After parting ways with Carcass following the completion of Heartwork, the Swede Michael Amott embarked on his own project called Arch Enemy. Stigmata is the non-sell-out sibling of that last reviled/worshiped Carcass album in which Amott participated in. Starting out with Johan Liva barking in the vocal department, this was a far cry from the embarrassingly audience-pleasing act this band later became.
While most so-called melodic death metal acts, including later Arch Enemy, following in the footsteps of Carcass’ last album (Swansong should have been kept by Bill Steer for private use) produce clear, straight-up pop verse-chorus with riffs and solos in the manner of the most mainstream 1980s metal. Sticking out from the crowd, Stigmata explores different song structures, and different ratios between Swedeath Carnage-style riff sections and those which are direct references to 1980s melodic metal. Michael Amott presents us here, in this still underground release, the best of his ideas in their most sincere (though not optimal) form.
Symptomatic of the middle-age crisis that underground metal went through in the mid 1990s, Stigmata shows a sincere desire to produce solid, thought-out metal music, but its motivation and direction is misplaced in nostalgia-driven emulations of the past rather than a forward vision. This was the end of metal’s own romantic era. Metal artists’ general illiteracy in art could give no rise to a counterpart to the 20th century modernist classical music (perhaps Obscura was an exception?) and it went straight to post-modernist pandemonium shortly after the turn of the century.
I got thinking about this while reading through some of the stuff on The Gabriel Construct’s webpage. He said he wants to make progressive metal progressive again. After thinking about this, I realized that this really strikes a chord with me. It is probably one of the reasons I’ve felt so uninspired by the stuff I’ve been listening to.
Let’s take as a case study: HeavyBlog’s top 12 of 2013 so far list (restricting to 2013 will not influence this discussion at all, since the best prog of 2012 falls into the same tropes) and pull the albums that can be labelled as “prog.” I actually like a lot of prog metal. You should remember this, because it is going to sound like a post in which I slam prog metal. Instead, this should be read as a sadness that such a promising genre has hit a stasis.
This is going to get hairy with putting bands into certain boxes, but as I see it the list is Tesseract (should djent actually count as a form of prog?), Persefone (is symphonic metal a form of prog?), Coheed and Cambria, Intronaut, Extol (OK, I haven’t actually listened to this one, but the list says it’s prog), Leprous, and The Ocean.
What do these bands have in common that makes them prog? They tend to have technical playing with technique that derives from classical skills of fast arpeggios and scale patterns than more traditional metal/rock techniques. The chord progressions tend to be less straightforward. This can mean jazz influenced or excessive chromaticism. The time signatures tend to be less straightforward and can even involve alternating time signatures and metric modulations. Lastly, the songs tend to be longer and more thoroughly developed and tied together with a common theme.
So what’s the problem? Well, at one point in time doing these things within metal was a progressive thing to do. They weren’t being done. It was interesting and new. It was moving the genre forward. Now it seems that these things that define the genre have become tropes. You have to have x number of time changes, y number of chromatic patterns, and z number of songs over 8 minutes long. Oh yeah, and we’ll praise you mindlessly if you make these numbers without actually doing anything original.
Instead of being truly progressive and trying to bring in new influences to make interesting and new music, it all ends up sounding similar. Just because you came up with a way to arpeggiate faster, using a “new” pattern, and you do more chromatic steps doesn’t mean you’re “more progressive” or even more interesting. It is more of the same pretending to be different.
Maybe I’m reacting to an over-saturation of prog lately, and I won’t feel this way after a break from it, but sometimes when listening to prog it sounds like a joke. It sounds like the band is stringing together a bunch of tropes in mockery of how derivative it all has become. Scale the Summit is unfortunately going to get my wrath, but I can’t listen that new album. It has such high praise all over the place, but I’m so bored by it. I mean listen to this. It is pretty, and quite impressive technically at parts, but how many times have you heard this?
No offense to Scale the Summit, I could have picked something off literally any of the bands listed above and some of those albums might even make my top 10 of the year. It is just a feature of the current prog scene. It has become static. There are the occasional minor details that are new, but overall, it isn’t progressing.
Progressive metal can become progressive again. To some people it may seem shocking. What more do I want? They are already employing all of the complexity you would find in any fully trained classical composer. I’d reply, well, yes, any trained composer through the 19th century. But this stuff is more than a century old now. You could incorporate tons of modern developments. You don’t have to write atonally, but you can incorporate interesting post-tonal techniques to make something progressive without losing your band’s characteristic sound.
Other than tonality, there have been tons of other innovations from play style (stop with the incessant arpeggios, please), to modern electronic filtering of sound in new ways, to how your band layers together its pieces texturally, to instruments used (thank you Hybrid for showing us clarinet can be used in metal), to more original genre crossover, and on and on. You shouldn’t have to be an Animals as Leaders or Dream Theater clone to be prog. I bet I could write a fugue a la Hindemith that would sound really good by a metal band. How about someone tries that for originality?
I know there are actually lots of bands out there doing this, but they immediately get labelled as avant garde and pushed out of the prog scene. As I pointed out last time, this term should probably be reserved for the really, really out there stuff. Incorporating these techniques subtly into your standard prog sound should still count as prog metal. We should embrace more experimentation to finally get out of this stasis.
When receiving descriptions of new releases from labels, one can read all sort of outrageous and preposterous claims on par with “the beginning of a new era in metal”, “unprecedented innovation”, “I’m tougher than Vladimir Putin” or “We went to Afghanistan to bring democracy to the people”. It wasn’t all that surprising, then, to read the first introductory line and find that young Indonesian band Exhumation was being hailed as a classic. I rolled my eyes at this and proceeded to get my face punched.
Exhumation plays a violent proto-black metal in the vein of Sarcófago and an aftertaste of Blasphemy. I will stress that they play in the vein of those bands. But they escape the clone-curse and give the listener a familiar but altogether new and original experience. As underground metal styles death and black have moved well past the initial stages of formation and definition, most bands have turned to simple rehashing or attempts at innovation. Unfortunately innovation is often perceived superficially. We should talk about progress and not innovation, which is often confused with novelty. I would not hesitate to call this album true progress. Albeit a conservative, cautious progress in this particular style.
Opus Death, a silly title which made me seriously doubt the album at first, is Exhumation’s second album. Exhumation understand the language and are proficient users of the same, knowing how to formulate their own statements. Not only are they original in what they say, but they also learn from the classics by avoiding their errors and carefully expanding where there is potential to expand. Ideas and the riffs they span let the listener become familiar with them as is required in the black metal tradition, but they do not overstay their visit nor overstep their roles. Transition riffs are adequately unstable and work effectively with drum patterns to create the gasping effect so that the listener can breath before the music goes on, unrelenting.
Both highly chromatic, Slayeresque solos as well the simple, rough and tonal melodies make an appearance in the record without sounding disparate in any way. The balance of taste and style always carefully preserved. Much can be said of the placing of the solos which is always optimal and contributing to the emotional upheaval they cause within the emotional predictability of this kind of music.
Another feature of this album that should not be overlooked or underestimated is the use of piano and guitar interludes right at the middle and at the end of the album, respectively. It is hard not to draw a parallel with Blessed are the Sick, but I am willing to venture and say that as to their contribution to the album as a whole, they are much more powerful and relevant in Opus Death. Both beautiful in their minimalist rendition of the harmonic skeleton behind the ripping black metal of the band, they contrast the slaughtering slashes of the rest of the album and serve as inverted climaxes.
Trying to praise this as uncompromising is an insult to Exhumation. Rather, the mature and sensible compromises Exhumation incurs in are what account for the steady and sure steps of their music. It might be too soon to call it a classic, but it sure feels like one. Far from naive or wanting in any technical respect, Opus Death shows us that even though traditional and true underground metal may be difficult to carry on whilst being original, it is not impossible, but we need to look beyond juvenile feelings of rebellion to do so. Metal is not young anymore, act accordingly.
“Why?” you ask. Why indeed. “Why is this on a website called deathmetal.org?”. Because to promote ideals, what must be avoided must also be examined. Obsolete gives us plenty of material to work with in this respect. It has the gimmicky over-emotional vocals and the string unrelated catchy and head-bob-inducing sections that would not be out of place in a Coheed and Cambria record.
With the all-too-common excuse of being a progressive band, Obsolete give little thought to whether the ideas they are pasting together actually make any sense as a whole. Not only is the whole unconvincing but the individual ideas are also echoes of the past in a series of bland reincarnations of alternative rock voices. Often voicing social protest in Latin American music, this style of music is used by Obsolete to speak of plain and obvious things as if they were the most mysterious enigmas of the universe. Such is the power channeled by this music.
Riven represents the lowest common denominator for the casual music fan. By definition, there is no shortage of these, so that this album is sure to find a substantial audience ready to talk about how deep and emotional this music and its lyrics are.
The reader can help themselves to this profound music here.
2015’s Redeeming Filth, the successor toWorld Declension (2005), was recorded at Amplified Studios and mixed & mastered at Garageland Studios by Ronnie Björnström (Aeon) during the spring of 2014. Album cover has been created by Twilight 13 Media (At The Gates, Arch Enemy, Darkthrone).
01. When Bodies Are Deformed
02. Moist Purple Skin
03. Death Glance
04. Stone Of Choice
07. Without Motives
08. Rotting Below
09. Dead, Buried and Forgotten
10. Eye Sockets Empty
Alexander Högbom – vocals
Sverker Widgren – guitars
Martin Schulman – bass
Kennet Englund – drums
Boston’s Zealotry made a startling contribution to death metal in 2013 with their debut album The Charnel Expanse. Plodding, grim death metal inspired on the vague harmonic coloration of Immolation, the watery flow of tremolo-picked melodies of Adramelech and the syncopated off-feeling of Demilich. A non-explicit disciple of the abstract concepts underlying the strong and clear structural construction in the death metal of At the Gates’ Gardens of Grief, Zealotry’s offering makes strides in the direction of the ideal and whole technical death metal.
A superficial glance over the record can give the impression that this is a retro band and that this is an “old school death metal” record. The only truth in that remark lies solely on the fact that Zealotry picks up where old school bands left off before death metal hit rock bottom in the mid 1990s only to branch out helplessly in a multitude of retrograde subgenres. Zealotry shows us the way the obsession with technique and extremity in performance of the genre at the time (which became its focus roughly after 1992) could have been channeled into the sculpting of true works of art rather than demonstrations of narcissism and inadequacy.
Condensed into one sentence, the reason why this effort falls short of its mark is related to the how monumental that goal is. Were they to pull off the record they were looking for, it would have single-handedly given the current death metal landscape an example to follow and at the same time it would have marked the end of a chapter in the genre.
But the naivete that cripples The Charnel Expanse gives the metal student a clearer study of death metal construction. The way each riff and section is rounded off and resolved makes the record overbearingly predictable. The thoughtful enchantment of each next riff is what allows the listener to pull through despite the somewhat conclusion-less songs. Here is where the influence of The Chasm is made most clear. It is as full of fervent candor as it is clueless regarding to how to close off ideas or give them more than a transitory character.
Centinex has revealed the music video for Moist Purple Skin, from their upcoming album titled Redeeming Filth.
The band will perform a short string of selected dates this summer, including the following festivals:
12.06 2015 ROM – Bucharest – Metalhead Meeting Festival
26.06 2015 GER – Protzen – Protzen Open Air
10.07 2015 CZE – Trutnov – Obscene Extreme Festival
25.09 2015 SWE – Hultsfred – Mörkaste Småland Festival
The purpose of this series is to present the death metal fan (and by extension, the death metal writer/artist/composer) with a look into great classical string quartets that evoke the same violent and stark atmosphere that is typical of death metal.
The metal fan is encouraged to look beyond superficial parallels or differences so that he realizes how these string quartets by master composers developed into a cornucopia of expressions, patterns and details. I wish this would also be an aspiration or at least an inspiration for the artist (or would-be artist) that has the chance of reading it.
Another good reason to listen to string quartets in general is that they tend to express a more sincere and private facet of the composer while also being a test to his prowess in composition.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Op. 133, Grosse Fuge
Originally written as the last movement of his Op. 130, String Quartet No. 13 in B flat major, this massive movement was once commented on by Stravinsky saying that it is “an absolutely contemporary piece of music that will be contemporary forever.”. Stravinsky was referring to the absolute character of the music and its jarring disparity with temporal conventions.
Dmitry Shostakovich: String Quartet No. 10 in A flat, Op. 118
The well-known dark personality of Shostakovich’s compositions comes through in distilled and intensified manner in his string quartets. In here we find a mature Shostakovich channeling visions of a personal hell. We can imagine his will to fight through and see the light at the end of the tunnel despite facing terror and dread.
Q: Do you keep tabs on new developments within heavy music at all? A: No, not really. I listen to music all the time, but I guess I’m the first to admit that I’m living in the past. When it comes to heavy music I really only listen to the old stuff. Occasionally someone will play me something by a contemporary band, and sometimes it’s something that’s quite impressive, but I don’t think I’ve heard anything lately that I would say makes me want to go out and buy the album, listen to it at home, or be inspired by it for new music. It’s just a personal taste thing, because I know there’s other people out there who are equally passionate about that music, but for them it’s all about what’s happening now, and the next thing. So it’s just down to the way your brain works, and what turns you on musically.
To many of us, this gives an interesting insight into Carcass stylistic changes throughout their discography. Many point their fingers at Michael Amott for the change in Carcass’ music towards their third album. But Bill Steer’s declaration is revealing of what his band is about regardless of Amott’s contributions.
Michael Amott’s previous work with Carnage revealed someone more in touch with the developments of death metal. Of course, the eventual paths each of these artists took with Arch Enemy and Carcass both show a penchant for 1980s heavy metal. But Stigmata still shows a more forward vision than the infamous Swansong.
While staying in touch with your roots, or any roots, for that matter, is important for convincing artistic development to occur, there is no development without looking forward towards a new horizon. By its very nature, music that attempts only to emulate what was is doomed to be an empty husk.
Black metal onslaught Kaeck, formed from members of Kjeld, Noordelingen and Sammath, brings a war metal style intensity to classic European melodies and elegance in this unrelenting assault of violence and beauty. The band has released a new track, “Afgod” from the upcoming album Stormkult, which shows the relentless intensity with which this new band pursues its vision. With this release the band unveils the title of the album and shows the direction the full-length will take.
Exclusively streaming at DeathMetal.org, “Afgod” shows a newer look at a unique combination of older styles of black metal, merging the arch compositions of Gorgoroth with the raw blasting aggression of Zyklon-B or Blasphemy. The result will please both war metal fans who relish the militant attack and high-energy combat of their genre, and fans of traditional modern black metal who like songs united by development of melody and form. Not surprisingly, a number of labels have expressed interest in Kaeck.
Manifesting themselves from the Dutch scene which has rewarded martial but melodic material since the earliest death metal days, Kaeck uphold this tradition by integrating into their black metal the more trangressive and brutal sounds of war metal, creating a release that avoids the pitfall of a death/black hybrid by simply making a more technically-precise version of war metal with the more expressive song forms of black metal. Expect nothing but war, brutality and a vision of the heavens rent to pieces as Kaeck Stormkult detonates!