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.
It’s easy for us looking back on underground metal to see it like a textbook description, where it was ordained that certain bands would become pillars of the underground. In reality, it was more like a place where rivers meet, with currents flowing under and behind each other to weave into a body of water.
Miasma’s Changes never got much distribution, being on tiny and sometimes inconsistent Lethal Records, nor did it fit into what people expected. At a time when European metal was surging ahead with fast melodic material, this Changes combined doom metal with primitive American-style death metal like Morpheus Descends or Baphomet. With its heavy vocals and dark cadenced approach it made stuff like Entombed sound cheerful.
Like German heavyweights Atrocity, Miasma was calibrated incorrectly for what the audience wanted, but the band knew how to make crushing metal, more in the style of Grave and Uncanny than the At the Gates and Therion more delicate fare. Using trudging verses and choruses that seem to be from familiar memories of years past now forgotten, Miasma created music that was both intuitive and surprising. Even more, it worked in melody, but used it more like doom metal bands — think Candlemass here — who use the sweetness and light to accent the morbid and dark and make it all the more real.
Behind the scenes, this album influenced a wide range of people, but most of them were metal musicians. The fans never quite got it, other than a few hipsters in the early 2000s who wanted it for its collectable value. However, those who wanted to know how to make death metal that felt like a subconscious gesture, Changes remains a prized treasure.
Carcass started as a grindcore band with one crucial difference: they sang about gore, disease, decay and torture instead of political topics. It was a sort of metapolitics, a way of viewing the world that reduced humans to meat and hopefully induced compassion.
After a few years of doing this, and playing live many nights in a row, they improved at playing their instruments and began wanting the acclaim that other bands got. So their style drifted, first to death metal (Tools of the Trade), then to speed metal (Heartwork) and later to hard rock (Swansong). Then the band disbanded, and only returned this year.
“Captive Bolt Pistol,” which is the first song to leak from Surgical Steel, roughly resembles Tools of the Trade crossed with Swansong. It uses death metal tempos and inflections, but hard rock riffs, and lots of bluesy rock-style leads. If this is their new direction, it seems a reasonable assumption if they hope the rock audience will cross over to like a band named Carcass.
The first new Carcass album in 17 years, Surgical Steel was created by a lineup of original members Jeff Walker (lead vocals, bass), Bill Steer (guitar, vocals) and new drummer Daniel Wilding (ABORTED, HEAVEN SHALL BURN), with guest vocals from original drummer Ken Owen.
Much as I love the title From Beyond, I think an altogether scarier title would be “From Within.” The things that really get you are the ones you can’t see because they’re behind your eyes. Metal got blindsided by one of these in the last decade.
What happened was that black metal ran out of ideas, and death metal ran out of energy, in about 1995 or 1998 depending on who you talk to. What came after that was metalcore and nu-metal, which are so close in compositional style — both very much closer to rock than metal — that we group them together as nu-core.
The response of metal was unfortunate. Ignoring the advice of sage elders, the metal fans who remained circled the wagons and insisted on ideological purity. No, not of the kind that excludes stuff incompatible with metal, like rock and rap. But literally, a hell-bent desire to repeat the past nearly exactly as it happened.
It’s like tourism. Charlemagne fought here, so you stand here and take a picture. Leonardo da Vinci sketched here, so you eat pizza here and Instagram it to your colleagues back home. Metal tourism involves pretending you’re Darkthone and it’s 1991 for the first time and you’re being a massive innovator by coming up with a new sound.
Except you’re not. It’s 1999 or 2013 and you’re in a bedroom with garage band, making another recombinant album for another recombinant audience. They’ll praise it to the skies for two weeks, then drift on to something else because basically it’s generic, and then popularity becomes a game of making people like your stuff by being their internet buddies.
This kind of toxic environment gave the Full Moon Productions bulletin board such a bad name the label basically quit. FMPers could be counted on to buy lots of records, but that’s like 1000 per pressing, and since they’re so elite and rare, spend a lot of money on them. Other than that, it was favoritism, infighting, backstabbing, and other pointless activity.
Now, in the unlikeliest of places, Nuclear War Now! productions forum has come to face the same problem — and it’s dawning on metalheads that this isn’t limited to a specific place or time, but is a universal human failing like hipsterism:
From the Devil’s Tomb was pretty good imo, but of course the tryhards will disagree. These fags change taste like underwear. Just look at the recent Wrathprayer thread. Now it is “overrated”, but a year ago these same poseurs were worshipping it like it’s the best thing ever since sex. – Candlemass
The vitriol picked up speed:
I’ve come to understand this board is full of kvltist wanna-be’s who are in fact a bunch of hipsters trying to follow trends to appear “elite”, though only a fractional minority truly “gets it”. Thoth
This post isn’t designed to mock the NWN board, or even the FMP board, or the people involved. They’re important because they’ve been perceptive enough to notice something that’s gone wrong with the metal community: it went within, and in doing so, lost its sense of what made it great. Now it’s the emotional equivalent of burnt-out old men, either repeating the past or cynically making derivative crap because they can sell it.
The best magicians work by making you think what they’re doing in front of you is the action, when in fact something goes on in the background that suddenly changes everything.
We experienced a change like that around 1999 from two factors, both technological. First, the internet arose and made it easy for any dog to appear as a band. Second, the one part of making a record that still wasn’t cheap — the recording process — became a home activity requiring a $400 PC only.
In the 1980s, DIY was radical, just as in the 1970s. Recording meant tape, and tape was expensive. Releasing your music meant getting a master, saving up a bunch of money, and putting it out there. That’s why bands did 7″ and cassette releases. A full LP was too expensive.
At the end of the 1980s, the newer CD pressing plants began offering far cheaper releases. CDs were smaller and cheaper to produce than LPs. This condition didn’t improve much until the mid-1990s, when suddenly everyone could afford a computer that could do (a) desktop publishing, including CD layouts, and (b) some kind of mastering and/or CD burning.
The cost barriers were falling.
Thus, while it was revolutionary to be underground in the 1980s, and while having a rough or dirty sound was somewhat of a stab against an expensive process then, it ceased to be in the mid to late 1990s. When it cost a lot to have a record sound good, throwing that aside was like a revolution. It was a rebellion against the tendency to make everything sound slick and perfect, and thus to overthrow the natural.
Now in the 2010s, we have a different problem. All production is a matter of choice. This is only going to get worse as the software improves. You can have perfect drums, pristine guitars, even autotune your vocals (or if you’re sneaky, your guitars). Thus now, making a dirty and abrasive production has no rebellion value. It’s just another option, like choosing to have a trumpet on the record or not.
What’s happened to metal? Some people decided to stick with repeating the past. They’ve formed a small and insular group that makes old school music. The only problem is that, while this group frequently talks up new releases, over the last ten years we haven’t seen anything great come out of them. “Above average” just isn’t impressive.
There’s another group that has gone commercial by making metal more like the parent genres from which it escaped, rock and punk (or rather, post-hardcore). This group has really improved instrumentalism, has excellent production, but completely hollow music that is distinguished only on the level of technique. It seems to have no content whatsoever except being in a band and knowing music theory.
The point here, I guess, is that we are being poisoned by form. Metal is stagnant because it hasn’t invented a new form that it can work with, or found a way to resurrect the old (mainly because of the parasitic past-repeaters). As a result, it’s left in perpetual limbo, either recycling the past or obliterating itself by becoming its opposition.
As a result, I suggest a new openness to difference in form. Let’s bring the weird back. Only where form and content are united does music make sense; otherwise, it’s either propaganda (content only) or decoration (form only). What will drive our new form is leaving behind the tropes of the past and attacking things that are real to us now.
That isn’t to say that the human condition, or that of art, has changed. It hasn’t. But art must carry the spirit of its age, and interact with its age, and strive for something. It must be a process of becoming. Metal ceased to be that in 1995 and its relevance dropped away, so now it feels like a drunk old man at a retirement home.
Almost every metalhead, no matter how hardcore or marginalized, perks up when Manowar hits the radio or jukebox. That’s because Manowar embodies the spirit of metal, which is a desire to fight for what’s true and deny what’s popular, because we as metalheads know our own spirits and don’t care about the herd.
Thus even though Manowar is classic heavy metal or at its most extreme some form of power metal, it’s still something death metallers celebrate along with other bands that live the “spirit of metal” like Slayer and Bathory. Expect those metalheads to be paying attention to the latest Manowar development, which is a tenth anniversary commemorative re-release of Warriors of the World.
The Warriors Of The World 10th Anniversary Remastered Edition contains all 11 tracks from the original release, completely remastered, plus a live recording of “House Of Death” put to tape during the Battle Hymns MMXI Tour at O2 Academy in Birmingham, England, MANOWAR’s triumphant return to the land of tea and scones after 16 years.
“I remastered the entire album in our own studios with our in-house engineer Dirk Kloiber,” said bassist and songwrite Joey DeMaio. “It is very liberating when you have the opportunity to bring your music to life exactly the way you envision it.”
Further, the band have recorded selected songs from live sets in cities across Europe and near Asia which will be compiled into a new live EP, The Lord of Steel Live. It will be available through Manowar’s official merchandise outlet.
1. Call to Arms
2. The Fight for Freedom
3. Nessun Dorma
5. Swords in the Wind
6. An American Trilogy
7. The March
8. Warriors of the World United
9. Hand of Doom
10. House of Death
11. Fight Until We Die
12. House Of Death (Live)
The Death Melodies Series (DMS) continues with composer Gustav Mahler.
I was recently invited to my local symphony to see Mahler’s third symphony. The first movement crept dismally slow; almost like a worm being poked with a stick and curling in its own demise. It was the best movement of the entire symphony and it brought a sense of dread that wasn’t extended upon in the later movements. The whole show was about eighty minutes and it was literally all over the place. There was a children’s choir in it which made the masculine first movement rather irrelevant. With no intermission for me to gather my thoughts or drain my bladder, I sat in my seat and experienced the entire symphony without interference.
Mahler was a late Romantic composer, but some would consider him as a Modernist. I believe that he’s in league with Liszt in the sense that he branches both in the Romantic and Modernist periods (Liszt’s Totentanz is a good example of both Romanticist and Modernist). Being that Mahler was inspired by Richard Wagner, it gets a bit muddy classifying him as a Romantic composer.
Much of Mahler’s life was spent conducting, so he wasn’t as prolific as Beethoven or other composers were, though he spent many summers composing. Tragedy wasn’t far from Mahler’s life. One of his two daughters died while she was still young and he himself had a defective heart. Mahler also faced prejudice for being an Austrian Jew, but it didn’t hinder his successes.
I picked these two pieces to coincide with the Death Melodies Series’ goal of sharing classical music that metalheads might enjoy.