If you visualize the modern death metal genre as a knightly tournament with splendid banners adorning the tents of the contestants on an ancient Briton field, you can’t escape the prominence of the progressive camp espoused by Necrophagist and the obscure evil camp belonging to hairy South Americans and occult woodland Finns. Then there are the loved and the hated “brutals”. The unfortunate Morgue Supplier goes all the way to the leaden territory of mechanized grindcore, brutal blastbeat and convulsive gore that is best epitomized by Cryptopsy’s and Cannibal Corpse’s groundbreaking albums Blasphemy Made Flesh and The Bleeding (or your favorite other pick from that mostly dubious discography). The speed is astounding, the songs careen through slashes of riffs like the beak of a vulture on the prowl, injecting pinch harmonics into mono chord chug while vocals are the dual growl-and-shriek statement we have heard enough times in this beaten substyle. A couple of minor gems arise though. The cover version of Metallica’s “Fight Fire By Fire” is an entertaining lecture on the genealogy of early speed metal and how it almost by itself mutates to something close to Possessed or Sepultura if played with intensity, distortion and malevolent speeds. On the side, the title track Constant Negative has a smudged enough texture to operate as a chasm of interlocking layers similar to Gorguts’ fusionesque work on the mighty Obscura. Perhaps a hint where brutal death metal might develop if given enough care and attention? I personally could do without the mosh parts, but those who were disappointed by the wimping out of Cryptopsy should perhaps check this release out.
Darkthrone managed to conjure something far more stimulating to the imagination when they were inspired by horror and science-fiction movie soundtracks to create vast journeys of cosmic Death Metal. Windham Hell’s first album also follows from the deeper recesses of popular culture and cinema, fucking with the senses and expectations of the Metal listener through this Lynchian maze of psychological horror and ominous mortality. The first thing that’s evident about the musicians at work here, particularly the late Eric Freisen on guitars, is the uncustomary level of formal training demonstrated in these pieces, which bear close stylistic resemblance to the famous concertos of Antonio Vivaldi. The riffs that make up the bulk of actual Metal songs on this erratic album are nothing spectacular or unconventional but formed with the lead guitar in mind, acting much like the movie samples and vomitory vocals do to provide a kind of ambient feeling of suspended horror and panic that the leads then magnify through their virtuoso performances, building on the looming fear with sporadic outbursts of mental excitation. The rest of the album is a feast for those who would enjoy the subversion of popular culture through a post-modernist cutting and pasting of morbidly curious voices bridged with Classical flourishes, although may lose the attention of others. There is enough tastefully executed technique on show to keep this as engaging as possible, and a far superior album to the following Window of Souls.
South America holds a very unholy place in the minds of Death Metal legions around the world, with the Brazilian scene of particular note for unearthing a bestial and blasphemous mode of Death Metal worship that drew inspiration from the mightiest warriors of Satan known to them: Bathory and Slayer, and would infuse these ideas with a level of wreckless primitivism and rawness unheard before. Chilean veterans Totten Korps’ music is an advancement of this style, assuming the forms of infamous Speed/Death barbarians like fellow Chileans, Pentagram and Brazilians, Holocausto and Vulcano within a cleaner soundspace that allows for more exploration of sinister melody in a winding, maze-like structure that is symbolic of the album’s perpetual struggle for primordial knowledge and occult powers. This is what separates Totten Korps from the trendier bands like Krisiun who have little taste for well thought-out narratives, preferring a collection of soundbites that cleave to a roughly Death Metal template. The band also knows how to keep the South American atavisms of bouncy and rhythmic passages that are punctuated by a vague melodic pattern in line with the greater whole of composition, often reflecting a central, recurring theme. There’s almost a Kataklysm-ic sense of grandeur in this method, although it sacrifices the flair of such precision for the fragmented and impulsive butchery of a good, old school Death Metal album from the land of condors and corpses.
They are going to drag
Yourself in the dust
Let your thought go
Goreaphobia is one of the great names from the old-school of American Death Metal that were unable to solidify their reputation with a full-length release, but they weren’t left totally obscured due to the infamous personnel of Death Metal warriors – largely of Incantation stock – who have contributed to this band’s line-up over the years. With Mortal Repulsion, Goreaphobia have finally crossed the Styx and, with the wisdom of old seers, address the nightmares that such a thanatopsical journey brings to life. Those familiar with these veteran’s earlier recordings, such as the barbaric ‘Morbidious Pathology’ demo, will notice that this album shows an highly controlled approach to Goreaphobia’s morbid style of art. This is a fair compromise for the lack of youthful energy, as the sound is an accumulation of a lot of technique that has been refined over the years by American Death and Black Metal bands, and guided by the same intelligence, also shows disdain for the cheap tricks employed by bands who should be performing nu-emo-metalcore in a circus somewhere.
The guitars have a noticeably sludgy quality not unlike Incantation, which lends itself well to the diversity of guitarwork on exhibition, while kept well anchored by the drumming, equally multi-dimensional in its awareness of primitivism within a fairly demanding instrumental framework. The sense of space conjured is often remarkable, such as the ambiential ‘Negative Screams’, which is like an inversion of Pestilence’s ‘Proliferous Souls’. Haunting melodies interact with rhythmical progressions in a manner not dissimilar to the older demos, but the flavour here is more like Immolation and their own inaugural breath of hellfire that was Dawn of Possession, and the subtle layering of secondary guitars and bass even recalls the likes of Demoncy. The vocal work of Gamble has a strange aura of older, more primal Black Metal such as N.M.E. or Hellhammer (whose presence is also felt during the down-tempo moments of the album that are laden with a Doomy sense of desolation) at times. Mortal Repulsion is a great amalgamation of this unholy lineage of pure and nihilistic underground Metal, bringing to attention the fear of life inherent in the fear of death, and the dominion that can be held over such neuroses which fade within the depths of the abyss.
Coming from the anarcho-punk school of musical and ideological tradition, and finally releasing this, their debut full length in 1985, Amebix had already released a series of excellent EP’s in the early half of the decade. The unique character of their music was a sound that fused the violent hardcore punk of Discharge with the circulative, repetitious song structures that were a staple of post-punk acts such as Killing Joke and Public Image Ltd. Escaping the social-activist themes that were a staple of hardcore, and transcending the melancholia and fatalism that was a common theme of post-punk, Amebix took on board the musical apparatus of both substyles and turned towards a contemplative, naturalistic direction that subverted the generalisation of how we associate themes with forms. Inspiration comes additionally from the NWOBHM of early Motorhead and Judas Priest in the crunching, percussive guitar playing that made itself a staple of speed metal and subsequently death metal. Drums batter clearly as if to stadium anthems, and boom with an echo one would clearly associate with said decade. Droning riffs make an appearance and have a harmonic depth to them that evoke the archaic and the dystopian much like Burzum and Godflesh simultaneously would do in their most prominent work. Whereas the metal subgenres of the 1980′s slowly influenced one anothers musical language, Amebix single handedly introduced new themes and formats that would become the structural basis of future acts to come, and alongside their compilation album No Sanctuary, this important work deserves it’s applause.
Taking the NWOBHM informed song structures that defined speed metal and the muted, percussive power chord led riffs that were the pattern language of the speed metal underground, Nuclear Assault incorporated elements of crossover punk and thrash into their music. Guitars have a sharp, grating and garage like-tone amidst the clear sounding and well thought out bass guitar lines of Dan Lilker. John Connelly’s punk falsetto is excellent, a gravelly yet apocalyptic wail that amuses yet inspires.
Lyrically this takes the satire one could associate with crossover acts such as Adrenalin O.D. and Fearless Iranians From Hell, and rather than solely attempting to amuse us, makes for relevant social commentaries that reflected and mocked the issues that were heavy on the American subconscious, amongst mildly apocalyptic themes that still were embedded in the Cold War’s late phase, warning of post-nuclear desolation.
Short, humoured and abrupt songs such as ‘Hang The Pope’ and ‘My America’ resemble a more aggressive take on the thrashings of DRI and Millions Of Dead Cops, whilst ‘Sin’, ‘Stranded In Hell’ and ‘Brain Death’ are richly melodic and have a brilliant sense of irony, and almost reminds of Iron Maiden stripping themselves of romanticism in the wake of an uncertain, primitive future.
This is commonly also available with the follow-up EP ‘The Plague’ on CD format and compliments the excellence of their full-length. In addition, this is a timeless and influential metal album that summed up the hopes, dreams and fears of 1980’s America in less than an hours worth of material, and is absolutely essential.
Following up the band’s debut album Tol Cormpt Norz Norz Norz, Impaled Nazarene opened the silo once again to release their deadliest missile of truly Brahmastric proportions with 1993′s Ugra Karma. Roughly translating from the original Sanskrit into ‘bad actions’, the album’s title indicates the nature of this distinctive blend of Punk, Black Metal and other styles and sounds, as a dance of destruction atop the accumulated filth of the modern world. The updated artwork of a hooved, nuclear Nataraja performing this world-ending ritual over desecrated damsels and making occult gestures in front of an inverted pentagram takes this idea further in a profound hybrid of apocalyptic Hindu and Satanic imagery which also heavily underlies the musical approach of Ugra Karma. The deep, muscular bass-work in these anthems of armageddon give power to aggressive and militarised Punk-like guitar riffs imbued with a majestic, Black Metal sense of melodicism and pace. Their target is in sights, the riffs transform imminently like the complexion of a scene changing upon the arrival of Harrier squadrons from over the horizon, to rain hell on harmless victims! It’s these simple and incredibly conclusive narratives that give each song such a depth of expression, with the finality of a Vedic chant. Drums are overbearing and industrious in their sound, maintaining a constant beat that drills the blasphemous, mystical revelations of doom into the listener with a Nazistic authority, leading a new SS to purge the world of its undesirables. Impaled Nazarene present with all of their hatred not only the downfall of the world they despise, but the primal law which will bring that land of light and love to its knees, sodomise it and replace it with evil.
In his cyclical conception of world histories, the German thinker Oswald Spengler likened the phase of decay that all civilizations eventually undergo to the seasonal onset of winter. In the post-Enlightenment western world, this is in part characterised by the rule of materialism and a corresponding inversion of traditional hierarchy, prioritising the dominant, consuming impulses of the era. What band then, could be more aptly named to reflect the cold and bleak visions of a world declining under even more advanced conditions of the organico-cultural decay that Spengler described, than the Death Metal cult of Winter?
Perhaps the slowest Metal music recorded at the time, Winter’s only full-length album is part crushing Doom of Hellhammer/Celtic Frost-inspired power-chord arrangements, and part ambient dirgewaves caught between broken transmissions of a shattered technocratic infrastructure. This distinct choice of pacing is achieved and explained by the guitar, down-tuned to the extent of coalescing with the register of droning bass-chords. Not the reverb-driven, existential heaviness of a diSEMBOWELMENT, Winter’s guitar tone has more of a hollowness to it, enough to let the bass pass through like a dying heart struggling to pump blood around cold-narrowed arteries, a fading will-to-live in an empty and broken world. The exploration of this particular aesthetic also gives rise to more of the ambient sensibilities that are present in the album. Slowly but inevitably shifting compositions open up to vistas of endless wasteland, picking up the ghostly electro-static interference left by a fallen metropolis, as guitars and bass are modulated in a manner more-or-less similar to Cliff Burton’s famous set-up on Metallica’s instrumental song, ‘Call of Ktulu’, and random radio frequencies are tuned in and out of.
Each element of instrumentation seems to impose itself on the listener in a different way. This is very apparent when being pummeled by Joe Goncalves’ overbearing bass-drumming, which is like Obituary in its restrained tempo but largely detached from such a comparatively conventional sense of tempo. Instead, drum fills cascade out of the distorted noise, as though the foundations upon which modern society were built are gradually crumbling away. The vocals present yet another side to the album, just as imposingly. The rich, guttural voice of John Alman is right in the foreground, sounding full of pure disgust but nevertheless resilient to barren environment in his midst. Lyrics are not complaints of a wounded soul hopelessly trapped within the system that is caving in on him, but observations of a world plunged into darkness and ignorance, in an allegorical, mythologised style that harkens back to an ancient, golden age. If Winter ever did read Spengler, it might be safe to assume that they were greeting a new cycle.
In what was what I would call a ‘mixed bag’ of a gig, Entombed were the disappointment, and Amon Amarth the pleasant surprise. The Academy was a packed venue, nearly full and with a decent enough set-up, good acoustics and an intimate setting, the stage not being isolated from the proximity of the audience.
Entombed played a set that disappointed, and this was partially due a lack of their better material being played. Much of the setlist consisted of numbers that were lifted from their third full-length, Wolverine Blues and then onwards, with a lack of attention given to their more pioneering work that was put out on their first two albums, Left Hand Path and Clandestine. Songs were less death metal than they were an aggressive take on stoner rock, songs being much more inclined to the verse/chorus school of rock songwriting, the rhythms more inclined to provoke the shaking of hips and the tapping of feet than they were to bang heads. Whilst this was all good and competent, certainly the great soundtrack of an alcohol fueled evening in the capital of Eire, none of these works, as far as the reviewers opinion is concerned had the violent charge nor the momentum that characterized their legendary debut. Some credit will be given to the vocalist, whose onstage presence and frantic onstage manners gave more depth and urgency to songs that otherwise were devoid of it, and the guitarists tone was brilliant, the same buzzing, ‘chainsaw’ like tone that they helped pioneer back in the early nineties through maximum amplification. Entombed concluded their set with a brilliant rendition of Left Hand Path the staple and title track of their debut album, and it put a redeeming conclusion to what was an expertly performed, yet borderline mediocre set on occasions. It would be wonderful to hear what paths could be treaded if they realise the urgency that made their earlier music essential.
Amon Amarth played an excellent and intense set, mostly consisting of the melodic, fluid and anthemic traditional metal that they have come to be easily associated with. Infectious melodies and precise, double-bass lead drum rhythms bring to mind a hybrid of Blind Guardian and late period Immortal, whilst the muscle and simplicity of their music brings to mind fellow countrymen Unleashed in both the subject matter and the simplicity of the song structures. Musically Amon Amarth have an obvious strong commercial potential, sound highly accessible by the subgenre’s standards, and whilst they are not exactly breaking any new artistic ground, they are still workmanlike and this shows in what was a very well received and well performed set. Johan Hegg is a good front man and throughout the set uses the opportunity to incite the audience to terrace chant amidst his bellowing, whilst taking turns to consume from the mead horn that is his custom to bring on stage with him. Admittedly I would not consider these to be an act of the highest caliber, though they are unique in that they have one foot stood in the primitive and barbaric, with one firmly in the ability to reach out to a large audience. It was a privilege to be involved among the audience that night.
Hellfires were set loose in Helsinki, Finland last weekend by a horde of black metal maniacs from all over the Earth. Profanation, an intangible feeling of myth, alignment of spirits, pervaded the atmosphere. Let me remind you that while the gig situation concerning underground black and death metal in Finland is rich and fertile, every so-called cult band appearing on stage is no longer going to change anyone’s life to something more mysterious and powerful. Maybe the younger audience sees the matter differently, but I believe they are becoming jaded also. This weekend was something different however. The main event was the 2-day Black Flames of Blasphemy fest, on 23rd and 24th, the Friday night featuring Taake and Horna, among others, but I wasn’t attending, on one hand because of a lack of interest regarding the bands, on the other because I could use one spare night between the “pre-party” on 22th (aptly called “Unholy Night to Remember”) and the Saturday explosion featuring bands of the caliber of Blasphemy and Revenge from Canada.
The dark side of Finland
So, it all started on a rainy and windy Thursday night, in a small Helsinki pub called Darkside which I had only visited once before, when it was empty. No-one was expecting a large crowd because normal people would have jobs and studies to attend to, but the place was crowded and intense. Demonos of Barathrum, the drunken bastard, was shouting at the doorman and people were consuming beer like it was the eve of ragnarók. In that one room of a few hundred cubic meters had been compressed all the dreams and neuroses of Finnish black metal since its very beginning. Even Pete Helmkamp came around to see for himself what the fuck was going on. Ofdoom, a Blasphemy clone from Hamina whose members are barely 18 years old, played a reasonably aggressive set of uncannily familiar sounding songs. I am thankful that at least the cover song choice was “Christ’s Death” by Sarcofago instead of something from the war metal scene. Many of the old school maniacs I met applauded the energy and sincerity these young guys brought to the evening. However, I was more thrilled by the Goatmoon set that saw the audience become a rioting mass of fists and headbanging. The garage punks of Finnish black metal, Goatmoon unleashed a set of familiar songs from their albums mostly resembling a triumphantly melodic cross of Dimmu Borgir demos and Absurd, not to mention an enormously provocative cover from Finnish RAC band Mistreat.
But the real reason why everybody was there that night, the crux of all the anticipation and nervous violence was the return of the infamous Azazel on stage, an early Finnish black metal coven lost to annals of history but fondly remembered by everyone who breathed the air of 90′s Finland, when worship of darkness was still pure and cold… clad in spikes. Stories about Azazel and their infamous frontman Lord Satanachia are equivalent to an inverted saga, one of madness and devotion. For a decade the band was forgotten until suddenly it seemed to have reformed in alliance with some members from young occult metal band Charnel Winds. It all seemed unbelievable and to see it with one’s own eyes… triumph!
It wasn’t a surprise to anyone that an Azazel gig might prove to be a disaster, in normal sense. Enveloped in the mists and throes of an ancient curse, the guitarist’s malfunctioning equipment threw the disorganized band from the brink of a metaphorical cliff into the abyss, to be carried upon the wings of Death. While Demonos threw himself from the audience into the stage in an alcoholic spasm, wires were torn, microphones were ripped and fists started flying. Part of the equipment was mute, the rhythm section was confused and Satanachia’s croaks were barely audible chants and incantations of demonic names. A morbid pall descended upon Helsinki. In anti-arranged structures of primitive, broken black metal, Azazel mocked everything and everyone. Brilliant and beautiful riffs, performed at variable and confused speeds, interlocked with rhythms and blasts whose randomness remained cryptically problematic. No-one knew if the songs are actually like this or have all the members gone insane. The most sensitive part of the crowd was devastated and ultimately impressed. Others were bored and drunk. Enough said about that evening except that I doubted even Saturday can give a more authentic black metal experience, because for the rest of the night and the next day, Azazel’s psychosis was still deeply within my heart.
The church of blasphemy
Saturday night was again cloaked in the weather of Jack the Ripper’s London. Through the rain we approached the ominously titled Dante’s Highlight, converted from an old church on whose steps Mannerheim and Hitler had shaken hands in a pact of war. It served as a normal nightclub until a few years ago it became one of the prominent metal bars of Helsinki. We have no knowledge how much blasphemous intent influenced its current use, but it was something to see candles and torches lighting the altar (stage), bestowing a comforting, cavernous gleam upon the high ceiling and reflecting from the chain-wrapped wooden posts adorned with gasmasks. The gig organizers par excellence Kold Reso Kvlt had taken lots of care in making this event perfect, as it was also the destination of a veritable exodus of German, French, Italian and other foreign black and death metal fans.
Proclamation from Spain launched into formally perfect, yet somehow vague and heartless Blasphemy aping primitive death metallic sounds and while the gig was technically the dream of your standard NWN forum fan, it raised apprehension that this is going to be an evening where every band sounds the same and everyone plays a Blasphemy cover! There was still some space to move around the building but despite three floors, it was rapidly becoming claustrophobic and difficult to breathe. The gig had been sold out ages ago. Black Witchery from Florida, USA, specialized in repetitive high speed exercise of redundant riffs, which despite its great marketing value to black metal consumers lacks the spiritual depth and intellectual convolution of the high masters of the genre. To anyone who has heard a Black Witchery album or two it was easy to guess what the gig is all about and for their fans, they probably did deliver the goods. I liked a few of the atonal, destructive, confusional parts that reminded me of the greatness of the Australian disbanded legend Bestial Warlust.
By the time the third band, Archgoat from Turku, Finland, commenced their set, the full force of the Finnish metal scene had already coalesced upon the building and for anyone who knows people or is known himself, much time and attention had to be spent on greetings, handshakes, throwing the horns, mock fighting and the like. However, the atmosphere was also rapidly gaining a more intense, expectant and noxious odour. Screams, blood and bursts of madness spattered the overcrowded club. Between pockets of peace, chaos reigned, the passing of souls from one layer of Hell to another, brother and enemy united in prayers of profanation. While for some people the grinding, organic and physical malevolence of Archgoat marked their best gig ever, I say the 2005 comeback gig after a decade of silence still holds the scepter. Heavily influenced by VON and Sarcofago, Archgoat was the first band of the evening to capture a cold, theatrical melody and frame the counterpoints of primitive death metal riffs with heavy, well placed doom. It was the only performance of the evening whose spine was not hardened by monotonous speed. Instead, it slithered up the walls like a serpent of abomination.
Amidst beer, guts and blood, headbanging Italians and Finns going mad over the controversies and abstractions of the night’s leading band (“Are Blasphemy real, do they really exist?” “Is that negro over there Caller of the Storms?”) everyone who was ever famous in Finnish black metal walked entranced amidst the crowd, as one with the spiritually dead. Black metal skinheads went out for a smoke and traded with kebab and banana merchants around the corner. Someone’s face was fisted and another got a kiss from a new girl.
Revenge, the Canadian commando force, was for some members of the audience the main event to witness here and for a good reason. By the unholy candles’ light, between the walls built to serve God, James Read attacked the drumkit like a voodoo priest releasing magick vapours of steaming ether, in a sharp and fluid tribute to grindcore percussion masters. In a battle position, in the attire of a right wing street fighter, Helmkamp’s fingers tore thrash influenced phrases from the trusty bass guitar as he used to do already decades ago in Order from Chaos, while his sharp intonation revealed the lyrics be less a narration, more a ritual chant of words whose meaning and connotation have been obvious to warriors for millennia: “traitor”, “victory”, “blood”, “conquest”, “force”, “survival”. The robotic, inhumanly precise ability of the three musicians to control chaos resulted in the most impressive technical display of the evening. It caused uncertainty and fear. What can even the mighty Blasphemy do after this 100-percent martial art display of perfect war metal kata forms?
Luckily we didn’t need to wait very long until Black Winds and co. gave us the answer. As a storm of the angels of apocalypse and doom, this noisy but influential group of Canadians were far from any kind of perfection in their music. They appeared as in constant battle, a crackling terror of violent audial force, ripping and rending the soundscape of world without end. Dramatic and physical, it seemed as if the walls are about to collapse. Black Winds seemed at times lost, at others frenzied and focused. Strong war screams arose from his throat in defiance to heavens. Caller of the Storms didn’t play his guitar, he molested its corpse. A gargantuan sized session bassist filled the forefront and provided background vocals. Ryan Förster of Conqueror played second guitar wearing a gasmask. Original drummer 3 Black Hearts of Damnation and Impurity pulsed, leaped and attacked with his beats as lightning that strikes amidst a raging storm. It wouldn’t be correct to say the band was in top form, or something. The band was a force of nature, a mission of war that happened on stage. It didn’t compete with the musical precision and finesse of Revenge. It maimed the listeners with its droning and anti-sacred frequencies into submission, obeisance and ultimately an intuitive sense of the laws of nature. Cosmos, life, nature is about war. That’s what war metal and Blasphemy is about. The order of things, as it is, revealed in chaos. The highest principle of art, which is truth. Rarely, in years of seeing the finest of the bands perform on stage, have I been filled with such a calm, inspired joy as in the midst of this night’s rendition of “War Command”.
Thus, I have witnessed two of the finest evenings of black metal this year. I give my highest and sincere thanks to individuals who year after year, day after day, spend their attention and hard work to organize cultural events of the highest magnitude, even while they will never be as celebrated for their work as even mediocre bands are. Flyers and ads already promise interesting happenings for next year, so for now, I still very much enjoy living in this Northern land of bloody lakes and corpse-strewn woods!