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.
Back in the 1990s, most people couldn’t stand Ildjarn and side-project Sort Vokter. These bands were seen as too simple, primitive, nihilistic, raw and amoral for even black metal.
One web site — our direct ancestor — praised the releases to the skies, claimed they were brilliant, and aggressively advocated them, culminating in an interview with the mastermind behind Ildjarn himself. We were ridiculed, mocked, scourged, spit upon, etc. until suddenly people woke up and realized the brilliance of Ildjarn.
Ildjarn mocks deconstruction. Modern people love to deconstruct things into tiny little statements that are true but also incomplete; Ildjarn took many tiny states, and using them like spatter-paint making a silhouette on canvas, used them to create a vision of a much broader and pervasive truth, as exemplified in the phrase “Forest Poetry.” Ildjarn is naturalism that does not retreat to happy Disney Land where all the animals are fuzzy and cute. Ildjarn is feral reality coming back through the (poetic) beast within.
Many years later, label Seasons of Mist has opted to re-release the classic of the Ildjarn era with new artwork and hopefully minimal remastering if any. These releases are already available for pre-order in the Seasons of Mist online shop.
We encourage all people who have not experienced Ildjarn to listen and revel in the simple coordinated profundity of this primal black metal band. These mighty slabs of minimalist metal will be available on August 16, 2013.
As metal continues to grow in popularity, outsiders to the genre find it more appealing. They see it as an unknown region, or an exotic culture, and in comparison their lives seem drab. What is it that makes hordes of people headbang to violent and abrasive music?
This was the question the Amarillo Globe News posed to death metal band Abolishment of Flesh and it received an answer it might not have been expecting.
The band painted a picture of death metal different from what is commonly presented in the media:
“There are a lot of different things going on at the same time,” [guitarist] Cazares said. “It’s very comparable to classical music.”
“We have a lot of weird time signatures and different changes like classical music does,” bass player Chuy Camacho said. “There can be three different things going on in the music at the same time.”
In other words, rather than the circular key-centric two-part composition of rock and pop music, death metal uses chromatic scales to develop an internal dialogue and motif evolution through pattern as opposed to harmony alone, such that notes are relevant more to previous notes and riff shapes than they are to a sense of key or rhythm.
In death metal, notes stream forth in multiple tones and directions, creating a tapestry of sound, similar in goal of a symphony: each part is musically literate on its own, yet when put together creates something that transcends each individual instrument.
When musing on why death metal is not popularly regarded as an art form, the band speculated that the genre has been overtaken by bands that have confused aesthetics with actual content:
“We don’t get taken seriously because other bands make a joke out of it — try to get as perverted and as gory as they can,” Camacho said.
Not content with being a sideshow, the band decided to forge ahead and create music with quality control. Playing old-school style death metal with melodic interludes; the band creates a style of music that appeals to both veteran fans of the genre and newcomers that may discover older classics through discovery of the techniques presented.
And the reason the band plays this type of music?
To Cazares, death metal “talks more about what’s real or what’s going on in life.”
Thus the essence of Death metal described: piercing the veil of deception and beholding reality.
We are fortunate to be able to announce that Martin Jacobsen, a talented writer and educator, and full-time metalhead, has joined our staff as a writer. He will continue to pen his “Analyze it to Life” column, which gives metal the detailed analysis it merits, as well as other news stories and reviews.
A full-time Hessian, Jacobsen plays guitar and stays abreast of developments in the world of metal both above and below ground. All of us on the staff look forward to more of his insightful writing and to working with him in the future.
Ripping high-intensity Dutch-German black/death metal band Sammath plans to release its latest work on Hammerheart Records in October of 2013. The album, entitled Godless Arrogance, will likely continue the Nietzschean-cum-Jack-London themes of this band: war, Darwin, struggle, death, misery and pain.
Best known for their 1990s melodic yet violent black metal release Strijd, Sammath emerged at a time when death metal was drifting into nu-core and black metal was spacing out like an aristocratic heroin addict into the territory of indie, post-rock and save the whales punk music. In contrast, Sammath brought a vision of humanity in constant struggle against its own stupidity and tolerance for the delusional, and expressed it in music that is equal parts knife fight and architectural grandeur.
Godless Arrogance will be Sammath‘s first release on worldwide Dutch metal conspiracy Hammerheart Records, and will continue the legacy of the past four Sammath releases with more streamlined music with a better integrated riff vocabulary and more selective but correspondingly intense use of melody. Expected to result in mass murder and spontaneous immolation of hipsters, Godless Arrogance includes the two tracks below in their final form.
Houston, Texas death metal band Imprecation have returned after nearly two decades since their epic slab of morbid death metal, Theurgia Goetia Summa, and have not only not mellowed but have added a streamlined power to their sound which combines the best of old school doom-death, black metal and high intensity underground death metal.
Satanae Tenebris Infinita adds a smooth transition between distinctive moods to this band’s strong infrastructure of aggressive riffs and abrupt tempo changes, acknowledging that while Theurgia Goetia Summa created a masterful vocabulary of death metal motifs, Satanae Tenebris Infinita connects them together in a narrative that reveals their inner compatibility and thus shows more than tells of the dark topics of the album.
While the music industry has kept itself busy “playing metal” with metal-flavored rock and punk creations like the nu-core and indie-core genres, underground metal has steadily reinvented itself, with bands like Beherit, Demoncy, Summoning and Imprecation returning to the front with not only new material, but a new view of the intent and purpose behind their older works, fusing them into new languages with a mastery and control that was not present before.
Funeral doom metal pioneers Skepticism have recently begun composing music for a new album planned for a late 2014 release. Alongside their countrymates Thergothon, Skepticism shaped this style from slow melodic chord progressions, sustained deathy vocals, and keyboards meshed to create an enveloping tapestry of sound.
The band have rebounded from the creative momentum lost after their first album Stormcrowfleet with their 2008 release Alloy, which showed a return to a more guitar-driven sound and songs which unraveled more subtly, creating an album of enduring quality. This showed the band resurrecting the metal within the Gothic doom and using it to drive song development past what more pop styles could offer.
Much like other metal bands, Skepticism are both rediscovering their roots and surging past them. A parallel can be drawn to recent Summoning, who recovered from a bout of misguided efforts by returning to an earlier composition style whilst creating albums which are expressively different and of quality. As a result, we have high expectations for this band’s next release.
Had I encountered this album in the early days of my journey of metal discovery I probably would’ve dismissed it as boring. True enough, this album does get a bit samey and the production doesn’t really help things by being quite plain and unadorned. What this album does have going for it – and what certifies it a classic, is its patient and utterly logical riff writing.
Taking the tradition as laid down by Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (more on that next week), each new musical idea on this album proceeds from a blueprint motif/riff that drives the whole track and makes each change sound like a clear and meaningful development from the one that preceded it. Most of the tracks remain in the one key for more or less their entire duration, whilst introducing a sparing and arguably quite Classical (Haydn, Mozart) sense of chromaticism at specific points to colour passing harmonic regions and create the necessary dramatic arc in the track. Being largely monodic though, it skirts the line between evocative ancient-feeling, modal style melody and more Classical structure-centric writing.
For example, Son of the Moon first deviates from its blueprint Aeolian/natural minor by introducing a riff with a # 3rd, returns to the Aeolian melodic shape and then introduces a riff with a raised 4th – two very typically Classical bits of chromaticism that colour regions related by the circle of fifths (a system that explains keys relationships and how to change key coherently) yet also, in the way they are used, give the riff a folkish/modal feel. They also come at just the right moment in the track, when the initial idea has been very much established and it’s time to reveal a bit of conflict and ambiguity. True to the narrative structural approach the track has been leading us along, what follows is a riff that returns to the Aeolian basis, responding to the ‘conflict section’ and expanding the original melodic idea. A properly satisfying emotional resolution is delayed until the very end of the track, yet even then, in typically metal form, the sensation it leaves the listener with is one reminding them that the journey goes ever on – rather than offering up a neat ‘happily ever after’ cadence, the way a pop song or even a piece of Classical music would be expected to end with.
The fact that the production comes with no proverbial bells and whistles means all the more that the riffcraft is laid bare and made the main focus of the listener’s attention. Melodically a lot of the album is very simple, and it really doesn’t stretch itself in terms of speed, variety or technicality, but it does what it does very well, revealing the essentiality of metal song writing in a relatively calm and assured way.
Barbaric Softworks has signed a licensing agreement with Austin, TX-based continuation thrash band Birth A.D. to use Birth A.D. songs in Barbaric Softworks’ newest title, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment.
Unlike most video games, Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment has no winners. You just lose a little less, and survive a little longer. American and European ratings authorities will have a field day with this violent game notorious for its irreverent mockery of death, suffering and humanity’s pretense of individuality.
In a similar vein, Birth A.D. has rocked the house with mockery on its latest opus, I Blame You. Recalling the golden days of DRI and SOD, this band nonetheless forges on in a continuation of what those bands created and does not rehash the past like the retro bands who are so thoughtless that it is tempting to lace their Capri Sun with antifreeze.
The combination of Birth A.D. and Blocks of Explosive Dismemberment should thrill even the most dour metal fan with its high splatter and body count, and the corresponding middle finger to all values that society holds dear. The game is due out in a later quarter of 2013.
(To get the full effect, hit “play” on both videos at the same time.)
Black Sabbath’s new album, 13, is a marvel. The first single “God Is Dead?” didn’t adequately prepare me for the experience of the whole work. This album contrasts the old sound and the new sound. The band frequently harkens back to their former work. I’ll note these instances when I treat the individual songs later in the review. In fact, some fans think 13 is too much like the earlier material. But they’re wrong. Surely we want them to recapture their earlier sound to some degree, but this album does much more than that. While surely somewhat nostalgic, this album does NOT fling itself into the market as a refurbished rehashing of used riffs. It’s a GREAT album. The original vibe remains as strong as ever. Fans agree and have propelled this album to #1 on the charts.
Let’s just talk about the players for a minute. Black Sabbath-for better or worse-always rests on the genius of guitarist extraordinaire, Tony Iommi. He has lost NOTHING on this album. He includes riffs and architectonic elements from ALL of his work with Black Sabbath, his recent work with Heaven and Hell, his solo albums, and perhaps even some of the blues roots that preceded Black Sabbath. His solos are as good as, or better than, his earlier work. When they do echo earlier compositions, they echo the very best soloing of his career.
Geezer Butler also plays as well here as he ever has, and a fan would do well to find anything on an earlier Sabbath album any better than his work here. Tony and Geezer seem to be playing for posterity. The lyrics of the entire album hint at the band’s contemplation of their own mortality, and surely Dio’s passing and Tony’s own illness make that inevitable. Ozzy Osbourne sounds pretty strong. His voice gets stronger as the album progresses, and some of the vocal melodies capture an Ozzy Osbourne solo sound — which was already developing on Never Say Die! (1978) back in the day. The synergy that made Black Sabbath a revolutionary band still exists in these three guys.
Brad Wilk’s drumming rounds out the record. The fan base made its displeasure at Bill’s absence very clear. Brad had a very big job trying to fill Bill Ward’s shoes. To his credit, he filled them well. We don’t hear the Butler/Ward swing anywhere on this record. Nor should we. Trying to imitate Bill would have been insulting. Brad did the job well, and he gets a big thumb’s up from this reviewer. All of these musicians in top form.
Musically, this album is VERY heavy in places. As mentioned, several of Tony’s solos equal anything he’s done so far, and his riffing remains the best there is. Lyrically, the darkness of this album stands with anything the band has ever done. The Grim Reaper peers over the horizon in nearly every song, and the tension between God and Satan (or at least the tension between the concepts of good and evil) emerges explicitly many times, as it did in their early work, when even the band were frightened by their own songs!
This review will address only the album proper, no bonus tracks. I may get an argument or two from some fans, but in general, I’ll say that the bonus tracks fail to achieve the same quality as the songs on the album. Perhaps more to the point, they do not “fit” the mood of the album proper.
“The End of the Beginning” strikes me as the perfect title for the first track of this album. The return of the Ozzy-era line-up marks a new beginning for these elder statesmen of heavy metal. The main body of the song pays homage to the first Black Sabbath song “Black Sabbath” off the album Black Sabbath (1970). This song reflects Tony Iommi’s growth and range as a guitarist. The track opens with a heavy, doomy march of separated chords similar to “Shadow of the Wind” (The Dio Years – 2006) or “Atom and Evil” off The Devil You Know — a rather recent development used here to great effect. There are tempo changes, and the classic break that we hear on the first four albums. Some listeners may remark that they use the same sort of break in four of eight songs on the album, thus leaving them repetitive and even self-derivative. I don’t agree, but I concede they lean on this approach. It’s a part of their style and fits.
He plays two solos, as we see in Dehumanizer’s (1992) “Computer God”, using the same basic architectonics. The solos themselves soar into prominence. The first, at 4:42 or so, lasts 50 seconds, and features not only a fantastic Iommi-style lead but also a tempo change into a bluesy sound at the end. The second solo closes the song, and for around 90 seconds grows in intensity, rising to an effort VERY similar to “Lonely Is the Word” from Heaven and Hell (1980). Again, we are not talking about a mimeograph album. Tony taps into EVERYTHING he’s done. And he plays with abandon, with emotion.
Lyrically, we see a fresh address of the theme Society vs. the Individual, especially in terms of the former controlling the latter. This theme has been interrogated throughout the entire history of the band, dealing with societal issues like family collapse in “Wicked World” off Black Sabbath, economics in “Cornucopia” (Vol. 4 – 1972), psychologyin “Johnny Blade,” (Never Say Die!) television in “Zero the Hero” (Born Again – 1983) and the eponymous “Mob Rules” (1983) and “Computer God” ( both self-explanatory). This song updates for the pervasiveness of the simulacrum, urging the “Reanimation of your cybersonic soul” and concluding “You don’t want to be a robot ghost / Occupied inside a human host / Analyzed and cloned relentlessly / Synthesized until they set you free.” This eight-minute opus is pure Black Sabbath.
“God Is Dead?,” the first single, at almost nine minutes, seems like two songs. The first 4:00 or so offer a kinder, gentler sound. Then the chorus hits at 2:16 and at 2:26 that super-doomy descending lick hints at the Sabbath sound. Then they go back for the next verse. At 4:05 that Sabbath discord starts and at 4:09-4:10 Tony “shakes” the chord as only he does. Then a classic Iommi riff (4:17-4:18), a reprise of the aforementioned descending lick, and an expansion the power chords at 4:10 into back-and-forth riff, classic Black Sabbath-relentless, hypnotic. At 5:38 we get to the chorus with that descending lick again. Then at 5:48 they reprise the power chords from :30 into the song that form a bridge to the break at 6:19 that seems like something off the first album or Vol. 4 (or “Falling off the Edge of the World” off Mob Rules). Then at 6:27 Geezer Butler kicks it into high gear and never lets up. All the musicians do the same thing, classic Black Sabbath. Then Geezer starts what will be one of the best performances on bass guitar in the Black Sabbath oeuvre. Even when the song slows, his playing does not. The 15-second solo (7:38–7:53) has a bluesy, 60′s sound to it. Some listeners may have preferred a longer solo, but the musicianship and intensity so far have been so powerful that a solo isn’t needed for the song to have a high point. In fact, Geezer’s playing behind the solo almost equates with soloing itself as he’s playing much faster than Tony. The final minute is the descending lick behind repeated “God is dead” chorus. The chorus leaves us with a rather definitive statement “I don’t believe that God is dead.” The supremely dark lyrics offer the good vs. evil motif that this band has defined. These lines typify the questions asked in this song: “Nowhere to run / Nowhere to hide / Wondering if we will meet again on the other side / Do you believe a word / What the good book said? / Or is it just a holy fairy tale and god is dead?” Nothing says Black Sabbath like two songs in excess of eight minutes offering pessimism and plodding riffs. What a one-two punch!
“Loner” rocks: a flat-out, straight-ahead headbanger. Some say it reminds them of “N.I.B.” It actually recalls the basic riff pattern of the main riffs from “Black Oblivion” and “Flame On” from the 2000 solo album Iommi. Lyrically, the song speaks of isolation, and the head-banging groove of the song contrasts with the seriousness of the message, tied up in the final verse: “Communication’s an impossibility / His own best friend but he’s his own worst enemy / The secrets of his past locked deep inside his head / I wonder if he will be happy when he’s dead.” Perhaps one of the hallmarks of Black Sabbath and of the metal music they pioneered is an understanding of the angst — even depression – that their listeners experience. The strong of grounding in existentialism in their work makes even an up-tempo frolic cuts into the heart of the listener. The irony of the seriousness of the theme and the elation of the riff-similar in a way to “TV Crimes” off Dehumanizer bespeaks a long-standing Sabbath tradition as well.
“Zeitgeist” immediately reminds us of “Planet Caravan” off Paranoid. In a larger sense, perhaps the beauty of “Zeitgeist” is to recall Black Sabbath’s numerous slower and/or psychedelic tunes, such as the aforementioned, “Planet Caravan,” “Solitude” off Master of Reality, and admittedly, to a much lesser degree “Changes” off Vol. 4, “Spiral Architect” off Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (1973), “She’s Gone” off Technical Ecstasy (1976), and others off Dio-era albums. No innovation exists here vis-à-vis older Sabbath tunes of a similar nature. No doubt people will like this one-especially, perhaps, people who weren’t hardcore Sabbath fans. Unremarkable in comparison to the other songs on the album, it provides a break in the heaviness — much as the other songs noted here did for those albums — this song reminds us that Black Sabbath did this too. Insofar as this album may well become a historical document, “Zeitgeist” proves a worthy inclusion.
The opening of “Age of Reason” sounds a bit like the opening of “Follow the Tears” off The Devil You Know. Another elaborately structured offering marked by numerous genre and tempo changes, reminiscent of “Dirty Women” off Technical Ecstasy, give this song an almost proggy feeling. The opening riff while really quite doom-laden, is also rather bluesy. While the structure and overall sound of the song unmistakably heralds Black Sabbath, the melody suggests Ozzy’s solo work (not to mention an echo of “Junior’s Eyes” off Never Say Die! which presaged the Ozzy Osbourne sound in many ways). The marvelous solo in this song recalls “Zero the Hero” a bit. Tony takes his time, and the solo carries us away as only an Iommi solo can. At the risk of being repetitive, Tony Iommi has lost nothing. The guitar work here stands up to anything he’s done. Similar to the general theme of “The End of the Beginning” and many other Black Sabbath songs, the lyrics describe a hopelessness accepted by people who have lost their will to be themselves: “Sustainable extinction / A fractured human race / A jaded revolution / Disappears without a trace.”
The opening progression of “Live Forever” bears a similarity to the opening of “Lord of this World” off Master of Reality (with, again, a touch of that march of separated chords noted in “The End of the Beginning”) and then steps up the tempo to a riff strikingly similar to the up-tempo movement of “Cornucopia” off Vol. 4. This one really harkens back to the older groove. Even Brad’s use of cymbals seems rather Bill Ward-esque. While clearly adapting these older tunes, the nuanced use of the newer aesthetic and burnished sound of excellent production renders it a new song. Ozzy sings as only he can-with all the soaring menace of that same era. The lyrics of the song sustain the motif of aging and the looming presence of impending death. This song lacks the depth of the others on this album. For instance, the closing lines, “I may be dreaming or whatever / Watching my life go by / And I don’t wanna live forever / But I don’t wanna die!” certainly do not rise to the more profound, sometimes poetic, expression of the same uneasiness. I’ll neither label this song as filler nor dispute the inaccuracy of said label.
“Damaged Soul” is monumental. Clearly a tribute to their roots in the blues, this song amalgamates everything Black Sabbath not only does, but can do. Black Sabbath has made forays into the blues before, notable on the Seventh Star (1986) and the song “Dying for Love” off Cross Purposes proves a stunning blues song. But Sabbath hasn’t done this anywhere else. My first thought upon hearing it was that it sounds like Robin Trower, but heavier. There are moments in this song that sound like Electric Wizard. It almost demands a genre definition of “Doom-Blues.” Again, the soloing echoes “Lonely Is the Word.” The first solo at 3:49, lasts for about 45 seconds and never deviates from a standard blues structure. He means to play the blues here. Then at 5:26 we get another 30 seconds or so until a break takes us to another tempo. The harmonica wails into this change, and then Tony returns at 6:36 and serves up a solo of his own. While the rest of the players play the blues (and Ozzy even sustains a fine harmonica riff), the exit solo is pure Iommi. Lyrically, this may be the darkest song on this album and in the running for the darkest song they’ve ever made. Lyrically, the song calls up the career-long (or age-old?) subject of possession and reprises this album’s motif of impending death and the tension between good and evil: “I don’t mind dying ’cause I’m already dead / Pray not for the living; I’ll live in your head / Dying is easy; it’s living that’s hard / I’m losing the battle between Satan and God.”
“Dear Father” proves an indictment of Catholic Church’s priest sexual abuse tragedy, every bit as scathing and pessimistic an attack on this issue as “Wicked World,” “War Pigs” off Paranoid, or “Into the Void” off Master of Reality.” This song boasts a rather complex overall structure, featuring multiple tempo and style changes. But nothing in this song equals the rest of the album, musically. The reason for this appears to be that the band wants us to listen to the words. An album this good, with Tony and Geezer playing as well as they have ever played, with Tony playing his heart out in more than one place, would not forgo a solo without a reason. That reason must be to focus our attention on the message. The music changes every time the message changes, intensifying the merciless dissection of those merciless crimes. The closing lyrics sum up the song with perfect clarity: “Dear father forsaken, you knew what you were doing / In silence your violence has left my life in ruin.” The song closes with a repeating “In ruin, yeah” phrase, symbolizing the vile and on-going suffering caused by these atrocities. After this song ends, the rain sound effect from the beginning of the first album fades in for a few seconds, reminding us that this album not only provides a resurrection of the original line-up and sound but also offers a vital viewpoint on religion and music, contemporary issues and timeless questions.
In 13, Black Sabbath reflects both the original Black Sabbath sound, imagery, and philosophy and the influences of all their musical experience from their solo work, other incarnations of Black Sabbath, and their inherent genius. They recast the system of rock music 43 years ago, and in this “reanimation of the sequence,” they have again recast the system.