If you approached Slaughter of the Soul with the stylistic outlook of Left Hand Path, you would follow the path that Abscession travel on Death Incarnate. These are short, melodic songs that understand the dramatic nature of successful Swedish death metal.
Easily imitated, Swedish death metal is hard to master. The basics are simple: play d-beat drums under riffs adapted from the vocal melodies of 1970s horror film music and American guitar rock bands, then stack those against faster Black Sabbath-styled chromatic rhythm riffs. Is there really such a void between “Symptom of the Universe” and “Crawl,” or the soundtrack to Carnival of Souls and Clandestine? Not if you listen to them side-by-side.
Thus, by combining Discharge and heavy metal with horror soundtracks, the Swedes invented a new style and kicked it into high-gear with that buzzsaw dimed-Boss distortion. But while qualification in this style is easy, it quickly becomes generic. That is because to take riffs out of context, one must build up a next dramatic context to give them framing, such that the change in riff (and tempo) is symbolically and aesthetically significant to the listener.
Abscession kick off this mini-album (EP) with a lengthy intro that, while funny at a first listen as it reveals death metal obliterating the music of normals, probably isn’t going to be fun past the first couple of listens. After that, it’s into what they do best: buzz-saw rhythm riffs which give way to lengthier melodic riffs which are played in power chords instead of single-string-picked like the first At the Gates.
The result captures much of the mood from Clandestine with big bristly clouds of buzzing distortion cushioning us as a melody emerges from within, like flying through clouds and seeing the moon emerge above. Once we’ve settled into the feel of the fully mature song, Abscession give it a kick or otherwise challenge it with a dramatic transition, which requires guitarwork to wrangle the song back toward its final state of affirming order.
What makes this release stand out is how well-composed the melodies are and how the band is able to arrange riffs in a meaningful manner, even if a simple “meaning” like the sensation of a walk through a dangerous forest at night and a confrontation with mortality as the blade of a foe emerges. Riffcraft is good and focuses on the longer melodies that distinguish the professionals from the “Garage Band” weekend activists in metal at this point, and all musicianship is good, but it is the content and composition of these songs that sets Abscession ahead of the Swe-death pack.
Texan mythological occult heavy metal band Absu, who began life as a death metal band and ventured into NWOBHM-tinged black metal before arriving at their current hybrid of Mercyful Fate and modern progressive metal, have extended their North American tour dates through the end of the year.
If you have been aching to see these highly technically skilled musicians live and live in the eastern half of the United States, look toward these dates to tell you when to cancel all prior engagements and head to the club.
Much as we all admire the ex-Emperor axeslinger, he’s fallen into the pit of what happens to musicians once they’ve blasted out their most vital creative material: they become masters of interesting details, but this means that they fit into the dominant paradigm. In this case, Ihsahn is basically progressive indie rock with a tendency to launch off on flights of fancy that sometimes involve metally riffs. But for the most part, he’s playing with the same pieces and riding in the same channel that everyone else has been cruising for the last 70 years. This doesn’t showcase the legendary creativity that propels this artist toward his best work, and also doesn’t make for great listening, since it’s a collection of mixed moods that never really pick up a direction anywhere but into themselves.
Falkenbach – Asa
Folk metal isn’t a genre; it’s an approach to any number of genres. Falkenbach is heavy metal with some black metal influences but is approached in a “folk” way that resembles jaunty pirate and epic Viking songs from Hollywood movies, thus continuing metal’s infatuation with the soundtrack. The music isn’t bad, but cycles verse-chorus and develops very marginally so there’s not much of a vertiginous sense of revelation. Further, either this dude has a sinus infection or they autotuned these vocals, which is somewhat repellent if your music is naturalistic. Thus this gets filed in the pile of stuff I’d like to like, but can’t have faith in, and find aesthetically irritating.
Beastmilk – Climax
When we run out of ideas, we run to the past. So it is with Beastmilk, who resurrect 1980s indie rock with a slightly more intense guitar focus, like R.E.M. crossed with Dave Mathews and grafted into Journey. This isn’t bad, but not so exceptional we must cover it on a death metal site.
Inferno – Omniabsence Filled by His Greatness
Strongly reminiscent of early Dark Funeral with lower tuning, Inferno provide charging black metal with strong concluding themes and high energy. None of these riffs will really strike you as all that unusual, but they knit together well into songs. To flesh things out, Inferno use fills of sweeps or lead picking between the rushing power chord riffs. This release really doesn’t have enough character to distinguish itself for the ages, but is more refreshingly clear about what it likes than most of the kvltists or hybrid-bands that wander through our review stack these days.
Blizaro – Strange Doorways
Sometimes we confuse having a lot of material with having something epic. This 2CD is a fusion of doom metal in the style of Confessor/Candlemass and a lot of random 70s influences from Hawkwind to Yes. These guys like to jam, and this music seems like someone recorded jams for a year, patched ’em up so they stuck together as songs, and worked them into an epic format. They’d do better to distill this to an EP of their best thoughts.
Polluted Inheritance – Betrayed
When Polluted Inheritance play death metal, they create a type of very familiar and nocturnal music that feels like moving through a darkened battlefield. This is broken up by speed metal riffs and lead-ups which sometimes have Pantera-style roundabout vocals circling the end of each phrase, causing a sense of this battlefield being broken up by machinery. In addition, Polluted Inheritance like to drop in sporadic progressive riffing or extremely noodly guitar, often accompanying some of the speed metal riffs. Reminiscent in many ways of later Adramelech, the band thus “comes into its own” less frequently that it would if some hard stylistic decisions were made and individual members had less freedom to indulge musicianship for musicianship’s sake. It is gratifying however to find a release that actually wants to be metal, and can execute moments of insight in riff form that evoke the best moments of classic death metal.
Boal – Infinite Deprivation
Although from the deathgrind genre, this album represents an attempt to use old school approaches to melody and riff with the “modern technical metal” style of static or harmony-based (sweep) riffs. These riffs are designed to contrast each other toward resolution in the old school way, but ultimately are too linear and rhythmic to develop enough phrase. However, the deathgrind portion of Infinite Deprivation is a breath of fresh air, incorporating groove in a subversive and unnerving way and building up to honest culminations. Obviously it’s too much to ask this band to go all old-school but they’re the closest thing to interesting in deathgrind.
Root – Viginti Quinque Annis In Scaena
This album sounds like Venom covering Cream. It’s basically hard rock and the generation before it, sped up with more precise playing and some hefty fellow bellowing over the top. While none of it is is particularly badly executed, it also sounds dated, like a flashback into the late 1960s which is being resurrected for purposes of nostalgia. The homebrew nature of this band would be appealing if the songs stretched beyond an emulation of that past state in time, but although heavily influenced by the Hellhammer-Bathory first wave of black metal, this music remains in part of that cluster of material that belongs to a time before the underground.
Circle – Incarnation
This seems like “sludge metal,” which is really just slow metalcore, with throw in influences from indie and black metal. Mostly disorganized, it fails from inability to make a point, although there are no other deficits. Like most music in this style, which seems to be people who want doom metal with aggressive open intervals instead of minor key ones, the modus operandi of the listener is to experience drone and forget where he is in the piece, then notice periodic interesting bits before descending again into a rumble of confusion.
Toxic Holocaust – Chemistry of Consciousness
The whole of the human condition is revealed by this album: it is well-executed on the surface, but its independent spirit is bound up in pleasing others with what they already know, in order to get power. As a result, it is a fun listen until you start thinking about hearing it a dozen times. It’s more instrumentally competent than your average retro-thrash band, but strays mostly into speed metal territory, mix and matching riffs from 1980s speed metal bands so that verse and chorus riffs each resemble well-known types but they don’t appear together as in the original song. Most of these songs are repetitive verse-chorus with a break to provide contrast before the reprise. Oddly, the vocals are whispered and distorted like a black metal band but using the rhythms of a late 1980s band like Sodom or Kreator. This is well-executed but I wouldn’t want to hear it again, especially as I heard all of these ideas the first time around — back in the 1980s.
We mentioned the “Heavy Metal and the Communal Experience” conference which will take place in San Juan, Puerto Rico on March 5, 2014. This conference aims to define community in metal and explore its boundaries.
As part of our ongoing exploration of academia in metal, this conference offers a topic that many of us have wondered about in the past. How does metal balance its radical individualism with its radical sense of community, and of a post-individual humanity, which sets it apart from all other genres philosophically?
Some years ago a friend mentioned how death metal unnerved her because the bands attempted to play in unison with each other or at least in complement with each other instead of trying to push the boundaries of how chaotic they could get. Like church music or higher math, metal is about order, and it imposes this through forcing twisted fragments of power chords into phrases that address each other like a dialogue in the music. This outlook could explain how metal views community.
The conference will attract a number of luminaries from the metal academic circuit, including:
University of London, UK
Niall William Richard Scott
University of Central Lancashire, UK
DePaul University, USA
Leeds Metropolitan University, UK
Jeremy Wayne Wallach
Bowling Green State University, USA
University of Central Missouri, USA
Brian A. Hickam
Benedictine University, USA
Cláudia Souza Nunes de Azevedo
Universidade Federal do Estado do Rio de Janeiro, BR
The forthcoming release of Underground Never Dies! on Doomentia Records will be accompanied in its first pressing by a unique LP which features classic tracks from back in the early days of the death metal underground.
Thanks to author Andrés Padilla, editor of Grinder Magazine (CL), the world can now see what’s on the LP. But first, information about the LP itself. There will be several batches, as follows:
Limited to 150 copies
Massive box with custom padding for:
Underground Never Dies! book
LP on colored vinyl
500 x vinyl
150 on black/white HALF/HALF effect
350 on black
500 x CD
200 x MC
500 x Underground Never Dies! book
This means that 500 LPs will go out with the book, and another 500 LPs, 500 CDs and 200 MCs will be available for underground maniacs. There’s going to be a run on these at your local distros, especially the padded box set which is “massive” in form and content if early reports are right.
Like thrash bands of the 1980s or the first two Napalm Death EPs, Ildjarn is often first mistaken for a novelty for its short and seemingly irrational songs. What exists under the skin is a complex outlook toward the world distilled into a simple naturalism.
Much like the techno, oi and black metal that these songs derive inspiration from, Ildjarn is a visceral emotion: its songs are not so much concepts, as emotional concepts created from the application of intellect to real-world problems. This is not theory; it’s application. However, it exists in small fragments that appear irrational to us because they are beyond the human perspective, as if spoken by the voices of nature themselves.
Seven Harmonies of Unknown Truths is an early Ildjarn demo that has appeared in fragmentary form on several other recordings, but never in full. Eisenwald Records has re-released the demo on CD and LP with new artwork.
Released on September 23, 2013, the new edition is properly balanced but not remastered or cleaned up for the authentic “period” sound. Pre-orders come with a free poster of the cover art and an ILDJARN sticker. It is gratifying to see interest in this band resuming again after a short periodic absence, as has occurred wavelike since the founding of the band.
Technical metalcore band Oblivion unleash Called to Rise which offers technicality with more mood among all of the speed thrills that experienced musicians playing at top speed in a wide range of colors, textures and tempi can express.
Following in the steps of high-intensity blasters like Kataklysm and Cryptopsy, Called to Rise uses fast tempi with rapid-fingered riffs which either bat out a complex rhythmic texture of power chords or rip through a scale in a certain order, often alternating between hitting the beat on the nose and being encapsulated by it. The result is like a shifting plateau of sands and waters through which melody flickers like lightning.
In the modern technical metalcore method, Oblivion focus on great variety between riffs. A simple chug follows a silvery sweep like the dance of glare on the tips of small waves, then a bluesy lead dances over a trudging sludge progression; then, an augmented chord riff straight out of jazz-influenced AOR or funk graces a transition to fast picked single-string melodies. The result is like being driven through a museum of rock on a bumper boat, watching the sights and sounds change as you howl through different rooms.
While the essential composition is of this modern style, Oblivion includes several generations of metal. Heavy metal, speed metal, hard rock, and progressive metal feature prominently, as does classical music. First in the cover of Rachmaninoff’s “Canon in E Minor,” which is sensibly executed with strumming at top speed while note change sticks closer to the proportions of the original. Next, in a series of ambitious compositions including three pieces with string orchestra, some featuring musically unquantifiable sounds.
Where Called to Rise stays within the metal world, Oblivion is of the newer range of technical death metal which, in contrast to death metal, is composed in the late hardcore style that emphasizes contrast and exceptionalism, where death metal emphasizes contrast being part of a larger pattern in which logical parity is achieved leading to a larger context. That means the goal is for these riffs to clash, and then for another riff to take over, so that a cycling between different things is preserved.
Oblivion make this album interesting through its vast variety, and once it becomes clear to the audience that the point is a variety show instead of a penetrating observation of a limited set of musical tropes, Called to Rise can be enjoyed for the fusion of genres that it is. Its musicality and textural diversity should appeal to shredders and fans of modern technical and progressive metal alike, while its adrenaline pace of changing images carve out a place in contemporary music for a new extreme.
Above you can see a world metal map that shows number of metal heads per capita in the nation-states of the world, originally found on public whiteboard space here. However, one researcher noticed a fatal flaw to this map.
That is, the original map measures by nation-state, but not by populations within those states, such as the independent Quebecers who brought us Voivod, Gorguts, Obliveon and other “Canadian” bands that don’t have much in common with the English-speaking parts of the country. Thus, Dominic Arsenault made his own map, which you can see below, or see on his own his web site.
This brings to mind a fascinating question: does metal reflect national culture, national circumstance, or is it a “nation-state” issue like political system (for example, rebellion in the Reagan 1980s) or political instability? Our own international metal map shows metal bands by nation-state and reveals that some small countries definitely outperform larger ones on the metal scale.
On the anniversary of the release of its first recording, Puerto Rican death metal band Organic (formerly Organic Infest) is releasing its four recordings — two albums, an EP and a single — for free download on its ReverbNation page.
These songs are available for free listening. If you like them, you can purchase them in digital form, with 50% of the proceeds going to Fender Music Foundation, which provides musical instruments to students who cannot otherwise afford them.
Organic got its start with 1993’s Penitence which despite abysmal production showcased a new take on the guttural blasting style of percussive death metal favored by bands like Malevolent Creation and Cannibal Corpse. From there, the band explored a melodic avenue with its more recent works.
We use the term “metal community” on a regular basis, but it’s unclear to many what this includes. What is the metal community? Is it defined by boundaries, or a shared ideal?
A conference of academics is meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on March 5, 2014 to analyze this issue by presenting papers and having open discussions on the topic. Hosted by UPR professor and metalhead Nelson Varas Díaz, the conference aims to attract scholars from the Latin America, Europe and the United States.
One of the major themes is one that metalheads have brushed over for years, namely the conflict between individualism and group identity in metal. Both are strong, but individuals finds expression through group identity in metal, seemingly a paradox. In addition, the conference will explore the communal experience in metal and how it can be analyzed.