Impiety – The Impious Crusade

impiety-the_impious_crusadeWhen metal bands tire of the older styles that demand too much sense, they make something frenetic and use over-the-top vocals to tie it all together despite being random; that is why when metal ran out of ideas in the late 1990s it turned to metalcore. With The Impious Crusade, Impiety take this newer style and infuse it with some of the older style, producing something more deliberate than what we normally hear but within the chaotic styles of modern metal.

The result is equal parts late-1990s charging death metal, where riffs fit together in roughly circular fashion and hold together with pure momentum, and part a few experiments with borrowed items including speedy call and response between thunderous power chords and dissonant voicings, lead guitars that race through solos in an organic style reminiscent of early Vader, and Meshuggah-style sudden stop-start complex syncopation over two-note riffs.

The Impious Crusade delivers what makes Impiety great which is pure speed thrills with enough melody and textural context to remain interesting. Although it doesn’t reach the textural depth of older death metal, which can still incite some powerful moods, this MCD pounds out a gratifying high-intensity twenty minutes of ripping music that perverts modern metal into something more like the original death metal ideal.

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Johansson & Speckmann – Sulphur Skies

johansson_speckmann-sulphur_skiesThe promise of this album is exciting at first glance, but upon deeper investigation buried in paradox. Paul Speckmann specializes in a very early form of death metal that has a lot of punk to it and emphasizes compelling rhythm and simple songs. Swedish death metal, at its best in Carnage, Therion and Unleashed, represented almost an opposite type of music which used guitar riffs to carry a cadence-like rhythm and thus create a dark mood.

Sulphur Skies suffers from this confusion. Rogga Johansson (PAGANIZER) provides guitar and bass which are mostly of a hard rock nature, meaning that riffs set up a syncopated rhythm and then by pausing and restarting it create a sense of dynamic drama. The rhythms however are slightly more aggressive versions of stuff that came out in the 1970s, and songs are circular riff merry-go-rounds that feature a verse riff, a chorus riff, and a series of diversions.

Speckmann’s vocals are not only vicious but well-produced, as is the guitar tone. This album sounds great. The only problem is that the underlying composition is mired in paradox, which is that the personnel are making two different types of albums, neither of which fit the classic Swedish death metal mold which is what the audience wants when they hear that Sunlight Studios style guitar tone. Speckmann is a legend but this project accidentally misuses him.

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Metal is metal, not a grab-bag of other clichés

alt_nu_funk_rapNot for the first time I find myself reading a cringingly bad article from the Irish press about metal. This one is entitled Alt, Nu, Funk, Rap: there are many colours in the heavy metal rainbow and it ran in the Irish Times yesterday.

Ireland’s a frustrating country in which to be a metalhead. On the one hand, it’s the land that produced latter-day genre ambassadors Primordial and cool-as-fuck proto-metallers Thin Lizzy. On the other, metal in Ireland is stuck between a mass-culture slavishly obsessed with low-grade British TV and an arts/intelligentsia scene more interested in brushing up its phony posh Hiberno-English accent and patronising 3rd rate continental post-modern knock offs. Metal is a poorly-supported fringe genre; too morbid for popular culture and too loud and unpretentious to fit in with ‘sophisticated’ culture.

Because of this, as great as many Irish metallers are, the Irish metal scene is infected with a section of people with an attitude that is both happy to accept and produce novelty trash, and is simultaneously chronically under-confident about being a metaller – berating anyone who to takes it seriously. “Sure it’s only a bit of craic.”

Other than sneering at it, Irish Journalists and other arbiters of public opinion rarely take notice of metal unless they want to leech some of its credibility; an act that apparently doesn’t require any research beyond wheeling out a few tired anecdotes about barely relevant 50s/60s bands.

It’s no coincidence that today metal is growing fastest in countries with oppressive regimes, notably Iran and China. For all its genre- splitting, commercialisation and in-fighting, metal remains, in the broader socio-political field,a transgressive form of music signifying individuality and defiance of authority.

Last month leading Chinese dissident Ai Weiwei released the first single off his “avant-garde heavy metal” album. With lyrics railing against censorship and human rights abuses in China, it’s as potent – in a political way – as the opening chords of You Really Got Me must have sounded in 1964.

Sorry pal, but metal is not some nice, cuddly, inclusive sausage-fest, where everyone can listen to whatever flavour they like and we all finish off holding hands in a circle, smiling dumbly to the sound of “Kumbaya.” It is not about giving your parents the finger and escaping the oppression of society to go live in a vegan organic farm where everyone lives by love, tolerance and inclusivity.

Some of the best metal has been made by people with beliefs considered unacceptable in polite society. Metal isn’t a rejection of authority; it’s a rejection of the idea that society is the answer to our problems. Metal says: we can’t all get along. To a metaller, a greater ill than an extreme and unfriendly ideology is a wimpy attempt to pretend that the reality is more sanitary than it actually is.

Sadly for this, much of the metal he cites as counter-examples either doesn’t exist, or is of such painfully low quality as to be of no significance. Like many a media forgery, he has used one example of something — despite it getting nowhere in the genre — as an example of a “trend.” There is of course a healthy scene in Israel, but I suspect Israeli Jews would be more annoyed than flattered to read themselves being used as examples of un-metal sounding metal.

Even worse, like a salesman after a three-martini lunch, he’s trying the old trick of making metal palatable to us by claiming that it’s something we already recognize and accept. Citing ‘alt’ ‘rap’ and ‘funk’ as leading genres of metal shows almost no awareness of what defines metal and makes no account for it as anything other than an interchangeable synonym for rock. But that’s what he wants — he fears that metal might be something by itself and for itself, beyond the control of the society and social thinking he so slavishly obeys.

Whether the writer likes it or not (perhaps that should be ‘whether he knows it or not’, given the extent of investigation done appears to be sub-Wikipedia?) metal is not about fitting into a trendy political creed, but about exploring the dangerous, the feral and the ugly for the sake of transcending moralism and understanding the world as it is, not as it should be according to any given utopian outlook.

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In defense of metal

heavy_metal_audienceI think if you’d ask most hessians, they would say that we live in the age of kali yuga. If you get a chance to speak with lower-case-c conservative people, they express the same feeling: that something is lost. That some form of refinement, culture, and civility is gone from modern culture, if you could even call it that.

One of the complaints that repeats itself regards the state of the arts, and more specifically, music. It is simplistic, they complain. It is crass, uncultured, fatalistic, naval gazing, hedonistic, idiotic and stupefying. None of these is wrong.

It saddens me, then, when people complain about rap, rock, and Lady Gaga, they usually lump metal along with the complaint. I get it, though. The way metal appears to most of the world is not as a refined style. Some of it is also the product of the vast machine of idiocy that turned music into the nightmare that it is today. They made it safe, by making it mockable.

But some of the fault lies with hessians. Not all bands are Pantera and Slipknot. There is an entire world encapsulated in the metal genera. It is one of the only styles that keeps on expanding and developing. We have some commitment, as hessians, to support metal, in the great cultural discussion that extends through the generations.

Good metal will always be there, and will always be a legitimate art form. It would be sad, however, if those who could appreciate it (they don’t have to like it) would appreciate it, instead of buying into this elaborate hoax by the impetus of insignificance espoused by commercial music.

First and foremost, metal is a legitimate art form. A legitimate form of music. Yes, there is metal which is certainly not music. Pantera and Slipknot come to mind.

However, there is something in metal, a movement that existed since its advent in Black Sabbath’s first album, which expresses immortal truths. It feels as a sort of pessimistic conservative message.

Are things running down? Is there a process of degradation, a willful suicide enacted by modern culture? This observation was expressed by Black Sabbath, in an attempt to rain on the hippy party. We won’t go into why hippies are the end of civilization right now, but know that if some movement, since its advent, was diametrically opposed to such movement, there already is some root credibility to it. The hippies wanted to create a world without values, without temples or transcendence. Metal, on the other hand, constantly seeks transcendence, enlightenment, and a form of holiness. It is not base and animalistic, but in fact, a deeply religious experience.

In metal, there is encapsulated an idea that holiness cannot exist in a vacuum. If there is holiness in life, it must be whole. Blasphemy became an act of holiness and worship of life in its fullest.

To truly love life, you must love it completely, including the scary, red in tooth and claw parts. Metal expresses these aspects in purity and vicarious form. There is no need to describe beauty, truth, and love, because you cannot accept them until you have delved into pain, struggle, overcoming, violence, exposing hypocrisy, self reliance, heroism and individuality. These ideas are the bread and butter of metal music. It is not individualism, but individuality.

Undeniably, there is a nihilistic streak in metal. It is not the passive, fatalistic kind of nihilism, but the nihilism that views happiness, success and overcoming as dependent upon choices made by the self. No avoidance of consequences, looking ugly truths in the eye. There are inescapable things in life. Death, pain, lies, predators, and all the degeneration that arises from the human condition.

Do you deny these exist? Deny their necessity? It would be like denying rot and defecation. Ignore them and you’re in for a mess. Accept their inevitability, and you get a daily battle which never ends. It’s like mowing the lawn.

Metal is the tool which shapes this view of life. It might seem bleak, but the happy warrior never despairs. It’s an existential battle, and metal is the fuel, the blood in its veins, the fire burning in its soul.

I wouldn’t be who I am today without metal. Without these immortal truths as my guides and friends. I could be there, smoking the pipe-dreams of modernity. Drinking the kool-aid. Why chose suffering and a constant fight?

Maybe because I believe in tragedies.

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The enduring beauty of Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

immortal-diabolical_fullmoon_mysticismThis week I have mostly been listening to…. Immortal – Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism

Less often cited as a classic than the follow up, Pure Holocaust, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is still to my mind one of the gems of second wave black metal. Some of the transitions between riffs/themes are a bit ragged, and the drummer is clearly not up to much of a standard playing-wise, but there’s great charm in this album, and some real magic about the riff-craft at work on it.

Riff-wise, this album is not fully black metal, but borrows heavily from death metal, although the band covers the fact with a cavernous production and droning under parts. Unlike the straightforward melodic approach of black metal the bulk of these riffs are composed in two parts: a modal/chromatic melodic part that becomes more detailed with iteration, and a counter-part that responds to the first idea at a lower register with an oppositional retort. ‘Epic’ moments are generally more straightforwardly black metal – single-motif melodic ideas with plenty of yearning, emotive harmonies.

The interplay between the epic bits and the controlled-chaos parts are really where this album shows what it’s about – an icy warrior outlook that turns whirlwinds of strife into the joy of the fight and the triumph of cosmic forces.

Musically this is also where things can become a bit rough sounding. Sometimes it works really well – Like around the 3/4 minute mark in “A Perfect Vision of the Rising Northland,” where themes from the chaotic/violent moments intermingle and then separate again to create an excellent fist-in-the-air, hair-flying-in-the-wind sort of moment. Other times, there’s only a steep drop off from one theme to the next; which is a little less satisfying even if the production does a decent job of smoothing over the edges (see certain moments in “Call of the Wintermoon” and “Unholy Forces of Evil” – less obvious when you’re just letting the mood of the music take you along, but a bit more noticeable when you’re listening more intently. Contrarily though, “Unholy Forces of Evil” is probably a better track on the whole than “A Perfect Vision”…).

This style of riff writing disappears somewhat on the following two (more melodic-riff centred) albums, but makes a return on Blizzard Beasts – which, although also a good album, wears the death metal influence in less of an understated way, taking away from some of the mysteriousness that made the first album special. Unlike with some of the other prominent Nordic second-wavers (Darkthrone, Mayhem, Burzum) I can’t immediately think of anyone who successfully and completely took on Immortal’s early riff writing style (although Averse Sefira’s latter two albums sound like they might’ve been at least partly influenced). Perhaps this is down to the more technical/complex nature of the band’s sound when compared to that of their peers, and the hyperactive, difficult-to-repeat playing style of Demonaz. As well as being a quality album then, Diabolical Fullmoon Mysticism is also an interesting hint at where black metal might’ve gone had it stuck closer to death metal ideas of riff creation.

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Sixgun Serenade – Fortunate Vessels

sixgun_serenade-avenue_of_the_giantsI think the best way to understand the new band from Texas called Sixgun Serenade is that they are a pop band that likes metal riffs. This song features chuggy riffs from speed metal, noodly lead riffs from tek-deth, but otherwise, is pure alternative-rock-tinged pop music which delivers a gratifying melodic hook in a song that knows, like a dancer in the rain, how to pause and when to move. It combines really effective radio pop with some depth, and battering metalcore and metal riffs that keep the pop from swallowing up a realistic sense of how life is struggle.

If you remember the video for “Cemetery Gates” by Pantera, in which the vocalist had a similar hairstyle and tossed the hair in a similar way, and in which the verses were abrasive and the choruses sweetened by melody and soft vocals, the approach here may seem familiar. In fact, you might see it as a nod or tribute to that video, which kicked off the tendency of metal to accept alternative rock sounds and thus make melodic choruses to counterbalance the rage. Here, the battering metalcore/tek-deth aspects of the music are balanced by what would be a highly successful pop band in the chorus.

Obviously, this is not going to be for everyone. Some say metalcore is a contemporary version of glam metal or hard rock, but I think it’s more like a catch-all rock/metal hybrid not unlike Led Zeppelin or Tool. It aims for a rock audience, and hopes to wean them onto metal, or at least metal riffs, and from there to let nature take over. One thing that Sixgun Serenade do well is that they embrace technicality but, unlike many of the truly chaotic core/tek bands, use it wisely. That doesn’t mean selectively exactly, more than they tailor their techniques to the roles in which those techniques complement the song.

Another thing to like about Sixgun Serenade is that they do not indulge in pretense or hide their origins. This is pop music in the best tradition of the MTV era, where each song is designed to be compact, slightly repetitive, hooky and to have some form of song development that parallels what goes on in the video. The result combines silent theatre, language and music and creates a unified entertainment product. Unlike most pop music, however Sixgun Serenade wrap some guitar fireworks and abrupt riffing into their payload.

Sixgun Serenade released their most recent full length album, Avenue of the Giants, on March 26, 2013 via Dark Slate Records. Describing itself as “a passionate five piece American Metalcore band,” Sixgun Serenade comprises Cody Roye- vocals, Justin Werner- guitar, Stephen Loftin- guitar, Cody Blevins-bass guitar, and Justin Hendrix- drums. Currently the band is touring in support of Avenue of the Giants.

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Metalcore finally admits what it is: a grab bag of random parts

Bassist Craig Horky describes Cavalcade as “self-indulgent music nerds playing Cure-influenced, Fugazi-meets-Black Sabbath bastardization … in three different tunings — with black metal vocals.” Last year, the band even worked out an ‘80s dark New Wave cover set — not a typical move from a gang of headbangers. – Heavy Meta

Modern metal bands like to pretend they’re metal, but really they’re not. Like everything else in this society, they’re a bin of odds and ends because people are afraid of offending someone by leaving something out. The result is a total lack of direction, and this is why fans of modern metal are so adamant that their music is metal. If you point out that they’re listening to a musical garbage plate, it invalidates their whole worldview, which is to not pick a clear direction, to never take a stand, and to never find anything in life worth dying for. That would interrupt their all-important quest for personal authority, wealth and social relevance.

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Gorguts plan return with Colored Sands

gorguts-colored_sands_tourThe might Gorguts, who added atmosphere to thunderous Florida-style death metal before deviating into labyrithine riff progressive death metal on Obscura and From Wisdom to Hate, and then fading into obscurity with only one resurrecting as modern metalcore band Negativa, plan to return on September 3 with a new album entitled Colored Sands and a tour to follow.

If you don’t hear the heavy metal world pounding on the door to demand to hear it, here is why: the name is obviously of the type that is used by modern metal bands, including metalcore and “progressive metal” that is mostly indie with some progressive and very little metal, and thus, it’s unlikely that we’re going to get Considered Dead II, or even Obscura II. In fact, what it sounds like we are going to get is another modern metal album that, because it has abandoned what it is to be metal in spirit and composition, is a diverse collage of bits in the modern style, which means a giant indecisive waffle that leaves you feeling empty after consumption.

As the staff optimist here at DeathMetal.org, I am hoping otherwise, and putting my trust in Luc Lemay and team’s solid record in the past. However, the team is entirely different now, except for Lemay. Kevin Hufnagel (Dysrhythmia) is on rhythm guitars, Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Dysrhythmia) on bass and John Longstreth (Origin, Angelcorpse) on drums. This also makes metalheads uneasy, because no matter how much they “love true metal,” Marston and Hufnagel are from a hipster metalcore band.

Still, we preserve optimism. The hope is that Gorguts will make something interesting. That excludes technical metalcore. I would rather they released a rockabilly record that join the stupid and horrible trend of mixing Fugazi, frenetic 1970s jazz fusion, and a few metal riffs and calling it “innovation” when by definition it’s a recycling of past ideas. Time will tell, and we can only hope that Gorguts rise above the pack yet again and bring us a vision of something profound instead of something compliant.

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Brutality – Ruins of Humans

brutality-ruins_of_humansClassic Tampa, Florida death metal band Brutality released a new two-song EP entitled Ruins of Humans which continues the style in which a melodic Morbid Angel meets Monstrosity that defined their debut album Screams of Anguish.

The vocals are still the crushing yet discernible Glen Benton meets Karl Willetts style as always, belting out apocalyptic views of human error. They didn’t recreate the wheel, and this won’t start a revolution, but it is still high quality material very much in the vein of their early Nuclear Blast releases, and is a step up from their forgettable swan song In Mourning and the confused 2003 demo.

There is a lot of potential in this as they have still retained their characteristic long flowing melodies that are akin to early At the Gates and blistering blast beat passages, and isn’t misdirected like the recent Convulse and Purtenance reunions. Hopefully a new album from these veterans as well as the upcoming return to form Demigod material will deliver the goods.

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Today is the International Day of Slayer.

The holiday comes every year. The International Day of Slayer is a day to celebrate both being metal and worshiping Slayer by playing loud Slayer and not going to work.

This day is important because it affirms our cultural identity as metalheads through the band that most exemplifies metal of any band through all of history. Slayer made metal into what it always yearned to be: a fully intense, terrifying, apocalyptic and mythological view of human decline and the need to reject society in order to not get dragged down with it.

It’s also singularly intense and powerful music. Today is a good day to not go to work; instead, listen to Slayer.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EdjS4qMXQmQ

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

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

How to Celebrate

  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in your car.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in your home.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast at your place of employment.
  • Listen to Slayer at full blast in any public place you prefer.

DO NOT use headphones! The objective of this day is for everyone within earshot to understand that it is the National Day of Slayer. National holidays in America aren’t just about celebrating; they’re about forcing it upon non-participants.

Taking that participation to a problematic level

  • Stage a “Slay-out.” Don’t go to work. Listen to Slayer.
  • Have a huge block party that clogs up a street in your neighborhood. Blast Slayer albums all evening. Get police cruisers and helicopters on the scene. Finish with a full-scale riot.
  • Spray paint Slayer logos on churches, synagogues, or cemeteries.
  • Play Slayer covers with your own band (since 99% of your riffs are stolen from Slayer anyway).
  • Kill the neighbor’s dog and blame it on Slayer.
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