Bands seeking to play death metal in 2013 are faced with a curious conundrum: they grew up with undeniably great records that inform their knowledge of the genre, and yet their potential audience in this current generation clamors for simpler material with more digestible melodies. Bands then have to decide to what extent they will incorporate the “modern metal” influence into the death metal which is their reason for playing in the first place.
Armaroth play a fusion of death metal and speed metal, with some modern melodic metal influences introducing cross-generational appeal. Death metal riffs drive the songs forward, providing the backbone for the other elements to build upon. The riffs in their best moments are darker than the typical modern death metal fare, bringing out a sense of foreboding that has more evocative impact than just pure aggression. Speed metal lends itself to connecting riffs between verse and chorus, providing motion with palm-muted riffs that introduce rhythmic variation.
These sections are solid in themselves, but the band often moves from one to the next without giving sufficient care to set up transitions, leaving songs at times feeling as if they’re collections of riffs thrown together rather than conceived with a purpose. Moments as such are aggravated by the modern metal elements, such as embarrassingly catchy choruses and ambiguous guitar wankery which sharply contrasts with the more polished material.
The band recently released their first EP, False Vision. In their future material, if the band were to focus on and improve what they already do well and abandon the tendency towards including concessions for the newer generation, their material would be well above average in the current milieu.
Former Trouble member Ron Holzner joins celebrated violinist Rachel Barton Pine in Earthen Grave, a doom metal band with heavy metal energy and hard rock groove. It fits in the niche between depressive heavy metal doom like Derketa and stoner doom of the Spirit Caravan variety, but has some of the gravitas and theology of Trouble and other depressive heavy metal doom bands from the 1980s.
Earthen Grave, the band’s debut, has been re-issued as a double-CD or double-LP on the Ripple Music label, appearing in stores and online on July 9, 2013. The completely re-mastered debut release now contains a new song, “death is another word….” with drummer Chris Wozniak (formerly of Lair of the Minotaur).
While Earthen Grave has not gotten the overflowing press attention that has accompanied many other doom metal bands, this band offers more of a pure older-school feel to its doom metal, and does not pander to the me-first mentality that many people want to hear in their music. The result is pure bleakness and self-negation that periodically rocks out and then launches into a series of musically erudite solos. As a result, Earthen Grave may appeal to the musicians among us first, and later spread to the rest of the metal audience.
Founded by a group of career metalheads, Exhumed started with a simple mission: make grind, but make it entertaining and participatory like the better heavy metal of the past few generations. While they were initially known as a Carcass clone, that comparison involves the vocals, while the guitar music is itself quite different.
Necrocracy continues the tradition with some very professional songwriting. The technique is pure death metal, grindcore and smatterings of punk and speed metal; under that surface, what lurks is old school heavy metal combined with Swedish-style melodic songwriting (which interestingly was also discernible on the debut).
As part of that professionalism, Exhumed fit each song into a series of gratifications: a good introduction, pounding verses, surging choruses, fireworks for solos and then a transition through a minor key melody into a triumphant return to the verse, plus an optional outro. This formula — adopted in part from glam ballads — propelled speed metal and heavy metal bands to the stratosphere. It’s doing something similar for Exhumed.
What makes Necrocracy hold together is that each song is composed of only necessary parts toward achieving this goal, which could be roughly described as half wanting to be a fun grindcore band, and half wanting to be a professional metal band with MTV-ready songs. Much like Amebix recently saw the utility of this format for reaching the slumbering masses, Exhumed use it to inject some death metal into the melange of hard rock, punk, speed metal, grind/death and heavy metal that makes up their songs.
It is probably not wise for old school death metal fans to rush to this album. It has more in common with grindcore and album-oriented stadium heavy metal, since it relies on the verse-chorus and derives much of its effect from application of known songwriting technique instead of straying into odd structures, bizarre twists, and experimental riffs. Its choruses are hooky, its verses catchy and chanty, and the heavy production and technique hides a band that could go toe-to-toe with the big heavy metal bands of the 1980s through 2000s. Their audience is its audience, updated a bit.
Carrying on the tradition of making metal music that pushes past what is socially acceptable, Exhumed return with an onslaught of cynicism about humanity that takes joy in its own dire predictions. Energetic and necrotically enthusiastic, Necrocracy pumps out the energy and the engaging heavy metal tropes in a voice that is all its own, and will serve as a great introduction for many to these genres.
Necrocracy will be released on August 6, 2013 via Relapse Records and can be pre-ordered here. Catch Exhumed on tour:
EXHUMED European Takeover 2013 [remaining dates]:
7/17/2013 Vlamrock – As, Belgium
7/23/2013 Metal Days – Tolmin, Slovenia
7/24/2013 Garage – Munich, Germany
7/25/2013 Eisenwahn – Obersinn, Germany
EXHUMED w/ Dying Fetus, Devourment, Waking The Cadaver
(10/4 – 10/19), Abiotic,Rivers Of Nihil (10/26 – 11/2):
The existence of modern death metal — the merging of multiple genres together and slapping the veneer of death metal over it should result in a product that does not appeal to any of the fans of the individual genres, as they will always have purer distillations of each type of metal available — fascinates me. Nevertheless, the genre exists and is evidently quite popular with someone, as numerous bands in the genre arise all the time and reach some measure of success.
Throne of Heresy is such a band, and is an able defender of this type of composition: any type of metal that has been popular over the past two decades is thrown into a blender and the result is a competent but stylistically confused product. Each section of the tracks is well-composed and well executed , though what’s lacking is any sense of purpose or meaning. The progenitors of each style of metal represented here had an intention behind their work, a desire to create art that is conspicuously absent on this EP.
Featuring a decidedly verse-chorus structure, the songs consist of tonally ambiguous palm-muted riffs morphing into admittedly catchy choruses that give way to whatever School of Metal technique is the flavor of the day: it could be a “melodic” solo, an awkward semi-clean breakdown, or perhaps even a key change. What makes these sectional divides even more jarring is that there is very little in the song to indicate when they are occurring, or indeed why they are occurring.
This is not to give the impression that there is nothing of merit occurring: the vocals on the whole are solid death metal belts, though on times they do take on the angry for the sake of being angry tinge that is ingrained in modern metal. Each of the instruments is composed and played well, but the lack of intention or drive that so characterizes modern metal creates an obstacle that cannot be overcome.
It seems to me that bands such as this are suffering from an identity crisis: they are trying to appeal to fans of every genre of metal. While this may be a sound financial decision, it is not a good artistic decision, which is a shame as there is definitely a core of talent to be explored here.
Ambient band Khand overlaps the metal community because its member and its history are intertwined with the history of east coast underground metal. In addition, much like Brian Eno, Jaaportit, Robert Fripp, Lord Wind, Neptune Towers, Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk seem appreciated in some segments of the metal community, hessians appear to enjoy the “metal-like” dark heavy vibe of this ambient band. The following track, “The Squire’s Dream,” is from the upcoming Khand full-length to see the light of day at a time yet unannounced.
Most people are ruled by a fear of what other people think. If they don’t end up looking cool to their friend group, they fear they have become invalidated and are worthless. As a result, people have difficulty accepting anything which is not ironic, contrived and vague.
On the other hand, there’s Manowar.
If you need a good dose of healthy fighting spirit, and a sense of both power and beauty in life, and like the thought of of no longer caring what the in-crowd thinks, Manowar can be liberation. There is no doubting that this music is bombastic and emotionally transparent and direct, which some might call “cheesy.”
However, it’s completely ludicrous to assume that this is any more cheesy than your average metal or rock band. What makes it stand out is that it isn’t neurotic. It embraces a pure heavy metal spirit that affirms bravery, strength, power and a desire for life to be more than “practical” and dollars and cents. You might find it awakening the part of you we might even call… a soul.
That being said, Manowar create in the hazy area between classic heavy metal, glam or stadium metal, and speed metal. They use a lot of speed metal technique to give some backbone to songs which are not afraid to explore melody, mood and atmosphere. What seems like a straightforward heavy metal album has a number of surprises.
You think the intellectuals would like it. What other heavy metal album busts out a Puccini aria from Turandot on the third track, complete with cascading power chord riffs backing up vocalist Eric Adams as he entirely competently belts out this song? Further, despite its many side-steps and quirks, this album is a concept work. How many bands dedicate an album not to war, but those who fight? And make it interesting throughout?
True, there’s a ton of balladry here. There’s a reason that glam metal is included in the list of Manowar influences. These guys took the effete ballads to cheesy women that made glam bands both rich and annoying, and have injected them with instead with a sense of masculine power and the satisfaction of putting things to right when they are disordered. How else to explain the relentlessly patriotic “The Fight for Freedom” two songs away from a tribute to Odin that sounds like a more radio-friendly Bathory? Warriors of the World provides metal fans with a way to connect to emotion without giving in to the weakness of self-doubt and displacement.
The reason we listen to Manowar is that it is just solidly great heavy metal. Like a good opera, each song builds up until there’s energy ready to explode and then it unleashes its momentum into a new direction that becomes as anthemic, foot-tapping and lighter-waving as the best from rock ‘n’ roll as a whole. At these moments, the listener feels like a wave of power bursting free from its containment and raging across a world ripe for destruction. It’s hard to deny the essential appeal of “Warriors of the World,” which is both catchy and elegant.
If you liked Def Leppard in high school, or find the more aggressive moments of Led Zeppelin make you want to punch out your boss and ask out your unspoken high school crush even though she lives three states away, you will immediately pick up on the appeal of this record. The additional technique just makes this more powerful. It’s harder to spot the Queen and Jethro Tull influences, but they are as much part of this album as the Metallica-inspired E-chord rhythm noodling.
Warriors of the World now sounds better than ever thanks to a remaster which didn’t just turn up the volume with the help of compression. It is louder, but dynamics are preserved, and some things that were quieter in the mix the first time have come back with strength. This is especially important with the many vocal tracks and complex interweaving of guitars, vocals and chorus on this album. What makes the album appreciated is its timeless heavy metal quality.
This seems to have been the intent all along. Having conquered basic heavy metal moods, Manowar opted for an ambitious offering with their ninth studio album, and time has been kind to it as it rises above the limited imagination of others. Don’t worry about what the people you think are your friends “think.” Enjoy this for the ambitious musical offering of pure heavy metal spirit that it is.
Fans of Amon Amarth will find theirlatest offering Deceiver of the Gods to be a solid continuation of the band’s heavy and bloody recapitulation of Norse mythology, albeit a little less heavy and a little less bloody.
Those new to the latest album by this 14-year-long line-up of Swedish death metal royalty will find a great introduction to their sound and ethos. While Deceiver of the Gods does not have the intensity of classics With Oden on Our Side or Twilight of the Thunder God, this album certainly offers everything expected of an Amon Amarth album.
The first two tracks, “Deceiver of the Gods” and “As Loke Falls” show a strong Iron Maiden influence. “Father of the Wolf” — for which a video is being produced — is thrashier. “Shape Shifter” is an epic song that proves a bit heavier than the offerings to this point. “Under Siege” steps things up nicely with a fairly intricate opening, a much more complex structure overall, and a couple of extra minutes to develop. At 6:17 it is the second-longest song on the album (and this reviewer’s favorite track) and exemplifies the melodic death metal aesthetic Amon Amarth has so adroitly sustained year after year, album after album. “Blood Eagle,” “We Shall Destroy,” and “Hel” are solid tunes if a bit tiring; “Hel” also features the vocal contributions of Messiah Marcolin, notable for his work with unique doom metal band Candlemass. “Coming of the Tide” drives harder, and the energy it brings — as well as tempo changes and nice guitar work — recall the intensity of earlier albums. The eight-minute epic “Warriors of the North” closes the album with classic Amon Amarth flair.
Those interested in the deluxe edition will find a four-song EP-Under the Influence– included. Each song appears to be a tribute to an influential band. “Burning Anvil of Steel” (Judas Priest), “Satan Rising” (Black Sabbath), “Snake Eyes” (AC/DC), and “Stand Up to Go Down” (Motorhead) constitute an intriguing contemplation of Amon Amarth’s sources.
Expertly produced, mixed, and mastered by veteran metal-maven Andy Sneap (originally of Sabbat UK), Deceiver of the Gods is a good album and well worth the asking price. Fans will appreciate the new material and those new to Amon Amarth and/or death metal will find this album a worthy introduction.
Most people place the birth of black and death metal somewhere between Venom’s first album Welcome to Hell (1981) and Bathory’s third full-length Under the Sign of the Black Mark (1987). The exact moment of divergence from ancestors depends on the speaker’s level of metal puritanism and their favorite albums are from that era, and can sometimes seem a trivial dichotomy. Moot though it may be, my pick for the first discernible piece of death/black metal music is also, more importantly, the moment at which metal realizes it can be more than just warmed-over rock music.
Tom Warrior and co will forever be canonised in the metal pantheon for the early Hellhammer and Celtic Frost releases, which collectively shaped the sound of metal in a way that is only really matched by Slayer (who were probably influenced by Hellhammer in their change of sound between Show no Mercy and Haunting the Chapel). The first couple of Hellhammer demos however were only really third rate crust punk/Venom rip off played by three young guys who didn’t really know what they were doing. With the third demo and the introduction of Martin Ain to the writing team though, Hellhammer began introducing ideas that weren’t immediately noticed or appreciated by the rest of the world, prompting the band to less than twelve months later reconstitute itself as Celtic Frost and spend most of the next three decades trying to bury the Hellhammer name and the material associated with it.
Many of the tracks on Satanic Rites are in much the same vein as the first two demos, although better played and with greater surety about the morbid chromatic rock riffs. However, with “Buried and Forgotten,” and to a slightly lesser extent “Triumph of Death,” there is a real ‘eureka’ moment. Verse-chorus-verse, single groove writing gives way to longer structures that piece together like musical jigsaw puzzles, reminiscent of the best moments of Black Sabbath made more twisted and involving. The grimmer, more elemental, less blues-rocky riffs of Hellhammer also hint at emergent melodic shapes, whose detail unfurls piecemeal over the course of the track.
“Buried and Forgotten” for a little over two and half minutes builds one riff atop another towards an emotional plateau, each one referencing some element (however small) of the one that preceded it. The rest of the track then recombines and repeats all the material amassed over the course of the opening part, changing the order of and implied relationship between riffs. All except one slightly dodgy contrasting riff towards the end (which stands out by a mile), is built out of the same basic pool of ideas, and so each can be moved about and fit back together again as they are and create a neat, logical song structure.
This streamlined song-writing mentality also filters down quite brilliantly into the track “Messiah,” which is probably the most well-known, heavily covered Hellhammer song, and a borderline genius exercise in metal song-writing fundamentalism. Effectively the entire song is crafted out of one interval (the space between two notes, denoting their relationship to each other): a minor 2nd (or semitone), the smallest interval in regular Western music. Everything from the ponderous two-note verse riff, to the creeping chorus motif of four descending consecutive semitones, to the brief bridge section made up of the same rumbling low E that drives the verse and a major 7th above that (which, deceptively, is just an inversion of a minor 2nd, and so basically the same note relationship as nearly everything that has come before it in the song).
All of a sudden the focus shifted from form (and the resulting dramatic arc it creates) as something that comes from solely juxtaposing contrasting elements, to something that can grow out of only a tiny number of ideas, and through clever variation and development can became something much more journey-like. This makes this music unlike rock, jazz and more recent false-metal, and more like a Beethoven symphony or a Bach fugue. Needless to say, I’m not suggesting for a moment that Hellhammer is equal to the work of Bach. What I am saying however is that both classical music and the more inspired moments of this demo proceed from a similar sort of underlying sense of elegance in developing things methodically out of smaller details into bigger, consistent ideas.
The version of “Triumph of Death” on this demo is inferior to the one on Apocalyptic Raids (which has, surely, one of the greatest metal vocal performances anywhere, ever) and as far as Celtic Frost/Hellhamer goes my favourite work is probably To Mega Therion. Still, it’s hard to understate just how important this demo and the ideas it set in motion are to all of the metal that has followed it. Underground metal not only became scarier, heavier and less po-faced after Hellhammer, but from this demo (and the Celtic Frost/Hellhammer works that followed it) metal inherited a paradigm that enabled the construction of more complex, distinctive songs and would come to define underground metal.
Lyrically, much of the album is concerned with the process of change. This theme has been occupying the thoughts of the band members as they look back on decades-long careers now winding down. In a recent interview, Ozzy Osbourne was asked what his views were on heavy metal and how Black Sabbath had shaped the genre:
I have never ever ever been able to attach myself to the word ‘heavy metal’ — it has no musical connotations…If it was heavy rock, I could get that…People come up to me and say, ‘Your Sabbath work was a big influence on me.’ I could go, ‘Oh, yeah, I can see that.’ But other bands … what part of that is inspired by us? Some of it is just angry people screaming down a microphone.
In this author’s opinion; this is an erroneous view, but an interesting statement in that it raises the questions: what makes heavy metal different from heavy rock, and how did Black Sabbath inspire generations of diverse metal genres?
What made Black Sabbath different from the other rock bands at the time was primarily what it was trying to express. The band avoided the flowers and rainbows hippie culture and spoke of darker subjects, but ones that were ultimately more true. Taking a nod from horror movie soundtracks and occultist influences, the band injected their music with a darker style of writing, which scared listeners and threatened the illusion that our society was stable.
From the very beginning of the debut album it became clear that this music was different. It’s not designed to be a product; rather it attempts to express something and allows the song to shape itself through connecting phrases rather than forcing it to adapt to pre-determined and easy-to-digest formulas. Even more, in spirit it’s a call to action, not a lullabye, commercial message or protest song (aren’t they all the same thing?).
Today’s bands which appear dissimilar aesthetically are nevertheless motivated by this same desire. The “screaming down a microphone”, abrasive riffs, and aggressive drumming are stronger methods of explicating something that often goes unsaid in our daily lives amid safety locks and childproof caps.
Death metal and black metal incorporated all the different elements that Black Sabbath first shocked hippies with, though taken to a greater extreme. Making the decision to create art rather than entertainment, the genres invoked contrasting structures and phrases in their composition, creating a modern take on a classical method of writing, wherein lines of melody overlap with each other yet when heard from a distance join together to form a complete whole.
The genres also took the hint of occultism that Black Sabbath contained and brought it to the fore: Satanism and general opposition to Christianity was the norm, though not for the sake of mere shock value, but as a way of communicating that our feel-good churches are not a permanent solution. Extolling the virtues of pre-Christian beliefs, the bands involved brought attention to alternatives to both Christianity and vapid materialism.
Beyond the specific technical influence Black Sabbath had on heavy metal (doom metal), there is an underlying thread that connects all bands that wish to play loud music for reasons beyond getting drunk and violent: somewhere, relatively recently, our society lost its way and has been living on borrowed time in denial. Heavy metal (not hard rock or heavy rock), is our way of finding meaning in the void; and as a result, Black Sabbath is unmistakably part of that.
I am an introvert, but I tend to like people. I see in each of you a series of small (and in some cases, large) miracles. Biology and naturalism will always fascinate me, as will the study of the mind, and of reality itself. It is full of wonder.
That being said… I’m not going to agree with most of you on anything except the really obvious (Mental Funeral is Autopsy’s best album, nu-core is a misstep for metal, and the Cro-Mags trash almost all UK punk except Amebix and Discharge). I’m a realist, an active nihilist, and a perennialist. You will find my view of life either laughably stupid, appallingly Jack Londonism, or not materialistic enough. So it goes.
The point of that rather pretentious detour is that I’m not into the business of trying to stop other people from having their say. There’s only really two limits on that: illegal, or non-contributive. The latter is a field that like all things is a subjective assessment of an objective reality, and includes but is not limited to being massively off-topic, repetitive and played word-tics, violent and pointless speech directed at groups, drive by commercial spam, anal goat porn, etc. Illegality threatens the site, and the other is basically equivalent of commercial spam in that it has nothing to give to the community here. You have to meet us halfway.
You’ll notice there are no ideological limits there, but it does overlap with some ideological questions. For example, is outright political debate acceptable here? Based on other failed experiments along these lines, it’s clear that it isn’t. It polarizes one way or the other and then all the users are compelled to fall into lock-step with Ideologies created and endorsed by large impersonal entities. I see no point in that, but it’s also not that easy. Our political outlooks are a product of our personalities and philosophies. They’re going to creep into everything we do, because the political outlook is the result of a philosophy of life. (It even extends to cooking and music listening.)
A new user recently wrote in with a complaint and eventually he said:
Came by your site again to check out thoughts on the new Carcass single but was put off the rampant homophobia in the comments section. Since I now know that you moderate comments and only post those that “contribute” to the conversation, I feel I must inform you that I will never be visiting deathmetal.org again.
Naturally, the true metalhead response is to give the finger and say, “Eat dicks, you clone!” Right?
I dunno. I’d rather people come could in, learn about metal, and learn about metal’s philosophy of life. I don’t trust the plastic Ideologies and I think we should look toward what a metal society would be like, which would probably resemble a cross between things found on Summoning and Voivod albums. But the point is, why erect a DO NOT ENTRY sign at the door, especially considering that most people are brainwashed by TV, parents, big media, the government, the Raelians, etc.?
When I started in metal, it was the Reagan 1980s. People were reclaiming a country that had split apart in 1968 and drifted into the easy pleasures of the 1970s. But like all compensations, this one over-compensated. As a result, thanks to (Democratic, ironically) politicians you could get carded as a 55-year-old man for buying an Eazy-E cassette tape, and people did get their asses pounded flat for being Communists.
In the 1990s, the shoe went on the other foot, and it’s still that way. You won’t find anyone in the whole metal sphere expressing a right-wing opinion, but they also take the sort of casual “yes, Mom” approach to leftist beliefs as well. Metalheads, even when they adopt Ideology, are skeptical of it. A metal society is one united by brotherhood of battle, honesty, realism and human desires to exceed the lowest common denominator, wherever it manifests itself. It doesn’t need or have Ideology. It has culture.
Thus, I’m going to demonstrate with my behavior what my ideals are. I’m going to ask our regular posters to be welcoming. I’m not going to ask you to stop using the term “gaydar.” I don’t care about political correctness, which as far as I’m concerned is just Communist-bashing in a new form, making people feel superior to others for having some point of view or another. I’m going to ask our anonymous commentator here also to grow up a bit and accept a difference of opinion. Just because he thinks his opinion is correct, and the media and government and large corporations agree with him, does not mean we should end the debate there. He should be welcoming as well.
You’ll notice this isn’t a rule. Yeah, I don’t believe in rules. They train us to be submissive and stop watching our own behavior for its actual consequences, and they make us resent authority because rules are blockheaded (literally: square and boxy, where life is elegant curves), in addition to being easy to sidestep and thus defining a new “minimum tolerance” standard which is quickly exploited. This is how we’d do it in a Hessian society: this is a good idea and we should adopt it.
But in that spirit — and to avoid blatant hypocrisy — the comments are open for discussion on this issue.