent the nihilistic and amoral apex of the burgeoning death metal genre and thereby cement their place in death metal history. Primitive and raw, the power with which Autopsy frantically bash out these energetic incisions into the human psyche, indicates a desire to transcend and break down the perceived but illusory moral world order and come to terms with the cold harsh realities of existence. On Severed Survival, Autopsy unabashedly presents the listener with a sometimes shocking but nonetheless candid and unmitigated reality, smashing to pieces any presupposition of a cosmic moral world order. As listeners we are forced to come face to face with death, desperation and the unspeakably twisted and cursed elements inherent in the mechanisms of reality and in the collective human consciousness, which Autopsy, like a skilled pathologist expertly dissect and examine. Exhumed are the intense, destructive and “degenerate” elements that are not spoken of in civilized society but which nonetheless drive reality and remain active as motive within the omnipresent but subterranean catacombs of the human mind. Unquestioningly suppressed out fear or an inability to place these depraved realities within the context of our currently constructed, illusory but ubiquitously advocated a priori moral world-view, it is Autopsy who courageously revel in exploring the obscene and who seem bent on destroying illusion in favor of discovering, conforming to and coming to grips with the power of reality.
”A bloody pile of discharge flesh
Is what you see as you face death
On the ground is the lifeless meat
Stillborn child lays at your feet”
Musically, Severed Survival is a conceptually flawless album that offers insight, contrast, and dynamic through its expert use of eclectic influences and moreover, succeeds in synthesizing musical and lyrical expression to form a complete experience also made possible through the phrasal composition inherent in the songwriting of all good death metal. Drawing on Celtic Frost and the simple power chord progression that made the latter’s work so completely unified and clear, synthesizing it with heavy metal’s tendency to express impending doom through the use of slower meditative riffs, and drawing on the frantic and schizophrenic lead guitar work of proto-death metal or speed metal giants, such as Slayer, Autopsy on Severed Survival executed an effectively simple, dynamic and epic work whose elements united to create a gripping journey that remains to this day, compelling, interesting and perspective altering. Highly recommended!
On first listen some would easily assume that this release were a mere product of nostalgia of underground metal of the 1980′s, at least indicated so by the production and indication that are present here. However this is death/speed/black metal firmly rooted in the underground crossover tradition of the 80′s and retains a firmly Australian sound to it. A good description of Vomitor‘s output would be the the epic thrashing of national pioneers Slaughter Lord and the crusty, retrograde execution and production that was witnessed on Spear Of Longinus‘ brilliant ‘Domni Satnasi’ album. Seeing as Vomitor have two members of SOL in their line-up this overlap is of no surprise, and gives Bleeding The Priest a similar quality of riffcraft and execution, which is atavistic but is well versed in older styles of metal. The attitude of this release evokes German speed metal, doing the early works of Sodom and Kreator strong justice, and the manner in which catchy guitar sequences are utilised sometimes evokes Razor, had they been influenced by Possessed rather than Motorhead. A thoroughly consistent work, Bleeding The Priest stands strongly as a milestone of Australian metal, a like a few other traditionalist acts within this genre serves as proof of ability to make new waves from trodden water, rather than being a ‘re-hash’. Very good.
Returning from the brutality of a Bolt Thrower show to recollect the events that defined it brings to mind the task of Ernst Junger, depicting the graphic scenes of martial violence and destruction in his soldier’s memoirs, ‘Storm of Steel’. Not merely the sounds of war and chaos, but the philosophy of death is what one has to confront on such a stage, and this sums up the depth of the Bolt Thrower experience. The great elemental gods of Britannia fired the opening salvo of the evening, unleashing a torrential downpour on the troops to be in attendance once conscripted into the dismal but still functional ULU venue, around the University College London site and home of the un-elite Utilitarian philosophy. A single flash of lightning, probably striking the Cenotaph for the war dead a few minutes away in Whitehall, would indicate that this night belonged to only one elite group, and the slowly multiplying hordes as if signalled to the venue by this storm omen, proved that the headliners were in everybody’s iron sights.
In the meantime, some fairly well-known bands would run through comparitively uninteresting sets in order to plug new albums or just an association with Bolt Thrower on this Next Offensive European tour. For the one unknown band, clearly grateful to the Coventry squadron for being able to provide opening infantry support, Ancient Ascendant took to the stage with some confidence and raged through their set infront of the minimal crowd at this time. The sound was not good and the technical setup of the venue’s sonic equipment would be a recurring issue throughout the night, usually leaving bands with an unbalanced sound. Even less impressive was Ancient Ascendant’s music, which was practically educated by the newer schools of Death Metal exclusively, sounding like a more frivolously melodic version of Bloodbath. A lot of generic rhythmic business with some predictably inserted flourishes of lead guitar lines and none of the compositional sense that at the very least ripping-off the old school Death Metal formula would have imbued the songs with by default. Even the next band, The Rotted’s only listenable song was from the older generic Gorerotted project, which is not much less moronic than The Rotted who are really damn retarded in this incarnation, with their stripped down songs consisting of one riff from a later Cryptopsy song played out as blasting Punk music. It’s also quite strange and not recommended to watch old, drugged up men performing breakdowns.
Considered by many as nothing more than a brief distraction, this was soon forgotten as the once powerful entity of Promethean Greek Black Metal took to the stage and the floor swelled with eager hordes. For someone that reveres the older fraction of their catalogue as highly as the Nordic classics, the Rotting Christ set provided both frustrating disappointment but also possibly the biggest surprise of the evening (not the appearance of Diamanda Galas). The transition from ancient Heavy Metal-inflected compositions of blackened mysticism to a boring and cheap form of fast and extreme Rock music with pseudo-cultural embellishments that would make Vangelis either laugh hysterically or summon the wrath of Mars upon Sakis and company, was made quite some time ago when the band sold out to Century Media and although the recent jump to Season of Mist has only marginally improved the quality of their music, the bulk of their songs is blockheaded rhythmic work that wouldn’t sound out of place on a System of a Down joke and disembodied keyboards typical of mainstream Black Metal bands to accompany the minute flickerings of nostalgia that is the signature Rotting Christ melodic style, the same tactic used by fellow Greeks, Septicflesh. Within this disastrous but obviously crowd-pleasing selection of tracks was something quite unexpected given the current direction of the band and their most recent live performances. Almost as though the old spirit of Necromayhem broke free from his sealed confines, the band launched mercilessly into ‘Sign of Evil Existence’, flooding the crowd with a sea of beautiful, extended phrasal work, causing an absolute frenzy and evoking the first old school invocations of the night. Not content with such a brief introduction to arguably the pinnacle of their early discography, ‘Fgmenth, Thy Gift’ continued the magic of ‘Thy Mighty Contract’ with the folky but regal opening riff surging into those magestic, ascendant patterns of guitar. The higher register key of these older songs manipulated the flatness of the sound setup brilliantly, with every note perfectly audible and a memorable contender for song of the entire show.
Benediction were next on stage, an aging group of Death Metal punks fronted by Dave Hunt of Anaal Nathrakh, Mistress and Never Mind the Buzzcocks fame, who nearly talks as much shit on stage as Barney Greenway, including an embarrassing appeasement of some girl’s sob story about a now deceased Benediction fan, thankfully met with a shout of ‘Only death is real’ from the front of the crowd. The set itself was a typically reliable collection of songs spanning most of their discography, better suiting the live environment than on CD, inducing as much violence from the crowd as their primitive, bouncy Death Metal can, like ‘Harmony Corruption’-era Napalm Death meeting ‘Tower of Spite’ by Cerebral Fix. It wasn’t much of a loss to have a guitar cut out during their stint, as the rest of the band seemed to push onwards, building up as much aggression as possible and justifying their placement on the bill, though it was huge relief to hear the end of Benediction at long last, for the lights to dim and the next offensive to commence proper.
Anticipation was immense for the legendary Grindcore/Death Metal ensemble and the battle hordes pushed forward like a scene from Braveheart, rivalling the force of a 90,000 strong audience gravitating towards the celebrity status of Metallica. Faint sounds of approaching war lingered from the amps over the field as Bolt Thrower finally took to the stage and launched straight into the sombre yet mammoth opening riff to ‘IVth Crusade’. The deliberate, sinister pacing of the double bass began to roll through and the crowd imploded into deadly chaos and aggressive force. As bodies began raining from the skies like mortar fire, crushing necks and leaving temporary indents of fallen victims, the atmosphere became thick with the smell of blood, sweat and the disturbing fragrances of shampoo. A large bulk of the set consisted of tracks from the last album but these were all delivered with enough power and rousing, anthemic vigour to blend seamlessly with the more skillful dynamics and evocative melodies of the older songs, from the brilliant rendition of ‘World Eater’ into ‘Cenotaph’ to the unforgettable lead guitars of ‘…For Victory’.
Bolt Thrower commanded the crowd, Karl Willets looked like a war-torn veteran but still yet to be tamed as the ferocity of his vocals didn’t let up for an instant. Jo-Anne Bench is undoubtedly the most menacing female presence in the entire Metal scene, and the poorly balanced sound worked well to render the songs with more bassy fury than can be heard on record. The subtle rhythmic variations of Baz’s guitars on the other hand were not as discernable, but for a seemingly undiscerning crowd, this did nothing to quell the primal violence that tore bones asunder in a ritual of combat replication. The signature riffs were also fairly muted but managed to somehow shine through like the sun between Afghan mountain peaks, and as the band returned for an encore, the perfect choice of songs scorched the stage like a vast napalm attack, with the ominous theme of ‘War’ transforming into ‘Remembrance’ as though the sorrows of Arjuna had been cast aside as he takes to the empty plains of Kurukshetra, seeing the world as it is.
Even as the band exited, the feelings of confrontation and pugilism reigned as brawls ensued and battered humans walked out to count their wounds. The show proved how bands such as Bolt Thrower who retain their integrity, remain possessed by this same eternal process of nature’s evolution and deliver like a well-trained soldier, with precision and consistency will rule for the longest time. We will remember them.
By the time 1997 rolled around Death Metal had all but returned to the primordial abyss from which it had emerged, and Black Metal had basically committed suicide. As if sensing the demise of extreme metal or unable to overcome the perceived expressive limitations of extreme metal, S.U.P. with an eye to their Heavy Metal and progressive rock influences, release a surprisingly expressive, intelligent and interesting album that could be referred to as industrial progressive death rock. Mid-paced, melancholy, unsettling, dreamlike and enigmatic, the listener of “Room Seven” is submerged into a world of varying and compelling experiences that often times work simultaneously to challenge and lift the listener beyond the simple, linear and emotive reactions that arise from rock and other forms of popular music. Despite some of the heavy metal fist pumping riffs and the common and accessible themes, “Room Seven” does a great job of placing the listener in a relative position of omniscience and thus introducing a position from which to contemplate and apply the wisdom of this release to one’s own life.
Masters at presenting simultaneously varying and subtly different shades of a theme, SUP reminds those who have the ears to listen that life is more than the mere temporal, logical and linear succession of events and experiences. Rather the listener is urged to contemplate life as the compound and expression of various and seemingly disparate elements, working simultaneously to create the complexity of life and its experiences, while remaining fundamentally connected. Vocals themselves, while melodic are emotionally restrained, dreary and often times express a profound fatalism, stoicism or a dissinterested acceptance of the superior forces alluded to above. Although “Room Seven” remains a compelling listen, the heavy metal and rock based themes preclude the possibility of this album reaching the cosmic heights of certain Black Metal and Death Metal classics, nonetheless as a testament to the intricacies of the human experience this album offers satisfying insight.
The most anticipated death metal release of 2010 (along with the upcoming Morbid Angel, of course) Majesty and Decay has everything to please any sophisticated fan of the genre, yet still doesn’t quite meet the impossibly high standards of the group’s past. The 2007’s Shadows in the Light while it seemed to have retained all the ingredients of the New York masters’ brew somehow failed to live up to spoiled listeners’ expectations. The unfortunate flirting with “nu metal” elements as well as almost complete discarding of drumming-based structure poisoned the arrangements and conveyed a bad aftertaste to the whole record. Still head and shoulders above any fellow North American squad Immolation has taken the prolonged break in order to revise their direction and yet again prove themselves the ruling kings of the genre.
The best news Majesty and Decay has to offer is Steve Shalaty’s drumming. The man has been replacing Immolation’s godly Alex Hernandez ever since 2005’s Harnessing Ruin but it is only here that he unlocks his true talent. Steve has surely developed his own musical language since 2007 and the band has finally regained its rhythmic “pillars”. Everything has fallen into place at last: blasting endurance, inventive drum breaks and mid-paced punishment. The “inverted” riffing – although not as all-pervasive as on, say, Close to a World Below, – stresses the drumming very nicely and allows for some smooth gliding down the interwoven landscape of melody. Indeed, what sets the album apart in the vast Immolation discography is the use of melody. While the band is still a riff-fed beast, the heavy metal melody injecting the solos and seeping through the riffs enriches the sound world of the group, introduces “humanity” to the demonic environment of their instrumentation. The songs are shorter compared to the classic 90s era material, more to-the-point composition-wise, and definitely more “human” than we have come to expect from these New Yorkers.
Vigna (wonderfully supported by Bill Taylor as usual) goes right after Shalaty in this album’s list of heroes. The tight, powerful riffing, the wild soloing echoing with sadness and despair – all of it enhanced by the tasteful and balanced production ensures a satisfying listen. Guitars are put to good use in both the “Intro” and the “Interlude”, which indeed set the atmosphere very well. Ross Dolan’s vocals have become completely decipherable on here without loosing the emotion and recklessness, while his bass is so elegantly put into the mix that it acquires percussive quality at times. All of the above perfectly reflects the lyrical themes of the album: the loneliness of modern man lost in the midst of colossal fight for world domination, the evaporation of values and purposes igniting intrinsic hells and leaving no hope for the spirit.
“Our threatened kingdoms The world is divided Trample ourselves While we claw for the prize”
Still, the album comes with its share of flaws too. The band implements the tension buildup/release approach in some of the songwriting here and not only fails to achieve the desired effect, but sometimes looses momentum completely (most notably “The Purge”, “Divine Code”, “Power and Shame” ). The distribution of Immolation’s volatile energy here often reduces the impact instead of boosting it. This new trick is still very raw/unrefined and cannot fully replace the mathematic complexity of their 90s output. The classic (and eagerly awaited) “last song devastation” is also pretty much wasted here: next to all the best, epic songs scattered across the album “The Comfort of Cowards” feels pretty weak (while certainly not entirely filler) for a killing blow. The cover art is a disgrace. This computer game-like visual representation does justice neither to music nor lyrics. Also, the band probably needs to consider revising their logo after all these years of using a stretched font as one.
All in all, this is a mandatory purchase for anyone with at least a slight interest in today’s metal. It is entirely possible that Immolation’s return will be the finest mainstream death metal album by the end of the year (even with all the mentioned flaws taken into account) as this reviewer doubts Morbid Angel or any other competitor for that matter has the guts to top this material.
Swedish Death Metal by Daniel Ekeroth is an easy and enjoyable read that recounts the glory years of Swedish Death Metal told in large part through the mouths of those who actually lived it. Ekeroth presents the history of Swedish death metal, focusing mainly on the release of seminal albums and demos, and the means by which fanzines and tape trading played a role in the development and proliferation of the Swedish death metal genre. This is definitely a worthwhile read if one is looking for a chronology of all of the important bands, namely Bathory, Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, At the Gates, and Therion, that played an important role in the development and consolidation of Swedish Death Metal. Additionally, the layout of the book is such that it is easily navigable, making use of handy headings, subheadings and band headings, which also make this a great quick-reference text. However compelling, it is a slight draw back that the various snapshots throughout the book interrupt the flow of the read, and are laid out in such a way as to provide a distraction. One may be better off reading the book through and then returning to the snapshots at a later date.
In addition to analyzing the careers of many important Swedish Death Metal bands, Ekeroth indulges the curiosity of the reader and earns additional merit for mentioning important non-Swedish bands such as Master and Deathstrike, and for emphasizing the role of Morbid Angel in the overall development of Death Metal. Interestingly, the author seems at pains to make sure that the reader understands the relationship between Crustcore, Punk, and Metal and adds some welcome depth to his account of Swedish Death Metal by mentioning Discharge, whose strumming style and melody would influence countless metal bands. If you are looking for a chronology of the glory days of Swedish Death Metal, this book proves enlightening. Thankfully, there is little mention of Slaughter of the Soul and second rate Swedish bands such as In Flames and Soilwork that would later hijack, dilute and all but destroy this once living art form.
With that said, readers beware! Ekeroth has a tendency to try and convince his reader that death metal was all about “fun” back in the day and tends to present the extracurricular activities, namely drinking and partying, as the highlights of many bands careers. Although Ekeroth’s goal was to tell the history of important bands, releases and tours, I believe this book could have been improved had Ekeroth attempted to explore the philosophical underpinnings of this genre and refrained from presenting Metal culture as simply an offshoot or replication of self-indulgent rock culture. New frontiers await those willing to explore this aspect of Swedish Death Metal and Ekeroth’s book may in fact prove to be a trailblazer. Time Shall Tell.
The challenge of creating relevant but still traditional Heavy Metal in this current age where even the most commercial face of Metal has been changed by the extremity of the underground seems to be an almost insurmountable task. The most recent efforts of mainstream veterans like Iron Maiden and Judas Priest in continuing the genre provides little in and of themselves to enthrall the masses as they did with their once advanced, Romanticist art. There are also the countless Power and Doom Metal bands that have hijacked the older forms and do so with little to none of the magic that possessed the music of the seventies and eighties. Though the secrets of the grand, old tradition have been apparently condemned to obscurity, they can never be lost and befitting the nature of lost wisdom, have turned up in the least likely of places.
Dantesco hail from the small Latin American island of Puerto Rico and through their music, divulge a rich tradition of Spanish music and highly exoteric and vibrant Catholicism. Although chronicling the triumphant Heathen soul at war with Christendom, ‘Pagano’ conjures the sounds of the immanent culture and possesses it with a bestial inflection, as the vocals of Erico that dominate this album resemble a Latin black mass arranged with the magestic sensibilities of an European opera. Infact, the vocal style is as properly operatic as imagineable in Heavy Metal music, putting the high-pitched aspirations of a Rob Halford or Messiah Marcolin in their places, though still conveying a sense of extreme primality and visceral power rivalled only by the demonic throats of Black Metal vocalists. These sermons are conducted exclusively in the native Spanish tongue, which suits the guitars incredibly well, as the melodicism of the riffs is only supplemented by the Doomy heaviness of Candlemass influence, but really crafted with Spanish classical guitars in mind. This is where the music really comes alive, before there’s any chance of hearing the vocals as just a unique ethnic gimmick to fill space with. The compositions are constantly engaging, commanding narratives the scale of the epic title-track to Iron Maiden’s ‘Seventh Son of a Seventh Son‘ with attention to mood dynamics often passed over in favour of an intentionally one-dimensional wallowing by other bands who play this melodic, traditional and Doomy kind of Metal. All the techniques on show have been long perfected, and more recently, have even found their way into the mallcore slang of pre-teen alternative/hard rock bands (via. Gothenburg), but fortunately, it’s all found an orderly, emotive and inspiring expression in ‘Pagano’. The tight but hyperbolic interplay of vocals and guitar is a feast for those that love to follow several strands of ancient melody at once, as if transforming the old Hispanic anthems of Mexico’s Luzbel into rousing, harmonised hymns, tempered and then unleashed to invoke the spirits of pre-Christian warriors. True Heavy Metal, fit for contemporary ears, giving the current crop of extreme-influenced Pagan and Black Metal bands a serious run for their money.
Were the year 1988/89, when Speed Metal was making it’s final, most definitive statements of dystopian frenzy and technical invention, the reverberations of this music would undoubtedly be traced back to places like Canada and Texas, detecting the names of Voivod, Obliveon, Watchtower and dead horse among others. Certainly not Arizona, where, in Vektor‘s case, these sounds have travelled to and eventually merged in an energetic experiment of nuclear fusion. To some, the last few years have been good times for Speed Metal and saw a resurgence of bands trying to capture the spirit of the 80′s. In reality, this was one of many niched exercises in nostalgia and the long out-of-date fruits of useless bands like Evile, Merciless Death, Lich King and Municipal Waste reflected the trivial trend with sounds of supreme tackiness. Vektor are among the very few in revitalising Speed Metal, creating more than just a retrospective and methodological account of that genre’s heyday. ‘Black Future’ is a work that honours the past enthusiasm for innovation and musical proficiency, thus having a mind of its own to render this music for present and future audiences.
Voivod is the most visibly emblazoned influence on this band’s aesthetic, touching everything from the logo to the trademarked discordance and the futuristic scenes of technocratic dissolution it portrays. The Obliveon influence is quite explicit also, as there’s a lot of complex and unconventional movement of individual notes that resembles some kind of robotic Pagannini-droid, disembodied from the more rhythmic sections to emphasise the Classical aspirations of this band where melody is concerned. The rhythmic sections also stress this connection via. Metallica and their revolutionary instrumentals such as ‘Call of Ktulu‘ and ‘Orion‘ (there’s even the odd riff-a-like worked into the otherwise unique and beautifully crafted compositions). These songs flow very well through the course of the album, arranged much like one would theoretically expect it to sound had the band announced that they’ve written a ‘concept album’. It progresses from scenes of human conflict, chaos and error to glimpses of dark matter and the expanses of space hitherto undiscovered, mutating the neoclassicism into crescendos of high-end, sci-fi movie score material. Vocals are piercing shrieks that sound like the most ultrasonic intonations of Destruction with a touch of Absu. The drumming is really skillful but, as with the guitar-work, is almost over-indulgent at times, bringing undue attention to staple techniques like galloping kick-drums and shredding, though these occasions are few and far between and in any case, it’s infinitely more enjoyable to hear such exponentiated energy where it really belongs.
This album took us by surprise as 2009 was drawing to a close, capping off a year filled with more quality albums than the discerning Metal listener of recent years is used to. Vektor’s grasp of their ancestry is profound and combined with an epic concept and insane and elegant musicianship, ‘Black Future’ plays out like some cosmic race towards entropy with mankind in the driver’s seat.