Empyrium – The Turn of the Tides

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Empyrium started as a metal band, but they have become a band with its own voice that uses many styles including metal where they fit in each song, much like it might use a technique. Elements of traditional European bard styles, Gothic, neofolk, ambient, neoclassical and metal meld in this emotional but dark atmospheric band.

These melancholic and beautiful songs run longer than average because they focus on creating a mood, generally with piano and lush keyboards as the primary instrument complemented by vocals, and then working through it much as one might take a walk through the Black Forest, looking up into the trees as a new thought becomes familiar and finally fleshed out, then fading away like the dying light of day. Guitars and death metal vocals appear when they create the desired effect of aggression and passionate rage for balancing to what is otherwise a yawning abyss of tragic sadness. Like doom metal bands such as My Dying Bride and Skepticism, Empyrium work hard to balance moods that otherwise would become monolithic and all-encompassing, using variations in mood to strengthen the theme of each song much as Dead Can Dance do in their longer epics. The result is a mellow and gentle sound from which the bottom falls out and a void emerges, only to become absorbed by a general sense of narrative and development. This album is both easy to listen to and a hard place to want to go, but provides the perfect background to certain acts like driving in the rain, contemplating old pictures or burying an entire family.

While the metal content shrinks with every Empyrium album, the use of metal as a voice strengthens because it appears only when crashing guitars and guttural distorted vocals give presence to an idea within the song, possibly showing us where metal will be in another decade if it continues abolishing itself. What makes The Turn of the Tides of interest to metalheads is that these songs reflect many of the same emotional journeys you might find on a Summoning or Graveland album but are taken to a more expansive viewpoint through the use of other techniques as well. Fans of atmospheric black metal and doom metal alike will find Empyrium interesting, as will any who find the manipulation of mood in layers of atmosphere to provide a compelling listen.

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Phlebotomized – Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact

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People forget that the 90s were among other things a pervasively trivial time, which was one of the things that death metal was rebelling against. We finally got over the terror of the Republican 1980s, and the ex-hippies took over and that meant we were due for some good times. Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure satirizes this best with its view of adult society in Southern California as completely oblivious, obsessed with the inconsequential and generally wrapped up in itself without any purpose or direction to life beyond consumer glory.

Immense Intense Surprise reveals this mentality of triviality, which is the concept that you can take something very ordinary and cover it with shiny objects and unique, ironic and different (UID) adornments and somehow it will be transformed into a revolutionary idea. This is not so: the underlying idea remains in control. In the case of Immense Intense Surprise the underlying idea is that same alternative rock that everyone else was pimping back then, but they have dressed it up as bouncy technical death metal of the Afflicted school, meaning that you will not find any epic or amazing melodies or song constructions here, only technical tricks on guitar and keyboard.

To keep us distracted, Phlebotomized constantly change layers of vocals, synths, drums and lead guitar that sounds almost plasticine in its tendency toward “chaotically” repeated similar structures. And underneath? Quite a few hard rock and classic heavy metal riffs reborn, some influences from 70s rock, and a bit of death metal that as with all ill-conceived hybrids, builds itself around the vocals. Notice also the novelty song structures. This release distracts from a missing core with a surface level of weird, much like so many people distract from their absence of soul with “interesting” personalities.

Not all of Immense Intense Surprise & Skycontact — a combination release of two late 1990s albums — is bad. Much of this material shows insight in songwriting and an ability to craft a good tune. Phlebotomized interrupt themselves on the way to a good song by instead of finding a voice for their many influences, trotting them out in serial fashion, creating the kind of “variety plate” music that fails to endure over time. Think, people: there is a reason these albums went out of print in the first place after haunting the sale bins of used record stores across the world. Surface-based music does not endure. They were not alone in their quest for experimentation. Bands like Disharmonic Orchestra, Supuration and Mordred were each trying to re-invent death metal by mixing in influences from previous genres. The problem with such a conflicted approach is that it destroys the voice of the genre which had achieved clarity, and replace it with the usual modern grab-bag of options unrelated to a purpose.

Phlebotomized put out an earlier album, Preach Eternal Gospels, which spent quite a bit of time in my CD player during the 90s because it was good, solid B-level boxy death metal. Bands at that level either accepted second-tier status and moved on, or became consumed with the desire to be the next Dismember or Morbid Angel and so embarked on a path of accessorizing their music to make it stand out. Their only real problem was that the mainstream rock discovered that tactic long before they did, and they were better at it.

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Abscession – Grave Offerings

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Abscession appeared on the metal scene with a mission to bring the power of Swedish death metal to a stagnant scene. After a promising demo, “Death Incarnate,” Abscession return with a full-length Grave Offerings that expands upon their earlier strengths to make a solid Swedish death metal album with melodic touches but a few weaknesses that could sabotage its enjoyment by others.

On “Death Incarnate,” Abscession offered a great sense of melody and of place within each song, building up riff iterations like scenes in a horror film leading to a dramatic reveal. With their first full-length Abscession demonstrate the ability to write melodic songs that create a sensation of atmosphere and then bring it to a peak, uniting the song in a moment of clarity based on the journey encoded in its prior riffs. They draw from a template of Bolt Thrower, Dismember, Unleashed, Amorphis and early Therion in this ability but expand upon it with their own voice. Each song on this album possesses a point of focus and some form of internal content that guides its development, which avoids the “songs about being songs” problem that many death metal bands have. This radically cuts down on disorganization which can blight a metal album, and creates a sensation of descent into a dark world which deepens as the album progresses. Hardcore death metal fans may find the second half even more interesting than the first.

Where this album falls down is in the tendency to incorporate hard rock and death ‘n roll elements in some of — key point: some of — the riffs. These tend to focus on bouncy riffs like the Pantera style from the 1990s but without the angry bounce, more like a pop-music style that infects the brain but detract from the overall power of the song. Further, the vocals tend to synchronize too closely with riff and especially with chorus rhythm, and unfortunately are produced in such a way that they expand sonically instead of remaining focused; a bit of reverb and a filter on the microphone might help here. These are minor problems which probably keep this album from being an automatic keeper, but nonetheless it remains a powerful musical force that is immediately recognizable as its own entity and not merely derivative and celebrating that fact to recruit an audience as recent “true old school Swedish death metal” albums have done. Notice also what appears to be a Havohej tribute in the first riff of the second-to-final song.

Death metal fans will find this album relevant because this band actually write songs, have a flair for the kind of theatrical yet meaningful atmospheric changes that Celtic Frost pioneered, and demonstrate overall high levels of musicianship and songwriting. Many will be put off by some of the bounce riffs or Motley Crue-styled hard rock riffs, but these are as mentioned above a minority of what is on the album. Amazing for its ability to invoke the past without rehashing it from an outside view, Grave Offerings shows a powerful future for this band and proves itself one of the most memorable releases of 2014.

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Calling #metalgate what it is

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We all went to high school. #MetalGate reminds me of those dark days when there were cool kids and un-cool kids, and if you weren’t in the former group you were just nobody.

Growing up with a single Mom who kept our budget tight, I never had the cool clothes. Since I worked after school and then did homework until bedtime, I didn’t know the cool stuff on TV or in movies. Not having been raised around the cool kids, or having a parent with the time or energy to show me how to be “cool,” it never occurred to me to try. And suddenly people were pointing and laughing and then my head was getting bashed into a locker.

When one of these people approached me and started making fun of me, my instinct was to cower away and assume that they knew something I should know which gave them some kind of “authority” in the high school social scene. Over time I realized that this “something” was nothing important, and their real goal was savor the Schadenfreude of making someone else miserable for being who they were. I learned that there is one way to stand up to such people: do not apologize, do not back down, but go straight to the biggest one and hit him as hard as you can. They usually backed down and often apologized after that. I let the matter drop at that point since most of these bullies came from troubled homes: Dad drank too much, Mom ran around with the neighborhood used-car salesman, or there were money troubles. Some of them ended up being lifelong friends, after we settled our differences on the schoolyard.

When I look at #MetalGate, I see a whole industry cowering before these people who want to make metal “socially conscious” and politically correct. We, as metalheads, have refused to call these people what they are, so I will: bullies. They are bullies whose weapon is guilt. In high school, it was guilt for not being “cool.” In the hipster-nerd infested metal scene, it’s guilt for not having the “right” opinions. Haven’t we all matured past this?

Bullies always have a clique. This clique agrees that they are right and everyone else is just not cool enough. They need an excuse that other people will accept for their bullying, so they come up with a reason that sounds good. They do not care if it is true. They just want to rally other people around them who will agree that you deserved getting your head pounded into that locker. Like all cliques, their little group works by every member validating every other. It is the worst aspect of humanity which we saw at the Salem witch trials, at Nuremburg, even in lynch mobs hanging African-Americans. This is the psychology of prejudice, and bullies struggle to conceal their prejudice by arguing that they are defending their ingroup against an outgroup:

What Tajfel discovered is that groups formed on the basis of almost any distinction are prone to ingroup bias. Within minutes of being divided into groups, people tend to see their own group as superior to other groups, and they will frequently seek to maintain an advantage over other groups. – The Psychology of Prejudice, Professor Scott Plous, Wesleyan University

In other words, if you group people together by any arbitrary means they will quickly act like a tribe and enforce their rules on others. This is how bullies operate: they gather together people, offer them entry into an ingroup, but the price for that entry is that they must join in the bullying of the outgroup… and so kids get heads slammed into their lockers for wearing cardigan sweaters (hey, it was a hand-me-down) which is totally uncool.

The #MetalGate people, who I am told call themselves “Social Justice Warriors” or SJWs, are bullies of this type. They will claim they are against prejudice, but really what this means is that they are using that argument to conceal their own prejudice. They just want someone to bully. The reason is probably the same as with the high school bullies, which is that their lives are miserable and they want to take out their frustration and anger on others. This pattern occurs time and again, with the most famous being the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC):

On August 19, 1985, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the United States Senate opened public hearings intended to gather expert testimony on “the content of certain sound recordings and suggestions that recording packages be labeled to provide a warning to prospective purchasers of sexually explicit or other potentially offensive content.” Widely known as “The PMRC Hearings” after the acronym of an independent group—the Parents Music Resource Council—advocating for the “voluntary” adoption of warning stickers on record albums whose lyrics it deemed to be offensive, the hearings did not, in fact, end up leading to any kind of legislative action.

This group also wanted to bully metal because they were looking for a scapegoat for what they saw as a decline in public morality. They figured they could pick on metalheads because we are not the wives of Senators, we may not have education and money, and we are prone to be silent when society bullies us. But metalheads stood up against them, whopped them in the nose, and refused to take it. Another group of bullies back in the 1980s were the Dead Kennedys fans who decided that Slayer was really, really bad for singing (with clear disapproval) about Auschwitz and the horrors of the Holocaust. “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” was their theme song and they used this as an excuse to beat on random fans wearing Slayer tshirts. Punk had just gone through its own #PunkGate at that point, I guess, and the politically correct people came out on top.

There are plenty of groups of bullies in metal today. The pretentious hipsters who think you are unenlightened if you do not “appreciate” Deafheaven are one, and so are the people who think that if you are not a full-on SJW you are a bad person. So are the “tryhards” who insist they support diehard underground music but use that as an excuse to troll anyone who does not exclusively listen to three-chord Blasphemy or Incantation clones. In each group, the solution is the same: tell them where they can shove their pretense and guilt because you know their secret, which is that they are just bullies.

The difference with SJWs is that they act like they are revolutionaries who are re-educating us in important topics. But guess what, guys: you are not disenfranchised anymore. You get positive press and in fact most of you work in the press. The US government agrees with you, as does the UN. Your ideas are not revolutionary because they are the norm. Like most bullies, you are cloaking yourselves in the ideals of the mainstream in order to punish us outliers. This is no different than what happened in the Soviet Union or Nazi regime, where people who “thought differently” got shot at dawn. You are the new Nazis.

Metal should fight back because metal should not become a vehicle for the control agenda of any group. Metal is its own group, and people police this because we know that many other groups would like to assimilate us and use us for their own purposes. It has been tried before, with hard rock in the 1970s, punk in the 1980s, and now post-punk in the 2000s. Like all bullies, they want to stop us from being different and make us more like them, which is to say the bog-standard generic mainstream. Their bands are all second-rate and their ideas warmed over slogans from the 1960s. Metalheads should feel no guilt about acting in our own self-interest, which is to keep our music away from this group of bullies and refuse to let them dominate us.

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#MetalGate

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I had hoped that the busload of squalling drama that was #GamerGate (see here: pro | con) would not come to metal, but #metalgate has arrived courtesy of the same people who intruded into the gaming industry despite a striking lack of actual contributions:

Metal is still dogged by the issues that arise from its deep-seated conservative values, but thanks to an increase in conversations about racism, politics, and feminism, those on the right side of history have gained solid ground. – SPIN

Before we get involved in this partisan squabble, consider that metal is beyond the left-right divide. The left wants individualism through equality, and the right wants individualism through lack of social obligation. Neither recognize that societies, like metal genres, are organic entities where more is required than individualism; we need cooperation.

It is easy to see however why someone might want to — as writers have in the past — call heavy metal conservative. Metal avoids “social issues” and other internal questions of a society and instead looks at the health of a society as a whole, or in other words, how sane it is. We see a world gone insane through a refusal to pay attention to reality. The methods of that are beyond an artistic genre and should be injected into it, but since 2006 at least trying to reform metal has been a pet project of certain groups:

More than three decades after Black Sabbath conjured images of the dark arts, heavy metal is growing up. The genre is increasingly incorporating social and political messages into its dense power chords.

Cattle Decapitation vocalist Travis Ryan said his San Diego band’s mix of charging guitars and an animal rights message is drawing a diverse crowd that includes activists as well as traditional metal fans. – The Washington Post

The grim fact is that metal has split into two groups. When the newer group encountered the older group, they were appalled that it did not share their opinions, not just on politics but how to live. This new group is inherently “social” and they share opinions which make their friends feel warm and fuzzy about them. That is at odds with the older metal tradition of not caring what society thought, telling the hard truth, and being obligated to no one because most people are crazy.

It is only when you get involved in a managerial role with society, like a kindergarten teacher insisting that we all play nice together, that you care at all about making sure that everyone is included. Metal does not. Metal looks at society from the view of history and whether it is healthy or diseased from within. The metalhead view is consistently anti-managerial, since metalheads recognize the deficiencies of people and want to keep most of them at a great distance. It is not that we want to manage them, like political people do, but that we want to be free of them.

For years people have tried to make metal more sociable. They first tried in the mid-1970s when they mixed Black Sabbath with Led Zeppelin and produced hard rock, hoping that they could sell it to more people. “Sociable” sells. Then they tried in the 1980s with rap/rock, funk metal and other abominations. Finally they hit on nu-metal but that turned into an extended conversation about the impact of child molestation. And then, during the early 2000s, they rolled out a metal/hardcore fusion that had sociable lyrics like hardcore punk has for many years.

Notice that none of this was brought on by metalheads. It was created by people who wanted to be metalheads, but felt they could not be metalheads unless the genre agreed with their existing social, political and lifestyle biases. At this point, the metal community has entirely split between those who like the old school and those who want to be “nu-skool.” This is because they are two separate genres. Metal is metal, and the indie-metal/metalcore wave is someone else trying to use us for their agenda. #MetalGate is just the latest salvo in this fight.

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Sepultura and Les Tambours du Bronx – Metal Veins: Alive at Rock in Rio

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Had Sepultura taken this direction instead of the path they chose on Chaos A.D., they would have receded into rock history as legends and not warmed-over attempts at former glory that got swallowed by their attempts to popularize a form of music that is inherently against all things dictated by popularity and illusion in the heart of the individual.

As every write-up on this band will tell you, Les Tambours du Bronx are a sort of Blue Man Group from New York whose shtick is to have a dozen men banging on samizdat percussion instruments, most visually impressive when made from 55-gallon drums and malleted with baseball bats. Like Crash Worship, on whose fame they surely predicate their own but with an intent for a more public spectacle, Les Tambours du Bronx put on a show that is as much visual as audial. They team up with Sepultura, playing its crowd favorites from Chaos A.D. onward into the post-Max years. The result shows a great deal of promise that with a nudge it might live up to.

To make this a great release, they would have dropped the vocals and given Andreas Kisser more time lacing his lead guitar through the riffs like a jazz player covering an old standard in a new interpretation. They might have allowed Sepultura to do what they do best, which is to write a string of ear-snagging riffs in a riff salad that nonetheless makes sense, and let the rhythm of Les Tambours du Bronx carry the songs entirely. This would have given the music an intense ritual air with primal undertones that belong to no tradition and fuse the modern with the energy of antiquity. Instead, as usual, there are too many chefs stirring the pot, or as it might be said for metal music, too many influences warring for dominance. Random industrial noises and squeals, the ranting pseudo-death vocals of Derrick Green and other attempts to impose rock-style song structure onto this open jam limit its power.

Since leaving speed/death metal behind, Sepultura have sought a way to become a Ramones for heavy metal, playing simple riffs that unite a carnival crowd and bring people to a point of energetic focus. Similarly, the style of percussion on this album creates a massive feeling of unison especially as it internally deviates from the archetypal rhythms it sets up for the audience to follow. Together these make for a spectacle, but the musical intensity is not here mainly owing to the lack of focus on the Sepultura side. Instead of trying to use outside forces to accent their own music, they should adapt their music to complement those forces and through mutuality, achieve something new. Metal Veins: Alive at Rock in Rio as a live album makes for dubious listening owing to the muddy sound, but with this being basically a “we’re different” stunt using nu-Sepultura in unchanged form, it offers little for repeat listens.

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Winterfylleth – The Divination of Antiquity

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When something great passes, people stand around wishing for more of those moments of power and beauty that it brought. And so we get the black metal equivalent of Django Wilson and his Electric Band Play the Hits of the Beatles, except that now it is a black metal version which revisits the greatest moments of early Gorgoroth through a filter of Ancient and Graveland. Nothing here is poorly executed but the whole misses the driving spirit of black metal that gave it its profundity and instead works on recombining known tropes that once gave it great intensity.

All of the classic attributes are here: the minor-key trailing melodies, the bombastic resurgent themes, the shifting between riffs conveying a sense of hope and thus returning to a feral despair, but the animating force that holds them together does not appear. Like a musical version of Frankenstein’s monster, The Divination of Antiquity is the most beautiful black metal album ever made from pieces of its best, but it lacks the soul to see beyond the immediate and material and touch the conceptual ground of actual black metal. Winterfylleth make songs with the basic feel and sensation of black metal, but without the intention behind it, they never develop to any conclusion sufficient for black metal and instead detour into the semi-circular wistful feeling that indie-rock and post-metal — both witnesses to the decline of human society in lugubrious ways, but helpless observers and not soul-participants in the counteraction — create that are the artistic equivalent of euthanasia. Like back, watch it happen, relax and let the waves wash over you. It will all be over soon.

As the album progresses, The Divination of Antiquity starts falling back on more rock and jazz tropes to supplement its diminishing store of black metal landmark moments. The result is pleasant to listen to and evokes many of the old feelings, but like uncompleted thoughts they linger in conversation outside the French coffeehouse and dissipate on the car exhaust and cold air of the morning breeze. It would be wonderful to find in this “what once was,” but that would be the equivalent of concluding the recent Star Wars movies will have the impact of the original out of nostalgia, and ignoring the obvious missing elements which, and not its accessories and techniques, made the original so powerful.

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Interview with Cognizance

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Metalcore band Cognizance hopes to make itself a force among the legions of hybrid-metal bands dressing like hardcore kids, partying like millennials and hungry for riffs. With their newest release, _Inceptum, Cognizance unleash two tracks of technical metalcore with a focus on songwriting. Guitarist Alex Baillie gave us a few moments of his time to describe the past and future of this competitive band…

When did Cognizance form, and did you have a goal in mind at the time? Were you from similar musical backgrounds? What about life-paths and outlooks?

Henry and myself started working on a Death Metal song late 2011, we recorded it like 3 times with the help from some other musicians we were friends with. Eventually, it started to sound pretty cool and early 2012 we started (slowly) piecing 4 songs together which later became our debut Inquisition.

Pryce (Big Mac/Henry) and me have been friends for quite a long time, we’ve played in a couple of bands together. We’ve always shared a mutual love for heavy metal, gear and snacks. So kicking off this project was pretty easy going.

Phil joined the force late 2013, we’ve known him a while and I used to play in his band XisForEyes. You can check this out in detail in our “Origins” video:

You’re more experienced musicians than the average person starting a new band. Was this a challenge and how did you overcome it? Did you face any obstacles in uniting your musical styles?

I wouldn’t say we’re more experienced than people starting a new band, but we’re keen players for sure.

I’d say the only obstacle we initially faced and still sometimes do is Pryce telling me everything needs to be faster haha. We eventually compromise on a tempo, I’m down for the faster speeds but sometimes certain parts can just sound a mess at whacky speeds. Plus I can’t play that fast!

As far as musical styles go, we each contribute our style of playing to compliment the song. If our idea doesn’t work or fit then it gets changed. We usually put things like this down to a vote.

What sort of music is Cognizance? How does it differ from death metal, grindcore and metalcore?

Cognizance is modern Death/Extreme Metal. I don’t think we differ that much from the styles mentioned above. Although I don’t think we have any elements of Grindcore in there, yet.

_Inceptum seems to be a concept EP. What does the leading underscore (_) mean? What is the concept?

We wanted to use the underscore to visualise the technological/digital theme in the song “The Succession of Flesh.” The specific word “Inceptum” was inspired by the other single “Aeon of Creation.” The theme in each song share undertones which form the title _Inceptum.

The lyrical themes of each song are set in completely different time frames. “Aeon of Creation” is about the hellish conditions during the early formation of Earth, the originator of consciousness. A natural creation. “The Succession of Flesh” is set in the present and is themed around technology being considered an extension of human consciousness, a man made creation.

Why did you decide to do an EP instead of a full-length?

There are a few reasons why we decided to do this, mainly; Time, our budget and our ambition to keep churning out songs as quickly and consistently as we can.

Currently not being a live band means that we have to go about things in a slightly different method. At the moment this works for us and our sound is constantly changing so this keeps each release sounding real fresh.

Where did you record, and what did you do to get the crisp and crunchy (“Pringles”) sound you got?

_Inceptum was recorded in various locations:

  • Drums: Eyal Levi’s studio in Stanford, Florida. Eyal also recorded his solo here.
  • Rhythm and lead guitars: Henry’s studio up in Leeds; Eyal flew out to record us here in the UK.
  • Vocals and bass: Phil’s studio up in Newcastle upon Tyne. More Eyal action right here.
  • Frank Mullen guest spot- Tommy Jones (Videohammer Studios) who filmed the whole recording process flew out to Long Island New York to track Frank at Full Force studios.
  • Jason Suecof guest spot: Jason recorded his guest solo at his studio in Florida, the mighty Audiohammer studios. They now have a meat smoker over there but that didn’t make its way on to the recording.

About those Pringles you mentioned, the overall sound is down to each of our performances and the final mix Eyal did.

You chose to release the EP to press as a 20-minute film about the making of the EP. How did this “meta-release” come to pass? Was it a greater challenge?

The addition of the documentary fell in place naturally. We wanted to capture the experience of this project as it was a pretty big venture for us having Eyal Levi and Tommy Jones come over from the US to work with us. Plus including a documentary with the release was a nice step up from our last demo, widely know as the “Speed Metal” self-titled.

Tommy did an incredible job of the documentary. Filming in multiple locations/studios can’t be easy to edit into a final product but he’s really nailed it and we’re pumped about how it’s come out.

We will be releasing the documentary for free online alongside the release of _Inceptum on the 22nd December.

What’s next for Cognizance? How should interested fans stay on top of what you’re doing?

We’re already working on a bunch of new material. I’ve pretty much got four songs written at this point. I’m not sure what we’re going to use them for or when you guys will hear them. But we’re starting some pre-production in less than two weeks, should be badass.

We post regular updates on our pages

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Why are digipaks so popular?

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Whenever I see a release will be in digipak format, I have mixed emotions. The digipak shows more of the art and does not have the spine of the CD case to break up the panels between front and back. It is more like the envelope in which vinyl records are packaged and arguably more attractive. But it also has a fatal flaw: it degrades rapidly, often randomly, and unlike the rigid CD case does a poor job of protecting the relatively fragile CD.

Records, while also fragile, have an advantage in that they are larger and so are harder to destroy and less likely to be combined with other items and crushed. What all of us love about records is the large format front and back covers which allow more visibility to the album art as if it were a two-panel painting. But this size of art will never exist on a CD because it is a quarter the size of a vinyl record, so it seems a bit silly to package CDs in a fragile format so that we can see the same small-size art. Perhaps by now the CD audience is accustomed to seeing smaller art, and will download a bigger scan if they need one, or buy the vinyl instead.

Among my years with the digipak format, I have seen multiple CDs become loosed by the failure of the CD tray to remain glued to the back wall of the paper foldout. Multiple times the spines have compressed or collapsed, leading to the abrasion of the artwork that is putatively the value in the digipak over a nice, sturdy and reliable plastic CD case. Trying to pack them together on a shelf, owing to the disuniformity of the format because of its multiple options for booklets and pockets, causes total chaos which inevitably results in digipaks slipping like North Sea sardines from among the mess onto the floor.

This blog post is not a persuasive writing. It does not seek to convince you of a point of view; it raises a few questions and then departs. Those questions might be: What is it that we like about digipaks, especially artists and labels but not (generally) fans and collectors? What are the downsides? Do those benefits outweigh the downsides, and what are the risks of the downsides occurring in the life of the average metal fan? Not all questions need answers but many produce answering response in us as we read them, which I hope has happened here.

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Neopera – Destined Ways

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I’ll let you in on a dark secret from music reviewers: sometimes we write about stuff that is fun to write about even if it will quickly slip under the foamy surf of history. Neopera is one of these bands which is proficient in a terrible cheesy style but whose presence evokes so many observations on metal and society that it cannot be passed up. It is not an easy bash like the phenomenally boring Abysmal Lord, nor a making fun of chronic idiots like a Pantera or Meshuggah review would be, but an insight into human thinking about the uses for music and what it says about us.

To get it out of the way, let it be said that these musicians clearly know what they’re about. These players could have made an album in any style, but deliberately chose one that allowed them to target a power metal audience that wants male and female vocals with extensive harmonization and a positive outlook to the music as a whole. What emerges as a result is basically “princess metal” in that it has more in common with Disney theme songs and inspirational (Christian) rock than anything else, adorned in some folk-metal trappings but in that sweetened overly-romanticized way that works in children’s movies but not so well with red-blooded stout-hearted metal. Excessive sentimental and lush in its use of keyboards and vocals in a swell that relegates guitars to a constant background texture and primary rhythmic instrument, with drums shadowing that role, Destined Ways overflows with the kind of soaring choruses and heavy use of theme that Hollywood soundtracks made famous. The descriptions of this album mention “classical music,” but the closest it comes to that is the instrumentation and moments that sound like Andre Rieu covering Tchaikovsky with Trans-Siberian Orchestra overseeing.

Songs follow the Iron Maiden formula of a compelling intro, a descent into theme through paired contrasting motifs, and then a deepening with verse and chorus repeated in layers as melodic adornments expand the vocal, then a triumphant return and fade out in a variation on the theme. Far more organized than the average metal composers, Neopera show the promise of their name: a kind of melodramatic adaptation of the vocal forms of European music but applied through the pop formula for satisfaction with underlying metal. Fortunately, the metal they use tends to be consistent with the better half of speed metal, but it cannot take away from the perception that this music is essentially a saccharine play set to words with guitars going in the background.

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