Slayer Repentless over-analyzed

Slayer - Repentless (2015)

Only one can lead: guitars, voice, bass or drums. Whatever takes the lead will compel others to follow because lead means sketching out the structure of the song. The classic metal albums all lead with guitars and vocals catch up while drums provide accents and bass does whatever it feels necessary.

Repentless reverses this formula. It is built around Tom Araya’s mostly fast-spoken or chanted vocals, and guitar keeps up and drums frame the whole thing. The bass doubles the low notes and does little else, but Slayer has always used that technique. The problem is that in a desire to make catchy choruses and compelling verses, Slayer has relegated its most powerful aspect — the lead rhythm guitar — to a supporting role.

Despite a number of good riffs that call to mind material from the Seasons in the Abyss era, on this album Slayer has had to contort itself to fit around the vocals like a rock song, which de-emphasizes guitar and consequently cramps it and, in its reduced role, forces it to show off and simultaneously keep itself restrained. This keeps the worst of metal guitar and throws out the best. In addition, this reduces songs to minimal song structure based more around a lyrical narrative (or topic of a video) than development of melodies or patterns in the riffs.

This is far from a bad album. The problem is that it is the wrong sort of album. Metal escaped from rock by minimizing the human, especially vocals and feelings, to create a gritty realistic confrontation with the nihilism of existence — the knowledge that events do not depend on feelings or mythological beings, but cause and effect. Slayer expanded its audience in the 1990s to the present by being more centered on vocal hooks and foot-tapping rhythms, and does well at this, but at the expense of what made this band great.

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The Classical-Metal connection expands

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For 20+ years, first with the Dark Legions Archive and next with the Death Metal Underground, the writers behind this site have encouraged comparison with heavy metal and two things: European Romanticism in art, music, and literature; and European classical music, which overlapped with Romanticism both in a specific time period and in themes it revisits even to this day. The similarities are abundant and apparent but offensive to those who want to believe the blues-rock spectrum was part of an authentic tradition, when in fact it was a commercial product simplifying earlier styles, and that — of course — metalheads cannot have any associations more profound than the sacred indie rock and its origins in 1960s protest music.

Now, others are taking up the call. Perfect Sound Forever, one of the oldest e-zines on the net, addresses the metal-classical linkage in an article in its current edition:

I’m here to show you that rock and roll and classical are very much relatives in an, albeit, diverse musical family. First off, the sort of person who enjoys classical music is the same sort of person who would enjoy metal or heavy rock music. Research by scientists at Heriot-Watt University has found that not only are peoples’ personalities linked to their taste in music – classical and heavy metal listeners often have very similar dispositions.

“The general public has held a stereotype of heavy metal fans being suicidally depressed and a danger to themselves and society in general,” explained Adrian North, the professor who led the study. “But they are quite delicate things. Metal fans, like classical listeners, tend to be creative, gentle people, at ease with themselves. We think the answer is that both types of music, classical and heavy metal, have something of the spiritual about them — they’re very dramatic — a lot happens. ”

Perhaps more will be known about not only the similarities between these genres, but — because every cause has an effect — what similar ideas or emotions motivated artists to make such similar music centuries apart.

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Firespawn to release Shadow Realms, but don’t bother purchasing it

Firespawn - Shadow Realms (2015)

What do you get when you form a supergroup from members of Entombed, Unleashed, and Necrophobic, all of whom released excellent formative death metal at the beginnings of their careers? Not much, apparently. Firespawn (formerly Fireborn) plays generic modern Swedeath with slight hints of melody and not much else of interest. If you ever needed a reminder that a promising lineup does not automatically translate into a product that is even promising at best, Shadow Realms is there for you – more accurately, you will be able to purchase it on November 13th from Century Media if its banality fails to undermine your interest. In the mean time, you can listen to one of its upcoming tracks (“Ruination”) for a textbook example of how to put together generic deathpop. Particularly notable are the rudimentary vocal rhythms and the exceedingly basic song structure.

Future coverage is possible, but very likely to be sadistic in nature.

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Mercyful Fate members reunite in Denner/Shermann

Denner/Shermann - Satan's Tomb (2015)
Mercyful Fate was one of the high points of traditional heavy metal in the 1980s, exerting huge influence through their over-the-top visual aesthetic and elaborate, theatrical songwriting. They arguably peaked on 1984’s Don’t Break The Oath; later works by both this band and its frontman’s project (King Diamond) varied in their ability to capture such high points.

October 2nd will see yet another effort from the band’s musicians – alumni from the band have united to form Denner/Shermann, and to release Satan’s Tomb, an EP of material in a similar but presumably modernized vein. The release date and album title are probably going to draw comparison to the band Satan’s upcoming album on the same day (Atom by Atom), despite definite differences in style. While our knowledge of Denner/Shermann’s sound and approach is less confirmed at this point, I’m fairly certain they need a better marketer on their side; at least as evidenced by the questionable decisions of the following trailer.

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Abbath’s solo project releases its first official track

Immortal’s ability to consistently release content since has fallen by the wayside since 2002 (although their quality was arguably ailing before that) between periods of legal disputes, side projects from band members, and that time in the 2000s when they were literally split up. Abbath has thrown his efforts into another side/solo project, and Season of Mist has seen fit to give us a sample from upcoming material – a semi-live studio track named “Fenrir Hunts”.

This track sounds more overtly like death/black metal than much of the Immortal members’ recent work, which were generally more oriented towards older forms of metal in songwriting even when their aesthetics were not. “Fenrir Hunts” strikes this reviewer as yet another highly polished, technically sound song with some nods to the need for varied structure in an otherwise fairly standard formula. In short, an acceptable effort, but not one that particularly excites me for this release, or one that compels me to listen to it over previously proven and enshrined classics like Pure Holocaust. I can hope that the full album will be more interesting when it comes out (and the early state of this song suggests room for improvement), but it seems most likely that this will be another soul-crushingly “okay” album.

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Morbid Angel – Entangled In Chaos (1996)

Morbid Angel - Entangled In Chaos (1996)

With Earache Records promising us a re-release of this live album on vinyl in October, and an otherwise quiet week of upcoming relevant releases, I thought it might be a good idea to give this a more detailed look. Live albums are fundamentally interesting on a few levels – their attempts to capture something of the experience of a concert, their value as documentation of a period in a band’s career, the chance to possibly hear reinterpretations of favored songs, and so forth. Entangled in Chaos came out at the tail end of Morbid Angel’s commercial golden age and before the band tried to reinvent itself with Formulas Fatal to the Flesh. The product is low on references to the previously banal Domination for whatever reason, although whether that’s due to timing or creative reasons is beyond my knowledge.

These rerecordings end up more polished and standardized than the originals for the second time in MA’s discography, as the long holdovers from 1986 already got the Lemon Pledge treatment when they first entered the studios. Sometimes, the end results are rather stripped down; for obvious reasons studio adornments aren’t available, and Trey Azagthoth’s guitar solos are consistently altered from their original forms. Hearing the band’s earliest material with a production closer to Covenant or Domination is mildly interesting, to say the least, although the concessions to a live environment often cost these tracks some of their power and more musically interesting aspects. The performances are otherwise faithful to a fault, as such strict reproductions leave little room for reinterpretation… with the caveat that this is difficult to do successfully in a metal context and in this case might’ve resulted in an undesirable Domination II or similar.

There are not very many essential live albums in the realm of metal, and you can probably do without Entangled in Chaos in most cases. If you absolutely need to hear Morbid Angel playing relatively faithful but not particularly passionate renditions of their first era or are otherwise a collector, though, this rerelease may be to your tastes.

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Varathon to release The Confessional of the Black Penitents

Varathron - The Confessional of the Black Penitents (2015)
One of the most famous voices in the Greek metal scene (along with Rotting Christ, Necromantia, and Septic Flesh), Varathron is continuing their career with a new EP set to release on October 23rd. Containing both new songwriting and live recordings of previous works, it should serve well as a benchmark of the band’s current approach and a future full length. Agonia Records wrote the following press statement:

New seven-track EP from Greek black metal legends, VARATHRON. “The Confessional Of The Black Penitents” precedes the release of the band’s sixth full-length album and features three new exclusive songs along with four classic tracks recorded live in 2015. All together almost 45 minutes running time.

Placed amongst the forefathers of Hellenic black metal scene, VARATHRON has spawned albums that are celebrated as the cornerstones of Greek metal. Alongside Necromantia and Rotting Christ, with whom the group shared members, VARATHRON’s fascination towards early style remains unique and forthright. Since their inception back in 1988, the band’s trademark are mid-paced riffs that have a classic, old-school feel strengthened by a progressive view as well as epic atmospheres that only few can match.

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How marketing is destroying heavy metal

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A strange thing happened during the years of 1965 to 1975: advertising morphed into marketing, or the science — and rest assured, it relies in objective data™ in Excel spreadsheets — of designing products to fit people.

Never mind the old days of trying to explain to them why they need something; figure out what they will buy, and modify your product to the simplest, cheapest version of that which they will pay the most for. If a good burger costs $9, but they will take a half-soy knockoff for $6, the latter is the better product.

As a result, advertisers became scientists of a sort. They queried consumers, studied them on videotape, analyzed their purchases and made lists of “features” that customers demanded. Always their goal was to find out what the largest group would purchase at the highest price, while keeping cost lowest. Statistical mathematics had come to business.

Since that time, astute observers might note, this mentality has steadily crept into just about every field. No one is immune. And each time it does, product satisfaction jumps — but quality takes a nosedive. Beer is now sugar water, but people claim to like it. Cigarettes are ashy hot air, but they sell steadily. Heavy metal music has become angsty self-pitying radio rock, but it has more fans than ever before.

The product has improved; the object itself — in this case, the music and the artistry behind it — has degenerated.

Metal does not face this alone. Literature produces endless favorites, but no classics (or even any books that outlast a trend). The car industry cranks out limited editions but no legends. Even classical music emits a panoply of avant-garde “innovators” but none endure. The same condition even affects cigars. As blender G.L. Pease relates:

Not all change is good, or welcome.

My journey down memory lane with these old smokes is not simply a waltz with nostalgia, but something a bit more purposeful. I’ve sampled many very good cigars over the past few years, and a great many more that have not much impressed me. But, even among many of the better smokes, as much as I’ve enjoyed them, I’ve continued to find something missing, a fundamental aspect of what caused me to go geeky over cigars in the 80s, and is almost universally absent in most of the modern cigars I’ve been smoking.

…In what, to me, is a ludicrous arms race where so many makers are chasing adjectives like fatter, longer, stronger, spicier, powerful, they seem to have lost track of some of the adjectives I might apply to these old beauties; sultry, seductive, provocative. This wasn’t a rare quality, either; it was almost commonplace amongst the quality marques 30 years ago, but it’s all but gone missing in too many of the modern mash-ups of multinational leaf, rolled into burrito sized spice-bombs with enough “power” to stop a stampeding rhino dead in his tracks.

This “ludicrous arms race” comes about because, like the Clinton campaign or a user satisfaction survey, manufacturers pay attention to polls. They listen to user feedback and then plug it into computerized analyses to find out where low margin, high price and average desired features intersect. They run the calculations and out pops the ideal product. It addresses the middle segment of the Standard Distribution (a.k.a. “bell curve”) that applies to most human tendencies in most groups. The far-right of the curve, which favors quality over quantity, hates these products; the middle of the curve grudgingly finds them acceptable and in a flurry of despondent why-mes purchases them, and the far-left is both too inconsistent and too miserable to reliably purchase anything, so their patronage is entirely defined by local availability.

How might this happen in heavy metal? Every generation, marketers add up the trends of the last decade and hybridize them. In 1975 it was hard rock, blues and heavy metal combined into heavy rock; in 1985, it was heavy metal, punk and heavy rock; in 1995, it was rap, alternative rock and speed metal; in 2005, it was indie-rock, emo and underground metal. They make the product that the audience cannot recognize is a cheap alternative disguised as the New Latest Best Coolest Thing, and pump it out the door. Profits go up, quality goes down. We see it most prominently in metal, but this mentality is everywhere, and will continue to be everywhere until elitism asserts itself.

Elitism is a simple formula: quality > quantity. This cliché, while irritating, also carries a grain of truth. You can have only one or the other because to have either trait is to take things to extremes. Waffling in the middle does not work. Either the music is quality, which reduces its audience, or it is accessible, which increases the quantity of sales by expanding its audience by lowering “cognitive barriers” to appreciation. That means complexity, artistry, technicality and even relevance. The audience loves the same old thing in new clothing. People buy the same albums their grandfathers did, but with new tempi, textures, lyrics and other surface changes. This is one reason why some of us allege that rock ‘n’ roll has always been nothing more than marketing.

With elitism, people at the top of the cognitive chain — radio hosts, writers, musicians, superuser fans — gravitate toward the best stuff and everyone else imitates them. On the left end of the bell curve, confusion reigns anyway and so they just go along with the flow. On the right side, people follow others who they look up to and learn to appreciate the music that way. A few of those on the left side of middle feel left out and get angry, resentful and bratty. But, they are that way unless fed moronic pap anyway, and everyone else gets better music, so the outcome is better this way.

Except… uh oh… for labels. Labels make money not so much on the big scores as by putting out a few albums a month that consistently rake in the sales. Ever wonder why artists past their prime are still puking out albums and those albums make it into the press and stores? They sell because of name recognize. Egbert Q. Findley of West Los Angeles will keep going to his job as a middle manager at a warehouse chain and will keep on buying whatever is put out by the bands that were hip when he was 18. He wants to stay current, you see. Millions of people kept buying Neil Diamond, Liberace, U2 and REM when they drifted into pure drivel. Why? Because they’re fucking morons. — well, yes, but also because they are creatures of habit. They want something new to listen to. They do not really care what it is, or if it is good. Just something new to keep their minds off the exciting world of multi-level sales or whatever the hell it is people waste their irreplaceable time on nowadays.

Right now metal is winding up for one of its Revolutions. Each time industry comes out with its new super-product, it takes about a decade for artists to react and strike back with something new. Glam metal created speed metal, blues-metal created death metal, and now, indie-metal will force the creation of a new genre. Either that, or metal will perish, and become another flavor for rock bands of all type. Want to have a song about being a rebel? Make the chorus riff a metal one. They’ll even put a setting on the audio workstation software to do it for you, all to help you make the perfect product and live the dream — of early retirement.

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Darkthrone to rerelease Soulside Journey on September 25th

Darkthrone - Soulside Journey (1990)

Even Peaceville Records is getting in on the compact cassette revival. While Soulside Journey is far from stereotypical for Darkthrone, and furthermore already saw a cassette re-release in 1996, this is still a fine addition to your collection in its various forms for the strength of its content. Prior to creating several genre-defining works of black metal, Soulside Journey showcases the band performing a musically literate and melodramatic variant of death metal. It’s an admittedly sparse and atmospheric take on the genre that takes some acclimation to fully understand, but one that rewards attentive listeners. Funnily enough, this dodges the convenient upcoming 25th anniversaries of Darkthrone’s upcoming material, but those are likely too obvious for the record labels to ignore in the coming years. In the meantime, Darkthrone will probably see a great deal of reissues – the questionable Black, Death, and Beyond compilation, for instance, was recently reprinted on compact discs.

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Ore.fm launches underground heavy metal discovery platform

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As the music industry adjusts to the rise of online music at a glacial pace, streaming services have taken over from the traditional model of radio. Into this field leaps a new competitor, Ore.fm, a “heavy metal only music discovery platform” that hopes to connect fans with bands — in the underground.

We were lucky to get a few minutes to chat with Vincent Minichiello, a founder of this new service.

Ore.fm claims it targets the underground. Why do you think this is a viable market, considering that most metal is rather “above ground” now?

All members of the ORE.FM team are either metal fans, musicians or music lovers in general. We feel that the underground scene is where we wanted to throw our support behind because there is such genuine, untapped, raw talent in a place that gets overshadowed by the bigger “above ground” bands and since no one else seems to want to showcase them, we took it upon ourselves to do so.

The metal community has proven itself time and time again to be the most supportive and tightly knit groups of any genre of music.

Are you a heavy metal fan? What do you (and/or your staff) listen to?

I am definitely a fan of heavy metal, as is most of the ORE.FM team. I grew up playing guitar and listening to bands like: Pantera, Slayer, Black Label Society and anything else that involved double bass, distorted guitars and bad-ass lyrics. Some of the music currently being listened to by the rest of the staff ranges from bands such as: The Sword, Havok, Mastodon, Jim Croce and YJY. ORE.FM has also exposed us to bands like: Ferium from Israel, Darwin’s Theory from LA, Strict Vincent from Australia and Archaeologist from San Jose.

How hard was it to get Ore.fm started? What did you have to do?

At this point, we have been working on ORE.FM for just shy of two years. We started where most bands start, in the basement of our parents’ house and it’s just been a steady climb up since then. There have been battles and obstacles along the way (as to be expected with anything) but overall I’d say the process has been not as difficult as we thought it would be. We lucked out and found a great developer who really understands our vision of what ORE.FM should do for the community. We all work very well together, bouncing thoughts off each other, working out kinks, evolving ideas, etc. It’s been a fantastic and exciting experience so far.

Why do you think heavy metal fans are a desirable audience? Most people think we’re dirty, smelly, uncouth and loud.

Having grown up with metal, going to shows and playing in bands, it was fairly easy and obvious to us that the metal scene is where we want to continue to be a part of. We are the people we are making this platform for. We are the fans looking for that new band to follow around and support. We have been called, “dirty, smelly, uncouth and loud” and frankly, we don’t care. The metal community has proven itself time and time again to be the most supportive and tightly knit groups of any genre of music. After having done so much for us and shaping who we are as individuals, we wanted to give something back to the metal community and ORE.FM is the perfect way of doing so.

We are the people we are making this platform for. We are the fans looking for that new band to follow around and support.

What music and experience can a user expect to find on Ore.fm? How does it compare to other services like Spotify and Last.fm?

There are so many sub-genres of metal that exist today and we want them all to feel welcome and included on ORE.FM. Listeners can expect to hear sounds that they’ve never heard before, from places they may never thought to look. Before starting ORE.FM, I would have never thought that the Middle East would have such brutal and technical metal bands. Now I find myself using ORE.FM’s Discover map to scan the globe to find new music daily from literally anywhere on Earth. This is what makes us stand out against competitors. Features such as this help bands get their music out to a world-wide audience, through a range of devices and platforms. Where they might be a drop in the vast ocean someplace else, on ORE.FM they stand out like gold.

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