Too many death metal bands these days are attempting and failing utterly to convey the more obscure, ghastly effects of Onward to Golgotha or early Gorguts rather than the grisly, gory, in-your-face ripping and grinding style that was more prevalent at the time of those classics. Emanations from the Crypt is revitalizing to these ears as there is no effort made whatsoever to “enhance” the “atmosphere” of the music with excessive reverb or eight-hundred layers of guitar tracks; there is only brutality and aggression. Early Deeds of Flesh is an obvious inspiration for this juggernaut album as the guitar riffs squirm and shred through gnarly contortions, while the drums attempt to restrain and sensibly contextualize their wild leaps and bounds. The vocals are very convincing growls and gurgles that switch up just when needed to suggest a shift in dynamics, much like Infester used theirs and never attempt to take control or drive the music. Also present is some of Deicide‘s spirit announcing itself through the jittery, psychotically antagonistic riffs that seem to only represent melody tenuously. Embalmer’s Emanations from the Crypt some of the best death metal on the brutal end of the spectrum since Scalpel‘s Sorrow and Skin.
When music is taken as communication, as a nurture of the soul, or even as a kind of magic then small details such as the name a band chooses for itself can forebode promise or ultimate triviality. The reason for this is that music, when taken as an integral enterprise, exudes the intention and capabilities of those who give birth to it. Hooded Menace’s name does not show much imagination but perhaps a rather superficial or commercial line of thinking. The title of their album, Darkness Drips Forth, isn’t much better. These suggest a lack of definition or the non-existence of a deeper wealth of thought.
In any case, the music comes first; prejudices must be set aside so that the stream of notes can dance unhindered. The structural approach of Hooded Menace’s doom metal is actually fairly convincing, and technically speaking, the composer-like qualities of whoever is writing the songs are sharp. The music is flowing, the passages never overstay or pass by too quickly, the dynamics of adjacent sections make sense together and their discourse feels natural enough. Individually, each section is tasteful though none is particularly original or distinctive. At first it may appear as if Hooded Menace may be the exception to the rule that one is supposedly bound to bump into sooner or later. Or are they?
Listening through this release and keeping in mind what has “happened” minutes before in the song, one starts to see that the content kept changing, but somehow hasn’t really gone anywhere. What is the problem then? Intuitive alarms such as this, when justified, must be grounded in concrete causes. The band had effectively avoided the carnival syndrome, it made use of motifs in linking sections — but only locally. This isn’t bad on its own, magnificent works based on the variations template have graced our ears in the past.
The problem is slightly different from song to song. The songs are not bound together by a common aura. They may go from a lethargic groove to a happy melody, but this is minimal. Some to flounder between a nondescript extreme metal counterpoint between the guitars to a Disturbed-like groove, only to return to something more characteristic of typical of doom metal. Far more detrimental to the aura is the relatively static sense of the harmony, constantly returning to the root and never, even for a second, leaving that tonal space except for overt and obvious effect. This is predictable and even vulgar. When you put these two together — imprecise style and weakly phrased, boring harmony — you have a recipe for subversively monotonous and superficial music.
Released in 1974 and signaling the departure of Peter Gabriel from Genesis, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway brings the classic era of the band and the genre to an end. It does so rather inconspicuously with a profound accomplishment that is not easy to summarize in such few words. The album materializes the several tacit goals of progressive rock: the incorporation of classical music methodologies into the making of pop rock music, stylistic expansion within coherent boundaries, to the neo-romantic mystical allusions boiling up from vague lyrics into aural explosions in sound.
Musically, it makes use of straightforward pop rock expression expanded with a nod to classical-era structures, while ambients range from avant-garde noise to ambient instrumentals. We may even see the precursor to the post-rock aesthetic but Genesis takes the music somewhere rather than moronically dancing around in the same place. The use of themes throughout songs and the album itself is prominent; it holds the album together and is a direct consequence of that proper classical influence. The lyrical theme of the album is based on Judaic mysticism, with references to the Kabbalah in song titles, concepts, and even the number of total tracks of the release.
The influence of Genesis as per their style at their pinnacle in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway virtually defines a whole generation of the pseudo-prog we see today in the likes of charlatans to which Steven Wilson belongs, or supreme posersDream Theater and their numerous unoriginal underlings. Opeth cannot be counted among the superficial fools living off the greatness of Genesis as they are a more eclectic collection of disparaged sources poorly sewn together and because the very little prog rock influence they displayed comes from Gentle Giant. With all certainty, almost any decent-sounding, so-called progressive outfit today that leans towards a pop rock sound with unconventional sound structures is probably directly or indirectly defined by (not merely “influenced” by) classic Genesis.
Particularly outstanding is the elite drumming that underscores the thematic progressions of the rest of the music. At each point it answers to needs in the music, while not shying away from dramatic or even amusing additions to the mix. Jazz percusion technique here is used with taste, forwarding the music, rather than becoming an instrument for divergence into hedonist egotism. Despite this, in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, none of the elements actually jumps out at the listener: the technical merits are so perfectly fused with the living flow of the music they may be overlooked. In this we may find great contrasts with Yes, whose brilliance was always a close-neighbor to instrumentalist prowess, threatening to and eventually taking over precedence of deeper motivations that move true art (as we see in Relayer).
To finish our brief discussion on this definitive album for progressive rock, we would be remiss in failing to attend to the reasons it achieves such excellence. Considering Nietzschean Apollonian versus Dionysian interplay, a reasonable speculation might start by pointing out that the most superficial and recognizable sounds in this album are distinctively ground in their seventies era. Even the use of avant-gardisms remains within the framework of the experimentation of its time and exemplifies what Pink Floyd were never able to properly approximate. The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway does not reject its contemporary influences, but through them accepts the band’s chronological appearance in history and maximizes their channeling of ulterior and less ephemeral reasons.
At the beginning of this album, I thought I was in for some ironically incompetent Venom worship with affectations of naivety: “Metal about metal” as it can be rightly called. The drums are played in a bare-bones punk style. The guitar(s) loop punk riffs in predictable verse-chorus style structures while the vocalist rants in a smoke-shredded voice about typical metal stuff. No virtuosic leads or even harmonies are present. However, as the record progressed, the raw efficacy of the chords overcame my cynicism and my head began to nod to and fro of its own accord. Maybe these guys are a throwback or tribute act. Maybe they have actually never heard anything more recent than the firstBathory album. Either way, their riffs have an undeniable ability to hook energy-pumping tentacles into your brain and stir in your heart the desire to get off your ass and be a living, bleeding, raging human. When it comes to music, is there anything better than that?
Indecent and Obscene was Dismember proving that in 1993 they had became at least as proficient musicians as their seventies and eighties idols. Dave Blomqvist took over the leader guitar duties from Nicke Andersson and added Mercyful Fate-like sweep-picked leads to the bluesy, Ritchie Blackmore-influenced solos. The songs continued in the vein of filthy Pieces EP with verse chorus verse bashers. The problem was they were slowed down, less distorted, and more lazily constructed: Beneath the RemainsSepultura minus a standard deviation or two in IQ. Every time Dismember play an interesting riff on this album, they allow it to wear out its welcome through repetition in brain-dead pop song structures. That is only when they have a good, counterpointed Carnage/Dismember riff. Most of the rhythm riffs are generic Autopsy riffs; riffs Autopsy stole from Celtic Frost, who stole it from Metallica, who stole it from some NWOBHM band who took it from AC/DC or The Stooges. These riffs were used just so Dismember could construct a basic d-beat song and sweep pick Guitar World readers’ faces off.
Matti Karki sounded just as rabid as ever but in every song sprouted off the title of the song in the chorus of the song as a vocal hook. This is the same as an awful Hollywood action film script containing dialogue saying the name of the movie in the movie, eg: “This is Con Air!” or “You Only Live Twice Mr. Bond!” Idiotic bridges kill off any tension too. “Why don’t you just kill yourself?” followed by breakdown of the main rhythm riff so all the hardcore kids for whom Suffocation was too heavy could slamdance before the air guitarable solo.
Dismember on Indecent and Obscene was Nuclear-Blasted into Cannibal Corpse before Nuclear Blast mandated all their bands sellout into death/black ‘n’ roll for the Bic-flicking festival crowd. While superior to most of the laterwork out of Sweden, Indecent and Obscene never approaches the transcendent Dark Recollections and Like an Ever Flowing Stream. The only praiseworthy aspects beyond the superficial icing are Fred Estby’s creative tom fills on songs such as “Sorrowfilled”. His underrated percussion is the only part building and resolving tension in these mediocre songs. That’s simply not enough to hold hessian attention. Decent material must still be composed and Dismember didn’t bother writing any worthy of repeated listening here.
We tend to be skeptical when receiving a promo of a retro Swedeath band given the history of the style, but we can’t help but feel a vague and healthy excitement for the raw feeling this improved grindy sound can offer when done well. Despite the long history of shams, Dismember and Entombed followers receive an enthusiastic and welcoming reception here every time. This is also, perhaps, the reason why they also get beaten down with the most derisive of tones when found ‘guilty’.
Interment‘s Scent of the Buried is one of the best cases of the usually-unfortunate retro Swedeath we have seen in the last few years. While much praise is due, it is also interesting to try and understand when and how blatant such style appropriations fall short of the excellence of the originals. The band does a very good job at creating a flowing narrative in the style of Entombed, taking the best from the older band and approaching Dismember’s power chord and tremolo melodies in low tones while discarding the most overt poppisms of the first. After the first half of the album, the B-ness (the quality of being a B-grade album) of Interment’s release becomes obvious, after which it is easy to see that the band ran out of things to say.
While for some this has to do with style itself, and a superficial appreciation of music leads some to want stylistic variety, this is not what is meant here when pointing out the bands shortage of meaningful content. It has to do with a narrowness in the variety of patterns in melodies and riffs, not stylistic divergence itself. This is something that does not happen in the seminal works of Entombed and Dismember, whose style is natural-born from themselves, hence their whole effort is bent on trying to say something. In the case of stylistic followers and clones, which encompass the likes of Interment, there is a conscious will towards adhering to the stylistic conventions those older bands laid out.
This is much more confining and goes beyond genre style; these b-bands are not trying to reflect abstract ideas but the most superficial traits of the music. Hence, Scent of the Buried has enough excellent material for a 3-track EP, but not a full album. Despite the technical re-production of this vintage style being a success1, Interment doesn’t have much more to offer other than a passing pleasure for those who enjoy the hell out of the Swedeath sound.
U Transu Sa Nepoznatim Siluetama presents a longing, melancholic, and nostalgic view on black metal ripped straight out of the playbook that enabled artists such as Alcest to score big with the empathetic loner crowd. On the surface, this music is presented as your standard affair of devil music yet it is bereft of even one note of existential weight or tantalizing, decadent forbiddance which typically characterizes Faustian gambits with the dark. The music swings, bounces, pops, and dances in the light. It is so light in fact, that gravity actually helps uplift these sounds.
Then there is the overwhelming familiarity which strikes the listener immediately. These are well-considered compositions that look backward for source material but otherwise fail to provide new meaning. The past is alive but it is practicable and pedantic. Zloslut shamelessly flaunts catchy and immediately gratifying candy culled from across the metal spectrum. A delicate and emotive arpeggiated tremolo-picked melody ripped right out of Norsecore will be seated right next to a Rotting Christ-style heavy metal motif. Burzum and Gorgoroth have their post cards along route 666 through the use of ringing bar chord breaks.
This is one of the rare albums where sloppiness, uncertainty, and disorganization could have been a boon as it would have colored the music with a wild charm and sense of adventure. The riffs are supposed to add up to a meaningful experience but the stark reality is that this is a Now That’s What I Call Black Metal! recollection of genre hits. Quite possibly the most radical statement this album could have made would have been allowing the genre-verboten blues to blossom into a David Gilmour solo on the first proper track.
Whatever the musicians of Olkoth are physically doing with their instruments is nothing extraordinary but the idiosyncratic placement of notes and the resulting higher-level structures that emerge in their songs are truly something to behold. “Rollercoaster” and “Labyrinth” metaphors abound when writers try to describe metal with this sound. The most appropriate real-world visual analog would be an ancient sculpture, specifically what can be found in Mesoamerican architecture: Vivid figures and images symmetrically organized and actually making up the architecture itself rather than being mere aesthetic reliefs. Hearing this music is much like view ancient reliefs: there is an obvious narrative even though the specific symbols belong to alien cultures and distant epochs. The representations ring true by striking a Jungian chord deep within the recesses of our collective unconsciousness. However, these super-emotive runes are not activated at will; the listener must cultivate a passive mindstate to avoid projecting their own idiosyncratic symbolism onto the music. That will only serve to obfuscate the encoded messages just waiting to be decrypted.
On their tantalizing debut album, Zealotry showed charm that often characterizes first releases. Debuting bands earnestly try to capture the aura of the music as they juggle with the technical aspects of playing it. First albums often come off as awkward or even flawed but there still containing endearing and thoroughly captivating elements. Many groups lose this enchantment in their sophomore album only to recover it with the third. This happened to Sepultura, who reached the pinnacle of their transcendental contributions on their only death metal album, Morbid Visions. They followed it with a boring mass of riffs with no heads or tails. Their much superior 1989 speed metal album, Beneath the Remains, fortunately corrected this. Hopefully, this will be the case with Zealotry as well.
The Last Witness plays like an extension of The Charnel Expanse‘s final track, “The Unmaking”, the least structured song on the album. The band tangentially explored the technical ramifications found by playing their particular style. From the creators’ perspective, this seemed like a clear path. In taking this choice to focus on a narrower voice, the evocative deficiencies of that streamlined, tremolo-picked, sequence-of-riffs approach had to be compensated for. This was completely ignored and instead there is a heavier emphasis on playing the technical parts of the songs correctly.
Musically, there is a lot of worthwhile content here; It just doesn’t tell a story as much as give scattered visions that are not arranged properly, do not have clear beginnings, and even less conclusions. The painstaking composition in a self-conscious style with a corrective attitude is extremely promising. This is admittedly the hard route as it requires extreme discipline; it is the classical composer’s way for reaching to perfection on all fronts. However, composers need many, many errors before turning trial into triumph.
As it stands, The Last Witness is a collection of exquisite details into which a very attentive reader can dive. He will discover many forms but nothing solid enough to materialize a clear vision. In part, this is due to the tendency towards extreme variation and superficial indulgence of musicianship, and too much escapism in the codas. Follow the title track attentively to hear what I am referring to. The problems here mirror those of Monsieur Tougas on his side project except that Zealotry has a much more individualized voice.
Zealotry would also do well to stay away from the death and war metal influences with atmospheric pretensions seen in the empty music of Phobocosm. Instead, they should work on their motific death metal, develop the themes to establish long-range links, and fully utilize their proper sense of breathing space. Zealotry should play to their strengths instead of diverging horribly and incoherently as in the final track, “Silence”. I am sure with practice and discipline, the time will come when this band will dominate a wider range of expressions. For now, shaping up this very narrow music into that which breathes, lives, and envisions a story is still a goal.
“Punk’s not dead,” goes the old joke, “It’s only sleeping.” Since the mid-1980s, very little of interest has come from the punk community as it has struggled to deal with its popularity. Teenagers want rebellious music, but they want it to be safe enough that they can use it for those difficult teen years, then move on to lite jazz and album-oriented rock as they age.
As a result, punk became a market, and that market favored brain-dead angry rebellion that did not shake any actual foundations but simply attacked socially-acceptable enemies with a more angry approach. Punk went Leftist in the 1980s, but it is more accurate to say it “went bourgeois,” or searching for targets it could bash without really offending anyone. It is always acceptable to target cops and Hitler, but not so much to mention anything which could make us all doubt our participation in society.
The Cro-Mags were a breath of fresh air in this dying scene. Like other classics of hardcore punk — Amebix, Discharge, The Exploited, Black Flag — they paired a Leftist distrust of the profit motive with a right-wing view that human culpability at the individual level was destroying our society from within. This complex view makes for uneasy coexistence with people who depend on both profit motive and patriotic views of strong defense and economy.
Harley Flanagan, bassist and founding member of the Cro-Mags who identifies Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as his greatest influence, drove his band to create a form of punk that was actually rebellious. For many of us, “World Peace” was an early Red Pill, awakening us to the fact that the most cherished values of our society were in fact moronic illusions that were consequently quite popular. People love an excuse to turn off the brain and go with the flow.
Nothing as intense as the Cro-Mags could last, and after a brilliant first album (The Age of Quarrel in 1986) the band struggled with internal instability, putting out a speed metal influenced album (Best Wishes in 1989) and a softer, more contemplative and Hindu-influenced take on punk with Alpha Omega (1992) and Near Death Experience (1993). One version of the band released a followup in 2000, and several compilations have tried to resurrect the early material, most notably the demo/live compilation Before the Quarrel (2000).
Cro-Mags, the most recent solo offering from Flanagan, channels quite a bit of rage at the personality conflict behind the collapse of this once-great band, but also at the collapse of hardcore itself. Interestingly, it merges the speed metal era Cro-Mags with their earlier intensity to come up with a metal-influenced (but not metal-flavored) blast of rage and melancholic isolation.
Songs on this album take a form of simple riff loops with introductions and interludes, often fading out in explosive and sometimes bluesy solos. Musical focus targets a good solid riff and a strong chorus that plays off the tension in that riff, guided by the vocals of Flanagan which vary between angry riot shouts and a type of unnervingly emotional but aggressive singing that has never been done successfully in hardcore before.
Like most return albums, this is a foray that tests different waters. The band experiments with — or mocks — Pantera-style riffing on “I’ll Fuck You Up” and revisits punk and metal riff archetypes with earlier songs. None of these are off-the-shelf however; in each one, the riffing remains distinct enough to be its own entity, a hybrid of Motorhead and punk hardcore and the aggressive speed metal from Slayer, Exodus and Metallica with a voice unique to itself.
The question before the reviewer is not whether Cro-Mags is a decent comeback album or an acceptable substitute for the Cro-Mags, but whether the music stands on its own. Over the course of several listens, I have concluded that it deserves listening on its own merit. These are aggressive but thoughtful songs with a core of dissident outlook not toward politics, but toward humanity and its default impulses as a whole, and in so doing it continues and enhances the best of what hardcore punk had to offer.