Derogatory – Above All Else

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This article contains an album review, interview and live stream.

Derogatory – Above All Else

Derogatory returns to the oldest form of death metal which is the fast and muscular rushing tremolo-picked phrasal riffs that Slayer, Morbid Angel, Massacra, Mortuary and Sepultura made famous. Much like those earlier acts, Derogatory creates a rhythmically compelling work in Above All Else that adds depth through the contrast in riff phrase and the sensations those evoke.

The most reasonable comparison for this album would be the debut works from Mortuary and Vader, both of which utilized this style in a method that kept a rhythm rolling throughout despite numerous tempo changes. Derogatory have sensibly avoided much of the stop-start rhythm that made later death metal bands unable to keep a steady stream of riffs with consistent intensity and instead of using abrupt pauses, keep riffs flowing into one another like a transfer of momentum between wrestlers. Spidery erratic lead guitars complement this with an otherworldly sense much like the leads on early Incantation.

Above All Else provides the essential power of death metal through a feast of riffs that combine like DNA in a primordial pond spawning life. Context expands, meanings connect, and songs emerge from chaos. While this is a simpler version than many riff salad bands, it displays technical prowess and an adept sense of what makes a great metal song. Individual performances are strong but vocals and drums could be more aggressive about distinguishing themselves across the span of each song. While this is an older style, it breathes new life through Above All Else.

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Derogatory Interview

We were fortunate to get in a few words with Christian Ordonez of Derogatory about the band’s past, motivation and future.

What’s the concept behind Above All Else?

The concept of Above All Else is explaining how people always long for more than what they have. Whether it be power or self satisfaction, people are always trying to obtain more from what they already know. The entire album is not based off this topic but its one of the subjects spoken of more than once on the album; other subjects include reality, space, and life

When did you as individuals get into metal, and what was that album that compelled each of you to decide to be full-time metalheads? (Or are you?)

Chuck Schuldiner and Luc Lemay inspired me (Christian Ordonez) to pick up the guitar and just try to write something decent, and three out of the four members go to school as well, but I am sure we would all love to be metalheads full-time.

What style of music is Above All Else? Does it reflect your influences? What were you listening to while you composed and recorded this album, and what inspired it?

I believe Above All Else is a straight-out death metal album. All the bands I was listening to at the time do show somewhat of a reflection in the album; a few of the bands I was listening to at the time are Morbid Angel, Cynic, Death, Gorguts, and Disincarnate. After writing a few of the songs i was inspired to release a CD and share my music with everyone.

Do you have influences and inspiration beyond music, like famous historical characters, novels or plays, TV shows or movies, forces of nature, metaphysics and religion?

The only influences I have are those of various musicians I favor. Music has always been a huge part of my life and there is really nothing else that motivates me or drives me more then great music.

Can you tell us how the band was formed, and your history to this time? How do you think this will change with Above All Else being released?

I started the band back in late 2011. I had some material and we worked off of that and in the months to come I continued to write more music for the band exploring different lyrical topics and trying to create a different sound for metal. I believe that with Above All Else being released Derogatory will prepare for the second album to be something more than what Above All Else is. Nonetheless I feel like releasing this album has matured us as a band and shows us our strengths and weaknesses and what we can improve on.

Is death metal dead? Do you think the old school styles are returning, or departing?

Metal will never die, especially death metal the genre is making a huge comeback there are bands left and right that play different styles of death metal. I think the old school sound has been popping up a little more but I prefer technical death metal just because of the musicianship. Anyone can be old school; for me its about breaking away from that, which we plan to do for the second release.

Can you tell us about these songs, and when they were written — were they composed as a batch for the album, or have you been saving up material? How did you record this album, and what aspect of its production are you most proud of?

I wrote all the music and lyrics and they were all written pretty quickly. Each song holds its own meaning with different subjects for each track. We did the recording ourselves: our lead guitarist did the sound engineering end of things and spent countless hours trying to obtain a great sound that captures the feel of the music. I’m very proud of the production for the album because we relied on no one but ourselves to record our debut

What’s next for Derogatory? Are you going to tour? If so, where do people see you? If not, how do they learn more about you?

We plan to tour and spread our music and continue expanding our sound and fanbase we hope to go overseas to Europe and support Above All Else!

Derogatory – Above All Else Live Stream

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Heaviness, the epic and masculinity

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In conversation with Martin Jacobsen, the topic of “heaviness” came up. What is heavy? Why is the term applied to metal? This question in many ways defines why it’s so hard to understand what metal is, much less describe it.

From my experience, metal is a spirit that leads to an approach. It’s not dissimilar to classical, where a certain attitude toward life, spirituality and culture leads to a form of music complete with its complexity and techniques. Nor is it all that different from martial arts, where a specific outlook leads to some near-universal shared characteristics.

Coming at metal from a literary/philosophy background, this isn’t surprising. Artistic movements tend to share traits they develop independently. They do this because they approach their art with a similar feeling, sentiment or belief system, and as a result no matter where they start, they end up in similar places. This is analogous to how just about every culture on earth has invented something like a chair, with most designs being very similar.

Jack Fischl over at PolyMic has another take on metal with his article ‘”That’s So Metal” Might As Well Mean “That’s So Masculine”‘ — it’s a bastion of alternative masculine thought:

According to the book Running with the Devil by Robert Walser, heavy metal imagery, music, style, and lyrics offer the illusion of power to a group (young men) that simultaneously lacks traditional forms of power (money, social standing) and is constantly barraged with cultural messages that inforce the importance of those forms of power. Listening to the music, especially by going to a concert, allows low-power young men to escape and live vicariously through metal’s imagery, the way one might live through books, movies, or TV shows.

Whereas pop music tends to portray (or at least address) your classical “manly” man, metal more often ties into elements of fantasy and science fiction — two other bastions of alternative masculine escape. Any given metal song likely depicts a man or male entity (spirit, creature) struggling with something — his place in the world, a woman, his own emotions. In other words, a typical song involves guys dealing with normal guy issues from a guy’s perspective.

He does have a point. The modern world does not exactly relish the hyper-masculine, but it gives it voice in rock music through the intense sexuality of the sound. However, metal takes this a degree higher. Where rock is about individual sexual power, metal is about power itself, and transcends the sexual per se in favor of an overall masculine intensity. This is the epic nature of metal; it is not based in the individual, but all that the individual cannot control.

Some might say this world, by being so obsessed with the safety of each and every person and ensuring that we all get along, is against the kind of conflict-driven Nietzschean masculinity that metal seems to espouse with its lyrics on war, death, violence and destruction.

For many of us however metal is more than masculinity. It is a worship of power itself. When you wield death and conquest, you are the power that society denies. This unites metal’s outsider status with its realistic ideals and returns us to a definition of “heavy.” In a time of stoned flower children worrying about nothing more than their next hook-up, “heavy” encompassed all the thoughts that this worldview could not tolerate. It was all that we fear and want to suppress, including mortality and fear of loss.

What made Black Sabbath “heavy” was not a specific technique but a tendency to gravitate toward these dark thoughts and the reality that society denies. This neatly coupled metal with hardcore punk, which saw a society out of control and in denial of basic facts of life. Together these ideas brought metal to its underground state where it is completely alienated from the values and behaviors of most of civilization.

What is “heavy”? It is that which we cannot define because it is beyond the instruments of our culture — such as it is — to discuss. It is the thoughts that grip us at four in the morning and shock us awake. It is what stalks us in dreams. And it is our primal past, reaching past our modern technology and enforced civility, awakening the beast within.

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Various Artists – A Day of Death 1990

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The Glorious Times team recorded the “A Day of Death” concert from 1990 and made it available as a free download in MP3 or FLAC format. Basically an abridged version of the show, A Day of Death 1990 shows founders of the underground at their best.

Opening with Autopsy, A Day of Death 1990 begins with “In the Grip of Winter.” This version sounds rougher than the Mental Funeral variant that later became the norm, and more like an earlier recording I’d heard on an EP. This is followed by Repulsion banging out “The Stench of Burning Death” (later found on Horrified) pretty much exactly as it is on the album, which fits with the band’s reputation for being immaculately rehearsed. After that, Deceased lights up the soundboard with “Decrepit Coma,” which is tightly played but loud owing to the recording conditions.

After that, the first of two Cannibal Corpse tracks comes up; Cannibal Corpse are one of those bands like Venom, Pantera, Cradle of Filth and Meshuggah that strike me as historically important in popularizing a genre but perhaps culpable in eroding its meaning. Incantation follows with both “Profanation” and “Unholy Massacre.” These are live and a little unsteady and without the bass-intense production of Onward to Golgotha, which reveals these songs further but makes them even stronger as they stand up without the intense sound. After that, another Cannibal Corpse song and Deceased with “Haunted Cerebellum,” which is the really catchy song from their first album and is executed with potent verve and energy. Another Repulsion song, “House of Freaks,” which was not on their album, follows; it is more uptempo and a bit more hardcore than death metal. The set finishes out with Autopsy and “Severed Survival” which is a more deliberate and menacing version of this messy death metal classic.

This live album is great for three reasons: first, it’s a glimpse into the history of this genre with some of the most active players visible; second, it’s done in true underground style and given away free, since these bands have the albums to sell to finance their bands; finally, it’s killer and you’d buy it anyway even if it were $15 and said RELAPSE on it. A Day of Death 1990 is more like being at the Smithsonian Death Metal Hall than being transported via time machine, and it doesn’t sound its age so much as sound the level of equipment available, but it shoves forward these classic recordings in a way that makes death metal both more obscure and more accessible at the same time.

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The return of reviews and opinion in metal

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The problem with dreams is that when they are achieved, the dream is no more. Life is about the chase, not the catch. This doubly applies to metal once it got social acceptance.

During the 1980s and 1990s in everywhere but Scandinavia, to be metal was to identify yourself as a kind of social reject. It was equal parts nerdly and menacingly rootless at a time when stable suburban living and office jobs were the only acceptable future.

Sometime in the late 1990s however metal was discovered as a form of natural resource. This resource is not renewable and hard to locate. It is hipness: a combination of authenticity, rebellion, transgression and the kind of personality that makes a character in a novel appealing.

At that point metal exploded. TV shows used its iconography, the media reported on it, and “kinder, gentler” forms of metal were produced for the audience that resulted. During this time, metalcore, post-metal/emo, indie-metal, alternative metal and atmospheric metal went ballistic.

The problem for us at this very moment, as Keith Kahn-Harris pointed out, is that we’re still drowning in an abundance of heavy metal. There are too many bands for fans to make meaningful choices. There are too many big blogs and news sites reporting the same news. All of us are drowning in digital downloads.

As Brian Pattison of Glorious Times opined in an interview:

The internet has made some things easier and perhaps better, but it has also done a lot of damage. Almost all of the personal relationships that happened back in the day don’t happen now. Kids today will visit a myspace page and download songs so they don’t get to build relationships with bands like we did way back before the internet. I still have letters from bands from back then, will kids today save their emails and myspace messages to look back upon in 20 years — I don’t think so.

In other words, convenience makes a product out of the music. With ease comes insincerity and disposability. Kevin Ord, editor of Codex Obscurum, points to the advantages of physical media in eliminating this problem:

I like to be able to hold something physical. I think a lot of people do. I want something that a kid might find in a shoebox in 10 years and say “I remember this; I’m going to reread it.” Stuff like blogs just seem so disposable.

As predicted here before, underground metal is turning back toward physicality to avoid the information overload of the digital age.

Fans and zines are asking themselves variants of this question: What use are 10,000 bands when no one can hear them all, and thus good quality does not get bumped up the line above the rest? A genre dies when it becomes so flooded that it has no quality control. Everyone gets to participate that way, sure, but the lack of leaders means that participation alone soon becomes pointless.

Where this is interesting is the nexus of intersection between metal’s concept of “heavy” and this return to primal methods.

“Heavy” is a beatnik word referring to concepts and knowledge that invoke existential and other concerns. In general, heavy is a confrontation with the dark and final side of life, like death or loss. If socialization and happiness are “light,” heavy is the opposite. In social talk, everyone wins; in heavy talk, it is clear that some win and some lose, including lose their lives to war, disease, violence and cruelty. “Heavy” is everything we fear as individuals and refuse to talk about in polite conversation.

When Black Sabbath emerged in the late 1960s, they distinguished themselves thematically from other bands by being heavy. Everyone else was singing about how the Age of Aquarius was going to bring Enlightenment and peace to everyone; Black Sabbath was singing about the collapse of the world, the failure of hope, and the doom awaiting us all.

In the same way, the Internet boom of the late 1990s was based upon a Utopian vision. Our old worries were over; a new society based on information and knowledge was here! But as the years went on, it became clear that in all areas most of this information was commercial spam or otherwise manipulative, and that the effect of “information liberation” was to drown us in irrelevance.

People crave what the old offered: strong opinions in record reviews and writing, and zines that were willing to push better bands on top of the rest. They want a death of the commercial spam that our media have become, and to be able to pick five winners out of those 10,000 bands to become the basis of the next generation in a genre.

Thus heavy returns. Darkness and evil return. A rejection of peace, harmony, happiness and enlightenment of the new age is replaced with a reliance on primal truths, pagan fears and ancient impulses. Instinct overtakes rationality. Practicality replaces morality. The beast within rises again.

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Interview: Argus

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As recent writings from Keith Kahn-Harris and others indicate, metal may be suffering from too much: too many bands, too huge an information flow, too many blogs, too much focus on surface aesthetics.

Contrasting this flood of “too much” is a true metal movement designed to emphasize what metal has always done well, but done anew by new generations. One member of this movement is Argus, whose album Beyond the Martyrs caught our attention for its NWOBHM/Candlemass classic metal fusion.

Luckily, frontman Butch Balich was available to answer a few profile questions and some existential ones via email. His answers strike me as relatively without contrivance, and show us this band both as it presents itself and as it is likely to be experienced.

Can you tell us how Argus formed? Did you come together on a mutual love of existing music, or a desire to create something that didn’t exist at the time?

The band was put together by Erik and Kevin out of friendship and a desire to jam and play some tunes. I don’t think it was ever envisioned it would become what it has. Our goal has always been simply to write great songs. We don’t concern ourselves with whether or not we are forging new paths or treading well worn ones. Its all about playing music we love and infusing our personality into it.

What is a “working class metal sound” (from your official biography)? Do the members of Argus identify with working-class or blue-collar roots?

Those guys grew up here in Western, PA and I think definitely identify with a working-class, blue-collar set of roots. We see ourselves as hard working and our music as fairly straightforward — what you hear is what you get — we aren’t overly complex and fancy in either our writing or our performance yet both are powerful. So I think we meant to portray the band as a straight up true metal band that works hard and is not pretentious in any way.

What would you identify as your primary and enduring influences?

We’re all over the map really. If you separated us and asked each of us you’d hear everything from Sabbath to Slayer, KISS to The Beatles, Maiden to NOFX, Marvin Gaye to Slough Feg. Collectively I think we draw from a common pool of Maiden, Thin Lizzy, some doom like Candlemass, old Metallica… We know what we want the band to sound like though so you’ll hear big riffs, great harmonies… sometimes the bands that those things remind of are coincidental, for instance “The Ladder” from Boldly Stride the Doomed has a real Solitude Aeturnus vibe even though I’m probably the one guy in the band who loves them. We are also influenced/pushed by bands like Slough Feg or Valkyrie.

You’ve picked an amalgamation of older styles for your music, instead of trying to keep up with the cutting edge or invent something. Why did you make this choice? Is there anything new under the sun, musically?

Let’s be honest — there really aren’t any combinations of riffs or notes that haven’t been used. There is NO ONE reinventing the wheel musically anymore. SO, our goal is to write great songs that we love — it is the goal of any good band. Our goal has never been to create something wholly unique as that is impossible. We draw from what we love about the music we listen to and enjoy playing and hopefully our personality comes across enough — and that is what makes us special. The notes/riffs/melodies may not always be something unheard of but we each have way of playing our instruments that adds up to ARGUS sounding like ARGUS instead of a mere rate retro metal knockoff.

Do you think the style you play selects the audience you receive, and that some audiences are more supportive than others?

I think any fan of true metal would like the band. We are neither overly refined or simplistic. I think our music has the ability to appeal to folks across different spectrums as it mixes bits and pieces of things and has strong melodies. I do think we’ve been most accepted by true metal and doom crowds so far. So far every audience we’ve played for has been pretty damn supportive to be honest. I do feel there is a niche market for what we do even though it has the potential to grow larger. If you play the style we play you do need to be prepared to accept that the fanbase is fairly limited and it will take a great amount of touring, perseverance and luck to advance beyond cult level.

There has been a movement in metal over the past four or five years called “True Metal,” in which people are less interested in outward-looking hybrids and more in an inward-looking, metal-centric attempt to continue the spirit of classic bands, although not necessarily the details. Have you seen this? Would it apply to Argus?

There is a segment of folks who aren’t interested so much in modernism and would prefer new bands to play in the old style. This is me to extent though I prefer bands not to be complete ripoffs of a specific band. I prefer bands like Slough Feg, Pharaoh, Twisted Tower Dire, Enforcer who have obvious influences but whose own personality comes through and who don’t consign themselves to 80s production values 24-7. I think Argus fits in with a retro tag though I have to say I think we manage to sound modern without sounding modern (if that makes sense). Like we don’t sound dated even though we’re playing metal based on the classic metal and hard rock bands.

This is your third album, after an EP and a demo. How has your sound changed during this time? Do you see it going in another direction as time goes on?

I don’t see that our sound has changed so much as streamlined a bit. We’re trying to capture the vibe and point of each song without belaboring the point in endless repetitions of the same riff. Why take ten minutes to say what can be said in six? I think it’s been a gradual transition. We’ve definitely become better songwriters over 7 years. Stylistically though we’ve been fairly constant. Maybe less doomy but no less moody.

Why do you think heavy metal remains popular after forty years of existence?

Because it is powerful, honest, hits-you-in-the-gut music. Because lyrically it provides escape. It provides understanding. It’s a very gut level thing… metal. There is an energy to it that few other forms of music capture — …and power, volume… I also think metal is also where you will find musicians whose level of integrity and devotion to their fans is high as opposed to more throwaway styles of music where musicians are chasing dollars exclusively rather than the art.

What’s next for Argus? Are you going to tour, or write more material?

We’re about to start writing for album 4. We hope to get over to Europe again the Summer of 2014. We have a festival appearance booked at the Ragnarokkr Festival in Chicago the weekend of April 4-5, 2014. Other than that we’re looking at some possible US dates… we’ll see what happens. Are discussing plans for small releases like a possible 7″, an EP and maybe a split.

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Sammath – Godless Arrogance

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Sammath combines the dark melodic understructure of black metal with the type of charging full-ahead death metal that Fallen Christ or Angelcorpse pioneered (which might descend from Morbid Angel’s “Thy Kingdom Come”). At this speed, the riff-salad approach of more traditional death metal would become a muddle, so the band focuses on a few ripping riffs per song and uses song structure deviations to incorporate entirely different riffs to create dialogue with the main verse-chorus pair and the Slayer-style introduction/transition riffs that accompany it.

Remarkably, Sammath has been consistent in this approach but have not found a voice for it until now. 1999’s Strijd showed an archly elegant melodic sense and underlying violence, but switched between the two much like later Entombed varied between pounding d-beat ambient riffs and architectures derived from John Carpenter soundtracks that showcased a spatial element to the music. During the early 2000s, two transitional albums Verwoesting/Devastation and Dodengang showed the band refining its rhythmic attack. Building on that past, Sammath went for guitar technicality and a more death metal approach to riffs on Triumph in Hatred but ended up losing the tendency to create an expansive spatial feel with complementary but radically different melodies in the death metal style, which uses riff to define context and then alters context for a type of continually evolving surprise ending.

Godless Arrogance features nearly constant high-intensity rhythmic riffing and finally has a production to match which emphasizes internal harmony but projects vocals and guitars to the forefront, creating an enveloping wall of sound. Drumming is violent martial battery without the happy kickbeat tendencies of overly rock-trained drummer; percussion here is more like punk, hard-driving intensity to channel the guitars, which alternate between abrupt chromatic confrontation in the Demoncy style to gentle unfolding melodies much like were found on Strijd. Bass folds into the guitar, and vocals are the high-volume bluster that reduces distorted vocals to a sound like a whisper spoken close to a microphone in high wind. The result is incessant and unrelenting but also has an inner life of melody that gives it depth and allows it to manipulate riff context like a death metal band while evoking ambient atmosphere in the best tradition of black metal.

“Godless Arrogance” will be released February 3, 2014 on Hammerheart Records.

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Analyze it to Life: Black Sabbath – Master of Reality

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The resurgence of Black Sabbath following the success of their new album 13 presents an ironic success when compared with the more substantial legacy of their earlier work. Without the first five albums, metal as we now know it would not exist. And on one album in particular, Black Sabbath laid the groundwork for three subgenres — stoner metal, thrash metal and doom metal — such that future generations could pick up the hint and fully develop these new alloys of the raw metal that Black Sabbath forged forty years ago.

Black Sabbath is widely acknowledged by critics and fans as the beginning of heavy metal. From the eerie tri-tone chills of “Black Sabbath” to the menacing crawl of “Electric Funeral,” from the sludge of “Cornucopia” to the pop sensibility of “Killing Yourself to Live,” the black stamp of Black Sabbath radiates forward into the future, culminating in a reprise of their career (including post-Ozzy line-ups) in 13. Ranking the first five Black Sabbath works on a scale of one to five, a convincing argument could be made for either chronological sequence going from best to least. It’s a toss-up for fans and critics alike. Paranoid garners most of the nods as the most influential album from all corners, and many fans cite Vol. 4 as their favorite. Numerous others consider Sabbath Bloody Sabbath the salvation of Black Sabbath, bringing a newer sound to the band

But whichever direction you go, Master of Reality stands in the center. It is the first, and maybe the last, Black Sabbath album from the Ozzy-era (and perhaps from the entire canon) to purge extraneous elements and render a pure metal, so pure that other alloys — especially stoner metal, thrash metal, and doom metal –- would not exist without it. While seeds of different genres surely exist on the other four albums mentioned, I will be arguing that Master of Reality not only undergirds these three subgenres of heavy metal but may well be the finest classic Black Sabbath album.

From start to finish, Master of Reality casts a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical spell on the listener. Perhaps “uncompromising” describes it best. As an artifact judged solely on its own composition and delivery, Master of Reality may be the first metal album conceived of as a metal album. While the first two Black Sabbath albums undeniably forge many elements of heavy metal, each deviates at certain points. Black Sabbath has numerous forays into jazz and blues. It’s heavy when it’s heavy, but an almost exploratory vibe pervades about one-third of the album. Paranoid, while certainly heavier overall and much more consistent than Black Sabbath, retains blues and jazz elements that do not appear on Master of Reality. The first two albums stand as classics of the genre, and valid arguments for their status as primordial metal albums absolutely exist. However, the unity and purposefulness of Master of Reality indicate that these albums were like drafts of an essay, brimming with good ideas and clever phrases but ultimately collections of elements rather than unified wholes. Master of Reality starts heavy, grows heavier, and finishes heaviest. As the analysis below will demonstrate, the thematic consistency of this album far exceeds that of its predecessors. The lyrical expression of the themes reflects a deeper and more reasoned understanding of the issues involved. Musically, the songs are tighter and more direct. While the free-form jams of the first two albums are quite interesting and in my opinion as good as anything of the era, they reflect yet again a collection of elements. Master of Reality offers much more stylistic consistency, indicating a more holistic approach to the project.

The opening track, “Sweet Leaf” stands as a blueprint for stoner metal. The lyrics celebrate marijuana as a window to another dimension only the enlightened perceive: “Straight people don’t know what you’re about / They put you down and shut you out / You gave to me a new belief / And soon the world will love you sweet leaf.” The plodding riff that dominates the song permeates the descendant genre. Then the break from around 2:35-3:25 shifts into a proto-thrash mode (especially evident in Bill Ward’s drumming) that will show up again and again on this record. The song concludes with the stoner plodding that begins it.

“After Forever” and “Children of the Grave” carry the proto-thrash elements to the next level. While many critics have begun to agree that “Symptom of the Universe” off Sabotage inaugurates proto-thrash, one hearing of Master of Reality should be adequate evidence that the thrash style was being perfected, not invented, by the time “Symptom” was pressed into vinyl. Taking on religion (and ironically deciding in its favor, saying “They should realize before they criticize / That God is the only way to love”), the shouted lyrics of “After Forever” offer a direct exploration of the question of the soul versus the institutionalized mechanisms that supposedly provide for its sustenance. Both of these themes persist into thrash metal. The up-tempo opening and subsequent power chord extravaganza stand as a stark contrast with the opening track. “Children of the Grave” is pure thrash. Again featuring a shouted vocal, the song amplifies lyrics that challenge war and societal manipulation with verses like “Show the world that love is still alive you must be brave / Or your children of today are children of the grave.” The lyrics of this song presage two of the most prominent themes in thrash metal. Like “Paranoid” before it, “Children of the Grave” chugs forward, adding sustained chord progressions above it. The break from 2:10-2:20 proves itself worthy thrash to this day. Bill Ward’s work heralds the prominence of drums in thrash. Taken together, these two songs form the blueprint for thrash metal.

“Lord of this World,” “Solitude,” and “Into the Void” constitute a “doom suite.” As Osbourne’s plaintive wail pierces our eardrums, evil, demonic possession, psychological instability, and societal collapse penetrate our consciousness like a needle pushing a drug under the skin. The lyrics reflect a pessimism only hinted at in the preceding songs. The song titles themselves indicate a doom ethos. Try to imagine a darker or doomier final song than “Into the Void.” With the exception of a break in “Into the Void,” the tempos, riffs, and rhythms slow to a sometimes mechanistic, sometimes mournful, sometimes throbbing, always menacing procession of deliberate despair. The churning “Lord of this World” offers a view of demonic influence based not on Satan’s assiduity but human apathy: “You made me master of the world where you exist / The soul I took from you was not even missed.” The naysayers vilified in “After Forever” have won, and the dim hope that “God is the only way to love” offered in “After Forever” is snuffed out like a candle after a mass. “Solitude,” a slower, softer song expresses the ennui of a person suffering from self-directed pessimism. Ostensibly about a woman, the lyrics also sustain an interpretation of addiction or perhaps depression: “Crying and thinking is all that I do / Memories I have remind me of you.” The theme of hopelessness would become a staple of doom metal. “Into the Void” comprises interesting movements and perhaps one of the best introductory and main body riffs in all of Black Sabbath. The theme of contradictory practices, probably based on the co-occurrence of the Apollo missions and the Vietnam War, ultimately rests on the fact that hope is an illusion and the only peace that exists comes from journeying into the void — not on a rocket ship but in a grave on a planet “left to Satan and his slaves.” Again, the hope expressed in “After Forever” falls to the psychological manipulation of the children of the grave. The thematic consistency across the album is summarized and re-presented as a void that ultimately becomes the only option: a dark, heavy, menacing, and philosophical elaboration of the pessimism that will come to characterize heavy metal.

Master of Reality presents an overall coherence and depth reflective of a band that has realized its vision. Working out the details during the production of their first two records, Black Sabbath tempered that vision with experience. The musical, lyrical, and thematic sophistication of this album leads to an even heavier sound than had existed before. While it may be that down-tuning contributed to a darker sound, the beauty of this album emerges not from lower notes but from higher understanding. Some may suggest that Vol. 4 goes the next step further, but I would argue that it is the first step down-less consistent, less profound (although of Vol. 4 possesses a rather remarkable lyrical finesse). Sabbath Bloody Sabbath seems in the main a different enterprise than the first four albums (though it does elaborate some of the elements started on Vol. 4.) Some may suggest that Black Sabbath was an almost miraculous first outing, therefore making it best. I would agree that it laid the foundation for the genre but lacks the unity and purpose of Master of Reality, which is the album that confirmed the genre. Some may suggest the commercial success and exposure of Paranoid makes it the best expression of Black Sabbath’s ethos. Paranoid ranks as one of the greatest albums in the Sabbath canon, and many arguments could be made about the songs on Paranoid being their best work. But this analysis seeks to determine the best album. And Paranoid lacks the lyrical, thematic, and musical consistency of Master of Reality. In fact, from my perspective this level of excellence does not reappear until Heaven and Hell. But that album resulted from a new line-up and a new vision. In the end, I have to choose Master of Reality over Heaven and Hell.

A true testament to the importance of this album appears in the track list for 1997’s live collection Reunion. If we accept the postulate that Black Sabbath intended this collection to be a compendium representing the legacy of the Ozzy era as it stood at that time, the importance of Master of Reality becomes clear. Only four songs from the final five albums of the era are included. Only three are chosen from the eponymous first album. That leaves five songs each from Paranoid and Master of Reality (I’ll concede that “Orchid” is less important than any of the songs from Paranoid, yet there it is). With many fine tunes available from the final five albums, Black Sabbath included two-thirds of Master of Reality (four of six full-length songs). Surely they would not have featured so much of this album (and so little of the final five) if they did not want it to represent their legacy.

At the very least, Master of Reality caps the most important three-album sequence in the history of heavy metal. Although the first two albums present fierce, fatalistic, and fear-laden songs, songs with symphonic sensibilities and fusion-based energy, Master of Reality far exceeds both of them as a holistic project. The musical consistency and thematic pessimism of this album refines the ethos and aesthetic of the first two albums into a tighter work of art, at once more controlled and more innovative, perhaps because of the greater degree of precision and planning. Further, the variety of styles and increasing darkness of the themes and lyrics as the album progresses create the design signatures for the stoner, thrash, and doom metal of today, making it more influential than a cursory understanding would indicate. As a result Master of Reality reigns as the finest Black Sabbath album.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRKGKXL1seE

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Sadistic Metal Reviews 12-12-13

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What are Sadistic Metal Reviews? Heavy metal is either art, or like the rest it’s a product to make sad people feel better about their empty and pointless lives. Brutal honesty is all that separates us from that abyss. Remember, tears are a sign that you’ve really reached people…

evereve-seasonsEvereve – Seasons

Nuclear Blast, this is NOT “music to mangle your mind.” This is the AIDS of the music world. Cheap, hokey synths ramble under tepid saccharine guitar melodies while effete whiny crooning that makes Morrissey sound like Tom Warrior radiates in the background. You can just about hear the teenage bedrooms of America, reeking of self-pity and masturbation, where the obese and inbred listen to this. It’s OK, kid, everyone gets turned down by a fleshlight at least once. If you can imagine heavy metal with all of its soul removed, candied like one of those disgusting little fruits in a fruitcake, this would be it. There is nothing here that is metal except under the flimsiest of pretenses. “Evereve” is more like “Summer’s Eve.” Seasons could be a forerunner for HIM. If you ever hear a note of this, you’re going to need hormone replacement therapy.

covenant-nexus_polarisCovenant – Nexus Polaris (also released as The Kovenant – Nexus Polaris)

The cheese of “black metal” circa 1998 is on full display here in this one album. Considering the Dimmu Borgir membership and the touting of a drum performance by Hellhammer circa his “help, I need money and even joined Arcturus” days, you know this will be bad. The vaudevillian sideshow vibe of later Ancient and Cradle of Filth is tricked out to sound like a joyous PG rated sci-fi soundtrack is playing over a rock opera, making this all sound more absurd. Imagine the music from a children’s variety TV show but with some drunk guitarist in the background hammering out heavy metal riffs with black metal stylings as he copulates with close family members while wearing a tutu. If you heard a “black metal” parody in recent times, chances are it sounded like this.

immolation-majesty_and_decayImmolation – Majesty and Decay

This album brings to mind Dogwin’s Law for metal: as a metal band ages, the probability of it reverting to its influences becomes one. Immolation started out as a speed metal band, then detoured into death metal for a few albums, and now is back to heavy metal but in a simplified form using death metal technique. When they did that cover of Mercyful Fate, it shook something loose, and Immolation thought, “Why spend hours fitting twisty riffs into intricate combinations?” Verse, chorus, break, solo — done! Collect check, buy motorcycle parts. This is the metal equivalent of baby food: over-cooked, pre-ground, sweetened and without any difficult parts. Gone are the wildly imaginative riffs and catcomb-like song structures. Instead it’s The Jets covering Bryan Adams put into power chord riffs. Embarrassed by their own non-output, Immolation tries to hide the emptiness by getting emo on the choruses but nothing can save this pile of paint-by-numbers metal. This is metal’s equivalent of Bangerz with some guy howling along in the background about stuff he read on Infowars.com.

morgoth-feel_sorry_for_the_fanaticMorgoth – Feel Sorry for the Fanatic

Another case of mid-90s “evolution,” Morgoth ditch the Death Leprosy worship for a sound more akin to Voivod at their most commercial playing Killing Joke at their poppiest. Vocals sound like a parody of Amebix, lots of mumbling and tuneless sung-shouts. Verse-chorus structures and an industrial rock production suggest this band was attempting to cash in on the industrial/cyber image trend of Ministry, Godflesh, and Fetish 69. With waves of label hype behind it, Feel Sorry for the Fanatic failed as only the falsest of marketing hype can. Creating a neutered album with fringe-accessibility to an audience that didn’t exist the year this album was released left the band to fall on its face in embarrassment and dishonorably disband.

wolves_in_the_throne_room-bbc_session_2011_anno_dominiWolves in the Throne Room – BBC Session 2011 Anno Domini

This band of hippies in denial have improved in the songwriting department, but by so doing reveal the underlying emo to their music. It’s clearer than ever before that Wolves in the Throne Room were never black metal. This two-song release allows the “post-metal” to shine, but musically “post-metal” is identical to emo, a subset of late hardcore/indie rock hybrids of the late 1980s. Musically, nothing has changed since that time, so if you’ve been in a cave since 1984 you might enjoy this band. These two tracks are far less random than previous Wolves in the Throne Room output. While they try to ape black metal with heavy guitar distortion and howled vocals, in harmony and choice of scale this material would fit in on a Jawbreaker or Rites of Spring album more than any black metal album. In fact it’s a complete sham to ever list this band as black metal because it misses out on what they do well, which is a very slow version of emo. Droning emptiness portrayed with slighly dissonant tracks that sound like self-pity incarnate. It evokes a lot of different feelings that boil down to the same state of suspension, in which mixed-emotions and self-pity that brings self-doubt resolve all things to the same. I wouldn’t recommend this for any metal fan or anyone who remembers the late 1980s.

solar_deity-devil_worshipSolar Deity – Devil Worship

If you approached a black metal band as if it were a doom metal band, you might end up with something like Solar Deity. Very musically literate in a way that is reminiscent of Necrophobic, with understated melodic riffs and good rhythm, this band nonetheless suffers from a type of drone syndrome where just not enough changes to keep interest, although there’s nothing offensive. Clearly mostly inspired by the first two Gorgoroth albums, Solar Deity attempt to set up a number of songs to narrate and develop theme, and do a reasonable job of it, but their riffs are rather lukewarm and repetition-intensive as is their usage. The result would be great if designed for doom metal, but as black metal ends up being an abrasive drone and sense of confused purpose within otherwise well-composed music. It might be good background music for repetitive tasks. You know, really feel that tedium as you clean water heaters, file taxes or chase hipsters off your front lawn with a shotgun (aim for the knees).

tribulation-the_formulas_of_deathTribulation – The Formulas of Death

Death metal isn’t hard rock. If it wanted to be hard rock, its members being honest people, it would have elected to simply be that instead. However, there’s a huge market in dressing up regular boring corporate product rock music as something “edgy” like death metal, which still hasn’t been conquered by the civilizing forces of socialization. Like previous Tribulation releases, The Formulas of Death is ambiguously in the death metal realm and in fact treats its death metal elements with ironic scorn. The result is a pretty good hard rock band embedded in a bunch of unnecessary stuff. Get a real vocalist, throw out the token chromatic riffs and d-beats, and re-style this album as something along the lines of early Queensryche or Cinderella and it would be great. This will make just about every “Best of 2013” because people can’t tell the difference between turd and steak tartare but also because it’s catchy. Simple music for simple minds.

skeletonwitch-serpents_unleashedSkeleton Witch – Serpents Unleashed

If focus groups found a way to slam Sentenced Amok and At the Gates Slaughter of the Soul into a metalcore product that panders to Adult Swim viewers, then Skeleton Witch would be the abomination unleashed. Tired and generic riffs more bound to cliche than tradition power an interchangeable series of mellow-deaf parts stitched into galloping rhythms. Although it appears to be like metal from a distance, I suspect if MC Hammer knew how to play a guitar, he’d come up with something like this. Poppy and bouncy background noise for people who value video games and Comedy Central more than music, Serpents Unleashed might be the sonic equivalent of a middle schooler’s diary: covered in stickers and glitter, but the content within is more than predictable in essence even if not in particulars, and in ten years it will humiliate them if unleashed.

beyond-fatal_power_of_deathBeyond – Fatal Power of Death

The problem with retro works is context. What was once a whole context is broken down into techniques, “moments,” transitions, tempo changes, riff-archetypes and melodic frameworks, and then reconstituted. However, since there’s no motivation except to be retro, there’s no new context except appearance. Thus the bands doing this tend to default to the simplest elements possible, which are either age-independent but average stuff the original genre tried to escape or conventions of the present age. The result is that you get the same stuff, but someone has covered it in retro-feeling-stuff. The end result is like a bison spray-painted with corporate logos, a contextless mishmash that’s oblivious to its own true nature. Beyond make a credible effort but they are trying to fit riffs together, not use riffs like words or colors on a painting, and as a result, nothing is communicated by frenetic energy, doubt and disorganization. Moments of this release are stunning, but the whole does not add up to much because it’s not about anything.

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Matt Olivo from Repulsion directs Henchman: The Al Leong Story (2014)

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You probably remember Al Leong even if you never knew his name. He has acted in dozens of films as a bad guy supporting other bad guys. Hence the name of the documentary Henchman: The Al Leong Story directed by Repulsion guitarist Matt Olivo, which will see release in 2014.

Olivo has continued his musical career in parallel to his cinematic one. Interviewing dozens of media moguls and high-profile talent such as John Carpenter, Olivo assembled the documentary out of reminiscences and interviews. These enabled him to portray the career and life of legendary Hollywood stunt performer, actor and martial artist Al Leong, famous for his work in Die Hard and dozens of other violent entertaining films.

To help Olivo continue his overtime career (once you’ve been in Repulsion, you’ve wona t life) go to the Henchman: The Al Leong Story Facebook page and make sure to “like” the page, and then spread the word of the film to friends, family, bystanders and any movie industry executives you happen to know.

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Matt Olivo and John Carpenter.

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Matt Olivo and Repulsion back in the 1980s.

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Assück – Blindspot

assück-blindspotGrindcore as a genre started out incredibly strong but unfortunately has grown stale with copycat bands and hipsters. By remembering those who made the genre great, we may inspire the genre to create great works once more.

An early runner in the grindcore genre, Florida’s Assück were one of the first bands to fuse grindcore’s rhythmic intensity and youthful energy with elements of the phrasal and percussive riffing of death metal. The combination would later become “deathgrind.” Assück additionally was staffed by remarkably proficient musicians.

Blindspot was released in 1992, a year after their landmark debut, Anticapital. This short EP shows a continuation of Assück’s style from the album, but nevertheless maintains interest throughout, due in no small part to the enthralling percussion. Drumming displays a wide breadth of styles masterfully integrated into the framework of simple grindcore rhythms. Often, it will interact directly with the riffs, mirroring the attack of each chord with a percussive element. The riffing is a potent fusion of hardcore punk power chord bashing, harsh dissonance, and death metal inspired chunkiness. Vocals are a hardcore­inspired growl, similar in ways to Napalm Death or Blood’s vocals.

This entire release is over in about seven minutes, but that is all that is required. What many modern grind bands can learn from this EP is how complete the release sounds. Despite how short it is, if it had gone on a few minutes longer it would be tedious? had it been shorter there would have been development issues in the songwriting. This is the true essence of grindcore – composing not just short songs, but short songs that are coherent in their structure and intent. By striking a balance between grindcore’s chaotic extremity and death metal’s emphasis on coherent riff construction, Assück has continued to remain a fan favorite and influence. This EP only helps to cement their legacy.

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