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. (more…)
When people mention death metal bands, they cite a short canon of Morbid Angel and Deicide. If this album had been of higher quality, Incantation would be the third on that list. Following the immensely powerful Onward to Golgotha, Incantation stood poised to take over American death metal with their unique sound and quality songwriting. On Mortal Throne of Nazarene, the band took a huge dive into a lesser category and were as a result bypassed by many fans.
Many factors may have influenced this decision. Relapse Records was at the time trying to grow large enough to be on par with bigger labels like Earache and Roadrunner. Incantation despite having a stable line-up benefited from the contributions of past members such as Paul Ledney and influences from other East Coast bands. Immense pressure was brought to bear on the band to make another Onward to Golgotha two years after their first album, during a time when rumored internal friction caused lineup changes and the semi-permanent departure of drummer Jim Roe and loss of bassist Ronnie Deo. As a result, those two years may not have represented the length of time the band had to write, incubate and revise this album.
Immediately noticeable is the primal flaw of this album: chord progressions and melodies used in fills are more obvious, or cut more exactly from scale patterns, which gives it an almost sing-song vibe at times. Rhythms are less fully integrated which causes the band to attempt ambitious forms but then fall back on relatively brown-wrapper metal tropes. The band incorporated many of these tracks with rhythm re-written on their followup EP The Forsaken Mourning of Angelic Anguish where changes in pacing and arrangement made them far more effective. This confirms much of what listeners felt, which was that Mortal Throne of Nazarene may have been completely written but it did not undergo the revision, editing and incubation process that mellowed Onward to Golgotha into a finely honed shape where no detail was extraneous and all parts worked together toward the impression conveyed by each song. Relapse promoted this album as more “technical,” back when that buzzword was new, meaning that there are additional chord shapes used and some difficult tempo changes, but it was not as well-integrated nor as purposeful.
Mortal Throne of Nazarene overflows with good ideas but they do not work together toward an end, and parts of it like the last half of Suffocation’s Breeding the Spawn sound like chromatic fills in regular rhythms that the band intended to revise later into full riffs with unique modality and rhythms more carefully enwrapped in the need of each song. Vocals are stunning as usual, production is much clearer, and individual performances show musical maturation and the type of learning that comes from having influences among historically important metal bands. Some songs remain standouts even in their partial form like “The Ibex Moon” and “Abolishment of Immaculate Serenity,” which shows the band perhaps coming together at the end of their song process, or having intended those since the beginning to be the bedrock of this album but having been lacking time to make the rest. But unlike Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony, this album is not just unfinished but incomplete, and the result shows in the mixture of random and predictable that obscures otherwise powerful songs.
Classic hybrid of aggressive black metal and tunneling death metal in the Incantation style, DemoncyJoined in Darkness not only set a new high point of intensity for the genre, but also created a feeling of dark ritual foreboding that remains distinct to it. On February 9, 2015, Forever Plagued Records will re-issue this classic album.
The new Joined in Darkness will feature cover art by underground artist Chris Moyen and be remastered so that fans may hear it “as it was always intended.” While the re-issue will be a digipak, a format not beloved of fans or collectors, this will allow more of the artwork and imagery to show through where it would otherwise be obscured by the spine plastic of the compact disc case. As this release is the second re-issue of this classic album, care has been taken to show the original intent.
Demoncy manifested out of the mind of Ixithra, who previously served in Havohej/Profanatica, and shows the influence of the style that Ledney-linked bands Profanatica, Revenant and Incantation developed of long phrasal riffs with internal structural counterpoint, but takes this further with the incorporation of melody and a Celtic Frost styled setting of theatrical transitions in song, creating an atmosphere changing like scenery at a Wagner opera.
When a genre becomes buried under layers of confusion, people identify it by what it lacks more than what it is. A more sensible approach understands such a genre as having a spirit or other indefinable center that holds the rest together. Such is the case in death metal, which is relevant as Execration clearly aspire to an old-school death metal style that incorporates sounds from newer hybrid-metal genres.
For example, Morbid Dimensions makes greater use of the open strum as a harmonic fill between riffs, and prefers that its phrases end in rhythmic suspension, allowing them to use such fills to keep the music from becoming too violent. While they do not incorporate blatant sweeps, Execration enjoy putting riffs with clear influence from punk in with the metal, creating an oil on water effect. The band explores the textures and rhythms of the smarter edge of metalcore, stoner doom metal and the post-metal era, but works them into songs which aesthetically and compositionally hail the old school underground metal approach.
In that general mission, Execration succeed triumphantly: Morbid Dimensions presents an album of mid-paced doom-death songs which touch on favorite riff archetypes without becoming derivative, although in fairness this band sounds like Dismember playing Desecresy while taking advice from Hypocrisy and Unleashed. Riffs combine to form highly textured and thoughtful songs with a melodic basis, but the target here is clearly the post-metal model of long slow simple melodies unfurling rather than a charging desire to fit riffs together into brain Jenga about the imponderable. To break up the melodic mood domination, Execration vary the pattern with both Black Sabbath-sounding riffs and classic mid-paced death metal riffs. Like modern metal however, emphasis rides on the vocals rather than guitars, which creates more of a recognizable song format to rock listeners.
At their best, Execration manage a better version of the old-school sound than the twin evils of those who make imitations without soul, and those who make hybrids without sense. Despite this being a competent album, the inclusion of too many of the newer influences prevents Execration from using old school songwriting alone, and so sometimes they end up with riff salad. Several of these songs include one or two riffs that have no real relation to the content and suggest either hasty songwriting, or an argument between creators that is resolved by pacifying everyone and including whatever each person wants to throw in. For raw ability, Execration ranks up there with recent doom-death tyrants Desecresy, and if they can keep the randomness and post-nu-metal influences out, they might make a crushing album out of these raw materials.
Morgoth defined its path in the 1990s with two EPs that combined the American and European death metal sounds, then deviated into a more contemporary sound with Cursed and ultimately Odium, at which point the band lay low for 18 years before returning with God is Evil, an EP of two songs which combine their early years with their middle-period work on Cursed, although the band consciously strives to make the aesthetic identification with the EPs stronger than anything else. That makes sense, since death metal and death metal nostalgia are both big business, with the younger audience wanting to hear the glory years come roaring to life again and the greybeards wanting to re-live some of their fond memories of what death metal meant back then.
“God is Evil” begins with the type of chord progression and accompanying constant double-bass drums that would have kicked off a classic Florida album, maybe Death Spiritual Healing, but with more of a European melodic flair. The Florida influences remained hidden to me until this release, where suddenly the influences from several big Florida bands including Deicide show in the riff rhythm and tempo changes as well as the choice of chord progression used. Death in particular specialized in these kind of storming extended riffs, but much like Death, Morgoth suffers from making the riffs too “pat” or too handily concluding on a symmetrical counterpart to their initiating phrase. The result makes this easy to nod along to. The song develops with slightly more melody in the guitar and some very Tampa downstroke triplet riffing, then fleshes out its theme expertly. This song strikes me as not only very well-done but as reflecting the kind of forward thought that a band can have when they stop worrying about how clear their influences are, and work instead on putting the song together like they would construct a building, engine or electronic gadget: each piece relating to one another with a function or design idea at the center.
“Die As Deceiver” fares slightly worse. Starting with a riff that might have come from “Pull the Plug” with a few modifications, in the same way ground effects make a Honda Civic a race car, this song launches into a series of chant-heavy choruses that require lots of downstroke barrages to create emphasize, before a melodic vocal leading the chorus in the best Destruction style. Then the song breaks into a classic-era Death style transition with more of a hard rock modality to it, then layers this with increasing drum and bass accompaniment before breaking to the original loop. This song sounds hastier or at least more hesitant in that the band clearly builds itself around a couple of tropes but is unclear how they relate outside of rhythm, which creates the impression of a play with the scenes shown in the wrong order. The use of heavy expectation in riff delivery here creates more of a pop influence on this song and makes it less likely to sustain repeated listens. The strained vocals of Mark Grewe attempt to emulate the The Haunted or later At the Gates style and do nothing for the music, because like all “modern metal” (read: lapsed metal) that style leads with vocals and relegates guitar to a sidekick role, at which point it quick becomes more like mainstream rock, which seems to have been the goal. More like the average, more audience. Morgoth shows they do not need to stay current or worry about their influences from the first song but almost seem to have lost confidence on the second and fallen back on crowd-pleaser technique which promptly swallowed up their quality songwriting.
On the whole, God is Evil shows a revitalized Morgoth making a credible attempt at restoring the power of its early years while incorporating some of the musical lessons learned with its more populist albums. My advice to this band is to trust your gut, not your spreadsheets, and focus on writing the music that comes most naturally. Cursed and Odium were the same mistake in opposite directions: trying to be current with the most underground stuff possible, and trying to catch up with the mainstream stuff (which was actually a regression from what death metal had done). These are clearly talented players who, when they let themselves, make amazing death metal that infuses European melody into the charging Florida style.
Every now and then we have discussion threads here for the community to express their thoughts. As we approach the end of 2014, many of us are busy with last-minute shopping for our friends, many of who are metalheads.
What are the essential albums of 2014? What about other recent (last five years) albums that have stuck with you and make you want to listen repeatedly? Or even metal memorabilia, paraphrenalia and other useful gifts for metalheads.
Now that our society has fallen apart further, the 1980s like simple and honest like the 1950s did to people exhausted of modern society in the 1980s. A better outlook might be that however our fallen time, it is a more fallen version of the 1980s, with the same pitfalls and failures. Those who lived through it can tell you how much a time of terror it was, with nuclear warfare and social collapse at every turn, and how this propelled some artists to put their most sacred hopes and fears into music. Excel was not one of them.
Excel created this “crossover thrash” back in the 1980s but really, this album belongs in with the Pantera/Biohazard school of bouncy hard rock in punk form with some added metal riffs. The problem with hard rock is that it relies on a simple mentality behind its riffs and that it aims to attract, so it is the equivalent of carnival music or a dinner theater side-show, which is really obvious music that gratifies really basic desires. That keeps the interest less than something articulated and involved like DRI, which offers its own riff style that obviously derives influence from many places, but does not parrot them. The only hidden influence here would be a more pronounced version of the Orange County surf-rock sound that incorporates novelty and party music into basic rock and projects it onto whatever genre can serve as canvas, in this case the basic punk of Excel. The tendency toward riffs based on playing a consistent trope, then interrupting it so the audience can get excited for it to return, while a technique to some degree in most music here becomes a staple in the most basic, drunk football fan throwing feces at the stage way.
The “crossover” part here consists of faster punk riffs that pick up after the chunky bounce-metal riffs and grandstanding hard rock riffs run out. Over this, a vocalist essentially speaks his lines and ends them on a melodic uptake, and although he deserves some note for periodically sounding like Snake from Voivod, these vocals bring out nothing in the music and mostly try to draw attention to themselves with the rest of the music as background atmosphere. Drums sound like a jogger trying to keep up with the vocals and far too often fall into the same syncopated beat that adds nothing but background noise, since the guitar and vocal hooks are nearly in unison and provide all the rhythm we need. While from a distance this album will appear to be no different than DRI, Cryptic Slaughter and Suicidal Tendencies, it lacks the fundamental spirit toward the expression itself as something distinct from and not pandering to the crowd. There is too much pander in Excel, and it dumbs down the music.
Since the dawn of metal the music industry has sought to stretch the definition of “heavy metal” to include anything with heavy guitars because that would enable them a new sales channel for the usual pap. The arguably metal-influenced seemed to excite labels for that reason.
I freely admit to liking this release but not recommending it. This takes some unpacking to make sense, so let me first remind us all of the role of a record reviewer: we need to help you buy the 1% among all the new stuff that is worth listening to multiple times. That elite group consists of records that are not only aesthetically interesting, but musically interesting, and have some form of artistic content, because nothing other than those three will hold the attention of a metalhead for very long. What I do not want to do is hype a record that has an excess of one of the three without the others catching up, like a punk record with really deep political reviews, or a post-metal disc with great production, or even a jam band that remakes jazz but communicates nothing. A record that you will listen to time and again requires all three in roughly matching proportions, and if it lacks those, you will find you bought something in the way pop music listeners do, so that it fascinates you for a week and then languishes in the closet to get dumped at the used record store (where you will find many others of the same record, and get fifty cents for it as a result).
Blackwolfgoat is basically an atmospheric jam. There are spoken interludes on drone-related topics that really offer nothing and are replaying a hackneyed technique; if you delete those tracks (1, 5 and 9) you are left with a record of distorted guitar which uses technique and recursive melody well but aims for ambiance, i.e. not really coming to a point. This is where it fails: this is a jam, not an artistic communication, so while there’s a lot to like here, there is not much to listen to repeatedly here. The intention to create specific moods and expand their depth rather than extend them linearly, which is the core attribute of ambient music, does not rear its head often. Thus while this is enjoyable, it is best passed buy until the time when it hits the used rack for fifty cents, at which time it will make an interesting study in technique and texture for the budding guitarist.
Every generation lives as a continuation of what came before, but people today live in the shadow of the 1960s. Our culture, politics and society all changed during that time and we have not changed it back or found anything different. So we circle, repeating the same tired tropes as if they were new or insightful.
The music industry lives in thrall to The Beatles. Those lads were their biggest success, both breaking out rock as a mainstream product, and utterly dominating the charts to this day. Whenever they can, they praise The Beatles.
We are all in the thrall of journalists who like anything that sounds like The Beatles and other 1960s rock despite that music being relevant fifty years ago. From the top down, the whole industry wanks on the bands that were hip then. If you want to get ahead, you have to mention The Beatles at least once in your interviews.
Even though Baby Boomers are now decrepit and old in the “get off my lawn” years, they still want to control us with the image of their music. That image is: no one was better than the 1960s rockers, no one was a bigger rebel than us, and nothing better will ever be made. This nonsense needs to end even if violence must be employed for that purpose.
1960s rock bands stood out in their day only because the music around them was so horribly insipid that it compares to… well, pop today, actually. It was basically the same stuff: standard chord progressions, love and sex topics, pop song format. Nothing has changed there. We all know Nirvana is better than Shakira, but we forget that both can be just as fake but in different ways.
The Beatles wrote their songs around a melody line that unraveled progressively as the song went on. They used key in non-standard ways. They spent a lot of time in the studio figuring out new sounds. They were our first shy-looking, wimpy, sensitive guy superstars. For that we are supposed to praise them into the grave.
In retrospect, what they did was switch audiences. 1950s pop wanted to pitch itself to normal kids who would then go on to have lives in which music served a lesser role. 1960s pop wanted to make its audience identify with it for life, so that even now tedious old fossils will whip out The Beatles LPs like they were a revelation from God.
But many of us do not need weak-looking hipsters to make us accept music. We are comfortable with who we are, whether that is weightlifter or nerd. We just like music for being good. And that part has two components: talent on the surface, and having something of value to contribute beneath.
No one doubts that The Beatles and other 1960s bands had talent on the surface. What they lacked was something of value to communicate. They came up with the image first, and back-wrote the political and social opinions to support that image. Their idea was to be iconoclasts who turned their backs on everything their parents believed. That’s great, if you’re 14. The following year it’s already old.
Instead our music industry remains stuck in perpetual adolescence, repeating these same tired words and ideas, churning out new versions of the same image and music, because the Baby Boomer mentality will simply not die. And so we all repeat the cycle again, hating it but unable to escape.
This small label sent over a few of their releases in compilation format. Fallen Temple Records releases tapes and vinyls of rather obscure acts with specific audiences and put a range of stuff together for this compilation, which shows how wide the tastes of this label and its audiences are.
Betrayer/Neolith – Split
Long-time readers may be familiar with our obsession with Polish band Betrayer, whose 1990s debut Calamity remains an excellent but mostly overlooked piece of melodic death metal with speed metal influences. Betrayer return with a single track, “Beware,” which shows more of a late Morbid Angel (Covenant era) influence, specifically in vocals and rhythms “The Lion’s Den,” as well of more of a reliance on the more aggressive mid-paced speed metal rhythms to emerge in the 1990s. The musicality that allows melody to unite disparate elements into a single experience remains and so despite initial concern over style, listeners will find this track hard-hitting and rewarding after multiple listens. The noodly solo does little for it and the Pantera-ish influences slow down the power of this song, but the quality songwriting remains as does the ability to leave the listener transported after listening. We will be fortunate if we hear more from this under-noticed but intelligent band.
Neolith on the other hand sounds like Krisiun and Impiety had a spawn but balanced it with the second album from Grave. The result emerges as charging death metal with atmospheric use of keyboards. Unlike many bands, these guys seem to understand at least the rudiments of harmony and so it fits together both rhythmically and tonally but the constant drilling rhythm and high degree of repetition without variation of the structural loop within the song makes this somewhat repetitive. A late-song break to a Slayer-style riff then leads to more keyboards mixing poorly with the guitars by creating a competition between sounds instead of supporting atmosphere, which causes clashing influences in the song and sabotages mood. Then it all repeats. This band has a great deal of talent and if they chill out and apply it without worrying what people will think about them, they’ll do great.
Behelal – Satanic Propaganda
Behelal suffer from being too adept, which leads to them deciding to adopt multiple styles into the same musical persona, with the result of achieving stylistic anonymity. Fundamentally of a blackened death approach with post-metal style chord progressions and mixed in primal black metal, industrial and other influences, this song plus an intro conveys a lot of potential but not really any specific direction. It concludes much as it began, with a sense of darkness and possible beauty never realized. Compares to Pyogenesis.
Blackwhole – Another Starless Night
The world might be happier if bands abandoned pun names, if that is what this is. The listener will first notice that and either be thrilled by it because they are a moron who delights in the trivial, or avoid it because they are disgusted by the flood of mundane morons delighted by the trivial. But assuming that the name is not a pun, consider how you would feel about an album at the pace of early Samael with some of the influences of later. The result requires the kind of mentality that doom metal fans have while listening, but incorporates some electronic influences but basically just drones. Its simple chord progressions are not unpleasant and its riffs somewhat unique, but the main problem most of us have with this is that well-composed or not, it is somewhat boring. The pace allows for little change and the plodding riffs wear us into the ground. Like early Samael, it has a certain charm as mood music since it sounds like demons practicing dirge music in the basement of an ancient house on haunted land.
Devil Lee Rot/Ajatus – Split
Devil Lee Rot is extremely predictable but catchy hard rock dressed up as some kind of Dissection-formatted heavy metal band with occasional death metal vocals. If you really adore middle-period AC/DC, this might stir your cauldron, but generally this has nostalgia appeal and is dripping in cheese without managing to be fun or entertaining. It is hard to write off this band because of their obvious musical skill, but it does not save the end result from being a warm-over of the past. Ajatus aim for the late days of the 1980s with a fast speed metal/death metal combination that uses fast riffs and death metal vocals but the riff patterns of speed metal. These riffs are predictable but use a bit of melody and songs come together well, which marks this as eternal B-level death metal that compares to Fleshcrawl and Dismember but never quite achieves those heights.
Eternal Rot – Grave Grooves
Much as you might expect, this band undertakes a fusion of morbid metal and dark grooves. The result sounds like Fleshcrawl covering Autopsy at the pace of early Sleep material, and this delivers a listening experience that is pleasant. Morbid vocals burble up from the background as bass-intense guitar tracks rumble through the front and songs fit together well. Riffs are a bit too asymmetrical and songs too much cut from the same wallpaper, but this release only has two tracks. A full length album might show more. Eternal Rot struggles against contradictory impulses to set up a groove and to use simple riffs, which creates the unfortunate result of droning power chords ad nauseam. If this band could work in more death metal style riffing it might inject some energy into this otherwise fairly plodding sound. Then again, those who like groove tend to get excited by predictability.
Hin Hale – Beyond
This band attempts early style black metal with distorted vocals but music influenced by the speed metal years, much like early Sodom or some of the many South American bands who have undertaken this style. Hin Hale keeps up the energy and throws in some good riffs but the background of this release somewhat swallows it in similarity. Finding a voice in this style proves very difficult because of so many riff patterns and song patterns known from the past, so revivalists such as this face an uphill battle. They complicate this with a named unrecognized by most and an unfortunate thin guitar production.
Malum in Se – …Of Death…of Lurid Soul
Malum in Se blends three generations of Swedish death metal into a single melodic death metal voice that avoids being as random as the post-metal and “tek-deaf” material tends to be. Unfortunately it also avoids being distinctive and so comes across as a well-articulated style in need of direction. Some excellent riffs in here show not only promise, but an ability to stagger riffs for contrast and achieve mood, but the overall energy charges too far ahead and not enough into depth, and many of these patterns seem too symmetrical to be memorable. The insistence on nearly constant vocal rhythms and frequent high speed pummeling make it hard for listeners to stay tuned in to the inevitable conclusion, which is usually able done and worth the wait. This band have made a good job of analyzing their style, but now need to find a sense of making it more of an aesthetic experience of beauty and with that, a larger purpose than the style itself.
Necromantical Screams – Deadly Frost
This band approach Funeral Doom much like old school doom in the style of Saint Vitus with heavy downstroke repetitive strumming guided by the croaking distorted vocals. On the one original song included here, much of the riff-writing approximates the speed/death metal years and while it incorporates a good amount of melody, ends up being driven by rhythmic expectation in the sense of a cadence ending on an offbeat. Many Autopsy influences color this and they result in a somewhat boring song. The second track is a slightly slowed but mostly faithful cover of the Celtic Frost song from which this band takes its name. They successfully execute it but put more emphasis in varying the vocals with each phrase to give it a new atmosphere, but this loses the austere calm and sense of dread to the original. While there is nothing to dislike here, the simple outlook approach to riffs plus slowdown generally equals a type of funeral doom best reserved for going to sleep after funerals.